Darren L. Slider
Why Should the Devil Have All the Bad Music?
Why Should the Devil Have All the Bad Music?
KENNAN MCGRATH'S ARTICLE
THE ARTIST'S RENDITION: ON MUSIC AND CHRISTIANITY
“Jubal was the father of all who play the harp and flute . . . Tubal-Cain forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” (Gen. 4:21,22). Because “Jubal and Tubal” were descendants of Cain, they were most likely not followers of God. Therefore, it stands to reason that flutes, harps and bronze tools are pagan and are not to be used by Christians, since God obviously cannot bless pagans with His creative prerogatives without blemishing good art. Sound logical? No?
“Elvis Presley and The Beatles were the fathers of all who play the electric guitar, drums and synthesizers, and they used these instruments to perform what was named ‘rock-n-roll’. Prince was the ‘prince’ of all that use highly precise and mechanical musical tools, that produced in his listeners an ecstatic feeling of movement and dancing.” (Revelation 19:87). Because these men didn’t profess Christianity, therefore the instruments and techniques they made famous cannot be listened to, imitated or expanded upon by any Christian. Logical? How many creative, mechanical, scientific, artistic and technological inventions have been given to the world by Christians? Maybe in certain ages of Christian interest in art there have been some, but a massive amount of art has been invented by non-Christians. Therefore, Satan must give the talent and inspiration to these men. Certainly God would not condescend to impart knowledge to evil-doers, would He? Somehow, all of this does not quite fit together. If it did, we could use very few of the ideas, creations and marvels so abundant in our society. But, on the other hand, we couldn’t possibly enjoy the music, art and dance of the “world,” because we would be “transformed into the world’s image.” Now I’m all confused. I like great rock music and dancing and fine arts, but I’ve always been told that they were wrong. I don’t see the reasons, but I dare not question them or God might be angry. Maybe I’ll be content to stick with the “safe” traditions I’ve been told all my life were true. Or could God possibly be tugging me to advance to higher and better things? What makes the creativity I appreciate right or wrong?
If you are like me, you too have seen illogical reasoning once too often in our well-meaning, but not always understanding elders, and have struggled to answer the questions of what is harmful or beneficial to moral growth in an Eden choked with foreign weeds. The Bible clearly states that Israel used many of the art forms and instruments of their time to praise God. Psalm 150 invites praise with trumpets, harps, strings, flutes (I thought Jubal invented these!), LOUD (sorry to disturb the peace!) clashing cymbals, tambourines (both rhythm instruments, by the way), and it can’t be dancing! Somehow the dancing of David and other saints just doesn’t fit with traditional Adventist views on dancing. It could not be motionless, dull, un-energetic or un-artistic in movement. Dancing doesn’t mean standing around motionless, nodding one’s head and repeating a monotone “Amen” over and over. It must have been joyful, ecstatic, artistic and worthy of God’s pleasure. The sole problem with some (but certainly not all) modern dancing is giving in to illicit sexual passions accompanied by drug and alcohol abuse. There is nothing morally wrong with most of the dance moves, especially the various artistic “robot” and break dances. It is great exercise and clears a stressful mind. The “cleaner” the atmosphere, the better, for some weak believer might see you (there are spies, you know!) and mistakenly judge you.
Rock concerts performed by Christians are, at least at the several I’ve been to, free from all senseless entertainment. Secular music, in itself, is not “bad,” but the attitudes and testimony of many groups isn’t overly helpful to morals and the searching for answers that people seek. I wish the quality of music could improve, and even surpass the current musical trends, yet Christian musicians have come a long way in recent years. Musicians that are at first artists, and through this vehicle, spiritual lights and guides, are the most successful. Too often, uneducated listeners are satisfied with a certain “gospel” sound, and the “artists” jam some poorly written “praise” lyrics into the equally poor music. Clever art work on an album cover grabs attention, and should package an “It’s what I’ve always felt but never knew how to express” equally artistic album inside. New rhythms, beats, special effects and dance moves always make music exciting, progressive, and beyond creative limits. Prince, Madonna, Janet Jackson and other top artists could improve the moral quality of some of their lyrics, yet their extremely talented musical wizardry and emotional vocal strength are gifts of God that could be used as a great power for good in the world. They often use their artistic talents to a fuller potential than most Christians, and some of their songs have deep social and spiritual meaning. U2’s “Joshua Tree” album is a prime example of great music combined with thought-provoking lyrics. Soon, many of these “sinners” who have an inner spiritual longing will find true religion, while others who may be “saints” in the eyes of the blind will someday reveal their true evil motives. This is why we should pray for, rather than condemn, secular artists. Who are we to criticize a God-given gift as being completely from Satan? Isn’t it better to pray for and help those who need it? Christians even criticize fellow believers, such as the heavy-metal band Stryper, for trying to reach a certain group of people in society who would rarely be reached in any other way. They are willing to risk being labeled “gay,” “sexy,” or “extravagant,” because they realize that the God they serve has called them to witness all types of people in a language they can understand. Too often, Christians prey instead of pray. We should be ready for God to work in unusual ways.
