Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wayne Grudem's Old Earth Views Refuted

Grudem's Systematic Theology is a wonderful and extremely helpful resource for any Christian. In fact, I would be in agreement with the majority of what is written in it. However, when it comes to the topics of the age of the earth and the global flood, Grudem clearly misses it.

Quite frankly, his views are inconsistent, illogical at times, fallacious (some of his arguments), and even unbiblical. I honestly expected better from a scholar.

Below, Answers in Genesis reviews a section of his disappointing chapter about Creation.

See entire article here:

Views of Wayne Grudem
Systematic Theology,
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994

Wayne Grudem’s theology text is immensely influential, having been translated into at least eight major languages. On the positive side, Grudem affirms ex nihilo creation and the direct supernatural creation of Adam and Eve (Grudem 1994, pp. 262–266). He has a helpful discussion of the biblical view of God’s relation to creation compared to the views of deists, atheists, pantheists, and others (Grudem 1994, pp. 266–270). He rejects biological evolution and presents good reasons for rejecting theistic evolution, the framework hypothesis, and the gap theory (Grudem 1994, pp. 279–286 (biological evolution), pp. 276–279 (theistic evolution), pp. 300–304 (framework hypothesis) and pp. 287–289 (gap theory). He also affirms belief in a global Flood (Grudem 1994, p. 306). In the bibliography at the end of his chapter on creation, Grudem refers to a number of young-earth books dealing with the age of the earth (most of which he identifies with “young earth view” after the citation). In this he is far more up-to-date and fair in his treatment of the young-earth view than Erickson and Lewis/Demarest are. But his old-earth arguments fail at many points.

Inconsistencies in rejecting some old-earth views

For example, he affirms that an atheistic form of the big bang theory is inconsistent with Scripture, but his qualified wording does not rule out a theistic big bang theory (Grudem 1994, p. 275).45 Since he is open to the evolutionary timescale as advocated by old-earth proponents who are astrophysicists and do accept the big bang as fact,46 he must, to be consistent, be open to the big bang order of events which contradict the order in Genesis (with the earth created before the stars and sun), even though he rejects theistic evolution. In rejecting the framework hypothesis, he says that the strongest argument against it is that “the implication of chronological sequence in the [Genesis 1] narrative is almost inescapable” (Grudem 1994, p. 303.) But if the days are sequential, then the events that occurred on each day must be sequential also (unless the text explicitly tells us otherwise, which in the case of the sun, moon, and stars, it does not). So any theistic version of the big bang theory is also inconsistent with Scripture. But Grudem does not clearly say so.
Three of his arguments against the gap theory also count against all other old-earth views, including Grudem’s tentatively-held day-age view. First, Grudem correctly says there is no verse explicitly speaking of a previous creation before this one. But likewise there is not a single verse in the Bible that explicitly speaks of or supports the idea of millions of years of time in Genesis 1. Second, he explains that if the gap theory is correct, then God calls the creation “very good” as He looks at an earth “full of the results of rebellion, conflict and terrible divine judgment” (Grudem 1994, p. 288). But in accepting the millions of years, Grudem is implying that God looked at the fossil record of death and disease, the destructive results of supernova explosions and asteroids bombarding the earth and other planets, and the other evidence of His apparently clumsy attempts at creation over millions of years, and then He called it all “very good.” Third, Grudem rightly reasons that the theistic evolution theory
must assume that all of the fossils of animals from millions of years ago that resemble very closely animals from today indicate that God’s first creation of the animal and plant kingdom [sic] resulted in a failure (Grudem 1994, p. 289).
But the same indictment can be made of all old-earth theories, for they would concur with theistic evolution on this point. Only the young-earth view reflects the wisdom and power and creative success of our Creator, because in that view all the death and suffering is post-Fall.
As noted, Grudem rejects theistic evolution. But his first two reasons for doing so also stand against all other old-earth views. First, he says that the “purposefulness in God’s work in creation seems incompatible with the randomness demanded by evolutionary theory” (referring to the millions of random mutations that the theory requires) (Grudem 1994, p. 276). But this counts equally against the blind, random, millions-of-years process of star and galaxy evolution in the big bang theory and the randomness of the millions-of-years formation of the earth and its strata to become our current habitable planet. If Scripture speaks of God’s intelligent design of living creatures, as Grudem rightly understands, it equally clearly speaks of His intelligent design of the stars and the earth, which were made for His glory and by His wisdom and have always operated according to His righteous ordinances.47 Grudem holds to a “straightforward biblical account of creation” to oppose theistic evolution (Grudem 1994, p. 276) and insists that the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve is a “straightforward narrative history” (Grudem 1994, p. 493). But the same straightforward exegetical approach to all of Genesis 1–11 requires the rejection of all old-earth theories.
Second, Grudem quotes Psalm 33:6–9 and says that we should reject theistic evolution because “Scripture pictures God’s creative word as bringing an immediate response” (Grudem 1994, p. 277). He rightly says that these verses seem incompatible with the idea that “after millions of years and millions of random mutations in living things” the creation was what God called for. But the verses are equally incompatible with the theory of slow gradual, millions-of-years evolution of nonliving things such as the stars, galaxies, and the earth. In fact, these verses specifically mention the heavenly bodies, but not living creatures. So, Grudem has missed the explicit teaching of the passage. God did not need and God did not take billions of years to make the earth and the heavenly objects. As the psalmist says, God spoke and it was done. He spoke and there was light. He spoke and dry land appeared. He spoke and the sun, moon, and stars came into existence. He did not have to wait millions of years for things to happen in response to His commands.
Since Grudem accepts the Creation account as straightforward history and the chronological sequence of events in Genesis 1, and since he believes the divine acts of creation were instantaneous, then by accepting millions of years he must necessarily believe that the divine creative acts were separated by millions of years. There is no other place to put the time. But where is the wisdom or even purpose of God in creating plants instantly and then waiting millions of years to create the sun, or in creating the sea and flying creatures instantly and then waiting millions of years to create land animals and man?

