Conservative Music Is Not a Fundamentalism Issue

There is a common misconception out there, perhaps one that fundamentalists have unwisely helped to perpetuate. It is the idea that conservative music is simply a “fundamentalism” issue: it’s our axe to grind; it’s our hobby-horse to ride; it’s our dead horse to beat. The result of this wrong impression is the feeling that no one else cares about music, and that young fundamentalists are doing well to throw off the musical shackles of the “hysteric fundamentalists” from the South and “cultural elitists” from the Midwest. “Silly fundamentalists: a little rap never hurt anybody. We’re soooo past the ‘music standard’ phase.”

The kicker is this: conservative music is not a fundamentalism issue. It never has been.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not an issue. I’m not saying that it’s not important. What I’m saying that it’s not simply a football that is kicked around in fundamentalism’s intramural contests. Friends, the music issue is much bigger than fundamentalism.

1. Music Is a Majesty of God Issue.

The way we worship God is, among other things, a gauge of what we think of Him. Our worship should demonstrate that we revere God for His dignity, His majesty, His holiness, His transcendence. Yes, it should be affectionate and joyful, as well, but it should never be casual. If it is, it reveals that we have a wrong understanding of God. Worship–and how we do it–is therefore a barometer of our theology.

Our worship must be consistent with the character of its Object. Again and again, Scripture says that God is ___ and our praise should therefore be ____. That’s the point of John 4:23-24. That’s the point of Psalm 48:10. That’s the point of Psalm 96:4. That’s the point of Bible characters from Genesis to Revelation falling on their faces in terror and adoration before a terrifying and lovely God. That’s the point of Hebrews 12:28-29 commanding us to worship with reverence and fear–because “our God is a consuming fire.”

The Bible teaches (both explicitly and implicitly) that how we worship reflects on Who we worship. Our attitude & means of worship reveals our view of God. In fact, I’ll go a step further: our attitude & means of worship shapes our view of God. That’s not a new concept, and it didn’t originate in the Carolinas. Consider this description of the Puritans by Derek W. H. Thomas:

“For the seventeenth-century Puritans, the medium is the message, and the mode of worship can in no way be considered secondary. The way we worship reflects our theological prejudice one way or another, for good or for ill, and, more important reflects on the very character of God.” (Derek W. H. Thomas, Give Praise to God, 79-80)

Lig Duncan & R. C. Sproul concur:

“God’s own nature–who God is–determines the way we should worship him. This is a primary principle in both old and new covenants…So, in one sense, our doctrine of worship is an implication of our doctrine of God. This means that the how of new-covenant worship is not ultimately derived from temporary, transitional, positive law or even new-covenant norms, but is based rather upon the character of God himself. As R. C. Sproul often reminds us, the distinctive of the Reformed doctrine of God is that theology proper controls every aspect of our theology, including our worship” (Lig Duncan, “Foundations for Biblically Directed Worship” in Give Praise to God, 52).

That quotation brings me to my next point.

2. Music Is a Trans-Movement Issue.

Consider this point: the most vocal defenders of reverent worship in our day aren’t even fundamentalists. Perhaps it will be harder to write them off as “hysterical.” Think about the following concerns from men who are or were entrenched in evangelicalism:

“Dr. Boice observed the following connections between contemporary culture and the evangelical church: (1) Ours is a trivial age, and the church has been deeply affected by this pervasive triviality; (2) ours is a self-absorbed, human-centered age, and the church has become, sadly, even treasonably self-centered; and (3) our age is oblivious to God, and the church is barely better, to judge from its so-called worship services. In Dr. Boice’s view, the result of God’s dramatic disappearance from Christian worship could only be a catastrophic loss of divine transcendence, not only in our worship, but in every aspect of the Christian life…”

“Dr. Boice had often expressed concern about contemporary Christian worship. His concern was not limited to the style of the music, but focused more specifically on the content of its lyrics, which he considered theologically shallow and biblically uninformed.” (Philip Graham Ryken describing James Montgomery Boice, Give Praise to God, 7 and 11).

Mark Dever weighs in on the music issue in his seminar on service planning (which I discussed here):

“The people who I know who tell me they don’t like it are other evangelical Christians who want something . . . –the word that’s used again and again with me is light. They want something light. ‘I want something lighter.’ Well, that wouldn’t be here. But I’m not really worried about that, because . . . so many other places they can get that. So that’s what so many people are telling them will actually bring people in. What I would say about the whole culture of the church we’re trying to establish is that . . . we are not meaning to be catering for nominal Christians. We’re catering for people who are sort of dead-out and willing to follow Christ or non-Christians who are spiritually curious. If they’re people who just want to be kind-of entertained or cajoled in, then that’s opposite of the way we’re trying to teach them about following Jesus.”

Here’s more good stuff from those outside of fundamentalism:

“Not all music is appropriate for public worship or to express particular thoughts and ideas about God…Our heavenly Father deserves and demands the best we have to offer. As literature and art can be critiqued according to certain standards, so too can music. And when it comes to public worship—there is a style that is better than another, else we might as well abandon any hope of biblically critiquing western culture and throw in our lot with the Philistines!” (Derek H. W. Thomas, “Too Many Notes!” — HT: Immoderate)

“One of the saddest features of contemporary worship is that the great hymns of the church are on the way out….And in their place have come trite jingles that have more in common with contemporary advertising ditties than with the psalms. The problem here is not so much the style of the music, though trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies. Rather the problem is with the content of the songs. The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome, memorable language. They lifted the worshiper’s thoughts to God and gave him striking words by which to remember God’s attributes. Today’s songs reflect our shallow or nonexistent theology and do almost nothing to elevate one’s thoughts about God.” (Lig Duncan, “Does God Care How We Worship?” in Give Praise to God, 20)

“True worship is characterized by self-effacement without self-consciousness. That is, in biblical worship we so focus upon God himself and are so intent to acknowledge his inherent and unique worthiness that we are transfixed by him, and thus worship is not about what we want or like…but rather it is about meeting with God and delighting in his delights. Praise decentralizes itself.” (Lig Duncan, “Foundations for Biblically Directed Worship” in Give Praise to God, 64)

Here’s more Duncan, via Bob Bixby:

“10. Music must be consonant to the text of Scripture or the truth we are singing. You can sing Amazing Grace metrically to ‘Gilligan’s Island’ but something is lost. We must recognize that there are media that spoil the message.”

