“Why do you review worldly music?”  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , , , , ,

Several times over the past year a friend has commented that Christians he knows have asked him why I review “worldly music” in Critique and on Ransom’s web site. I wish they would have asked me directly, but they haven’t. So I thought I’d post an answer here in the hope they find it.

 

I appreciate your question. It represents a desire to be holy, to be set apart from what is sinful. It means you take seriously Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians to stay clear of inappropriate relationships in a fallen world. “‘Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them,’ says the Lord, ‘and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you.’” (6:17). John issues a similar warning. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

 

Paul defines being separate for the Corinthians by identifying relationships with non-Christians that involve compromise. He asks how God and idols, light and darkness can possibly be mixed. And in his first letter to them Paul explicitly instructed them not to withdraw from non-Christians—he even insisted that it is wrong for us to judge them (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). And when John warns us to not love the world, he is careful to define what he means. “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). Notice he doesn’t list things like art, music and culture, but sinful desires. What is worldly is not that which is produced by non-Christians, but the seductive systems of thought and desire that a fallen world erect in rebellion to God’s proper reign as Sovereign. In other words, building something is not wrong; building the tower of Babel was.

 

In Creation, human beings were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), given a mandate to care for and cultivate God’s world (1:28), and when our first parents exercised their creativity in poetry (2:23) and naming God’s creatures (2:20), God was pleased, including Adam’s poem in his Word and refraining from naming the animals himself (2:19). All of Scripture reveals the creativity of God’s people (see, for example, Exodus 35:30-35 and Psalms), and he has graciously told us that even after the Fall the creativity of unbelievers can be appreciated and celebrated because the image of God remains in them (Genesis 4:20-22).

 

At the Fall, a violent and fatal break occurred. Death and wickedness poured out of the human heart, perverting every relationship, bringing darkness as the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve preferred idols to the true God. How we understand the Fall and it’s relationship to the world we live in makes a great deal of difference. Misunderstand it, and we begin to believe a false gospel.

 

Think of it this way. Imagine that this list includes all of God’s creation when he called it into existence and declared it good—very good, in fact:

 

worship

spirituality

family

work

rest

gardening

art

animals

plants

matter

energy

 

Now we need to ask how the Fall effected that list. There are, by and large, two possible answers. One answer says that what’s wrong is rooted in the very structure of creation. That there is a break between what is secular or worldly on one side and what is spiritual or heavenly on the other. God is pleased with the first, but not the second. In this view, the list looks like this:

 

worship

spirituality

 

family

work

rest

gardening

art

animals

plants

matter

energy

 

In this view, gardening is on the physical not the spiritual side. It’s not exactly sinful to have a garden, but we can make it more pleasing to God if we share the produce with our non-Christian neighbors and use the chance to let them know how to be saved. The same would be true for all secular pursuits—they may not be sinful, per se, but they aren’t on the spiritual side, either.

 

Now, what I am going to say may surprise or even offend you, but I hope you will consider it carefully. The view I have just explained is not a biblical perspective, but is instead rooted in a neo-pagan Greek view of reality. It is a popular idea among Christians—and has been popular for 2000 years—but that doesn’t make it correct. In a biblical view of things, there is no division between spiritual and physical, between sacred and secular. The biblical perspective is this:

 

wors  hip

spiri  tuality

fam  ily

wo  rk

re  st

garde  ning

ar  t

ani  mals

pla  nts

mat  ter

ene  rgy

 

The Bible teaches us that at the Fall a moral rupture occurred that runs through all of life.  There is no sacred/secular division. What is spiritual is not more pleasing to God than what is physical. Evangelism is not more pleasing to God than farming, and reading my Bible is not more spiritual than reading fiction. In the biblical view, although I may desire to worship God in spirit and truth, my worship is always marred by my sinfulness, even if I can’t identify exactly how. And sometimes I can identify how—whether pride in doing it right, or impatience with those who I think pray poorly. All art is thus affected, both music produced by Christians and that produced by non-Christians. In fact, the music produced by Christians may, sadly, exhibit less truth and beauty that music produced by non-Christians.

 

So, we need to be discerning—about all of life and culture—which is why I review the music I do in Critique and on Ransom’s web site. Just as all truth is God’s truth, all beauty is God’s beauty. The scientist that discovers a cure for rheumatoid arthritis may not be a Christian, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t discovered real truth. Artists like Sigur Ros and Radiohead may not be Christians but that doesn’t mean that they don’t produce hauntingly beautiful music. And since the work of our hands and minds reveal what we really believe about the things that matter most, listening to the music of our culture can help us understand how to engage our neighbors and co-workers with the gospel in a way they might be able to understand.

 

I know that if you think I review worldly music, what I’ve written here may come as a shock. I am saying you have adopted a perspective—unsuspectingly and perhaps unconsciously—that causes you to misread the Scriptures you love. It’s a very serious matter. The notion that what’s wrong from the Fall is rooted in the structure of creation (a spiritual/physical, sacred/secular divide in life) is properly referred to as the Gnostic heresy. The biblical gospel, in sharp contrast, says that all of life across all of culture, lived to God’s glory and under Christ’s Lordship, is equally pleasing to God. This is really very important—a Gnostic faith is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Much more needs to be said, to make a compelling case for what I am saying, but this is a post on a blog not a book. So let me recommend three books worth reading:

 

Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience by Jerram Barrs and Ranald Macaulay (IVP). These two former L’Abri workers address the question of a sacred/secular dichotomy in detail, carefully moving through the Scriptures and showing how neo-pagan thought has sadly infiltrated Christian circles.

 

Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different by Tullian Tchividjian (forthcoming from Multnomah). The grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham explores in careful detail what it means to be separate from the world, and the difference it makes.

 

Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer (IVP). A short booklet that introduces a distinctly biblical understanding of art and culture.

 

Please read them, and reflect on what I have written. It would be far better if we had a chance to talk, so I can be certain I know what you mean by your question. If I misunderstand what you meant, please let me know. But if behind your notion of “worldly music” is the idea that art is less important than, say, missions, that pursuing spiritual things like evangelism is more pleasing to God that doing something physical, like art, or that the music of non-Christians is intrinsically something of the world we must withdraw from, please hear me. Your entire understanding of Christian spirituality is less than biblical, and the gospel you profess is perverted with Gnostic elements.

 

It’s not, in the end, an issue of what music we like or happen to listen to. It’s a matter of what gospel we profess.

 

This entry was posted at Monday, October 13, 2008 and is filed under , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

2 comments

I have appreciated your reviews of "secular" music. The musicians you review are typically those I listen to and it is good to think through the music in a gospel centered way. thanks. keep up the good work!

October 19, 2008 at 10:10 AM

Thanks, Vince. Appreciate your kind words.

October 19, 2008 at 7:22 PM

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