Last week, American music star Tom Petty died. One Gen-X-age person said on social media on the day of his death, “Tom Petty’s music was the sound track of my childhood.”
There is something about music that is formative to our souls that subsequently shapes the culture at large. If you want to see how poorly or how well a culture is doing, listen to the music.
C.S. Lewis once said, “In heaven, there is silence, and there is music; in hell, there is only noise.” Much of what passes as music these days is, unfortunately, mere noise.
For years, Christian parents have complained about the music of which young people listen. In fact, some Christian fundamentalists were reported to have said, “Rock music is of the devil.”
This reply and the common reaction to this statement reveal two equal and opposite errors I see among many Christians. In response to much of the bad, corrosive music our culture offers, some Christians want to turn off music altogether. Others want to fully embrace and echo whatever music graces the top 40 charts.
When it comes to music, as with all culture, we must resist simply turning off the sound of all music. After all, Christianity is one of the most music-based of all world religions (think of the Psalms, think of our great hymns). We must also be careful not to feed at the pop music trough the culture offers, which ends up leading toward unhelpful and even ungodly thoughts and impulses.
Instead Christians can search for a golden mean. That means we seek and try to compose music that is both good and excellent. That also means we grapple with the themes of music that is consumed by the masses and speak to the issues of the human heart that music speaks to, including love.
American theologian H. Richard Niehbur, in his book Christ and Culture, talked about the various ways Christians have engaged with culture throughout the ages. He talks about “Christ against culture” worldview, which tends to be more withdrawn from society and thrive upon what the view is against. He talks about the “Christ of culture” worldview, which capitulates and embraces whatever the culture is offering.
Neither of these views is entirely helpful. Niehbur then talks about “Christ transforming culture,” wherein Christians attempt to harness the power of the Gospel to make the culture better.
This view would lead us to think we need good Christian music, and we also need good music done by Christians.
Throughout history, music has been an instrument for good theology and bad. The heretic Arius created a catchy song that opposed the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, which deceived many people of his day.
On the other side, there are millions of people who know the truths of John 3:16 because of the song, “Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”
When thinking about what music Christians will embrace, the stakes are high. The very worldview our generations endorse, as well as their eternal destiny, could be on the line. In the end, music is not a petty issue.