“Although worship has become a buzzword in all ecclesiastical circles, minimal attention is given to biblical teaching regarding worship. As a result, we find evangelicals slipping away from biblical worship and justifying their practices on the basis of the Zeitgeist. A hedonistic, narcissistic, relativistic, ‘me-focused’ age, though, is hardly one that should inform and define our approach to God. And yet, it does.” (Paul S. Jones, “Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World” in Give Praise to God, 223)

“The church that properly worships will be peculiar to the world. Its ways will seem at odd and irrelevant, and its language will sound strange. In a word, God’s holy pilgrims will appear to be sectarians. This is because the church, saved by God in order to worship him, sees itself in light of God’s purposes, not the world’s expectations. God has elected us by his good pleasure, delivered us from the bondage of sin, and set us apart from the world, where, like the Israelites in exile, we are to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.” (D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship, 59-60 — HT: Immoderate)

“[T]he wise person will pay attention to the relative properties of music and human nature and draw correct conclusions about its power to influence and corrupt. It has not been wise of evangelicals to ignore the issues raised by tunes, words, and tunes and words in combination. Regrettably, those who raise those concerns are often branded as elitists, legalists, and narrow-minded fundamentalists and ignored.” (Terry J. Johnson, “Restoring Psalm Singing to Our Worship” in Give Praise to God, 273-274. Note: At the close of Johnson’s quote, he cited Makujina’s book as an example of one so derided.)

I’ll conclude with quotations from two men who are enjoying worship in the Lord’s presence. Here’s what Calvin says about music:

“Care must always be taken that the song be neither light nor frivolous; but that it have weight and majesty (as St. Augustine says), and also, there is a great difference between music which one makes to entertain men at table and in their houses, and the Psalms which are sung in the church in the presence of God and his angels.”

Can someone dead for centuries really counsel us on the CCM question? Sure. In fact, what he says may be even more compelling that others because it was written in a day in which even “music one made to entertain” was tame, at least compared to what’s being produced today.

One more quote, this one from Tozer:

“There is grief in my spirit when I go into the average church, for we have become a generation rapidly losing all sense of divine sacredness in our worship. Many whom we have raised in our churches no longer think in terms of reverence—which seems to indicate they doubt that God’s Presence is there….Much of the blame must be placed on the growing acceptance of a worldly secularism that seems much more appealing in our church circles than any hungering or thirsting for the spiritual life that pleases God. We secularize God, we secularize the gospel of Christ and we secularize worship.” (Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 117)

I hear you, Brother Tozer. And it’s only getting worse. There’s grief in my spirit, too.


54 Responses

  1. Good points, Chris. Thanks for this.

  2. Vey well said, Pastor Anderson. It has been somewhat ironic for me, as a life-long independent Baptist , to find these days that I often share more values in common with the free Presbyterians than with many independent Baptists.

    To be very honest, I have found the recent discussions exceedingly grievous on multiple fronts. The question in my mind right now is how we (corporately, if possible) get back as much as possible of what we have given away with regard to the reverence and divine sacredness in worship to which Tozer refers.

    I’m glad you’re back and posting! I have missed the challenge of your thoughts.

  3. Oh, sure, bring the majesty of God into it! Anyone could do that… :) And just wanted to thank you and Dever for putting this lovely thing in my head–“amazing grace how sweet the sound” to gilligans island tune–I can’t shake it! AAAAAGGGGGHHHH!

  4. Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD. Psalm 150

    That doesn’t describe the kind of worship service I prefer. I grew up with and am MUCH more comfortable with traditional hymns, a piano, and an organ. (At least the organ is in the passage, although somehow I don’t think David had a Wurlitzer!) I can live very happily without the whole timbrel and dance thing.

    But I can’t honestly say that Scripture compels or commands or restricts our music to the kind of worship service I enjoy. And I’m not willing to insist that others adopt my preferences and say that only those are pleasing to God.

    How can we honestly claim fidelity to Scriptures when we are laying our cultural biases on top of them and ignoring some pretty clear verses?

  5. When dealing specifically with worship…good points.
    When dealing with music in general…doesn’t fly.

    What is unique to fundamentalism is this idea that there is inherent morality in the music itself. The idea that music, regardless of context, can be considered immoral is simply unprovable at best.

  6. When would music ever be without context?

  7. As an evangelical that has grown up singing more songs in church of the contemporary style than hymns, I just want to say that I couldn’t agree with you more that lyrics need to be spiritually meaty. I can’t help but cringe when worship leaders choose songs that have almost no theological depth, yet they sing them anyway because they like the melody. With that being said, there are CCM worship songs out there that have very similar lyrics to traditional hymns so I don’t think it’s entirely fair for one to write off every CCM song simply because of style…which I don’t think this post is saying.

    It is my view that both hymns and contemporary praise and worship song be sung in church. All songs being sure to be biblically solid of course.

  8. I doubt that any of the conservative evangelicals you quoted would agree with you on this. That worship is important is not up for debate, but whether or not rap is disrespectful to God is very much a matter of debate.

  9. Don’t forget these remarks by John MacArthur:

    “And what happens is if you put a Christian message in that vernacular, I think Christianity suffers immensely because I don’t think you can take that kind of medium and use it to propagate a Christian message.” (

    “I don’t ever want to use a style that will drag down the content. It’s highly unlikely that I can put the gospel, for example, in a very contemporary musical genre, and elevate the genre, you understand? The tendency is going to be to pull the gospel down to that level.”

