Masters and Wilson on Worldliness and Calvinism

There is much to consider from Peter Masters’ concern about worldly Calvinists. Several friends sent it to me, and I agree with much of it.

There is also much to consider from Douglas Wilson’s response to Peter Masters’ concern about worldly Calvinists. I didn’t see that one coming.

Interesting. Thoughts?

(Related: A short post I made in the OBF Visitor on Worldliness)


56 Responses

  1. “A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.”

    This quote from the article is quite perceptive. My thought from as an outsider looking in – I’m a no-point Calvinist ;) – is that Masters is quite right.

  2. I’m with Wilson on this one. I think Masters is barking up the wrong tree. Piper, MacArthur, Mahaney, Dever, Mohler—wordly? Because of a musical style associated with a conference the preached the gospel at? Not hardly.

  3. Very quickly…

    I think there’s a case to be made that there’s a disturbing disconnect between the regard some express for God’s sovereignty in salvation and the seemingly careless way they live and speak, as if God’s lordship extends to justification, not obedience. But I’m not at all convinced that Dr. Masters made the case very well, or that he’s justified in his guilt-by-association argumentation against the men Deek mentioned.

    So I agree—and disagree—with elements of both articles, which either makes me discerning or cowardly. :)

  4. 1) I love Dr. Masters. I’ve been to his church on a few occasions, stayed for a few nights with some college guys in his congregation, and am so blessed by the evangelistically-fervent, warm, multi-ethnic theologically-solid, congregation. In other words, I would gladly be a member of that congregation.

    2) I heartily agree with Masters’ central concern that many guys who love Calvinistic theology seem to evidence greater worldliness (loving movies and music that are wicked). I’m greatly concerned about this in my own life.

    3) His article had zero Scripture! Rather than the standard being Scripture, his standard appeared to be Calvinism and puritanism (not bad, but certainly not authoritative or best).

    4) If you look for what he means by worldliness, his arguments basically show that worldliness = allowance of certain music styles (a charismatic ethos in worship). Here he commits the logical fallacy of assuming his conclusion.

    5) His understanding of T4G and the like (like his understanding of Piper’s absence of “sufferology” several years ago) is just wrong. Mark Dever began T4G highlight what we are NOT together for, and encouraging gracious, sharpening debate on those matters (music, clothing, church govt, baptism, continuationism, etc.).Masters assumes that T4G makes those non-issues.

    6) Masters seems to have a one-size-fits-all measuring stick (as stated earlier, it basically says, “If it’s contemporary-styled music, it’s worldly.”) and applies it to Passion, Resolved, NA and T4G. These conferences are quite different. This is kind of like fundamentalists who lump MacArthur, Piper, Dever and Warren together.

    7) The whole article kind of shocked me because of Masters’ frequent association with MacArthur and Johnson, as well as his deep theological and philosophical agreement with Dever.

    All in all, I think it’s a poor article, even though I agree with the heart of his concern. My response to this is a lot like my reply to the MacArthur articles on Driscoll. I fear that few are going to listen to Masters not because the essence of his concern is unfounded, but because he doesn’t know his opponents well enough to state their position in terms they’d agree with and because he doesn’t argue well using Scripture that’s accurately and powerfully interpreted.

  5. I am so thankful for this response from Wilson. It was disconcerting to see so many lauding Masters article. Wilson has done the church a great favor by zeroing in on what seems to be the primary issue at hand–namely, Masters arbitrary use of worldliness.

    A better response could have been written, but I’m just grateful someone addressed this.

  6. The only idea I took away from Masters’ articles was “Wow, he really doesn’t like contemporary music.” I still fail to see the “contemporary styles of music = worldly” connection. I still haven’t heard much of an actual theological critique of Reformed doctrine. You can’t pick a conclusion you like and then try to find a theology that gets you there.

    One of the most influential books I have read on the topic of sanctified living and discipline is Holiness by J.C. Ryle–whose view of sanctification and soteriology sounds remarkably Reformed to me. And I don’t recall any mention of music in that collection of sermons…

  7. I still think Masters offers a good, bracing warning. I’m pretty surprised by the responses. They almost seem defensive to me.

    I live out in California. There are very worldly elements in say a church like MacArthur’s. Masters was right to point the terrible music at Resolved.

  8. I’m curious exactly what it is that makes music worldly, and where in the Bible such judgments can be justified. Can somebody help me out with that?

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that lyrically some songs are obviously trash, but musically? I’m not following the line of thought on that one.

  9. Jim,

    My point (and Joe’s) is that Masters didn’t prove the point he was asserting. And I tend to agree with Wilson that worldliness can hardly be limited to externals, especially in light of passages like 1 John 2:15 and James 4:1-6. With texts like that in mind, I think there are very worldly elements in a great many fundamental churches, mine included. That said, I have no use for the music you linked to.


    Those of us who argue for more conservative music in worship believe that some music (e.g. rock, hip hop, etc.) is an inappropriate/contradictory vehicle for the gospel message. I’d make the same argument against, say, big band or dixieland music being used in worship. It doesn’t fit. In fact, Wilson made that argument about the blues in his article, even as he criticized Masters. It’s not a fitting way to worship a holy God (Heb 12:28-29). It’s not reverent. Though it’s hard to tie a discussion like this to a specific text (especially without twisting it), I would say that there is music that by content and association is…well…worldly.

