Music, as Music, must be Redeemed!

There is no doubt that music is powerful.  It has a way of speaking to our deepest soul, drawing out tears of joy or sorrow and other emotions, often unexpectedly.  I have witnessed this in worship services and at concerts, and noted that many in the audience were moved to express emotion even in the midst of relative strangers.

The music in these circumstances often had lyrics attached.  In other words, the emotional reaction was not just a response to the music as music, but to the meaning of the words which were carried by the vehicle of music.  In fact, I would suggest that the emotional responses would not have been the same had the lyrics not been present.  If it was just the music, there would have been no apparent meaning to which respond in an emotional way.  All too often, the musical form is not matched well with the lyrical content, so to remove the lyrics is to remove the meaning.

This is a sign of our times.  Modern music – as music (as an art form) – has been stripped of meaning.  Some think that music and musical styles are benign, and that there is no inherent goodness or beauty within the music itself.  Some might say that without lyrical content, there is no meaning in music.  Still others see music as the way to promote an agenda, especially as a powerful force to portray and convince people of a certain message (or worldview).

In fact, music, in and of itself, is full of meaning. As an art form it carries meaning of its own accord.  Those familiar with the melodies of someone like Chopin, for instance, will have the experience of responding emotionally to the music itself – even without lyrical content.  The very texture and form of the music can carry its message into our minds and hearts.

One can “hear” the sorrow of a past relationship in Chopin’s Etude No. 3 in E Major (“Tristesse”), for example.  I have often used this piece in teaching music appreciation courses.  What I have found interesting is that both adults and children respond in very similar fashions.  When asked to listen and respond to what the music is communicating to them, groups of students will ultimately “hear” the sorrow of the melody, have feelings that the composer is forlorn, and notice the pleasant memories in the second section of the piece before it returns to the sense of longing the music invokes. By this we know great music – it communicates something to the listener without the composer or some expert having to explain it.

That being said, there is plenty of room for the Christian to think more Christianly about music as music.  As an art form, developed and utilized by mankind, it will have inherently all the characteristics found within fallen mankind.  Rather than being benign, it is full of all that man is and he will creatively weave his natural inclinations into it. That means music – as music – is redeemable.  That means we Christians are to be in the business of redeeming it! This is much more than attaching Christian lyrics to any and every form of music.  It is much deeper and much more vital.

I have been thinking along these lines for a number of years, but seldom find Christians willing to go in this direction.  Certainly those who are committed to a certain form of music, because of their own inclinations and tastes, are reluctant to discuss how a particular style of music may be inherently inappropriate for a Christian message. Attaching Christian lyrics to a form of music, without a redemptive interaction with the music itself, does not automatically make that music “Christian music.”  Although it doesn’t make me popular, I point out that certain styles of music are “angry” by nature, and attaching a “Jesus loves you!” message to angry music does not redeem the inherent hatefulness embedded there within the music.

How we might engage in this process of redeeming the art form of music is open for discussion – if any are willing to discuss it openly and honestly.  I’m not sure that “angry” music as music can be redeemed away from its inherent anger.  As such, it may have some limited use within a Christian framework, such as thematic material dealing with the destructiveness of sin.  However, as a steady diet of Christian entertainment, I’m not clear how this style can be combined with the restorative nature of the Gospel message.  How can one sing of restoration, when the music portrays destruction?

I’m certainly not calling for a return to previous forms of church music. Although we can learn a lot from someone like J.S. Bach, it’s not likely that people will respond well to that music in our churches due to the saturation of entertainment in our culture.  The truth of Christ and His word can be carried by many vehicles, but I wonder where the Bachs of today are in the church? Where are those who are transforming the nature of music, redeeming it from our day and age, and raising it to new heights under the banner of Christ? Who are those that will lead us from the mundane, repetitive songs that characterize modern worship to a new expression that challenges convention and explores redeeming music as music?

May the Holy Spirit, even now, be working in the minds and hearts of those He will raise up in this endeavor.


(Original Post on May 6, 2014 at the Worldview Church:


Posted on July 28, 2014, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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