  10. Greg,

    I would agree that how we listen to and perceive music is never without context. Context is absolutely necessary for judging the associational and appropriateness values of music. However, by the very definition of “inherent,” any inherent value of music must be able to be judged without needing any context, because an inherent value remains the same in any context. If context is required to judge the value of the music, then what you are judging is not inherent.

    Dave Barnhart

  11. dcbiii,

    Fine. I don’t recall Chris’s post mentioning inherent morality. But this appeal of evaluating music without any context just doesn’t exist.

  12. Chris,

    FWIW, Tom Ascol (SBC Founders) recently posted comments about the new leader of the SBC executive committee in which he was calling for SBCers to deal with the music/worship question.

    Hopefully without sidetracking your discussion, I would add that the translation issue is also mistakenly viewed as a fundamentalist issue when in fact it is not exclusively our debate. Just as “Give Praise to God” wasn’t written for fundamentalists, neither was James Whites “King James Only Controversy.”

    I guess we could ask ourselves if we think we are the only ones on the planet with debates, but we would probably end up with a debate over the answer.

  13. Chris,

    I agree with you that the issue of “worship” and the issue of “music” are not fundamentalist issues alone.

    I also currently find myself, to a large extent, in agreement with wing of evangelicalism represented by Sproul, Duncan, Dever, etc., and I agree with their quotes in your post.

    However, it does seem to me that the way the evangelicals and the fundamentalists debate this issue is somehow different. I’d have to think and discuss more to get specific in defining the difference, but here are some initial attempts:

    1- The fundamentalists seem more afraid of doing something wrong while the evangelicals (that you mention) seem more concerned with teaching something right.

    2 – The fundamentalists seem concerned with figuring out who to separate from while the evangelicals seem concerned with influencing and reforming.

    3 – The fundamentalists seem to be less open than the evangelicals to the idea that some music they wouldn’t use for worship (rock, country, rap, etc.) would be appropriate for entertainment and recreation in another context (auditorium or bar).

    I am not trying to pick a fight here — just trying to participate in a discussion in a positive and honest way.


    P.S. Wasn’t it Ligon Duncan who rapped at some big pastors’ conference last year?

  14. Dave (Barnhart),

    I agree generally with what you are saying. However, I believe that there is a universal context — common humanity. If musical expression is tied to physical and emotional characteristics common to all humanity (which I believe it is), then even if you say that music is purely contextual (which I don’t necessarily have a problem with), you must still deal with universals.

    Even unbelievers who hold to evolution believe this. Leonard Bernstein, for instance, argues for universals in musical expression because it is tied to common humanity that evolved from a single source. Of course, holding to creation further strengthens such a view.

    So when we say “inherent” or “intrinsic,” we are merely saying “contextually tied to common humanity, thereby being universal.”

  15. NeoFundy,

    The idea of the morality of music (apart from text) is *not* unique to Fundamentalism. You probably just have only heard Fundamentalists argue this point. Do some research, and it’s not too difficult to find quotes like this from Howard Hanson, former head of the Eastman School of Music (not exactly your typical Fundamentalist institution): “Music has powers for evil as well as for good.” Also this: “To maintain that music is neutral is stupidity plain and simple.” Neil Postman, New York University (another bastion of Fundamentalism?).

    I would assert rather that the belief that there is *not* morality in music is unique to Christians who want to use whatever musical style they want to attempt to communicate truth about God.

  16. Tom said: “When dealing specifically with worship…good points. When dealing with music in general…doesn’t fly.”

    I don’t follow you, especially because the conversation is precisely about music in worship, not one or the other. Can you explain, please?


    Ryan said: “I doubt that any of the conservative evangelicals you quoted would agree with you on this. That worship is important is not up for debate, but whether or not rap is disrespectful to God is very much a matter of debate.”

    Ryan, they were talking about worship, and specifically about music. I’m having a hard time how you could read what they said & come to your conclusion.

    Someone on another thread cited Lig Duncan’s rapping at pastor’s conferences. My response? It’s a gag. In fact, I think it’s funny. But the reason it is funny is because it is so obviously and blatantly ridiculous. Based on what I’ve read & heard from him, I don’t think he’d ever support using it in worship.

  17. Chris,

    Good points. I greatly desire that we get back to debating and evaluating music based on its ability to worship and adore God rather than on what we like. I think both sides have difficulty in this arena. The more strict “hymn only” type like their hymns. The more contemporary type like their ccm. We need to honestly be able to evaluate all music we use to worship and purge our worship from the “empty” old and the “trite” new. Maybe we don’t do this because it is a lot of work and we might just irritate ourselves and others.

  18. It’s about time somebody addressed this .

  19. Scott,

    So you are saying that by inherent, you are meaning there is a universal (to humans) context for any music. Hmm. That sounds like an interesting concept. I don’t know that I buy it, but it is definitely something I hadn’t really thought about. Even if true, I still think it would be hard to show this definitively. It is certainly a different take on the inherent or intrinsic qualities of music. Thanks a lot for giving me something I need to go spend some time with (as if I needed more things to spend my time on)! :)

    Dave Barnhart

  20. Kris,

    Quotes can be interesting and sometimes helpful, but without proof, they are simply assertions. Your first quote definitely falls into this category. I actually agree with your second one, as I believe that can be shown objectively. The problem is that those on the side of morality in music often make the mistake of trying to use neutral and amoral interchangeably, and then argue that if one accepts that music is not neutral it is therefore not amoral . Those concepts are not the same at all. Forward and reverse are not neutral, but neither do they have a moral quality. It is a big leap to say that if one accepts that music affects us, it’s effect can therefore be measured in terms of good and evil. Those terms are not identical in their meaning, and therefore must be shown to be true separately. I would accept as true that “moral” implies “not neutral,” though it would be a logical error to then say that “not neutral” implies “moral.”