    It’s a relatively subjective issue, I admit, and one that conservatives can argue for ill-advisedly, or even disproportionately compared to vital doctrines like soteriology. On the other hand, our manner of worship certainly reflects on (and probably even shapes) our view of God.

    Anyway, I address it to some degree here.

  10. Hello, Chris. I understand what you’re saying. There is no doubt the world seeps into all of our churches. It is a constant fight to not to be conformed to it.

    I do think a text like Galatians 5 offers objective elements for music that is according to the flesh. When music (not talking about lyrics) appeals to these categories, it ought not be used by believers – church or not. I would think you would agree with that, right? I mean, I’m assuming that’s why you have no use for the music I linked.

    Btw, music seems to be the first thing that leads churches into the error that Masters speaks of – in my opinion. You know – the ministry of warning being killed off.

  11. Chris,

    First of all let me say how much I enjoy your blog. I read way too many blogs and, as a result, much of my online “reading” is really only title skimming. I will say, however, I often take note of the posts that you write. God has obviously gifted you with a sharp mind and an articulate pen. Thanks for sharing that gift with us.

    Second, thank you for your well thought out response. It’s clear that you have put a great deal of thought into the subject of worship music. That being said, if and when I disagree with you on certain points below, please know that I preface it with a big, “With all due respect…”

    Third, a point of clarification may be in order. In my previous comment I asked, “What is it that makes music worldly and where in the Bible [can] such judgments be justified.” What I meant to ask—and I admit, I was not clear—was this: “What is it that makes worship music worldly…” That seems more to be the issue that’s really in question here.

    You mention rock, hip hop, big band, and dixieland music as inappropriate and contradictory vehicles for the gospel, saying of each simply that, “It doesn’t fit,” and citing Heb. 12:28-29 as that which I’m guessing it must fit within. I’m curious what type of musical style would ever fit such a description of God as that which we find in the latter half of Heb. 12? (“A blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sounds of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them” [Heb. 12:18-19]; “Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear’” [Heb. 12:21]; etc.) If our musical style within church services ever began to truly reflect the reverence and awe that the God of Heb. 12 demands, I don’t think anyone would ever come to church. They’d be too afraid.

    I don’t see where the passage you cite really has anything to do with the style of music that accompanies a worship service. Instead, what the context seems to reveal is that Heb. 12 is all about how the faith of Heb. 11 is supposed to be fleshed out in our daily living as believers. Further, and especially concerning the two verses you use, it’s motivation for the commands concerning godly, day-to-day living of Heb. 13 (e.g. brotherly love (13:1); hospitality to strangers (13:2); remember those who are in prison (13:3); honoring marriage and sexual purity (13:4); keeping your life free from the love of money (13:5-6); imitating the faith of your leaders (13:7); and so on and so forth).

    Contextually speaking, then, the “acceptable worship” of Heb. 12:28—the type’s done with, “reverence and worship”—has little to do with musical tastes and/or styles and everything to do with us continuing to , “Do good and to share what [we] have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16).

  12. For the record, by the way, the church I attend (Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, AL) sings hymns mainly, set to the accompanying music provided by a pianist, an organ an violinist, and a french horn.

  13. Just wondering why so many comments on here assume Masters was equating worldliness with externals only. I don’t believe he was giving his thorough definition of worldliness. I think he was just saying how the conferences he was criticizing were displaying worldliness. I’m pretty sure if you asked him what worldliness was he would start with the heart. And I also think we can all agree that our external behavior betrays at least part of what our hearts value. So, you can draw some (not all) conclusions from externals….

    And I agree with Chris’ comments about associations with certain types of music making them incompatible with worshippng a holy God. Right on!

  14. Dr. Masters’ article seems to be targeted at a sympathetic audience. Many people who agree with Masters’ conclusions will approvingly forward the article on. Others may see more problems.

    Like Chris or Doug Wilson, I would generally come to the same conclusions about what music to use in worship, if in a slightly different way.

    I do agree that there is a lot of worldliness among the New Calvinists, if not in most Christians of a similar demographic. We miss the point when we limit our definition of worldliness to specific cultural forms. Worldly Christians are people who have allowed their thinking, values, and actions to be shaped by the world around them.

    This kind of worldliness shows up different ways in different demographics. For my age group, we tend to manifest our worldly values on places like Twitter. Lots of Christians on Twitter try to outdo each other in their knowledge of current music and entertainment or their consumerism (is YOUR iPhone 3G S on order yet?). We try to project a trendy image of ourselves that others will admire: traveling, networking, and achieving great things. We define ourselves by our careers or our wit, rather than our position in the Gospel.

    For the middle-aged demographic the temptations to worldliness may run more along the lines of the American Dream: a nice house, successful kids, a good job, and early retirement.

    These are all forms of worldliness I’ve rarely heard preached against.

  15. Spot on, Michael C. Worldliness is in the heart. It’s not a product of Calvinism or anti-Calvinism or anything in between. It’s a product of the flesh. It may be easier to spot in a gen-Xer if you are a Boomer because it looks different than what you struggle with, but at heart it’s the same thing.

  16. Ahhhh….so many bees in bonnets these days :-)

    It seems to me that many might be missing one of Masters’ main points. Namely, that the Puritans (J. Edwards, et al) would blow their little black tophats off were they around to see much of what is going on in the church today.