The importance of the age of the earth

Before entering into a discussion of the age of the earth, Grudem says that the topic “is really much less important than the[se] doctrines:” (1) God created the universe out of nothing; (2) creation is distinct from God, yet always dependent on God; (3) God created the universe to show His glory; (4) the universe God created was very good; (5) there will be no final conflict between Scripture and science; and (6) secular theories that deny God as Creator, including Darwinian evolution, are clearly incompatible with belief in the Bible. Grudem then says that the age of the earth is much less important than two additional subjects to be treated later in his text: (7) the creation of the angelic world, and (8) the creation of man in the image of God (Grudem 1994, p. 289).
But this statement about what is most important is simply an assertion. He gives no arguments or biblical evidence to support it. In response, we should note that his first point is not explicitly stated in Scripture, although it is a sound theological conclusion based on Scripture. Contrast that to the many explicit statements about the days of creation (in Genesis and other Bible passages) and the time since creation in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and the other chronological statements in Scripture covering the period from Abraham to Christ. Also, as I previously explained, points 3 and 4 affect our conclusions about the age of the earth and are consistent only with the young-earth view. The age of the earth is directly related to point 5 as well.
Furthermore, judging from how much God says about the age of the creation (as presented earlier in this essay) compared to how much He says about most of these other matters that Grudem mentions, the age of the earth is far more important. And the age of the earth strikes at the heart of the question of the authority of Scripture. Whether secular scientific theories (based on antibiblical, philosophical presuppositions) should be the controlling judge in the exegesis of Scripture (the hermeneutic of the old-earth views) or whether Scripture truth should be determined by comparing Scripture with Scripture and careful attention to the text and context (as young-earth proponents insist) is vitally important.
Grudem is correct that secular theories which deny God as Creator, including Darwinian evolution, are clearly incompatible with belief in the Bible. But we can only say they are incompatible with the Bible, if we interpret literally the Genesis account about the creation of the first plants, animals, and people, where ten times God emphasizes that He made these creatures as distinct “kinds” in mature form ready to reproduce “after their kind” (rather than to change from one kind into a different kind). If this be the case, then why not take Genesis literally about the date and duration of creation week and the order of creation events? Why not reject the big bang cosmology completely because Genesis says that God created the plants before the sun, moon, and stars? And why not assume that the global, world-destroying Flood would have produced a massive amount of lasting geological evidence (for example, sediment layers, erosional features, lava deposits, and fossils), instead of following Davis Young’s tranquil flood view, as Grudem appears to do? Furthermore, the evolutionary theories for the origin of the universe and the earth over millions of years equally deny God as Creator and so are just as incompatible with belief in the Bible.

