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Music

This category contains 6 posts

On “Mary Did You Know?”

virgin mary juan manuel blanesMary did you know that your baby boy will…
Someday walk on water?
Save our sons and daughters?
Give sight to the blind man?
Calm a storm with his hand? [selected lyrics by Mark Lowry]

I’ve seen a surprising amount of comments on this song each Christmas, but it seems like many of the comments have sever tensions built in from specific theological perspectives. One of the comments I saw recently, for example, complained about the backlash against the song and attributed it a bit conspiratorially to Catholicism allegedly making its way into evangelicalism.

Well, I’m a Lutheran, so I’ve found myself on the outside looking in when it comes to many allegedly evangelical discussions (see my posts on Bonhoeffer, for example), but I think that this kind of commentary is, frankly, silly. I decided to write a few quick comments about the song, without any allegations of conspiracy or heterodoxy included.

As you can see from the lyrics, the song is basically a list of rhetorical questions asked of Mary which basically imply that she could not have known just how great and marvelous and powerful Jesus was going to be. Strictly speaking, such an implication is not definitively false. After all, it doesn’t seem to be the case that Mary knew with certainty that Jesus was God, or that some specific miracles would be performed. On the other hand, the song also names some specific things that Mary may very well have known. How? Well, if she was familiar with the Old Testament, there are some passages that would inform her that, yes, she could know the answer to some of these questions. Let’s look at one example:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. – Isaiah 35:5

Contextually, this verse occurs within an eschatological promise of the blessings that will be brought to God’s chosen people. Now, if Mary was familiar with this, and we can’t definitively say one way or another, and if she interpreted the verses to refer to her own time with the coming Messiah, then it would seem she could say “Yeah, I did know that my baby boy would be curing the blind.” Of course, those are some big ifs. Can we get more specific?

More explicitly, there is the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the song which Mary sang in praise to God. Here are a few selections:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… He has performed mighty deeds with his arm… He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.

Here are some much clearer statements made by Mary herself about what she did know. Specifically, she calls God her savior and says mighty deeds have been performed by God and that God has fulfilled the promise to her ancestors. So it seems that Mary at least did know that God was fulfilling the promise of the Messiah and that that would mean, well, salvation, mighty deeds, and mercy.

So Mary, did you know? Well, it seems that in some sense we could pretty easily say yes. She herself says of her unborn child that he is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people of Israel. Such a fulfillment necessarily included mighty deeds (healing the blind, walking on water, etc.) and the salvation of the people. So you could argue she could answer yes to all of the questions. On the other hand, you could argue that the very specific nature of some of the lyrics (walking on water is one example) would undermine that; after all, she never says that her son will walk on water. So really, the answer to the question “Mary, did you know?” is “Through a mirror, dimly.”

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Egalitarian Music?

worship-in-churchI often find myself cringing at the lyrics that pass for contemporary Christian music as I listen to the radio (which, admittedly, I rarely do). From songs like “Courageous,” which makes it sound like only men can have courage… or at least that only they were “made to be” that way; to those like “Lead Me,” which encourages co-dependence in relationships, I find myself wondering if there are any egalitarian Christian musicians out there making music that shares that message. I know of none.

 

Anyone know of any?

The question, of course, is whether the concept of gender “roles” even needs to be an issue for egalitarian musicians. Moreover, how might an egalitarian theme be put forward meaningfully through music? I’m interested to know if anyone has thoughts on this.

Of course, all of this may just be another displayed symptom of the problem I’ve mentioned before with having a distinct genre of “Christian” music over and against other types of music.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Christian Discernment Regarding Music: A reflection and response– Here I react to a post encouraging discernment when thinking about the category of Christian music.

On Christian Music– I reflect on the category of “Christian Music” and whether it is even a functionally helpful tool.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task– I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

SDG.

John Wesley’s Directions for Singing Hymns

449px-NürnbergReformationsGedKircheA while ago, I was visiting my Grandma’s church. She goes to a United Methodist church. When I visit other churches, I like to go through hymnals, bulletins, etc. and see what they say about where they’re coming from. I was delighted to come upon some comments from John Wesley in the beginning of the hymnal, because I think they’re fairly well on-point for how we should sing in worship to this day:

1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find a blessing.

2. Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

5. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim to pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing; and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

I’ve excluded his first two from this list because he also exhorts readers to learn hymns in a specific way and try to unlearn other ways (presumably to help with unity in singing). These comments are from Wesley’s Select Hymns (1761), according to multiple sources I found. However, I was unable to track down a copy to browse online to ensure this is the correct citation and I apologize if I have incorrectly cited it.

As I said, I believe these instructions are just as good for today as they were in 1761. Too often, I go to a church and very few people are singing apart from those in the choir. Hey, my voice is not that great, but if I follow the directions above, my average-quality voice will lend itself alongside some better singers and together we’ll make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Just a thought! Let’s all sing along to those words which sing praises to our God.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Christian Discerment Regarding Music: A reflection and response

worship-in-churchI recently read a post which called for “discernment concerning the Christian music world.” The author, “EvangelZ” writes:

We have been told to be discerning in terms of what types of secular music to not assimilate into our minds if it is degrading, anti-Christ, and vulgar, to name a few.  But what about the call to be discerning concerning the Christian music world?

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. We should–must–be discerning when it comes to what music we engage with. Our engagement with both Christian music and “secular” music (whatever these categories even mean) should be reflective of the content of that music. The list EvangelZ provided above is hardly comprehensive, but a good place to start. If our “Christian” music is “degrading” or “vulgar,” that would certainly seem to exclude it from any use in a worship service, and should be a strong reason against our integrating that music into our lives.

Indeed, I would contend that the content of the music should be essentially the criterion (with notable exceptions below) for the music deemed acceptable for a Christian to consume. Of course, there should be a real acknowledgement that some people have different levels of discernment or resilience than others (can we eat the meat offered in sacrifice to false gods or not? after all, it’s just some meat left out for some false idol? [see here if you’re not sure what I’m referencing]).

However, after this introductory comment, EvangelZ spent the rest of the post discussing how we should us discernment regarding Christian music by way of the lives of those who made the music. For example, one issue highlighted was Tim Lambesis’ (singer for “As I Lay Dying”) apostasy. Now, setting aside the issue of whether any “As I Lay Dying” song could even possibly be used in a worship service (although I like metal, I hardly think it lends itself to corporate worship and singing praises), what I want to briefly touch on is exactly this notion: should our discernment apply to content of the music or to the lives of the musicians (or, of course, both)?

After reading the post, I wrote a comment, and I’d like to just reflect on what I wrote there a bit more. I’ll reproduce my comment, in part, here:

[T]he criteria given for discernment in “Christian” music are pretty much all matters of personal character of the musicians, not the actual content of the music. I’m wondering why on the one hand it is content (“secular” music) but on the other (“Christian” music), it is the people producing the music. This raises a number of questions for me:

1) Why the difference in criteria?
=> 1A) Is it because music functions didactically and so we should be aware of who is “teaching” us through music?
=> 1B) If so, then do we need to know about the lives of every single person who has written a song that we use in worship before we are able to use it?
2) If we are to use character as a criteria of discernment for worship music, does that not essentially mean we can’t use any music?
=> Explanation: everyone is a sinner in the process of sanctification, so by default anyone who has written a song we use in worship has still sinned.
=> 2A) Or is the issue simply unrepentant sin?

I think all of these questions are issues we must deal with as we consider the need for discernment in whatever music we listen to. I’ll provide a brief reflection on each issue I raised in these questions:

1) I am unconvinced that there should be any difference in our criteria for discernment when reflecting on Christian or “secular” music. Part of this is because I’m not sure such a dichotomy actually does exist (see here), and part is because I don’t know why such a distinction should exist.
1A) If we grant that hymns or music used in church functions didactically–as teaching–then perhaps a case could be made, but I think, abstractly, the content should once again be the ultimate judge of whether a teaching is good (or not).
1B) Because we cannot feasibly be required to know about the lives of all who write the music we listen to, this cannot serve as a viable criterion for discernment. Perhaps exceptions could be made in those cases wherein we do know something should (and what does “should” mean here?) disqualify one (i.e. I could see the knowledge that ‘the person who wrote this hymn is a satanist’ as a perfectly sound reason for not using a hymn), but one cannot realistically be expected to know about the lives of every single artist who writes any part of our hymnody (or music generally).

