Sola Scriptura and Form: Introduction
Dr. Matt Olson, president of Northland International University, opened a recent sermon on music thus:
“What about the music? You know, it’s interesting, as we dive into this discussion: I don’t find one verse in the entire New Testament that addresses the style of music, and that’s usually where our controversy is.”
I highlight Dr. Olson’s sermon, not because the aforecited quotation is in any way original, but because it’s a recent and prominent restatement of a common objection to musical conservatism. The point of this claim (I speak here generally, and not of Dr. Olson’s specific motivation) is as follows: if the Bible does not address musical style, claims about the superiority or inferiority of differing styles of music are merely expressions of preference; it follows that such claims must be moved out of the realm of oughts and shoulds, at least in any strong sense of those terms.
What should we make of this argument? First, I’m quite willing to concede the specific claim: the Bible (and, more particularly, the NT) does not offer us anything like explicit musical instruction for the church. But I’m not convinced that this silence underwrites the conclusion that is said to follow.
The thesis of this series of posts is that because the Bible is itself expressed in certain forms, and because the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice, we have an obligation to mirror biblical forms in our own expression of biblical truth. In other words, the Bible not only has content (a what), but it also has a manner (a how) of expressing that content. The Bible’s how is as authoritative for us as its what. If this is true, we must develop a hermeneutic that takes form into account, and we must develop a homiletic and a broader philosophy of worship that attempts to present the biblical what in a form that communicates to a modern audience in the same manner as the biblical form.
In my next post, I will explain why our focus on biblical content has left us largely oblivious to biblical forms.
About Michael Riley
Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.