Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Bad Diet

A few days ago, a Christian organization (that shall remain unnamed) proposed something called a “thirty-day worship diet.” People who took the challenge were to listen to only “worship music” for thirty days and “see how God speaks to you.” I have serious objections to both this idea and its implications.

First is the idea that God speaks through worship music (which I will broadly define as music based in contemporary popular styles with explicitly Christian lyrics) more directly and profoundly than through other genres. Such a claim, to be blunt, is theologically unfounded.

There are two types of revelation, general and special. General revelation is what David refers to in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God,” and what Paul refers to in Romans 1: “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” General revelation is, in short, the evidence of God’s presence and God’s work in the natural world. The list of what encompasses general revelation is virtually endless. Not so with special revelation. Special revelation refers to (and only to) the logos – the Word of God, Jesus Christ. No human-crafted art, even if it employs the mechanism of human language to explicitly refer to Christ, can speak to the human heart like Christ Himself can and does in His Word.

Thus, it is theologically inaccurate – biblically mistaken, in fact – to elevate worship music to the level of special revelation. It is a mistake to elevate any form of music to the level of special revelation, from Wesley’s hymns to Handel’s choruses to David Crowder’s praise tunes, no matter how much in alludes to or even quotes the Bible. Only the Scriptures themselves carry the power of special revelation – any music the text may be set to adds nothing of spiritual consequence, biblically speaking.

I do not mean, of course, that music has no value (having just spent four years in a Conservatory, I feel very qualified to assert that music does indeed have value) to the church. For the beginnings of a discussion on the value of music in the church, I recommend Harold Best’s Unceasing Worship, Phil Ryken’s Art for God’s Sake, and Steve Turner’s Imagine. It is not sacramental, however, or inspired, as the Scriptures are.

My second concern is that the challenge to listen only to worship music for thirty days, while it may seem like spiritual advice, is unfounded in Scripture. There are such Scriptural commands like Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” But this organization provided no support for their implied claim that other forms of music are untrue, dishonorable, and so forth. I, of course, do not believe such support exists because the claim is false. After all, it is not what goes into someone that makes him or her unclean, but what comes out (Matthew 15). It is how we react to our surroundings that determines whether they are honorable, commendable, and the rest.

Our entertainment choices, in my opinion, should be based primarily on whether or not they honor God by what they put into our minds. Put a different way, one should ask whether the entertainment draws one toward or away from Christ. A second criterion should be artistic and intellectual merit. I can think of many praise and worship songs that so honor God and are of immense artistic and intellectual merit, and I can also think of some works in this genre that do not meet those standards. Concerning other genres of music and types of entertainment, I can think of many works that draw one toward Christ and have artistic and intellectual value, and many that do not. (See my profile for some of my entertainment choices.)

I have written before about my belief that God values leisure, and by extension the use of entertainment. But as in all things, the process of discipleship involves careful consideration of our interaction with the world, and this includes our entertainment choices.

This is Rubio, over and out.

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