Music seems to speak directly to our passions and emotions, and is a sort of universal language. My own beliefs about music might seem antiquated or overly narrow. Nevertheless, over the next couple of weeks I will post a few articles explaining them as best I can. If they only prompt you to prayerfully ponder how your own auditory diet can best honor Jesus, my goal in publishing this will be accomplished.
The line between “bad” music and “good” music
- It is extremely hard to draw a definitive line. No line is given to us in Scripture, but that does not mean that a line does not exist. It simply means that God intends for us to live with some uncertainty about the exact location of the line.
- A similar situation exists with clothing. I think all Christians would agree that some forms of clothing are sinfully immodest, while other forms of clothing (such as the Islamic hijab) are legalistically conservative. God commands modesty (1 Timothy 2:9), and yet He did not give us an exact hemline measurement.
- Clothing is also similar to music in that it is a complex aesthetic. It’s not simply a matter of hemline. The “message” of the clothing is also affected by its color (black, white, red, pastel, vibrant), pattern (dress suit vs. T-shirt), fit (how it hangs on a particular person’s body), fabric (Mr. Roger’s sweater), age and condition, cost. The appropriateness of a piece of clothing depends partly on the setting in which the clothing will be worn (wedding, inauguration, bedclothes). And yet there are some clothes that are inappropriate in any setting. Similarly, music’s message is multidimensional, affected by the instrument(s), melody, tempo, rhythm, etc.
- Our ultimate focus should not be on the "line" at all, but on Jesus. A focus strictly on the "law" will only make us worse law-breakers (or benders!). Instead, let's focus on getting as close to Jesus as we can, by embracing the cross, repenting of our sins and trusting in Jesus alone as our Savior, Master, and Treasure.
Some people believe that music itself has no message. A piece of music, they think, is like a blank sheet of paper, ready to carry the message (the lyrics) that are written on it. Music has no message of its own. Thus, music itself is morally neutral, neither good nor bad. The only thing that makes it good or bad is the lyrics attached to it.
But these two songs demonstrate the fallacy of that reasoning. See if you notice any difference in the messages of their music.
The lyrics for both hymns were written by the same author, Sabine Baring-Gold. He wrote them using an identical poetic meter, which means you can actually swap the words between tunes. To a person who believes music is messageless, it should make no difference to sing the words of "Onward Christian Soldiers" to the tune of "Now the Day is Over". The fact that this seems unfitting shows that we do instinctively know that music carries a message.
But, you might be thinking: OK, yes, both pieces of music did carry a message, but neither piece of music was morally evil. It is just a matter of finding the music that best conveys the message of the words. There is no "bad" music, just "ill-fitting" music.
This is the argument I'll rebut in my next post about music. Meanwhile let me know your own thoughts!