    He’s probably right.

  17. Weren’t the Puritans Calvinist?

  18. I guess what I’m trying to figure out is whether his complaint is that Calvinism leads to worldliness or that the “New Calvinists” aren’t Calvinist enough (or aren’t “really” Calvinist). I think Michael might be onto something–the true complaint isn’t against New Calvinist Christians, it’s against Gen-X Christians, who happen to be making the most noise in the New Calvinist camp because that’s where they are.

    This raises a couple more questions: Why are they there instead of the self-titled Fundamentalist camp, and what is the best way to disciple them, since I think everyone agrees they have some growing up to do regardless of what camp they are in? (hint: I suspect the answer doesn’t start with whether or not a drumset is present.)

  19. Becca,

    Not sure if you’re asking me, but….yes, the Puritans were Calvinists. Abundantly so.

    At any rate, I was referring not to theology but rather to some of the practices/associations that Masters mentioned.

  20. Mark said, “It seems to me that many might be missing one of Masters’ main points. Namely, that the Puritans (J. Edwards, et al) would blow their little black tophats off were they around to see much of what is going on in the church today.

    He’s probably right.”

    I’m not sure about the black tophats, but I don’t disagree with the conclusion. Masters might have said that. ;)

  21. Deek,

    I appreciate your kind words and careful comment. I’ll try to get back to respond to it later, though I can’t at present.


  22. Master’s article was awful. Sorry, but it was. And I generally like what he and his crowd- say, Al Martin and Walter Chantry, if I had to guess- set forth. It is, to use modern terminology, a severe case of ‘epic fail’. No Scripture and no tact- he posted this publicly without defense. I’m not against public critique, but make sure it’s clear and to the point. It was blistering, to be sure, but it was anything but clear. Because of its nature, any useful discussion that could have been brought out- and much could, I know-was buried beneath rhetoric and disdain. I really don’t know how to respond graciously, but I certainly don’t want to respond in kind.
    Also, as an aside: both in the article, and in the ensuing comments all around the blogosphere, there seems to be a conflation of what is appropriate for church worship and what is appropriate for personal use. I don’t bathe in church, but I still bathe. Similarly, I don’t think rap has a place within the context of gathered worship, but there is more rich theological content coming out of CMR/Lampmode/Reach Records/116 Clique- all rap labels or associations!- than what is coming out of some seminaries. Give me Curt Allen, or Lecrae, or Flame, or Tedashii over Fanny Crosby, because they preach the Word and convict me of my sin.

  23. In the Bible, not once is music directed to men. Never is it said to be for evangelism. Preaching is for evangelism—not music. At the most, unbelievers “see” the worship of believers (Ps 40) and fear. They don’t sway and laugh it up because it is the same stuff they’re accustomed to. As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God. And it is more than the words, because of what we see in the psalms again and again, Ps 150 for instance, and then in Col 3:16 (psallo–making melody, which is literally “to pluck on a string”).

    Men talk about rich theological content. Let’s just say that we all agree with scriptural content that is befitting of the worship God shows He wants in the psalms. This can’t be an either/or—neither the music or the content justifies the other. The Word of God should regulate the words and the music. When we present it to God using a worldly, fleshly medium, this is the syncretism that Masters is talking about. And the medium truly is the message. The vehicle for conveying the message, the music, must also fit with God’s character.

    What we seem to be really talking about here is whether music itself can be worldly, fleshly, make provision for the flesh, relativistic, conform to the world, or be unholy, that is, profane. The world knows what it is doing with music. The world uses certain aspects of the music to communicate all of the above that I listed earlier in this paragraph. The world talks about it in its own descriptions of its music. And we can catch the philosophy behind the music itself in the history of the music.

    Jonathan Edwards described genuine Christianity as involving religious affections and not men’s passions. He distinguished the real from the counterfeit by differentiating between affections and passions. Affections differ than passions in that they start with the mind and then feed the will. Passions, on the other hand, begin with the body. Not only are passions not genuine affection but they also harm discernment. What is thought to be something spiritual is actually a feeling that has been choreographed in the flesh.

    This is a second premise scriptural argument. It is akin to applying Eph 4:29, which commands believers not to have corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth. Based on some of the comments I’ve read here, certain foul language could not be wrong, because the English words aren’t found in the Bible. This, I believe, is part of the attack on truth part of postmodernism. We can ascertain truth in the real world. We can judge corrupt words. We too can judge when music conforms to the world, fashions itself after our former lusts. We can know when it is that passions are being manipulated by music, that it isn’t joy, but a fleshly feeling that impersonates happiness. It is actually fleshly self gratification.

    Much, much more could be said about the relationship of externals and internals in the matter of worldliness. The four books by David Wells could be referred to for those who would want to understand. Evangelicals seem not to recognize the danger of accepting the means pagan culture expresses itself. We blaspheme a holy God, profaning His name, by associating it with these worldly, fleshly forms.

