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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.


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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.



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Really Recommended Posts 1/31/14- “Frozen,” French and American Atheists, world religions, and more!

postAnother week, another round of great reading served up for you, dear readers. I’m writing this in the midst of getting 4-6 inches of snow (it’s already at 3, and not showing signs of slowing…), so I can’t help but feel a little bit like throwing in a Christmas movie today and sipping some cocoa. Oh well! It also made me think of the movie “Frozen.” The topics this week are Disney’s “Frozen,” the conversion story of a French atheist, “Street Epistemology,” the sign of Jonah and world religions, something we can learn from atheists in the “Bible Belt,” and evangelicalism and liturgy.

Disney’s “Frozen” might be the most Christian movie lately– I found this article on the movie “Frozen” to be quite insightful and interesting. I highly recommend the movie as well as this article.

How God turns a French  atheist into a Christian theologian– I found this conversion story simply fascinating for how God works in people’s lives. The insights from this theologian are profound, and they speak volumes for the importance of a reasoned faith.

A Look at the New “Street Epistemology” Movement– Eric Chabot analyzes the “Street Epistemology” movement forged by Peter Boghossian for creating atheists. Chabot’s approach is fairly unique in that he explores the movement through means of certitude and doubt–a primary weapon for Boghossian.

Bible Belt Bubble Burst? Wisdom from an atheist friend– The importance of a reasoned faith is shared eloquently here through reflection on a conversation with an atheist friend in the “Bible Belt” of the United States. Highly relevant.

The Sign of Jonah– Winfried Corduan is a major scholar of world religions. In this blog post, he offers up a video of how world religions are impacting the United States alongside a commentary on the “Sign of Jonah” which Jesus says will be given to his contemporaries.

Evangelical conservatives vs. Liturgical conservatives– Is it true that one can be either evangelical or liturgical? Is there such a thing as a perfect blend and harmony of evangelical conservatism and liturgy? Look no further than Lutheranism. Check out this post with some interesting insights.

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