    Regarding your closing assertion, it is equally without proof. Although it is true that some non-Christians accept that music has a moral quality, I have seen enough quotes to know that some do not. Therefore, your assertion that “the belief that there is *not* morality in music is unique to Christians who want to use whatever musical style they want to attempt to communicate truth about God,” is shown to be clearly false.

    Dave Barnhart

  21. Keith said…

    “1- The fundamentalists seem more afraid of doing something wrong while the evangelicals (that you mention) seem more concerned with teaching something right.

    2 – The fundamentalists seem concerned with figuring out who to separate from while the evangelicals seem concerned with influencing and reforming.

    3 – The fundamentalists seem to be less open than the evangelicals to the idea that some music they wouldn’t use for worship (rock, country, rap, etc.) would be appropriate for entertainment and recreation in another context (auditorium or bar).”


    I’m not sure these generalizations are really accurate. For example, even if you disagree with Scott, he’s offered many positive suggestions for improving worship. And I’ve spent a great deal of space at MTC dealing with worship, more often than not in a positive way. Many others have, as well.

    Along those lines, Dr. Barrett’s book on worship should be released soon. I’m looking forward to it.

    It probably is true, however, that fundamentalists treat the topic of worship as a call to arms. That’s a shame, and I’ve said as much here. On the other hand, as evangelicals become more worldly and fundamentalists become more…um…evangelical, I think this type of discussion is needed.

    Per your second point, evangelicals obviously aren’t worried about separating. I do think there is an increased emphasis among fundamentalists to pursue biblical, thoughtful worship, though. Not as much as I’d like to see, perhaps, but again, I’m not sure your second point rings true. Put it this way: the fact than Duncan & Dever are addressing the issue positively doesn’t mean most evangelical churches are. In fact, I’m certain that they’re more the minority in their movement than their counterparts within fundamentalism.

    As for your third point, I for one am perfectly prepared to admit that country & rap music are acceptable for the bar. :)

  22. Dave,

    Thank you for your kind reply. Let me respond to a few things. First, I was using the quotes to point out the fact that the belief in the moral quality that music can have is not unique to fundamentalists, not to try to lay out a clear argument for my belief. There is much more than those quotes that undergirds my position. Second, I must be somewhat less cerebral than you to be able to make the distinction between the terms “amoral” and “neutral” (used within the context of the music issue, not gears in a transmission). Third, I will admit that my final assertion does indeed lack thorough research. It’s just that at this point in my study, I only find christians denying the morality of music so that they can use whatever musical style they prefer. I’d love to see some of your research on this so that I can see what you are talking about.

    Forgive me, Chris, if thise type of discussion oversteps the bounds of your blog!

  23. Can we meet for a cold one and some blues sometime?

    I aknowledge readily that my generalizations may not be acurate — I’m sure they are not completely acurate because they are generalizations. Also, I repeatedly used the word “seems” on purpose — these are my impressions, and I’d need to work a lot harder to articulate them in a way that might persuade those who don’t share them already.

    Additionally, I don’t totally disagree with Scott on cultural matters or with your positive work on worship. I have weighed in on Scott’s side in a blog discussion at least once (the objectivity of taste), and I do not agree at all the worship music is exclusively a matter of preference.

    Even so, it seems to me that fundamentalists, including you guys, focus on what you see as specific negative instances with more emotion (see Scotts comments about the recent rap at Bethlehem) than the evangelicals — that’s what I’m referring to as “afraid”.

    For example, if I had been supportive of Piper before the rap episode, it would take more than that one episode for me to flip out like some of the fundamentalists I’ve read recently. I think it would for the evangelical guys you mentioned too. Culuture, music, and worship are things that are lived out over time — not established in one event.

    Anyway, thanks for the interaction, and since I did not once use the term “hyper-fundamentalist” in this comment, you are buying the first round at B.B. Kings Blues Bar.


  24. Is there a parallel to what our worship should be and the scenes of worship described in chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation? Are there any sermons or books that reference this, or am I misguided (which wouldn’t be the first time)?

  25. Mercy, Dale, you think SCRIPTURE would teach us something about worship? Especially Rev. 4-5, where the worship is PERFECT? There’s an idea! ;) I think you’re right on, and I think there is much we can learn about the majesty, the God-centeredness, the humility of true worship from those passages. Good thought.

    Keith, how about this: the first time I use rap in a worship service, I’ll buy you a beer.

  26. Please don’t invite me to your church if you do, Chris! I’ll come any other time :)

  27. Who said anything about beer? I was talking about tea! Either way, it’s a deal :)

  28. Kris,

    I agree my example didn’t work out as I was thinking. I meant forward and reverse as applied to the state of moving one direction or another, not as transmission gears, but used the way I did, I can see how I caused confusion. Maybe I should have used advance or retreat vs. going nowhere. You can also think of this as a vote on a local issue (like where to build a new mall). You might not remain neutral on this, but it doesn’t mean that either side is good or evil. There are even tastes that are so strong (like anchovies or hot peppers) that they generate an emotional reaction in people that eat them, but again, have no moral component. I can agree that music can sometimes affect my mood without agreeing that this affect is moral in nature. Sadness is the opposite of happiness, but neither are necessarily measurable in terms of good or evil. That’s what I mean by the difference between neutral and amoral.

    As far as a research study point, I would fall outside your current experience. I do not believe in the inherent morality of music (I’ve seen no evidence that convinces me), but my preferences for worship music are more traditional and “high church” than nearly all fundamentalists I’ve met, and most I know of (Scott would be an exception :) ). I judge music based on its associational (does it sound like the world’s music?) and appropriateness (even if it doesn’t, would I use that tune for worship?) qualities (context as mentioned above in this discussion), not on inherent morality. Those are quite sufficient for me to not have an “anything goes” philosophy of worship music, though I would agree with those on the CCM side who say that nothing we offer God is good enough on its own. God made it abundantly clear in the OT that even sacrifices done strictly according to the law, the way God himself specified they were to be done, were an abomination to Him when when the heart was not right toward God. In another place, it says that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

    My view is that concentrating on music having such an “inherent” morality makes it more difficult, not less, for the average Christian to judge music. As long as people continue to say that music has inherent morality, but give no other practical way to judge it than “bring it to me and I will tell you whether or not it is good music,” then Christians will not learn how to discern for themselves. (I’ve never seen one proponent of morality in music give me a standard where I can look at one chord next to another chord or look at rhythm patterns and be able to tell objectively and accurately the degree of “goodness” or “evilness” of the music. If you can’t judge the basic patterns, there is no ground for the statement “put the pieces together in a song and NOW they are moral.”) If you tell people that “after a while you will just ‘know’ which music is good and bad, how is that objective (which inherent qualities can always be judged by, regardless of context)? If you tell them to judge music the way I do, I submit that you are no longer judging the inherent value of the music at all.