The age of the earth

Turning to arguments regarding the age of the earth, Grudem begins with a discussion of the Genesis genealogies (Grudem 1994, pp. 290–291). Earlier in his text he had said that no evangelical scholar today holds to Bishop Ussher’s date for creation (Grudem 1994, p. 273). But this statement probably was incorrect when he wrote it in 1994 and is demonstrably incorrect now, as several scholars have contended for no gaps in the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies (Freeman 1998, 2008; Jones 2005; Pierce 2006.48) I and other scholars think their arguments are compelling as well. Grudem’s argument for gaps, which he takes from Francis Schaeffer,49 is weak. The fact that Matthew 1 has missing names does not mean that Luke 3, or 1 Chronicles 1, or Genesis 5 and 11 do also.50 The other verses Grudem uses are not genealogies but rather verses where (as he rightly shows) the verbal pattern “son of” does not mean a literal father-son relationship. However, Genesis 5 and 11 do not use this “son of” language but rather say that one man “begat” (ילדyālad) another. This construction always means a literal parent-child relationship (Ham and Pierce 2006).51 In any case, these verses cited by Grudem are irrelevant to the question of Genesis for the same reason that Matthew is—unlike these verses cited by Grudem, the Genesis genealogies give detailed chronological information and other personal details. Grudem says “it seems only fair to conclude that the genealogies of Scripture have some gaps in them” (Grudem 1994, p. 291). Actually, it is only fair, or rather faithful to all the biblical data, to say that some of the genealogical statements in Scripture have gaps. Neither Grudem nor his cited references have demonstrated that Genesis 5 and 11 have gaps.
Aware of the young-earth theodicy, Grudem devotes a mere two paragraphs to the issue of animal death before the Fall (Grudem 1994, pp. 292–293). Earlier he had affirmed that the initial creation was called “very good.” But he added that, in spite of sin, the material world is presently good, citing 1 Timothy 4:4–5. However, in the context of the preceding verse, Paul is talking about food, not everything in the material world. Furthermore, Paul’s statement here must be interpreted in light of his Romans 8:20–23 teaching about the nonhuman creation’s bondage to corruption and longing for redemption. The present creation is not all good. It is a fallen, cursed creation with remnants of goodness from the original creation.
In the section on animal death, he says that “there was no doubt death in the plant world” before the Fall (Grudem 1994, p. 292), but his comments reveal a need for further study of the creationist view on this point. He cites Romans 8:20–23, but does not discuss this very relevant text. His objection that Genesis 2:17 indicates that Adam’s disobedience would only affect man is an argument from silence, which is invalid, given all the texts I discussed on this point earlier. I would agree with him that Romans 5:12 is irrelevant to this question (though it has often been mistakenly used this way by many creationists) because context shows that the verse is only referring to Adam and his descendants. But Grudem has not refuted the young-earth argument about no pre-Fall animal death. And as we have seen, some of his own statements weigh heavily against the acceptance of millions of years of death, disease, and extinction of animals before the Fall, including the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, which Grudem leans toward accepting (Grudem 1994, p. 293). In a footnote, he admits that having all that fossil evidence of death in a very good creation is a “difficulty” for old-earth views and “perhaps” favors young-earth Flood geology, but he asserts that “this is not a decisive objection” (Grudem 1994, p. 305, footnote 75.) Why not? God’s description of the pre-Fall creation, the impact of the Fall and the cosmic consequences of the full redemptive work of Christ is not decisive for a Bible-believing Christian?
In his later chapter on the Fall of man he does not discuss the impact of the Fall on the nonhuman creation. But in his chapter on the glorification of the believer he affirms that God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin, “so that it brought forth thorns and thistles and would only yield food useful for mankind by painful toil” (Grudem 1994, p. 835). He quotes Romans 8:19–23 to say that the creation will be set free from corruption when Christians receive their resurrection bodies. He says,
In this renewed creation, there will be no more thorns or thistles, no more floods or droughts, no more deserts or uninhabitable jungles, no more earthquakes or tornadoes, no more poisonous snakes or bees that sting or mushrooms that kill (Grudem 1994, p. 836).
But he apparently does not realize that in accepting millions of years, he is accepting that the thorns and thistles and all those other things were part of the pre-Fall “very good” creation. So, none of those things could be part of the curse of Genesis 3, as he previously said. Like Erickson, he has not carefully considered the implications of his belief in the cosmic impact of the Fall.
Grudem acknowledges that young-earth biblical arguments about death have “some force” (Grudem 1994, pp. 295, 296 and 297). But he does not present those arguments very thoroughly, which significantly diminishes their force on the minds of his readers.

