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Doug Wilson against musical relativism in worship

One objection to the exhortation to cultivate a “biblical” approach to music is that we don’t have musical notation from biblical times. We have the lyrics of the psalms, but not the music. Here, in brief, are my staccato responses.

First, there is a good argument that we do have an idea of what the music sounded like. There has been a musical decoding of the vowel accent points of the Masoretic text (which, while not from biblical times, is likely to have preserved a biblical tradition), which, coupled with other forms of musical “archeology,” do give us a good idea of what their music was like. Here is a sample of it from Psalm 23.

Second, if we had to abandon And Can It Be in order to go back to singing in just this way, I think I can speak for most of us when I ask somebody to shoot me now. But why are we so quick to rush to a I-could-never-serve-a-God-like-that approach, as though our desires were the be all and end all of every musical choice? I don’t think the Bible requires us to sing this way entirely, but I do think the Bible requires us to have a humble and complete willingness to sing that way cheerfully if it were required.

But last, the foundations do not have to run along the roof line. The mustard plant does not have to look like the seed. The risen loaf doesn’t have to look like the leaven. But the roof line needs the foundation. If we don’t have a straight understanding of the foundation lines, then it shouldn’t be any surprise that our roof line music wobbles the way it does.

So we need to cultivate a gathering stream, postmillennial approach to our music.

via Shoot Me Now | Blog & Mablog.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department 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.

2 Responses to Doug Wilson against musical relativism in worship

  1. Scott, as far as I know Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s work is intriguing but certainly also controversial. I think I once read that some doubt that the notations are original, i.e. they may have been added later. Of course, even that would have value in showing us how they may have sung 2000 years ago. What do you think of her work – did you ever have a chance to look into this in more detail?

  2. Yes, I first saw mention of it in Paul Jones’ book, and have sense read her book and studied her theories pretty extensively.

    Here’s my take: you are right that some within the musicological community object to her theories, especially the diatonic basis. However, these are the same secular musicologists who would be of the same school of thought that would reject an older dating for many of the OT books as well on the basis that there is no way language would have evolved to the level of those books that early.

    In other words, it is a secular, evolutionist presupposition that informs the belief that complex literature and diatonic music could not have been around that early.

    I don’t think there is certainty in Haik-Vantoura’s theories, but they certainly make sense, and I would not reject them outright because my presuppositions (7-day, young earth creationism) at least allow for her to be correct. I have also seen some other things that seem to corroborate her findings as well.

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