Let's get a few things straight up front:
- I have as much interest in contemporary Christian music as I do in Japanese fiscal policy. I can't understand 75-90% of the words in anything not sung by "Weird Al" Yankovic. My current "favorite" secular CD is by a group called Bond that is almost entirely instrumental.
- No matter what anyone says, there is nothing about contemporary Christian music directly in the Bible. No "thou shalt not listen to Petra" or "though shalt not use a guitar".
- As a preterist I believe Satan is now bound and not doing anything.
This means that when someone asked me of late to comment on some material alleging that contemporary Christian music (CCM) was "satanic" (the source of the material was an extremist fundamentalist website, but it has been reprinted elsewhere), I had to shake my head. We obviously have CCM that is from bad sources (such as the heretical Philips, Craig and Dean, who ought to not be offered on any sound Christian radio station).
But satanic? No, I think that even if Satan was loose, he'd be too busy just now to be doing such things; and even if he were not, he'd probably come up with a better method anyway.
But let's reduce it to a more basic question even so: Is CCM immoral?
I will say this to start: Too often I think artists offer "pop" theology either because a) they don't know any better; b) they try too hard to make a rhyme at the expense of clarity.
The measure for this, for me, is that my dearly beloved wife (who enjoys some CCM) will tell me what a song is saying (since I can't understand it) and then pose some deeper theological question about what the singer means. Most of the time my answer is as above: What they did say has little or no meaning; it was just an effort to make a rhyme using the lingo.
Thus I can agree with certain "Biblical screens" set out by the material, at least in terms of whether something represents Christianity in a worthwhile way. It goes too far to say that music must pass all of these screens to merely be labeled "Christian".
Let's go over those "screens," in fact:
- its lyrics should be edifying, spiritually oriented, clear, conforming to Biblical truth, and point our focus to Jesus Christ
Curiously we are told that "most" CCM can be rejected on the basis of lyrics alone -- even when the lyrics are audibly clear, the predominance of false doctrine and/or the shallow view of the person and work of Jesus Christ is often appalling.
Perhaps it is. Perhaps also it is hard to achieve depth and at the same time be an able communicator. I wonder whether critics can compose a tune for us that explains the Trinity in terms of Jewish hypostatic Wisdom?
- The next issue is "score" and it is said, medical research clearly supports the contention that musical tones and rhythms in and of themselves (i.e., without lyrics) can cause physical and "emotional" reactions over which the listener may have little or no control. Since the score of contemporary Christian rock music, with its syncopation and slurring of notes, is virtually indistinguishable from its secular counterpart, one has to wonder if spirituality is being eroded and carnality is being propagated.
One does? Perhaps I am immune to such blandishments myself, as I find no such "reactions" engendered by rhythms. The advice given thereafter (One should always assess "Christian" music thusly: "Does it stir the flesh to 'boogie,' or the spirit to praise the Lord?") seems to beg the question as to whether a "boogie" is not an acceptable expression of worship (or maybe David was doing something before the Ark of the Lord that would have been acceptable to Lawrence Welk).
It would perhaps shock this individual to be told that, ie, the riposte used by Jesus against the Pharisees is "virtually indistinguishable" from that used by the Qumranites, or that used by "secular counterparts." Does one "have to wonder" about carnality in that case?
A key problem here is that the text of the Bible itself is quite "earthy" by certain contrived standards of "holiness" we have set for ourselves (check out the Song of Solomon if you don't think so). It is not AS earthy as it could be -- but what we seem to have here is not Biblical morality, but Victorian morality.
- This is the last and (even by its own admission) vaguest of the "screens": Character -- Our hymns, or the character of the music, is its most obscure component. The character of much of what is called "Christian" music may best be characterized as charismatic, irreverent, universalist, socialist utopian idealistic, superficial religiousness, neo-evangelical, expressionistic, ostentatious, or in a myriad of other contexts (e.g.; What is the character of the music at a so-called Christian rock concert when whatever message is presented is punctuated by screaming guitars, smoke bombs, and a general atmosphere of frivolity?) And because the character of the music is not always readily apparent to the listener, it can have the most insidious effect on believers; i.e., tolerance or acceptance of false doctrine can arise from constant subjection to deficient and improper attitudes in music.