Science and the Flood

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Sounds of Acceptable Worship: Part 6—If Music Were REALLY Neutral…

Before I begin my brief study of scriptural principles of godly worship, I feel I need to deliver just one more blow (at least for now) at the unbiblical, unscientific, illogical philosophy that music is “neutral”.

In one debate I had a while back with a brother and proponent of the neutrality of music, he made a curious statement. He asserted that we are not to judge a musician by his music. Rather, we are to judge the musician by the lyrics of his songs and the fruits produced in his life. His point, of course, was that the style of music one uses is irrelevant because musical sounds are subjective to one’s tastes and preferences, and communicate different things to different people. Therefore, it is not valid to say that one type of  music is any more wrong than another, or that any artist is wrong based on his music style.

I have no doubt whatsoever that having God-glorifying lyrics in a song are crucial and bearing good fruit in one’s life and ministry is essential. But let’s examine this brother’s logic for a moment. His statement seems right and reasonable at first glance, but if we actually stop to think, we will come to realize that this philosophy doesn't work in the slightest bit.

By his rationale, if the evil death metal band Cannibal Corpse gets saved, they can continue to perform life shows together and make albums. They would have to change the utterly wicked and abominable lyrics of their songs and substitute them with God-glorifying lyrics, but they could keep every other aspect of their music the same. As long as they simply changed their lyrics, they could present their frenzied, maniacal sounds and growling screams as a fragrant offering of worship to a holy God.

Next case in point: Voodoo priests are converted. They continue partaking in their demon-invoking voodoo ceremonies, dancing to the rhythms and beats of loud pounding drums—but in their chants, they substitute the name of the various spiritual entities usually called forth with “Jesus” and quote Scripture verses. According to the aforementioned brother’s point of view, this would be perfectly acceptable.

Or take this hypothetical situation: members of the Church of Satan receive Christ. They abandon their sins, but seemingly continue to perform Luciferian rituals. Only now, Satan is not the object of their worship—the Lord is. Rather than draw an upside-down pentagram on the ground, they draw a cross inside a circle. Then they begin to sing and chant along to the exact same dark tunes that they used as Satanists, but now their chants and songs are jam-packed with amazingly theological “Reformed” lyrics. All of this is heavenly worship and a pleasing aroma to the Lord, if music is really neutral and the only thing that matters are the lyrics of a song.

Finally, please watch the following video of The Doors’ vocalist Jim Morrison. Watch beginning at 7:37 minutes, where Morrison, while performing live, begins speaking in different voices, whilst eerie sounds are coming from the keyboard and guitar. He is apparently demonized. How, I ask, could it possibly be okay to praise the Lord with such demonic and strange melodies? How could simply changing the words he says possibly make this evil song good?

Was not the slave girl with the spirit of divination preaching truth? (Acts 16:16-18). And yet she grieved and annoyed the apostle Paul. She was declaring something completely true ("These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation."), and yet she was doing it in a way that was offensive and blasphemous. She was of a different spirit. So, applying this to music, we see that lyrical content alone is not the standard for what is pleasing to God. One can sing about deep theological truths, but sing in such an irreverent manner as to make a mockery of those truths, and of Christ.

If you profess to be a Christian, and all of the above information still can’t convince you of the non-neutrality of music, and you insist that I’m wrong and that only changing the lyrics to death metal, voodoo rituals, Satanic ceremonies, and the songs of demoniacs will “redeem” the music and make it perfectly appropriate for the worship of God…then I would have to say, in all honesty, that I seriously question whether you are really even saved.

If you are relentlessly propounding the point of view that I am refuting, and in complete disagreement with everything I've said, you need to examine yourself.  Examine yourself as to the motives of why you are irrationally defending an indefensible and unreasonable point of view. Are you unwilling to give up a certain lifestyle and/or music preference? Are you unwilling to surrender it to Christ? Does it have a special place in your heart, a firm hold on your affections? If so, and you are not willing to give it up for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God, then it is an idol in your life. You are an idolater. You are loving something more than the Lord Himself. You must repent of your idolatry.