  24. […] HT: Chris Anderson […]

  25. Hi Kent. I’ve actually read other comments you’ve made before, even though you don’t know me. I assume at least part of your comment was to me, since you said ‘men speak of rich theological content’, and that’s the exact phrase I used to describe rap music. I have to admit: my comment was very short and was primarily directed toward Masters’ specific article, and I didn’t expect such a long comment. Having said that…we will just have to respectfully disagree, if possible. I say that because, quite frankly, what you wrote didn’t seem to connect much with what I wrote. I was specifically speaking of music outside the context of what I would call ‘direct worship’. Sure rappers (certain ones, of course) do what they do to glorify God, but they also do it often to teach doctrine or to tell a story. It is a different purpose altogether. Do you ever listen to any music at any times other than the Psalms? Watch Charlotte’s Web with the kiddos? Play sports? All of these things can be used either for edification or for sinful purposes. I know this probably seems far afield, and I am in a rush to get out the door and home for lunch, but I really do believe that there is and should be distinctions made between what the Bible sets forth for corporate worship (and why), and how that is (or isn’t) binding at all times.
    BTW, I have read some of Wells’ work- the last book is right across from me on the shelf. I have also read the Religious Affections: Edwards’ works are there as well. Your appreciation is much shared- and ironically, I have benefited from Dr. Masters as well.
    Much more I could say…about language and Ephesians, about fleshly desires. I’m not ignoring those pieces of your argument Kent: I’m just running late.
    And my apologies for hijacking the meta. I’ve been perusing the blog a bit, and it’s intriguing and edifying.


  26. Chuck,

    Thanks for your reply.

    Some may do what they do with the intention of glorifying God. Cain comes to mind. They don’t glorify God with something He doesn’t want. And we know things He doesn’t want. We can identify some of those things in many different forms of music. It is no wonder—they were formed by an unbelieving world in rebellion against God and under the sway of the wicked one. No matter how well intentioned we are, we should consider we should recognize God for Who He is and then give Him what He is worthy of. We don’t start with what we like and then hope that He does. We should assume, just to start, that it is highly likely that He won’t.

    I can appreciate that you appreciate Edwards. Was Edwards correct in his treatise on the religious affections? Was he scriptural? I believe he fleshed out scripture and we should apply the teaching here. If we don’t, then we really don’t appreciate Edwards.

    I exercise. It profits for a little while unlike godliness, which profits forever. I read other books besides the Bible as do my children. I listen to other music besides the psalms. To answer your questions.

    What I see as an argument verges on the one the Corinthian’s used to justify their fornication. Meats for the belly and belly for meats. Just because it is natural and pleasurable doesn’t mean we should do it. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Ghost. Seeing that they are, we don’t have down time for fleshly lusts. For believers, they war against our souls.

  27. It seems with all the opposition to Master’s article on “Worldliness in Calvinsim,” that our friend Pastor Masters has apparently struck a painful nerve among many people.

    I believe that Pastor Masters is right on the mark. Younger ministers would be wise to take heed, rather than criticize those who have been around a while longer than themselves.

    Master was not doing a Bible exposition, but rather providing an editorial on contemporary church issues. He warns about the end of those who accept doctrines without their natural application to holy, separate living.

    Of course, what he warns about is nothing new in the church, but we receive his new warning as both timely and helpful.

  28. “They don’t glorify God with something He doesn’t want. And we know things He doesn’t want. We can identify some of those things in many different forms of music. It is no wonder—they were formed by an unbelieving world in rebellion against God and under the sway of the wicked one.”

    I respect all of you men, and really enjoy reading your thoughts. So thanks. Can I try to unpack this statement a little?

    I can’t speak for all the young people at the conferences identified, but I speak for myself and I know I’m not alone. Here’s the disconnect in my mind when I hear statements like the one above: How are you so sure that God does not want these forms of worship? What exactly about them is distasteful to God? The drums? The beat? Certain instruments? The appeal to music history doesn’t help me—I’ve had plenty of classes in music history, and the roots of current music styles are so complex that it’s hard for me to assign guilt by association that way. Further, most of us who don’t remember the “rebellion era” of the 60s and 70s don’t make the same associations between music styles that our parents did. We hear classic rock and think “wholesome fun” or “heartfelt poetry.” We hear 80s church music and think “manipulative invitations.” It’s a totally different emotional reaction.

    When I was in high school, I really struggled with the reality of God and the lack of true worship in my church. Then I discovered some of the newer worship that was being written. I listened for hours to people like Michael Card, Jars of Clay, DC Talk—and for the first time in a long time, my soul worshipped. The words pointed me to God, and the music didn’t carry the baggage of the dead religion around me. When I got to college and heard these groups condemned as not pleasing to God, it was VERY confusing to me—God had used their music to draw me back to Him!

    Every argument on either side seems to rely heavily on subjective criteria and cultural context. Emotional, repetitive, appealing to the senses… all these words could be used to describe the Psalms! Or a large portion of the hymnal. What you would not find stylistically acceptable on a church platform in Schaumburg, IL would be “cultural” and exciting in Niger, Africa. And essentially I think that’s what’s happening at T4G and the Gospel Coalition and the like—there’s a cultural split, and what sounds like “worldly emotionalism” to one sounds like “a new song to the Lord” to another. It would be wrong of me to expect the former group to conform to the latter, but I implore it to at least try to understand where they are coming from and be willing to entertain the idea that their worship is just as real.

