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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Subjectivity

This entry is part 16 of 18 in the series

"Discussion about Christian Rap with Shai Linne"

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Shai Linne and I are having a conversation between Christian brothers about Christian rap. This post will not make sense unless you start at the beginning of this discussion and read through all the posts. You can find the other posts in this discussion on this page or on the right hand side of this post. This is Shai’s answer to my fourth question.

Scott-thumb-300x300Shai, you insist that my interpretation of music is relative since it is “culturally-conditioned” and based on my personal associations. Do you then believe that your own interpretation of the music is likewise relative? Isn’t this true that even our interpretation of Scripture is influenced by our culture and presuppositions? How, then, can you insist that your opinion of the music or of Scripture is superior to anyone else’s and force your interpretation on others?

Shai_Bio-300x300The word I used for your music analysis was “subjective”, not “relative”.  The dictionary definition of subjective is

“based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions”

For the purpose of our discussion, I would add “preferences, associations and cultural backgrounds” to that list. And yes, my judgment of what music without lyrics is communicating will be subjective as well. You then mentioned Scripture and that our interpretation of it is subjective in the same way. In your question, you’re comparing instrumental music with Scripture, then? I think it goes without saying that there are major differences between those two things. For one, you’re talking about a propositional form of communication (Scripture) vs. a non-propositional form of communication (instrumental music). Surely you see a major difference between “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and the Chinese zither music you gave as an example of holy music in a previous post. There is no argument or confusion about what Genesis 1:1 says. Even an atheist would agree about what that text says. They may differ about whether it’s true or even what the author meant, but what it says is crystal clear to any literate person. If I ask 100 people to tell me what Genesis 1:1 says, provided they can read, I’ll get the same answer each time. This is simply not the case with instrumental music- not even close. There is no universal agreement on what instrumental music communicates (or “says”), even among people from the same cultural background, let alone people from different cultures.

It’s easy to go down the rabbit trail of the difference between “subjective” and “relative”, etc. But let’s remember the context of what this conversation is about. You have made the claim that instrumental music can be inherently holy or sinful. I deny that claim. In your post where you explained your comments on the NCFIC panel, you said

“But if a form of music that is inherently denigrating is redeemed, it becomes something different. Simply changing the lyrics, as much of an improvement as that is, is not the kind of change characteristic of ‘new creatures’”

I’ve been asking you all along to demonstrate how music apart from lyrics can be “inherently denigrating”. You still haven’t done that, brother.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.