Examine yourself as to your profession of faith. Is it genuine? How do you know you are truly saved?  I would refer you to the following sermon:

Does my position on music sound radical yet? To someone steeped in, and desensitized by, modern Western worldly culture, it might. However, my position is not any more radical than the Word of God. In the next post we will take a look at how God desires for us to approach Him through worship. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Sounds of Acceptable Worship: Part 5—The Spiritual Nature and Power of Music

Does the Bible affirm, like so many people today, that musical sounds, apart from any lyrics, are neutral and harmless? Let’s explore some biblical passages that describe the astounding impact that music can have on the human soul…and even on the spiritual realm. 

1 Samuel 16:14-23.
Disobedient and rebellious Saul was rejected by God as king of Israel. As a result, “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him” (v.14). When Saul’s servants realized this, they suggested to their king: “Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well” (v.16). With his permission, they went and fetched David, a young shepherd who was famed among the servants for being “skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him” (v.18). Upon coming into Saul’s service, he found favor in the king’s sight; and the last verse of this chapter reads, “And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him” (v.23).

David was the ideal example of the Lord’s musician: a God fearing, humble and blameless young man of excellent reputation—and as an added benefit, he was also a highly skilled instrumentalist. And most important of all, the Lord was with Him. All these traits made him a powerful musician. Notice that in order to drive away the demonic spirit from Saul, David merely played his instrument. There is no mention whatsoever in this passage of any singing on his part. The melodious sounds of David’s music were powerful enough to drive out demons!

2 Kings 3:15-19
The king of Moab rebelled against Jehoram, the king of Israel, refusing to pay him tribute. In hopes of recapturing this rebel nation and once again subjecting them under the rule of his kingdom, Jehoram rallied up all the warriors in Israel. The king of Edom and Jehoshaphat, the righteous king of Judah, also joined him. In a dire circumstance, Jehoshaphat desired to inquire of a prophet of the Lord for guidance. They came to Elisha the prophet.  His instructions: “‘bring me a musician.’ And when the musician played, the hand of the LORD came upon him” (v.15). He then declared to them the Lord’s words.  

Amazingly, the Lord came upon Elisha only after “the musician played”. Worshipful tunes called down the presence of the Lord!

Although divine prophecy did not always occur this way, in the Old Testament there is an apparent connection between music and prophetic utterances. In Israel, the prophetic ministry involved the use of music, and the worship ministry was prophetic by nature. Some other examples of this:

-1 Samuel 10:5-6 (Samuel’s prophecy to Saul after anointing him as king):
“After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”  

-1 Chronicles 25:1-7 (King David’s prophetic “worship team”):
“David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals. The list of those who did the work and of their duties was: Of the sons of Asaph: Zaccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asharelah, sons of Asaph, under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied under the direction of the king. Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the LORD. Of Heman, the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel and Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, and Romamti-ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, Mahazioth. All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him, for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288.”

Godly people were not the only ones in the Bible who used music for spiritual purposes, however. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar used music as a tool to condition the people of his kingdom to worship an enormous golden image he had made:

“ And the herald proclaimed aloud, ‘You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up’” (vv.4-5).

As the aforementioned passages clearly demonstrate, instruments were used by both the Israelites and the pagan nations for religious purposes.

The undeniable link between music and the spiritual realm is not limited to Scripture, however. Numerous extra-biblical records throughout history also demonstrate that musical arrangements were used by peoples, nations, kingdoms and empires the world over to attempt to channel into the world of the “divine”. Across time and just about in every culture without exception, songs, tunes, melodies, symphonies and compositions have been used as a spiritual exercise.

And as such, music is an immensely powerful tool—capable of ushering in the presence of the Holy Spirit at times (God permitting, of course) …but also, inversely, having even the power to invoke demonic spirits.