  29. Good article, but I think the author should have had someone proofread it for him first. I too agree that we need to be concerned with the way that Calvinism is gaining stronger and stronger footholds in today’s schools and churches. It is a movement that needs to be tempered. But the way this article was written, they went off on a tangent and almost made some side issue, like music, the focus of the article! Instead of focusing on the errors of Calvinism, the author loses focus and goes off on a rabbit trail and you think that music is the focus of the article instead of the dangers of Calvinism. What in the world are we as white, senile citizien (at least in my case) Baptists doing talking about rap music? Who cares!?!? I couldn’t do a good rap if my life depended on it and I doubt if many of you could, either! ……..I agree with this author, but I just hope next time he stays on topic about the dangers of Calvinism and doesn’t get caught up in some facile rabbit trail.

  30. Dear Rap Master Jim,

    Either I misunderstood what you said, or else you don’t seem to realize that Peter Masters is a Calvinist, and would never write about “the dangers of Calvinism.” He writes about the dangers of those who think themselves Calvinists, but are not really Calvinist enough.

    To Kent Brandenburge,

    How can you say that music is NEVER directed to men, when Colossians 3:16l says, “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” I agree that Scripture never endorses singing for evangelistic purposes, but doesn’t it advocate singing for two purposes: 1) to praise God, and 2) to edify believers?

    Greg Barkman

  31. Becca,

    After the first great awakening, there were wide varieties of contradictory activities said to result from the revival. Jonathan Edwards wrote in Religious Affections that some of them were genuine but many were counterfeit. The whole book is a basis of understanding what is counterfeit to avoid those for the genuine. The testimony of your experience has become a very normal, modern evaluation of worship. You felt something—it must be real. I sympathize with you. That makes things confusing. We’ve got an entire charismatic movement that says it works. The Antichrist will use the same means, if possible, to deceive the very elect.

    I believe what you need to consider is whether the music itself is producing the feeling. And it is a feeling. As opposed to the feeling being a by product after the mind, affections, and will have been at work. The entire nation Israel with the exception of a tiny remnant had syncretized its worship. It is also possible to get positive results from false practice. Moses struck the rock and got water, yet God wasn’t pleased. We can’t judge by the feeling or the results. Does the music itself represent God? Does it reflect His nature and attributes? That should be our consideration, period. We can judge that based upon scripture.

    I appreciated reading what you wrote.

    Greg Barkman,

    Perhaps you missed this statement in the fourth line of my first paragraph:

    “As a byproduct the music can teach and admonish, but we would assume that it does so only when it is pleasing to God.”

    “teaching” and “admonishing” are participles. The music itself is directed to God and as a byproduct men are taught and admonished. We should assume that if the music is directed to men, that they won’t be taught and admonished. Worship is an offering to God. The purpose of the music is not edification. Edification is the byproduct of fulfilling the purpose. This is vitally important.

  32. Kent,

    Thank you. That’s food for thought, and I will take that under consideration whenever I am able to revisit the applicable passages in Colossians and Ephesians for more careful study.

    Warm regards,
    Greg Barkman

  33. This is all so confusing! Maybe I’m the one who needs to read better. I was just assuming this author was warning us about the dangers the rise of Calvinism in today’s teaching. It’s too bad that not enough people are speaking up about it.

    But in any event, whether one is for or against Calvinism, I’m even more confused about what rap has to do with it? Maybe I’m just too old. I couldn’t rap my way out of a box if someone gave me directions; I’m just an old fundy with edema. Is this what all the kids are into these days? Last time I was up on popular music The Mamas & The Papas were burning up the charts. I think I’m just too old to be “with it.” Will Chris, the author of this blog, give us some good rap samples?

  34. Kent,

    Thanks for your response. You write, “Does the music itself represent God? Does it reflect His nature and attributes?”

    Well, yes. That’s what I was trying (maybe unsuccessfully) to say. I believe that it does, and I haven’t heard a convincing argument that it doesn’t.

    I think I understand you to be drawing a distinction between “feelings” and “conviction,” defining the former to be a passing inclination or surface response. If so, I would agree that that’s nothing to stake a conclusion on. But I think I describe more than that (at least I tried to). When I say “my soul worshipped,” I mean that–not “I felt a warm fuzzy toward God.” The music lead me to contemplate the attributes of God and His condescension toward me in a way that the hymns sung in my church had failed to do. That’s not to say the hymns are bad (though I would argue that some of them are, strictly from a lyrical/theological analysis). God just used something else to draw me to worship Him. Nor is it to say that all contemporary music is good (many of them, too, contain sloppy theology–or are just bad poetry).

    I’m just not getting what is not God-honoring about a particular style other than that it makes some of you “feel” a certain way (ironically, a supremely subjective quality).

  35. Amen, Becca. I’m loving that last sentence of yours.

  36. Um, for hundreds of years music has been “formed by an unbelieving world in rebellion against God”. Liszt and Chopin were just as worldly as today’s popular rock stars. 19th century classical piano concerts were just as displeasing to God as modern secular rock concerts, because the men performing have a “look at me” attitude in their hearts.
    And, by the way, church music has always reflected the popular music styles, at least to some extent (I’m thinking of the “roller-skating” hymns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

  37. It would seem that the fundamental question regarding this issue of music is this, “does music itself (apart from the lyrics) carry a message?” Can a particular style of tune, or the manner in which it is played/sung communicate a message in and of itself? None of us would argue against the fact that theologically trite or banal lyrics aren’t pleasing to God. That is the no-brainer in this argument. The fundamental question though goes beyond just lyrical content and into the realm of musical meaning.