    Apart from all this, I’m still mulling over Scott’s idea of “universal context” as what is meant by music’s intrinsic value. I’m sure I’ll be working on that one for a while!

    Dave Barnhart

  29. Since it is God who gives the talent to create music (and I certainly do not have the gift), do not some use their gift for their own glory, and others to the glory of God? If my music is to the glory of man, it is wrong regardless of the style (Beethoven’s 9th is a good example: very humanistic, yet don’t we just love it!) Chris Tomlin wrote the following sung by Caedmon’s Call via a CCM context: “God of wonders beyond our galaxy / you are holy, holy, holy / the universe declares your majesty / Lord of all creation: of water, earth, and sky / The Heavens are your Tabernacle / Glory to the Lord on High / Hallelujua to the Lord of heaven and earth

    The same God who gave Beethoven his ability to produce great music also gave Chris Tomlin his talent to write the words to this tune, and Caedmon’s Call the ability to sing it. Are both music great art? Well, they both certainly reflect talent. And to be honest, I’d rather praise God while I’m listening to “God of Wonders” than hearing “Ode to Joy” devoid of references to God while promoting humanism and human acheivement apart from God (btw, I really like Beethoven’s 9th, so does that make me a hypocrite?), or listening to contemporary secular pop artists who reflect nothing of the Savior or the Gospel. Would I use Caedmon’s Call in worship. No. But outside of worship, as in a camp setting (eg- the OBF’s PBC), on my radio at home or in the car, or in a college dorm after classes (listen up BJU folk), yes! The heart and mind should be directed toward God in everything we do, and if Tomlin’s music helps me reflect on God’s glory, has he not used his gift for the glory of God?

  30. Hi Dave Barnhart et al

    You know, Dave, you can use exactly your arguments about morality for painting or sculpture as well. Do you deny that those arts have a moral component? If you don’t, then why is music exempt from communicating morals? If you do, then what is wrong with pornography?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  31. Good point, Don. However, the evil of pornography and sensual art is in the response of the viewer to it. The question is, “Can one view pornography and not elicit the response that it is provided to solicit?” Can one listen to music and not elicit the response it is purported to solicit? If I can listen to Beethoven and give praise to God for Beethoven’s talent, am I really eliciting the respose Beethoven wished on his listeners? I’m sure he chose Friedrich Schiller’s writings for a reason to add to the 9th, and I’m sure it was not for his desire to draw men to the Glory of God (Schiller was a kantian philosopher who saw inherent good in humanity expressed in beauty [the “beautiful soul”]: what is beautiful is true and right and had moral quality). Pornography is supposed to elicit carnal desires, but not all art is pornography and not all music is carnal. It is the heart’s response to it that defines it.

  32. Sorry, I am not defending pornography. I am not advocating watching it, buying it, or engaging in it. Pornography, in and of itself, is clearly contrary to the teachings of Scripture. I would dare any human to view pornography with a clear consciousness pleasing to God. I am absolutely convinced it can not be done.

  33. Don,

    Actually, I don’t believe that those arts have a moral component in and of themselves. I submit that if you show pornographic pictures to a 6-month old, they would not have a sinful heart response, any more than say, a horse would. It is our hearts that are evil (that which comes out of a man defiles him, not what goes in), and it is the reaction of our hearts toward a pornographic picture that make it wrong for us to view them, and even our hearts need a certain amount of understanding to have a certain response. I would think that even Adam and Eve pre-fall would also not have the wrong reaction to such “art” if they would see it. They knew nothing of evil, and would not have thought that what they were seeing depicted anything evil, especially since they were sinless but may have already “come together.” They had no context for thinking such a depiction to be evil. Certainly pictures of people naked (which some consider to be a “soft” porn) are not wrong of themselves, since Adam and Eve were naked before the fall and were not ashamed. However, man’s post-fall sinful heart necessitates a covering, because of the way our hearts will now react. It is viewing such pictures that is actually the problem rather than the pictures themselves.

    The big difference between music and art is the medium itself, of course. I’ve never seen anything to convince me that music has the ability to depict something anywhere near as clearly as a picture. It is much more abstract. If I saw a really abstract painting of “pornography,” but I didn’t know that’s what it was depicting, I doubt I would have a sinful response. Once I read the description of the artist, I would of course not want to have or see such a picture. For me, the fact that I know what the world intends and uses rock music for (no matter how well it accomplishes its end), makes it inappropriate (by association) for use in worshiping God. If I heard a tune from 300 years ago that was used for a lewd song and sung in alehouses, but I didn’t know that fact, I rather doubt I would have the association, and I don’t believe I would think the tune itself would be a problem for me until I learn its history. A good example of this disconnect would be the classical piece “The Pines of Rome.” The author makes it clear what this music was intended to depict, but I’ll bet that most people who have seen “Fantasia 2000” do not think of “The Pines of Rome,” but rather see flying whales in their mind’s eye. If music were as clear as art in the form of pictures or drawings, I don’t believe the meaning would be so easily mutable.

    Dave Barnhart

  34. ok, guys, so you are saying that the only thing that makes an art evil is the heart of the receptor? what about the heart of the producer?