If this is "not always readily apparent" then one wonders how the critic is an authority to make an evaluation. It is hard to say more without specifics (we will get some soon), though, so we'll leave that as is; but we might note that "frivolity" is in the eyes of the beholder here -- the word suggests someone with no appreciation at all for performance technique; for the establishment of atmosphere and the relevance of it in sending a message.
I would hazard that "smoke bombs" are not used just to give smoke-bomb manufacturers a way to make a living. As an amateur cartoonist I think as much of this comment as I do of someone who would say it is "frivolous" to use stylized panel borders.
It is in the specifics indeed that we must deal. Cited first is someone I must admit I have not heard of much: Larry Norman, allegedly "the father of Christian rock." It is claimed that Norman makes the incredulous statement that rock 'n' roll music originated in the Church hundreds of years ago, and that the devil stole it!!.
Norman is not actually quoted to this effect. But here are some more specific charges:
- Norman titles one of his songs, "Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music," and in another song he refers to Christ (at His return for His Church) as an "Unidentified Flying Object."
I'm not clear on what the problem is supposed to be for the first one. If indeed I believed Satan were active today, it seems likely that one of his aims would be to corrupt what was good and use it for his purposes (for after all, evil is an adulteration of good, not its mirror opposite).
The second point does not seem particularly problematic in the context of the song -- following the dispensational eschatological picture, the message Norman offers comes from the view of the non-Christian who, seeing Jesus "coming on the clouds of heaven," has no idea what to make of the sight and will likely interpret what they see in other terms (as William Shatner wanted to make Jesus into a space alien). Next a song...
- ..in which it is said that Norman "pitifully trivializes the Gospel of the Resurrection" with these words:
They nailed Him to a cross;
They put Him in the ground;
Just goes to show you;
Can't keep a good Man down.
I am not sure how it is this "trivializes" the resurrection or the Gospel. The "can't keep a good man down" trope encapsulates a broader idea that good will not be defeated by evil. How is this "trivializing"? Because a trope is used?
The phrase is used as the title of a 1920s movie; was the use of the trope there "trivializing" to the subject matter (the movie was a silent drama)?
- The critic notes the historical origin of the "rock and roll" genre in terms of the name of the genre coming from "a ghetto term that black people used for pre-marital sex in the back seat of a car..." Then it is advised that we "contrast" this origin with that told us by the so-called "Christian" rock band Petra in the lyrics of one of their songs; i.e., that God was the source of rock 'n' roll!: God gave rock 'n' roll to you, Put it in the soul of everyone, etc.
No, we need not finish it -- the critic here is apparently seriously contending that Petra intended this song as some sort of objective history of the rock and roll music genre. The KJV is not the only thing some wayward Christians read with absurd overliteralism.
- The critic claims there appears to be a parallel between the attempt today to "Christianize" rock music and the "Christianization" of various pagan religious practices in fourth century Rome.
The problem here is that no documentation is offered for any such thing being done, officially, in 4th century Rome at all. The same "logic" has been used to say that the Jews "borrowed" Passover from pagans.
But in fact, what the critic refers to as "Christianization" of pagan customs, symbols, etc. was the standard practice of those victorious in ancient ideological warfare -- and it is perfectly Biblical. Thus for example, Christianity "took over" the images and language of Jewish Wisdom theology, in the New Testament. Christ is the ruler of the world; all is his.
And so then there is nothing awry about this process whatsoever (even if we allow for the rather bigoted implication that it may be wrong because it is somehow "Roman Catholic"). The true point that can be garnered here is that the change and revamping must be genuine; and what is truly in error must be sliced off (if it is indeed in error; it must not merely be presumed to be).
- A few accusations are then offered, lacking much in the way of substance, and with (for example) hints that the CCMers are in it for the money, and poor analogies:
May we similarly "Christianize" liquor by putting a Gospel message on the bottle label, and have Christians buy and promote it to reach drunks for Jesus?