    The reason why so many of us (notice I include myself) cling to certain musical artists/styles/genres, etc. is because of what it communicates to me. But could it be that we are asking the wrong question to form the premise for our argument? Modern Christianity (perhaps from the mid 1800’s on) has struggled with having a man-centered theological framework for worship. I agree with Brian regarding the “roller-skating hymns” of years gone past as reflecting pop musical styles. But doesn’t even that example prove the point that music itself communicates something.

    I understand that there are some things regarding the musical realm that may be more subjective than objective in nature. But we must be careful to not relegate the entire conversation merely to Christian liberty or personal experience, realizing that there is much that scripture does have to say about music and there are good, fundamental, godly men who have spent (and are spending) their lives trying to steer our worship to a theo-centric position, particularly in the realm of music. We would do well to listen to and contemplate their theological arguments and allow our affections to fall in line with the Scripture.

  38. I agree wholeheartedly that music communicates, but it does not communicate objectively or propositionally (apart from lyrics). For instance, as Bob Kauflin says, music can move our emotions and generate certain feelings, but it cannot tell us that Christ died for our sins. Set to words it can powerfully enhance the lyrics (or deceive us into thinking the lyrics are good). But apart from lyrics it cannot communicate objectively.
    You will find that those in question (the folks at Sovereign Grace) are actually quite concerned about evaluating music and its ability to glorify God, but they might draw the lines in different places than you do. This is Christian liberty, they take the same doctrinal truths and apply them differently. As long as they are concerned with the same doctrinal truths (i.e. worldliness) they ought to be given some latitude to apply them differently in their own cultural context.

  39. Becca,

    When I talk to charismatics about the experiences they are having, I find it difficult to talk them out of veracity or the authenticity of it. They liked it. It felt a certain way. You say that something was in your soul. That’s what Jonathan Edwards was dealing with in his Religious Affections, was the soul. Certain music incites a physical response, a kind of feeling, that validates to someone that something has happened internally, when actually the whole thing was choreographed on the outside. It is akin to a fiery pre-game speech by a coach in which he targets the adrenalin and emotions of those hearing. The music is being sent to God when it is worship. The point is not to influence the emotions or the physiology of the worshiper.

    On top of this, there are objective qualities to music in the way of communication. 1 Corinthians 14:7-8 make this clear: “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” To help out Brian later, this doesn’t say anything about lyrics. It is the music itself that contains the message. There is a purpose of breathiness, of scooping, of sliding, of the harp gliss, of using sound made by a saxophone at a certain point.

    Listen to this:

    It is stock music to be used like one would use a stock foto. Read the description: “This sexy sound has a throbbing bass line and a driving beat that make it ideal for just about any presentation.”

    To find it, I googled “music” and “sexy sound.” Up came nearly 34,000 hits.

    Someone may say that “sexy sounds” with very sound, theological lyrics “touched my soul.” The words may have touched your soul. But that doesn’t excuse putting the words with that music as a form of worship. God doesn’t want it. On top of that, it doesn’t matter what you feel. It shouldn’t make you feel good if you know that God doesn’t like it. That hurts discernment. Much more could be said here.


    I don’t get your “does not communicate objectively or propositionally (apart from lyrics). With all due respect, Brian, if you put too many adverbs after communicate, music won’t communicate. And then it all depends on what you mean by “objectively and propositionally.” The music is communication and as communication it can communicate something filthy and corrupt, and, therefore, is moral. And the Bible has plenty to say about communication.

    I don’t believe this is too difficult. We are talking about a holy God. The sound that is sent to Him in the way of worship must reflect His nature and character. We know of sound, music, that is immoral. Those who write it know what they are producing. There is reason why some of the greatest investment of music talent in America is put into movies. The music communicates something during a film scene that is not there without it. Music can be wrong in what it communicates. It seems the only ones that are oblivious to this today are Christians who want to use a certain type of music for their own entertainment and for worship. It isn’t Christian liberty to be immoral. It isn’t Christian liberty to offer God something that He doesn’t approve of.

    There is a lot of expansion that could be done on this. For instance, the strange woman in Proverbs wears “the attire of a harlot.” It doesn’t describe what that is, but it must be wrong. And yet attire is only cloth. Isn’t anything we do with cloth a liberty? Of course not. Some things we do with cloth are immoral. This should be simple, but Christians are the ones muddling this up because of a tremendous lack of discernment on what manifests spirituality.

    I will be soon coming out with my own review of Masters’ article as well as the recent reviews of it.

  40. One other thing, Becca. I just reread the whole thread starting with my comment. I think this might help. What comes out in your comment is that the music causes something to happen in you that makes you want to worship God. What ought to make you want to worship God is the knowledge of God. That knowledge then ought to be found in the lyrics and then properly represented by the music. Instead, it sounds like you have a music that you like and it makes you want to worship. The other music was dead. How was that music dead? Well it didn’t make you feel anything. You can see how everything starts with your feelings. That is exactly what you are saying in your comments. You may want to worship God because of Who He is, but that isn’t enough for you. You can’t get affections that would arise above the level of indifference with just the knowledge of God. The music makes you enjoy it. You looked around at the people at the time when you heard music you didn’t like or didn’t make you feel a certain way and they seemed dead to. Now you say that the deadness was the music. No. The deadness was their deadness about God. That’s too bad. Or it may be that you were wrong. They weren’t dead. But you think that life is moving around and waving arms and looking really emotional like Keith Green when he played the piano and sang. So again, you are judging authenticity by these externals yourself. Except these externals were invented for the purpose of self-gratification.

