For it is by grace you have been saved...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Morality of Music

I’m sitting in my office listening to piano renditions of Skillet songs.  Yes, that’s right, nice piano music playing versions of loud & rowdy Skillet songs.  And I was thinking about this:  If I actually had Skillet playing, and someone walked in, they might not be too pleased.  Even though it’s a “Christian” band, the music would not be “acceptable” to many.  Yet, if someone walks in while I’m listening to these piano versions: 1. Most won’t even know it’s Skillet (because they don’t know who Skillet is!) and 2. They wouldn’t be bothered because it’s just piano music.

So here’s the question:  What makes music “Christian”?  Is it the lyrics?  Is it the “beat”?  Is it the person writing it?  I also like to listen to a lot of Phil Keaggy, most of which is largely instrumental, jazz, blues stuff.  Keaggy is clearly a “Christian” artist, as reflected in his projects with lyrics.  But can we also call his instrumental music “Christian”?

Or how about this one.  The homeschool orchestra/choir/band program our kids are involved in recently tried something new.  The band played as the pep band for an area homeschool football team.  In picking music, several “secular” songs were selected, which is pretty typical for pep bands.  There was one parent in particular who objected to the band playing an old classic rock song.  They weren’t singing it, so it’s not the lyrics.  Is it just the association with the lyrics? What if they band said they weren’t playing the old rock song, but were playing the Apologetix version.  Without the lyrics, what’s the difference?

So again, what is it that makes the music “good” or “bad”?  Most of the parents who would object to the pep band thing wouldn’t have a problem with their kids playing classical music in band or orchestra.  But do they know the perverse lifestyles of some of those composers?  Do they know the vile content of some of the operas from which that music is taken?  How is that any better or worse than the instrumental versions of the classic rock songs?  

I know many churches have fought the “worship wars” which largely draws the lines over the style of music:  contemporary vs. traditional, choruses vs. hymns, etc.   But even there the lines are blurry since many who dislike contemporary choruses also bristle and singing old hymns they may not know.  They dislike some of the newer hymns being written even though they are written as hymns, not praise choruses.  So maybe it’s not really about style after all.

What makes music Christian?  What makes it worthy for the church?  What makes it acceptable for Christians to listen to?  Now, let me be very clear.  Our home will never be filled with the sounds of Lady Gaga or her ilk.  But does that make me a hypocrite?

More questions than answers here folks.  Just thinking out loud (or on the keyboard as it were).  Music is a powerful thing.  So many memories of mine are tied up with music.  It’s an important part of our family life.  But is the music “amoral,” that is to say, does the music itself have a “good” or “bad” attached to it, or is it the lyrics, the person performing it, the person who wrote it, etc.

I welcome any and all feedback on the issue.  For now, I’m going to go back to my piano Skillet music.  Feel free to enjoy some for yourself.


Mike said...

I'm not much of a Skillet fan, so the piano version is probably a great improvement, in my estimation :-)

But I'm a big rock and roll fan. I love loud, heavy music. And I'll be completely honest...I like Christian AND secular bands.

While we have to take great care about what messages enter our ears and minds, I do believe all truth is God's truth. If a band can tell the truth, then I have no issue whether it comes from a Christian or secular label.

I think the same question can be posed of art in general. Is there a Christian art versus a secular art? How about a Christian mechanic versus a secular one? I trust the guy who does good work; not the one who carries an impressive title.

I have read "Christian" books that are farrrr from Christian. And I have read secular books (and watched secular movies) that contain great nuggets of truth.

I can reconcile some foul language here and there if the message is overall truth-redeeming. For instance, I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater when I watch "300" or "Braveheart". Instead, I'm encouraged to be courageous.

If music can do that, I'm all for it.

By the way, would all of David's Psalms be considered Christian? After all, he speaks of God destroying his own enemies. Just sayin'....

Great post!!!

Scott said...

Good thoughts, Mike. Thanks. I appreciate the input.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I have distinct standards for music to be used in corporate worship. I'm not a Regulatory Principle guy, but I don't think it wise to incorporate music with a competing philosophy into worship, i.e. trying to be cute with playing Running with the Devil by Van Halen with a sermon series on Hell. That song was a shout out to Hedonism and is distinctly anti-Gospel.

However, I believe there is a LOT of music that fits into what I call a sojourner ethic/worldview. The gist of this ethic is that the singer is missing something, or in the middle of a struggle about something. I see Gospel implications/responses in this type of music. I particularly like the weird blend of folk music and "modern struggle" lyrics by Mumford and Sons. Coldplay and Avett Brothers fits in this genre as well.

On the flip side, almost all of pop, R&B, etc genre is totally unredeemable. The music in this genre subscribes to a Hedonism ethic. In a similar vein, a lot of the thrasher/screamo/emo music fails due to its adherence to a Nihilism ethic. Just to clarify, not all metal/screamo music fits this this bill. I particulatly like Red (admittedly a Christian band) who uses the concept of creating a dissonence with their music and screaming lyrics, then resolving it with an arching bridge. Evanescence sometimes fits into this subset as well.

Hedonism and Nihilism are competing worldviews/ethics that are fighting for dominance in our culture. I think any discerning believer should music that is formed by the ethics at arms distance.

Good topic Scott!

Mike Woodward

Scott said...

Thanks, Mike W
Once I get a dictionary and look up all those big words, I'll give you a response!

Seriously though, those are some good thoughts. I wrote that on the spur of the moment. If I were to do it over, I might make the distinction between worship and entertainment more real. What is appropriate for one may not be for the other.

I'm not sure that I agree that certain genres are "unredeemable" simply because of some who use them. I'm not a fan of the "screamo" stuff, and agree that the whole goth/death focus of the music makes it hard to find anything good in it. But does the style of the music itself convey that, or just the lyrics? I remember the old argument that rock and roll was of the devil because it used African tribal drum beats. Really? The beat itself is evil?

Can it be that the music is "neutral", or are we going to go with the idea the Southern Gospel, as a style of music, is more holy and acceptable to God (even though they use those evil drums!), than rock or anything else?

Along those lines, don't you think it's interesting that though God recorded the lyrics of the Psalms for us, we have no idea what they originally sounded like when sung? Maybe there's a sense in which music is supposed to change from age to age and culture to culture as it speaks to different people.

Thanks again for stopping by. And by the way, don't tell your dad. He never did like "my" music! :)