Of course the question is merely begged that music forms are as incorrigible as (and as innately harmful as) liquor; at the same time, since at times in the past persons became literally hypnotized even by the use of traditional hymns, repeated far too often in a single session, the same argument could easily kill the use of hymns that the critic would otherwise approve.
The better analogy would be to the "Christianizing" of the concept of bars (which serve coffee rather than liquor). On the other hand, the idea that Luther used tavern songs is properly debunked by more reliable sources than the critic.
Although godly music can have an evangelistic purpose or result (e.g., Psa. 96:1-3; 108:3), it is not used primarily for this in Scripture. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does it say, "Sing the gospel of Christ." It says to preach it! God can certainly use music to bring somebody to Christ, but there has to be a presentation of the gospel somewhere along the line. Our music is primarily an expression of a Spirit-filled life, not really intended for the world's consumption. We seem to want so much to sing our songs to the world that we put them in the world's vernacular and think it's going to be evangelistic.
Of course if we take "preach" to that level of literalism, it means we can't write letters that are evangelistic; we have to evangelize in person. The admission that God CAN use music to bring a person to Christ undermines the critic's entire argument against CCM merely as a genre (not against specific songs, of course). The accusation of merely switching vernacular is perhaps true of specific songs (though none yet given as examples qualify). But it speaks for itself that in the end, this sort of argument ends up what is being used:
So even if one could find nothing wrong with the lyrics, the score, the character, and/or the effect of "Christian" rock music, one would still have to question why the modern day, self-proclaimed musical evangelists/entertainers persist in using their music in endeavors where there is no clear Biblical precedent; i.e., although mentioned over 800 times in Scripture, music is never used for entertainment or for direct evangelism or for any end within itself. Music in the Bible is used primarily in praise and in worship, either to God (e.g., I Chron. 16:9,23; II Chron. 29:30; Psa. 9:11; 30:4; 33:2,3; 47:6; 135:3; etc.) or to Satan (e.g., Dan. 3:4,5,7,10,15; Exo. 32:17,18).
Then, it seems we must also stop reading all books other than a select few; for these is "no clear Biblical precedent" for writing Christian fiction (whether pedantic literature like Left Behind or quality material like that made by C. S. Lewis), and also, no more works of apologetics, since although Scripture is written itself, writings other than Scripture are "never used for entertainment or for direct evangelism or for any end within itself."
The error here is the same that is fallen into by the Church of Christ in their effort to rid the church of musical instruments -- as I said in sum, applies also here:
I find it significant that another CoC site finds it necessary to accompany this sort of argument with a closing threat: "Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship." Well, as far as I can see, altar calls, weekly collections, two services on Sunday and one on Wednesday, business meetings, and other standbys aren't clearly authorized either, but as far as I can see as well the CoC isn't throwing those out the window.
The modern church, even the CoC, is a product of its time, and Paul and others would not recognize much of it. However, that it far from important, since the early church was also very much a product of its time; what is important is that they would recognize the members of the body of Christ. "Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's." (2 Cor. 7)
In fairness, I ought to note that our critic in view is one such who would probably disavow such things as altar calls, etc. -- his own website is full of condemnations for not only properly-condemned persons, but also condemns persons like Bill Bright, Billy Graham, and J. I. Packer. The result -- isolationism -- also speaks for itself.
- Then we have this:
Jesus said that when He was lifted up, He would draw all men to Himself. Why then would the Holy Spirit need help today from the world's music in drawing people to Christ? Why do the "musical soul-winners" think they can attract people for God by using the world's standards and the world's music, when the net effect of the music is to basically stir the flesh and the emotions rather than stir a love for God?
So why then would the Spirit need men like Peter and Paul to even preach? And why indeed would Paul have needed "help" from pagan poets he quoted before the Areopagus? Why do the "poet-quoting soul-winners think they can attract people for God by using the world's standards and the world's poems, when the net effect of the poetry is to basically attract people to pagan philosophy"?