2) Because all are sinners, if character is a criterion for discernment, it would seem that all are disqualified.
2A) However, perhaps the qualification could be made that it is merely persistent, unrepentant sin which should disqualify one. But then one has muddied the waters via 1B again.

Thus, I think that for Christians, the best way to use discernment is to apply the truths of the Bible to the content of the music. We cannot realistically be expected to know the backgrounds of every individual who writes the music we may listen to or use in worship, and with the caveat noted above, I think the criterion simply should be the content–the lyrics–of the music. How do we analyze the content? Well I think there are a number of factors, including those rightfully noted above by EvangelZ. God’s revelation in Scripture and the gift of conscience should be our guides.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

On Christian Music– I reflect on the category of “Christian Music” and whether it is even a functionally helpful tool.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task– I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

The Call for Discernment Concerning the Christian Music World– Be sure to read the post to which I responded here, and see what you think of their reasoning. I think this is an issue worth discussing.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

On Christian Music

dh-extremistA recent tragedy has forced me to reflect a bit on the notion of “Christian Music.” This recent tragedy was the professedly Christian lead singer of the band “As I Lay Dying” being arrested for plotting to murder his wife. Then, later, admitting that he was no longer a Christian and kept the label as a way to sell records. Now this is a horrible, tragic situation and we shouldn’t downplay it. We should stay in prayer and hope that God leads him back to Christ. We should also learn from it. I simply want to reflect on the category of Christian music and, as a parent (with my first not yet born), think about how I may guide my children’s choices (and my own) when it comes to music.

The Category of Christian Music

One question that comes up from this story and something I’ve frequently thought about is whether the category of “Christian Music” is even a category that should exist. It has been noted by others that this label may serve as an excuse for sub-par musical talent to sell records by having Christian lyrics. As someone who frequents Christian bookstores, I would say this, at times, may not be far from the truth, but there are many extremely talented musicians who carry this label with pride.

I do wonder, however, whether the label just becomes that: a label. It may not reflect the actual content of the lyrics or music (as is admitted in the case of “As I Lay Dying”), but parents feel comfortable picking up a CD from that section simply because it gets called “Christian.” I think that’s not the greatest practice (more on this below). Another problem is that the label of “Christian Music” implies a wholly separate and distinct category of “non-Christian” music, which does not seem to be accurate. So-called “secular” music is often performed by or written by Christians and reflects that.

An ideal world, in my opinion, would be one in which Christian musicians simply played music and had their music on the shelves next to non-Christian music, where someone might get their redeeming lyrics. For now, it’s shoved in the corner of the music section away from all the others. Rather than labeling ourselves “Christian” musicians, why not just play music, and let our worldview flow through it? (I have similar thoughts about “Christian fiction” and the like.)

Doing the Grunt Work

A case like the “As I Lay Dying” scenario brings up another issue. Namely, we should be examining the lyrics of everything we listen to. We need to do the grunt work and examine what we consume to see whether it builds us up as people of God or not. As parents, we should not just assume a so-called Christian artist has lyrical content of value. Instead, we need to do the work and see what the artists are saying so that we can make informed choices. More importantly, we are to raise our children in a way that they make wise choices with what they consume when they get to the age where we feel we let them make their own choices. It’s a huge responsibility, and one I feel very strongly for my child already, even before he or she is born!

Thoughts

I don’t think the label “Christian Music” is going to go away. In some ways that could be a good thing, but I think that we should do due diligence in whatever we consume and assure that it is something that builds us up. I’ve put the album art from a recent album from Demon Hunter up on this post because I think that group exemplifies the character of a Christian band. Their lyrics are a reflection of their worldview. Rather than being praise music, it is music and lyrics which demonstrate the Christian worldview and the struggles of faith. See the links for some more discussion of this.