    I think the argument concerning Adam and Eve has a lot of ramifications in different ways and way too many ‘what ifs’ to be really effective. We just don’t have a lot of info on it, and I think pornography or Mick Jagger (I didn’t just stutter!) are impossibilities before the fall.

    The argument for displaying a pornographic picture before a 6 month old is probably more appropriate, but I don’t think it helps you. The picture is what it is and could shape this 6 month old into a pretty warped individual with peculiar designer lusts. Most wallpaper for nurseries don’t come in a variety of pornographic images. Can you imagine what kind of man that boy would turn out to be?

    The music used for lewd songs of 300 years ago was likely not a problem. The lewd song is a different art, not music, but literature.

    I think this difference defines the difference between us. You say that sin can only occur if the receptor understands. I disagree. Sin occurs when the producer sins.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  35. Okay, fellas.

    I cringed when the pornography analogy was introduced, but figured I’d let it stand for the sake of discussing the morality of art. But that’s enough. Describing the morality/amorality of pornography isn’t really on topic anyway, IMO, and isn’t really edifying, even if it is on topic. I’m not jumping on you, Don & Dave. I just don’t see this line of reasoning helping. Let’s leave it alone.

    Please. Thanks.

    (BTW, if these post mysteriously disappears, it will be because of the confused poeple that get pointed here via Google searches. Ugh.)

  36. Again, Don, great points, and I agree with your last statement. The basic question is, “When does having fun become sin?” “Thus saith the Lord” is always clear-cut, yet music is interpretive, and interpretations come from many godly men who differ in the approach to music. Worship is in humility, repentence, and awe of God’s power, glory, and majesty: what we offer to him. Happy is a gift from God: what God gives to us.

    Does not God want us to be happy, and if being happy helps us become closer to God, where is the sin? Worship is corporate, and individually we still are accountable to God for our thoughts, words, and deeds. But we are not responsible for the sin of those who produce that which may make us happy (good food, a good restaurant to take our wives for a date, good music, a good book potentially written by an unbeliever [what is the spiritual status of Tom Clancy or Louis Lamour?], musical selections that some say are OK [since when did Rogers and Hammerstein reflect salvation or God’s holiness?], and similar), otherwise we would never shop anywhere, or go out with our wives on a date, for example.

    Some pop songs are just plain fun, and do not have anything to do with sin or gross perversion (even though those who produce it may be in sin). AM/FM radio, the last I checked, was still free, so we are not directly paying royalties to those who produce it.

    Does not God grant common grace even to unbelievers? We all share in the same trials and tribulations as the lost, and share in similar things that make us happy. We know our happiness is in and from the Lord, but when we hear a pop song that makes us feel good emotionally, what is wrong with that? Happy is a gift of God. If the song is “clean”, and we start tapping our feet, and relating to the commonality of the song (come on, sing “so happy together / I can’t see me loving nobody but you for all my life”), where is the sin? Is the song not true? Sin is in the heart of mankind. We can not cloister ourselves from the world even as we attempt to dilineate that which we find we have in common with those who do not claim the name of Jesus. Or is there any commonality? Once we are saved, do we just stop interacting with non-christians? Can we see the God-given talent in secular musicians when they themselves do not give praise and honor to the One who gave them the talent to do what they do? They abuse their talent because they are unregenerate, but can they not produce music that is really just fun to listen to?

  37. Dale,

    I would say that God isn’t really all that interested in whether we are happy or not. I would really like to see a theology of that, not just a proof text, but a whole Biblical theology of it.

    I think you are dodging my question: is it only response that determines sinfulness or is it production?

    You said that we would never shop anywhere, etc. To a certain extent this is true. There are some places where Christians should never shop. Their heart for God should be grieved by going to some places just to buy kleenex…

    We can’t totally remove ourselves from the world, but 1) that is not what I and others are arguing and 2) what we are arguing is that we should expend our effort towards beign as unspotted from the world as we can. The world does spot us. We have dirt on our feet. We need to wash daily.

    And we should avoid taking a bath in mud. Some places, some music, some art, some of everythign that man produces is just mud. We should stay out of it.

    It is odd to me that so many Christians today want to argue with attitudes towards holiness that have been part of Christian expression since at least the Church Fathers, let alone the New Testament.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  38. I actually agree with you, Don, much more than I can express on a blog (which I’m still getting used to). There is a song in my memory that used to be sung quite often in the church in which I was raised. I can’t for the life of me remember what its name is, but the chorus says “..and now I am happy all the day.” I’m not sure I totally agree with the sentiment, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

    I do kind of disagree with your assessment that God does not care if we are happy or not. If I understand happy to be contentment, would that help clarify what I mean? I want to rest in the loving arms of Christ my Savior. I want my life to be happy in his will for my life. I’m happy being married to my wife and the job he has provided. I also believe that he gives us means to be and express happy, and one of them is music (not specific to a worship environment). Even Chris’s statement above includes Calvin’s differentiation between music for worship and for entertainment. I read it to mean the two are exclusive to each other but not necessarily wrong for the environment. I am in agreement that the music of worhip is to be holy acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service (along with ourselves), and we should clearly differentiate ourselves from the world by our worship. I still think the discussion goes to the heart of how we define “happy”. We see that emotion as somehow displeasing to God, or that God does not relate to it in the Scriptures.

    I really like your statement that “some of everything that man produces is just mud”. I agree, and I say avoid the mud. Swim in the clean pool, not the cesspool. There is much in pop music that is absolutely cruddy, and not all CCM is worthy to be sung let alone heard. Beauty is not, in this case, in the eye of the beholder, but in the heart of the respondent to God. Is our worship acceptable to God, and are our lives acceptable to God as living sacrifices?

  39. Don, yes, we agree that we as the children of God through the grace of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross need to keep ourselves pure and holy. We must work out our sanctification with fear and trembling. Worship is holy and sacred. The music of worship should reflect this. With this, I do not disagree.