One wonders how our critic would cope with the news that some people have used the Song of Solomon for the sake of erotic fantasizing. There is nothing more here than an attempt to blame objects for that which persons are truly resposible. On the other hand, at least "backwards masking" is dismissed not as unreal, but as irrelevant.
A case is made for the idea that "music can be used for evil" -- which no one doubts; but the same can be said for writing of books, so does this mean we should stop reading the Bible? The fallacy here is again the classic one of blaming the vehicle rather than the driver who drives it, and also adds his own modifications to the vehicle to make it run faster or louder.
- One of our critics' main sources for data on how music affects people is David Tame's The Secret Power of Music. This in itself indicates a serious lack of discernment, given that his writings also include such gems as Real Fairies (which is described as saying, This book relates the experiences of many people, some famous, some clairvoyant, some everyday, who have met members of the fairy kingdom.) and another book claiming to find esoteric messages in Beethoven's works. But is Tame right that music can be a negative influence on people?
Perhaps so. So the same could be said of different kinds of books. What of it? I have a form of "seasonal disorder" which means that I dislike the heat and bright light and long days of summer. It makes me antsy and causes me to lose my appetite. So does this mean sunshine is bad? Of course not. It is bad for me.
If music (even rock music) is bad for you, drop it. What our critic fails to show is that the category of CCM falls under some universal proscription "against". Such "evidence" as is presented is suspicious for its record; for example:
The plant research findings are solidly in the traditionalist camp: not only did rock music stunt the growth of a wide variety of plants, but if played long enough, the plants actually died. And even more startling were the findings of Dr. T.C. Singh, head of the Botany Department at Annamalia University, India. His experiments demonstrated that not only did certain forms of music and certain musical instruments (specifically, classical music and the violin) cause plants to grow at twice their normal speed, but that later generations of the seeds of musically stimulated plants carried on the improved traits of greater size, more leaves, etc.! Presumably, the same effect can result in the negative sense, from bad music. The possible significance of Dr. Singh's findings to human life is evident, and should be at least a little disconcerting to rock music fans (pp. 141-145).
Should it be? Not if we know what it actually said. Others who use Singh's study report some additonal data which is of interest. It seems that gardeners have quite an interest in his work and here is what one such source says:
Plants respond to sound, too. In the early 50s, Dr. T.C. Singh, head of the department of botany at Annamalai University, found that frequencies between 100 and 600 cycles per second produced strong beneficial effects in a large number of plants, including common asters, petunias, cosmos, onions, radishes, and sweet potatoes.
And another such site says:
Knowing that plant protoplasm streaming begins to speed up shortly after sunrise, Singh placed an electrically-operated tuning fork six feet away from the plant and broadcast the note for a half hour prior to 6 a.m. What he noticed was that the sound apparently stimulated the protoplasm to stream at speeds which normally would not occur until much later in the day.
Singh’s next step was to ask a violinist to play while standing near the plants. At a certain pitch, the protoplasm streaming accelerated. One thing led to the next, until Dr. Singh was playing South Indian music to mimosas and found that after two weeks the number of stomata on the plant leaves had increased by 66%! Singh also soon discovered that the music apparently stimulated above average growth and rates of growth in balsam plants. It wasn’t long before he was playing music to all kinds of plants, including petunias, lilies, aster, onions, radishes, and sweet potatoes, to name a few. The music was played one-half hour per day and, according to Tompkins and Bird, was "scaled at a high pitch, with frequencies between one hundred and six hundred cycles per second." Singh’s published conclusion was that he had "proven beyond any shadow of doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flowering, fruiting, and seed-yields of plants."
What this boils down to is that Singh's study had little if anything to do with rock music -- it had to do with ANY sound performed within certain cycle-levels. No doubt it is possible that some levels of music may have an ill effect on people. No doubt also the same can be said of certain mechanical noises, but I doubt if the critic is going to either move for a ban on such machines, or else say that CCM is fine as long as musicians avoid those specific tones and rhythms that cause a problem, and fits in with "natural body rhythms".