    A comment to Brian about his Lizt and Chopin comment, which he obviously pulled right from Douglas Wilson’s essay. I’m really looking forward to dealing with Wilson’s essay. It is wrought with problems. Stay tuned. Again, with you, you think that we’re looking to contemporary entertainment to get our worship music. That is foundationally all wrong, which is one big reason the argument doesn’t mean anything either. Music does have objective qualities to it.

  41. Although Wilson used these composers in his essay, I have been using this argument for a long time as well.
    I hesitate to say music has objective qualities. Take a Chopin ballad to the jungle of Papua New Guinea and play it for a tribe that has never seen a foreigner before. Then, (if you could communicate) ask him what it communicated to him. I daresay that it would be nothing like what it communicates to you.
    The point is that our music does communicate to us, but within a framework of our own cultural experience. We have to be taught what to to value and appreciate about the music that we listen to, whether it’s by formal teaching or just continual exposure.
    Maybe those who listen to CCM and like it grew up in a culture that values that type of music, and it sounds very different to them than mainstream secular rock, therefore it communicates differently to them.

  42. My point in all this is: it’s ok for you not to like CCM. In fact, it’s ok for you to hate it and never want to hear it. But it’s not ok to just throw the title “Worldly” on a brother just because he enjoys a certain style of music.
    Yes, worldliness is a battle. We all struggle with it. ALL OF US. Worldliness is an attitude of our hearts that expresses itself in actions. But I hesitate to condemn something across the board as worldly where the Bible is silent.
    These men (the Neo-Calvinist leaders) are just as concerned as worldliness as we are, no, I dare say more concerned than many fundamentalists. We need to give them the deference to draw their own lines, knowing that Christ is sanctifying them just like he is sanctifying us.

  43. I’m extremely disappointed that many Baptists think it’s ok to listen to Mozart. He and Mesmer were too closely linked for comfort, at least in my book. I think it’s time we get rid of all of our Mozart albums and replace them with Vivaldi.


    I think Amy Grant music and Mozart music should be banned.

  45. Brian and others,

    What I’m hearing is cultural relativism, which is new historically. It isn’t a scriptural way of looking at the world. It violates what the Bible says about holiness. We are to be distinct from the world. It isn’t a matter of just our hearts being different the world, but that our way of life is to be different than the world’s. Our way of life should not smack of the spirit of the age. Everything must be judged. Romans 12 says our bodies are a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, and not conformed to the world. That isn’t just the heart.

    Regarding all cultures, they should be judged, including Western culture, which too is now pagan. Just like we shouldn’t use just any music for worship, they shouldn’t use Asian music with it dissonance and aimlessness, characteristic of mysticism (Buddhism, Taoism, etc.), to worship God. Their worship changed. Converted Assyrians and Babylonians wouldn’t give God worship in fitting with their culture. When missionaries go to those cultures with the Bible, their culture will change. When the demoniac was converted, he became clothed and in his right mind. That doesn’t mean a culture must throw away everything, but it all must be judged—some kept and some discarded.

    As much as anything our song is to be “new,” that is, different, like “new creature” (2 Cor 5:17). Psalm 40:3 makes this clear. He has put a new song in our mouth. The redeemed sing a new song different than the old song before they were saved. It is tied into holiness in Psalm 98:1. In Psalm 144:9, we see that it is more than just the text, because the song is being sung upon a psaltery and instrument of ten strings. A form of the word translated “song” is used to refer to music played on musical instruments in 1 Chronicles 15:16 and the music made by a bird in Ecclesiastes 12:4, which is obviously not words.

    Everything in the life of a believer comes from the heart. Our hearts should desire to keep our lives and our worship distinct from the world’s, not allowing our music

  46. (let me finish that sentence) to carry profane meanings. As the psalmist wrote, Ps 19:14, Let the word of my mouth AND the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. And like Paul we serve that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.

  47. I know of a so-called Christian instutition for higher learning that actually has gone so liberal that they play and sell Mozart music in their bookstore. I urge all of us to immediately stop supporting this and any school that supports Mozart. Do you really want to support a musician who hung around with guys like Mesmer?

    “Dr. Mesmer was deeply fond of music, playing with skill the piano and cello. His home was soon the meeting place of the music lovers of Vienna, Haydn and Mozart becoming daily visitors. ……The scientific standing of Dr. Mesmer is admitted by all his biographers. His occult standing is not so generally known. Dr. Mesmer was not only a Mason, but was also an initiated member of two powerful occult Fraternities, the Fratres Lucis and the Brotherhood of Luxor.”

    I’m so careful that I propose we ban all classical music, just to be on the safe side.

  48. I feel we need some moderator action here. While this is a very enlightening and cogent discussion on the serious topic of music, perhaps it’s best left for another thread? I think we are losing focus that the biggest problem is not music. The biggest problem is the recent upswing and surge of Calvinism in today’s institutions of higher learning and in our churches. Let’s keep it on topic and save music for another thread. The bigger problem is how easily Calvinism is gaining a foothold and how the current milieu is so accepting of it. These articles are helpful for us in that they show that we are not fighting Calvinism’s ever creeping steps as much as we should.