Art and music are cultural. There is nothing inherently evil in them. Music in Heaven’s culture will be entirely different from any other form of music, classical or rock, that we know here. God speaks to us in “earthly art” that is adapted so that we can taste samples of the infinitely greater artistic pleasures of heaven. We have to search in nature for the principle of religion clothed in natural majesty. The thunder at Sinai and at Elijah’s cave was the instrument used to catch Israel’s attention so God could speak the simple truth of His love in the “still small voice.” In all God’s work there is a balance: law and love, loud and soft, stillness and dancing. We cannot make art an idol by exalting sensual pleasure above God: neither can we package the truths of God in unemotional, sloppy wrapping and present it to the world as God’s favorite tastes. Carefully make your choices based on what your personal relationship with God can handle, and let others enjoy what they are able to handle without criticizing “looks” or artistic form. Intelligent, “spirit-testing” Christians are a minority in this age. We must watch for the counterfeits of Satan, yet not discard every new thing that appears, into a new edition of our “rule books.” God has many “surprises in disguises” for us. He is displeased when we inactivate His gifts. If Satan’s counterfeit is so close to the truth that it can hardly be detected, even by the wise, then it stands to reason that the genuine must be extremely close to the counterfeit. If rock is a tool of Satan, then what is its close counterpart, classical music? Hardly. Just as “pagans” could invent music that Christians of old used for God, so the modern popular counterpart, rock-n-roll, has been given to the world by God as a special means to convert the last generation of youth in this “space age” and give us a tool of power to attract the attention of the masses (which are disgusted with conventional dead religion) to the great love of God, and united as one, charge the evil kingdom and send the Devil scrambling to hell!
MUSIC TO MY EARS
Kennan McGrath’s intelligently written article on contemporary Christian music challenged my thinking, and contains some important points which cannot be overemphasized. He correctly states that God, not Satan, gives to musicians musical talent, whether or not they choose to glorify Him with it. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, he points out that God has given us all the ability, and the principles, to decide what is uplifting, wholesome, excellent, and spiritual in music. We should not categorically and unthinkingly accept or reject music merely on account of its label (“classical,” “popular,” “contemporary Christian,” “jazz,” etc.)
Nonetheless, music, both as a means of artistic expression and as a medium to convey a philosophical message, is not merely neutral; nobody can gainsay the fact that particular rhythms, harmonies, and melodies, and combinations thereof, stimulate particular physiological and emotional responses in the listener. These reactions take place involuntarily, no matter what the lyrics say.
A Christian message, in order to have proper impact, must be conveyed through a medium that “agrees” with the message. A large part of contemporary Christian music, however, is comparable to an attempt to preserve new wine in old wineskins. Setting the profound message of the gospel to inferior, trite, shallow, sexually implicit (or explicit), or unremittingly grinding music will not change the physical and emotional responses provoked by that music. Nor will it convey the full impact of the gospel message.
Only God can judge the sincerity of those who attempt to reach people for Jesus through contemporary music. Amy Grant (pop), U2 (new wave), Stryper (heavy metal), and others doubtless mean well. But when their audiences involuntarily respond to their music in the same way they would respond to worldly and even openly Satanic songs in the same styles, how well can their witness succeed? When the message is trivialized, flatly contradicted, or even completely effaced by the medium, how can they expect it to make a lasting impression for Jesus?
It is true that God, being able to use any adverse or nonideal circumstances to achieve a lasting impression for good, often does. Romans 8:28, the experience of Job, and countless other examples from human history illustrate this fact. But Christian composers and performers are expected to choose the best possible medium for their Christian message; to actually expect God to use a medium that is less than completely compatible and harmonious with the message is presumptuous. The end does not justify the means!
To glorify God in our choices of and our uses of music, we must be completely surrendered to the Holy Spirit and we must use all the intelligence and all the noble human emotion that God has given us. May Jesus shine through us as we attempt to do so!
Darren L. Slider
Author’s Note: In the spring of 1987, while a sophomore at Andrews University, I came across an article by a fellow student and acquaintance, Kennan McGrath, in the student newspaper. In it he advocated the use of the arts in general, and of contemporary popular music styles in particular, as an evangelistic tool, easily demolishing an extreme form of guilt-by-association objection. In a brief reply to Kennan’s article, I pointed to the fundamental problem with the evangelistic use of most popular music: medium-message conflict. My tone was actually quite irenic, and Kennan, though he continued to disagree with me, personally complimented me on my response. Kennan was a genuinely open-minded and amiable fellow who, despite his populist predilection, also took an interest in classical music.