    BTW and FWIW, Don, you are a delight to discuss with, and God has used you to be a blessing to me through this and other forums. Thank you for your decency, respect, and love in Christ toward a struggling brother.

  40. Hey Dale, I fail reasonably often in these communications, so don’t put me on too high a pedestal.

    Ok, I get you now. When I see happy, I don’t think contentment. But if you mean contentment, that does modify what I was saying.

    When I said God isn’t really interested in whether we are happy or not, I don’t mean that God is disinterested in our state of mind, our peace, our joy, etc. But happy to me means “good pleasant circumstances.” God isn’t necessarily interested in giving me good pleasant circumstances.

    Well, I guess we need to wait for Dave Barnhart to jump in, or someone else. I have asked ol’ Tom P, the neofundy the same question about morality (i.e., are other arts moral or not) and have never received an answer period, let alone an answer I could disagree with. As I see it, it is incomprehensible to remove morality from what man does. So music has a moral character.

    I do agree that not all music is appropriate for worship, but there we are talking context and there is much moral music (relatively speaking) that is not appropriate for church or any other kind of worship. And there is some music that may be ok for the campfire, but not for Sunday morning.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  41. Agreed! Have a blessed Lord’s Day tomorrow!

  42. Don,

    I will abide by what Chris has asked, and if you care, we can continue the discussion on your example elsewhere. I only want to add that if an object depicting sin can be sin in itself, then we must also apply that to the Bible, as there are many instances of unrepented sin, some fairly graphic, that are depicted within its pages. I certainly don’t believe we can call the Bible sinful because it depicts sin.

    I would agree with you that its extremely probable that anyone who is attempting to depict something sinful with art, especially for the entertainment and/or titillation of others is sinning in his heart. I don’t believe that makes an object or an art form sinful, as I don’t see how anything inanimate can have a sinful heart. The sin is in the heart of the creator or the viewer or listener. So yes, I believe the producer can sin as well as the consumer. However, I don’t believe that the product is sin in itself, or that outside of its context it always has the ability to cause sin in the consumer. Can the product be tainted by that sin? Certainly I would believe that within its context, it can, though I don’t think that applies for all time.

    Back to music, if a lewd song from 300 years ago is literature, not music (not sure how you make that determination, but let’s run with it), why does that not apply to music of today? Are you saying that 300 year-old music written by a composer attempting to do what you are claiming rock music does today was completely unsuccessful at what he was attempting? I can’t buy that at all. In songs that have words, the composer is attempting to have a setting for the words that is appropriate. I can’t believe that composers of 300 years ago who would set their music to lewd words were as unskilled as you apparently believe they were.

    Well, I need to go get ready for the Lord’s day. Have a great Sunday all!

    Dave Barnhart

  43. Dave B

    We need to define terms with the 300 year old song. What makes the song lewd? I get the impression that you are referring to the words alone. The words are literature. The music is music. I am not suggesting that every bawdy song of the past was exempt from evil because the music isn’t rock. It is possible to use a style of music that is less profane than the words they accompany. Some of such music 300 years ago followed general musical principles that communicated less evil than the words do. They may have been an imitation of folk ballads or more serious music, but they didn’t go to the lengths of modern music.

    The technological revolution of the 20th century enabled a lot more experimentation and expression. Electric instruments are a big part of it.

    I’ve got to go. More later.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  44. All art is communication, and the Bible says communication can be “bad”, “corrupt” or “evil”. There is NO such thing as “neutral” communication. The visual examples and the dialogue about them seem to overlook the fact that God defines evil, and he said that immodesty was wrong. Immodesty is an state of someone, not of the viewer (though it appears the big problem is the state of viewer that it will naturally (sin nature) arouse).

  45. I thought I’d add a few more comments to my last, which were dashed off before rushing off to church yesterday.

    A great deal of the confusion that people have regarding music today involves the failure to distinguish the arts involved in songs. The words of a song are not music, they are literature. It is much easier to discern which words communicate evil because words are generally much more objective and less abstract than the sounds music produces (there may be some exceptions, but this is generally true). The music itself, the tune, the melody, harmony (if any) and other components are an entirely different kind of art than the words.

    As Lance said above, all art is communication. Garlock uses the term “living art”. There is something of the living soul of a person communicated in their art. While it is harder to discern all that is communicated in music, I find it hard to believe that it alone of all the arts is exempt from communicating evil.

    Dave B asked whether a composer of a lewd song 300 years ago “attempting to do what you are claiming rock music does today was completely unsuccessful at what he was attempting?” The composer of the lewd song would likely be successful in communicating his message with his literature, i.e., the words. The musical form in which he accompanied his literature may or may not have been as successful at communicating his message. I believe that the advent of electonic instruments allowed a great deal more success to such efforts, and the emphasis on beat also furthers that element to a great extent. These components (as well as perhaps others, I am no expert here) have furthered the ability of musicians to communicate evil with the music.

    That is not to say that it was impossible to communicate evil musically 300 years ago, or that it is impossible to communicate evil in forms that are generally considered ‘acceptable’, i.e., classical music. Some of the works of the composers do communicate sensual moods and should be avoided by Christians. But I do maintain there are some differences between the ability to communicate the messages of sensuality and rebellion between the composers of today and the composers of three centuries ago.

    Last, a comment on the graphic images of the Bible, so-called. The accounts in the Bible are hardly graphic in the same way that the objects we discussed earlier. The way they are presented, their meaning, etc. are all different. We are talking apples and oranges.

    Ok, I guess that’s enough for now.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  46. Don,

    First, we don’t have any disagreement regarding words. Where we disagree is on the music — the arguments about words are simply irrelevant to a tune’s ability to be “moral” apart from the words. That’s why I wasn’t thinking of 300 year-old music as literature. The contention is that the popular music of today can be evil even without any words. If that’s true, then it has been true of music throughout history. I see you do believe that some of those older tunes should be avoided by Christians, but clearly you see it as far less of a problem in older music than in today’s. I don’t agree, but I would be curious to see what people 300 years from now thought of today’s music, if the Lord tarries that long.