  49. I’m not planning on moderating this thread. Knock yourselves out.

    If I were, I would say that the sarcastic allusion to Mozart has been overplayed. No one has denied the fact that the unregenerate can produce things that are profitable as a result of their being created in God’s image. I can listen to excellent work by an ungodly musician just like I can benefit from an ungodly mechanic or math teacher. That’s common grace. It doesn’t prove that all music is appropriate for worship, however, only that the ability of someone to do something well isn’t dependent on his spiritual condition.

    As for Calvinism, Masters is certainly not arguing that it’s the problem. If anything, he’s trying to defend it, not warn against it.

  50. I’m respectfully bowing out on this one. Kent, for the record, I agree with all of your statements about God being holy, and not offering him the profane, and all of the Biblical descriptions of godly music, I just don’t agree with your applications.
    This is part of the Christian journey, and I pray that God would continue sanctifying you and giving you grace to follow him to the best of your ability. I thank you for your concern and stand for godly Christian music, and your willingness to fight for what you believe is right. I also respectfully ask that you show charity to your brothers who love the same God you do and are trying to serve him the best we know how. Thank you for being concerned about our growth in grace.
    In Christ,

  51. “If I were, I would say that the sarcastic allusion to Mozart has been overplayed. ”

    You totally confused me on this one. Do you really think that’s sarcasm? Pointing out how Mesmer was interested in music and the effects it can have on a person and how it can “mesmerize” them is sarcasm? I think it’s a stern warning against the dangers of music, including classical, that should be strongly heeded.

  52. Hello again Kent (and everyone else),
    I’ve been gone, and the train kept a rolling! While the Mozart argument might be overplayed, as I think Chris pointed out, it still exposes what I believe is the weakness in your position. Since I think Brian is dead on (I, for one, never really understood how a beat is considered ‘sexy’ since most rap agitates me!) in that music communicates objectively only through lyrics, then the question becomes ‘What is worship?’ I am arguing that rap and rock are not conducive to corporate worship because the focus is different; however, I do not think that anything you have brought out, and especially not the Corinthian argument, applies to my finding encouragement in the objective lyrics of a Christian rapper.
    Personally, I believe if Edwards were alive and well today he would probably be quite a bit more moderate than you. Remember, he wrote the Affections as a refutation of excesses, but equally (if not more than) as a refutation of the censoriousness of men like Charles Chauncey. I think the application of Edward’s analysis is not as cut and dried as you want to make it.
    And Rap Master Jim,
    Rap came up because there is a growing movement of Calvinistic young men who are taking the Gospel and putting it into rap. I like some of it.

    I’m glad this isn’t getting ‘ugly’, since it normally can when music comes up.

  53. After reading back through the articles and the thread, I see we’ve gone far astray. Ultimately I probably agree most closely with Chris’s analysis in the third comment: there is cause for some concern that a lot of young Christians (many of whom are of the “New Calvinist” description) seem to be so enthusiastic about their Christian liberty that they are neglecting the point that He who calls us also makes us holy. I too am guilty there.

    The music tangent is kind of an illustration of where I disagree with Masters, though. He thinks we should not overlook disagreements about what music is acceptable to God when we fellowship with other believers. I don’t have a problem with uniting over the gospel with people who worship differently than I do, but then, that’s because I don’t think God finds their music unacceptable (unless it is unacceptable because of the posture of their hearts when it is offered). I can understand why someone who believes as Kent does would take a harder line on overlooking disagreements.

    I don’t know how to resolve that. I don’t think Kent and I are ever going to persuade each other. I agree with him that music itself communicates, disagree that that’s necessarily bad (even if it can be described as “sexy music,” just as Song of Songs can be described as erotic poetry). I don’t believe that being moved by feelings is necessarily bad (even though, as a lawyer, it’s not first nature to me and makes me uncomfortable). For some of us, logic usually moves emotions, for others of us, emotions usually play a more important initial role. Both are important, and to elevate one to the exclusion of the other is to fall into the mistakes of either the stoics or the mystics. And I don’t agree that culturally contextualizing is historically novel. It’s as old as history itself.

    But the point is, we’ll never persuade each other, at least not through this medium. I for one am okay with that, and happy to put it aside to work together on things I think are far more important. But if the response is “but this IS vitally important,” well, we are at an impasse, no? So what do we do? Do people like me shrug and move on and keep going to our conferences, leaving them out? Or do we stop and try to reconcile the music questions in the face of seeming futility? There are dangers on both sides. If we just move on without them, they have no choice but to write articles like Masters’ attacking us. This can’t be good for the unity of the church. If we stop and try to resolve it, we just jump straight into the fight and neglect what we believe is more important. And at the end of the day, we’re still left with the problem that concerns Masters—a lack of attention to sanctification in the younger generations.

  54. Kent (Chris):

    Earlier in this thread you mentioned your review of the article by Masters. I did read it a few days ago.

    I also posted an article on Masters’, The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness. I contacted the Metropolitan Tabernacle to request and I was given permission to reprint the article in its entirety.

    What I did, however, was limit my commentary in preference for including pictures from the events to illustrate the “worldliness” Masters expresses concern with. Picture(s) worth a thousand words, you know.

    FWIW, Dr. Masters looked in on it and sent word to me through an administrative assistant that he appreciated it and is sending me a couple of books. Nice gesture, I thought.

    Anyway, you can see it here.


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