To sum up, I think we should just examine whatever we consume. Moreover, we should respect Christian artists who are operating on the shelves of “Rock” or “Pop” rather than in the “Christian Music” corner of the store. Why? Because they are letting their faith work through their music without that label. I’m not at all saying those who aren’t doing that are somehow less valuable. Instead, they ought to seek to ensure their content is truly reflective of the label they have received or given themselves. Moreover, all Christians should seek to guard themselves and walk a life of prayer and one of seeking God.

What are your thoughts? I admit I’m no expert in this area, so I’d love to read what you have to say in the comments below.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task– I discuss the latest album from Demon Hunter and how music may act as an apologetic endeavor.

Ryan Clark Interview– Ryan Clark of “Demon Hunter” discusses one of their recent songs, “The Last One Alive” and how it reflects his faith.

7 Things Christian Parents Can Learn from the Tim Lambesis Story– What can we learn from the tragic story of a Christian band leader who turned atheist and tried to murder his wife? Check out these great insights from Natasha Crain.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Engaging Culture: Demon Hunter’s “Extremist” and the Apologetic Task

dh-extremist

Here, we’ll take a look at a recent album released by a favorite band of mine. Then, we’ll look at how this project relates to the broader field of apologetics.

Demon Hunter continues to release album after album, much to the delight of their fans (like me!). The heavy metal (in the spirit of nu metal/metalcore) band is formed of Christians who speak their faith through lyrics.

Musically, the album shows the range Demon Hunter has developed over time. There are a few ballads interspersed among numerous heavy riffs and screaming. The lead singer, Ryan Clark, has developed much since the first album. His voice is haunting when he sings, and his screaming continues to reverberate through the guitars and drums.

The lyrics are where the album truly shines. In “The Heart of a Graveyard,” for example, we find an existential call to awareness of the transcendent: “Tell me that your hopes and dreams don’t end in/the heart/Of a graveyard.” The cry to realize there is more to life than an ending “six feet” under is quite poignant. “I Will Fail You” is a heart-rending look into human nature: “I will fail you, of that I’m sure/I will remind you of the pain forevermore/And when my sins are just a memory, faith restored/I will fail you to the core.” The words are reminiscent of Paul’s words regarding his own failings in Romans 7:19 and present a clear call to the need for repentance. “Artificial Light” rejects the false replacements for true comfort and peace offered by a sinful world.

Overall “Extremist” is another excellent entry into Demon Hunter’s ever-growing list of hits. The music is intense, but the lyrics are truly the star in this album. From the existential need for salvation to themes of repentance and insight into human nature, Demon Hunter hit this one on all cylinders. I highly recommend the album.

So why post this review on a website dedicated to philosophy of religion, theology, and apologetics? Let’s not forget that one of the tasks of the apologist is to critically engage culture at every level. What part of reality falls outside the purview of the Christian worldview? Short answer: no part does. I want to encourage my fellow apologists to engage with the arts as much and as often as possible.

Not only that, but an album and band like this is capable of becoming an apologetic itself. I’ll never forget hearing Demon Hunter’s song “Thorns” for the first time (from an earlier album) and relating it back to the reality of the Cross and Jesus resurrection. Music like this which is lyrically fulfilling is itself an apologetic presentation. The fact that a band like Demon Hunter has the talent to headline shows at Ozzfest, among others, speaks to the appeal of the Christian worldview even in a culture which allegedly remains “checked out.” I thus also want to appeal to my fellow Christians generally: use the talents God gave you. Your worldview will come through in your writing, playing, painting, sculpting, and the like. God has uniquely gifted you to be a light to the nations.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Engaging Culture: A Brief Guide for movies– I reflect on how Christians can engage with popular movies in order to have meaningful conversations with those around them.

Book Review: “Think Christianly” by Jonathan Morrow– Take a look at this book about how we might engage with Christianity in every aspect of our lives.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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