The critic makes use of alleged medical research as well, though Tame is again the source, which leads to obvious questions about reliability. For example:
Dr. David Nobel, another medical doctor and an authority on music, has done extensive research on the value of music rhythms [score] corresponding to body rhythms. He writes that, "None of these qualities accrue to the rock sound. Instead, rock contains harmonic dissonance and melodic discord while it accents rhythm with a big beat. In fact, the anapestic beat [two short beats, a long beat, then a pause] used by many rock musicians actually is the exact opposite of our heart and arterial rhythms [thereby causing an immediate loss of body strength]."
As another addresser of these views has pointed out, this is exactly the opposite of the argument that rock incites sexuality, which is something these critics say. But it is more curious that other than this reference, and misspelled references to Dr. David Noebel (of Summit Ministries), there is no evidence at all of this "Dr. David Nobel" doing anything, so far as I have found.
The critic closes with another series of brief points which, while offering some gems (such as, not making "how we feel" a criteria for whether music is good -- which sort of contradicts the points above about how bad it is supposed to make us feel on the other hand), are also mixed with a few threats of hellfire for those who disagree, and closes with questions from a "booklet" by someone of unknown authority, Sears:
Gordon Sears, in his booklet, Is Today's Christian Music "Sacred"?, asks six questions of those who think that CCM is indeed acceptable to God: If the new style and sound of music is of God then:
(1) Why is it causing so much confusion and division among Christians?;
Is it? I see no confusion at all over it, and no division either, except among types such as this critic. One might add that the same could be said over the doctrine of the Trinity.
(2) Why is it not received by all fundamental Bible-believing churches?;
I am inclined to reply that restricting to the category of "fundamental Bible-believing churches" rather skews the results (not to mention that it begs the question as well that such churches are the sole and final arbiters).
(3) Why is it readily accepted by the non-Christian world? The ungodly never accepted the old Christian hymns;
They don't? Funny, because the movie Minority Report, for example, made use of the old song, Jesu: Joy of Man's Desiring. By the way, why is Christian charity so readily accepted by the non-Christian world? And when was the last time you heard Internet Infidels unite in saying that they found "Breakfast" by the Newsboys to be an "acceptable" tune?
(4) Why is it that Bible-denying universities and popular secular TV entertainment shows invite well-known Christian artists to give concerts with CCM? This never happened with the great spiritual hymns;
No examples are given of which universities and secular TV shows do this (much less is it shown that this is any sort of norm), so it is hard to comment, but I have to wonder if a) it is Christian groups on university grounds that offer such invitations; b) whether authors of "great spiritual hymns" would be invited to shows if they sang, "Happy Birthday". In other words, maybe it is the subject of the songs and not the genre that makes for the invitation?
(5) Why are there hundreds of churches with godly pastors across America that strictly reject it and forbid it in their services?;
As with (2) this simply begs a question of who is a rightful arbiter (not to mention that it makes no effort to count how many "godly" pastors hold the opposite view).
(6) Why does it have such a strong effect upon the physical body? (As shown earlier, music does have a strong physical effect -- to ignore this would be negligent.)
As noted above, the issue is a particular range of frequencies, not a genre of music. I wonder again if these fellows would lose their objection if the frequencies were outside the range in question.
In the end, the critic is forced to resort to guidelines that are hardly exclusive of CCM ("The text and music should not be cheap or tawdry.") or else have more to do with subjectiveness and weakness of character ("It will be free of mental association with worldly musical styles and evidence a holy consecrated character (Rom. 12:2; I Jn. 2:15).") than with anything specific or objective -- which is no doubt why our critic offers so little in the way of specifics.
In the end, the critic chases himself in a circle, setting his own guidelines and then force-fitting Scripture into validating those guidelines. As a tone-deaf listener who doesn't care about CCM in the first place, I think I can objectively say that beyond the warnings that could be applied as well to any form or art of communication, critics of CCM I have seen are far not engaged in serious exegesis or understanding.
A reader with more knowledge of CCM comments here (Word document).