    I also agree that there are differences between literature, pictures, and music. While words are not the same as pictures, they can have a similar effect on the heart of man. If something immoral is described in graphic enough language, I’m sure we would both agree that it would be something that could cause a reader to sin, and therefore should not be read. In this way, it is similar to images, even though they are different, since both can carry an extremely explicit message. If I wrote a story using similar language to some of the incidents in Genesis or Judges, you might think that work inappropriate, or even evil. However, if you would claim that what I wrote is evil because of the depiction, the same standard must apply to the Bible. But wait, I hear you say, the intent is different. I would agree that that is something that must be taken into consideration. But apart from that and other parts of the context, what would make what I wrote different? The fact that God wrote the Bible? Of course, that’s the obvious difference, but then that makes a literary depiction of sin not evil in and of itself, since God, by definition, would not create sin. That means any “evil” comes from somewhere else — something outside the work itself.

    Both of literature and pictures, however, are much more concrete than music. Music is a very abstract form that is not able to depict anything nearly as clearly as words or pictures. I can take all kinds of different music and play it for different people and get many different ideas about what is being portrayed. I’ve done this with my family many times. That would happen much less with a piece of literature or a picture/painting, because those forms are much more precise.

    You have brought up the emphasis on beat as something relatively new. What of music as described in the Psalms, where rhythm instruments are mentioned extensively? Of course, we don’t know what their music sounded like, but that’s part of what I’m getting at. I rather doubt that modern music has really added any elements (electronic instrumentation allows more sounds, and probably more volume, but I fail to see how those sounds are more or less moral than ones made by natural means) that haven’t existed since the beginning of the use of music by man. If we had lived during the time of the Greek philosophers, who also believed in the morality of music, I’ll bet both of us would have a different view of now 2,300 year-old music that was “modern” at the time, than we do now. That difference, I submit, is not in the music itself, but in the context — the culture and associations.

    Well, I think we have hammered this pretty much to death. I don’t think either of us will be changing the other’s mind any time soon! The interesting thing (at least to me), is that when you consider the practical vs. the theoretical, I doubt we are that far apart, if at all, in regard to what worship music we would prefer to have in church.

    Dave Barnhart

  47. Hi Dave B

    I am guessing the incidents in Genesis and Judges to which you are referring, but I can’t see that kind of depiction as 1) too graphic or 2) gratuitous. In most literature, similar accounts are usually much more graphic and are rarely necessary for the story, i.e., gratuitous. The Biblical record is pretty subdued, as far as I am concerned.

    As far as the differences between 300 yr old music and the music of today, well if you can’t see much of a difference then I guess we are at an impasse. I think the electronic revolution brought about a proliferation of music and musical forms unprecedented in the history of man. A great deal changed in the 20th century with respect to music. I’ll leave it to others who know more than me to expand on that thought, however.

    Perhaps on a practical level, our preferences for worship music might be the same, but it seems to me you have a much more difficult time holding to your preferences. If someone in the church has differing preferences, what argument can you make for them? It all comes down to personal taste and the political clout you or someone else in the church might wield. That doesn’t seem to be very healthy to me.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  48. Chris,

    I would say simply that I actually live on the campus of Southern Seminary, and thus am a whole lot closer to broader evangelicalism than you are. :)

    We all agree on certain princples. I do not think we agree at all on the application. Evangelicals agree that music should be reverent, and that some forms are not well suited to certain aspects of worship. They would not however, come down with a blanket condemnation of all rap or all rock or all country. The Founders Cafe and the Bookstore at Southern Seminary generally play some sort of “tame” CCM.

  49. Ryan,

    You may be right. But I don’t think so. :)

    For one thing, I intentionally didn’t mention Mohler, because I don’t think he’s particularly conservative on this issue. Nor did I mention Piper, Mahaney, or even MacArthur. My point isn’t that all conservative evangelicals have conservative music positions. That’s obviously not true.

    However, I think the men I quoted are significantly more conservative in this area than Southern’s bookstore, cafe, etc….especially the PCA guys. Their statements demonstrate this, as does the music in their churches. Frankly, they are significantly to the right of most of the yf’s that have discussed the music issue in recent days.

    At any rate, I didn’t intend to equate them with my position. I simply said that the men I quoted are arguing against pulling pop music into the church even as yf’s are arguing for it. Go figure.

  50. I’ve been to Covenant Seminary (PCA) and didn’t find them to be any more conservative than Southern Seminary in the area of music. There are two Reformed rappers at Covenant.

    I’m not sure where exactly Ligon Duncan or R.C. Sproul draw the line on music. I’ve been in very conservative “high church” PCA churches that sing praise choruses like “Shout to the Lord.”

    I’m certain that Dever would not go as far as you do. In his interview with Janz he said he was not opposed to modern styles of music. He just doesn’t use them in his church.

  51. Ryan,

    Thanks for checking back. Again, if I’ve misrepresented anyone, I apologize. I have not visited campuses or churches, so I’m left with what men like Dever or Duncan have written and said. And again, the quotes are pretty strong. FWIW, I’ve been speaking about “pulling pop music into the church,” and, as you suggest, Dever appears to oppose that and speaks to it rather aggressively. My understanding from conservative PCA churches like 10th Pres, etc. is that their services are very conservative. In fact, I just had that verified by a friend’s visit last Sunday. On the other hand, I’ve also become aware of a Christian “hip-hopper” that attends Tenth.

    At any rate, I’m not trying to make these men out to be more conservative than they are. For example, I was surprised by the music played during intermissions at T4G. But their statements are strong, and I appreciate their influence in this area.

  52. Last month, I posted an article at my blog with a link to this article by Chris. Since then, I have gotten a number of visitors from this site. However, I have decided to delete my post regarding Chris’s involvement with the rap music debate. I apologize for any offense I may have caused. And I would ask for you to read my explanation at Thanks, Rick

  53. Very good article Chris.

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