A myriad number of musicians seem to agree that music is spiritual in nature. Take, for instance, the following quotes by well-known artists:

“Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.”  
-Ludwig van Beethoven 

“When the Siberian shaman gets ready to go into his trance, all the villagers get together... and play whatever instruments they have to send him off [into a trance state and possession]. … It was the same way with The Doors when we played in concert... I think that our drug experience let us get into it... [the trance state] quicker.... It was like Jim was an electric shaman and we were the electric shaman’s band, pounding away behind him. Sometimes he wouldn’t feel like getting into the state, but the band would keep on pounding and pounding, and little by little it would take him over. …I could send an electric shock through him with the organ. John could do it with his drumbeats.”  
–Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors, speaking of Jim Morrison (No One Here Gets Out Alive, pp. 158-60)

“I’ve always considered that there was some way where we were able to channel energy, and that energy was able to be, from another source, if you like, like a higher power or something, that was actually doing the work. I’ve often thought of us just being actually just the earthly beings that played the music because it was uncanny. Some of this music came out extremely uncanny” 
Bill Ward, drummer for Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath: An Oral History, p. 7).

“We receive our songs by inspiration, like at a séance”  
-Keith Richards, guitarist for The Rolling Stones (Rolling Stone, May 5, 1977, p. 55).

“They [The Beatles] were like mediums. They weren’t conscious of all they were saying, but it was coming through them”  
-Yoko Ono (The Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Berkeley, 1982, p. 106.).

“It’s amazing that it [the tune to ‘In My Life’] just came to me in a dream. That’s why I don’t profess to know anything. I think music is very mystical.”  
-John Lennon (“The Beatles Come Together,” Reader’s Digest, March 2001).

“’s like I’m on automatic pilot. By the time we’re halfway through the first number someone else is steering me. I’m just along for the ride. I become possessed when I get on stage.”  
Angus Young, lead guitarist for AC-DC (Hit Parader, July 1985, p. 60).

And here is an interesting quote about music and religion by a neuroscientist:

"As I've written before in books and blogs, I am an atheist and yet I have an empathy for religion. Intellectually, I do not think there is a literal God. Emotionally, I am not anti-religious. One of the reasons why I feel an emotional empathy for religion is that it reminds me of my attitude toward music. 
Many of the moral generalizations that have been applied to religion apply just as well to music. Music is a cultural phenomenon. It intensifies emotions. It helps cement communities. It can range from the terroristic to the sublime. The Nazis after all had nationalistic Nazi music to fire up their citizens, and in more recent decades we've seen cop killer music. On the other end of the spectrum, the rousing music of the civil rights movement advocated for equality, and Beethoven's Ninth was a politically and socially radical statement about the joy of human solidarity. 
Yet something else harder to put into words, something that goes beyond cultural impact, unites music and religion. When I am listening to certain pieces of music I feel a reverence creeping over me, an awe that has a spiritual quality. For myself, classical music does it. For others, of course, different styles of music trigger the same reverential reaction." 
- Dr. Michael Graziano, "Why is Music a Religious Experience?" (article) 

The list of quotes could go on and on.

Given all the clear evidence already mentioned in this series, it would be an utterly foolish and futile attempt for anyone to continue to insist that musical sounds are in any way, shape or form “neutral”.  

Well, then, having gotten all this information out of the way, I will next address a question that you, dear reader, may be asking: “If this is all true, THEN WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO LISTEN TO?”  

If music is not neutral and therefore not all music is appropriate—what kind of music is appropriate to bring to God in worship? 

In the next several entries of this series, I will first present some general biblical principles for godly worship. Then, I will tackle some of the modern subcultures and genres of our day (rock, hip hop, metal, etc), and we will together discover if they fit the Christian worldview and are appropriate as worship before a holy God. Afterwards, I will take on some objections by proponents of the styles of music mentioned above.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Sounds of Acceptable Worship: Part 4—What Experts Say Regarding the “Neutrality” of Music

Is music neutral? Let’s take a look at some interesting (and shocking) quotes from health care professionals and other well studied, trained and respected minds. These people are and were no amateurs…and certainly, no dummies.

Dr. Richard Pellegrino, neurologist ("What’s Behind the Subliminal Power of Music?" Billboard, Jan. 23, 1999: pp.4, 23): 
“People really do get ‘hooked on a feeling.’
And what a powerful feeling it is: Music talks to us, and we talk back. The grimaces and contortions made by performers and listeners alike are direct responses to music that moves us, a way for the subconscious mind to respond to music's message. And, like spoken and written language, music can impart information. Extensive research has shown that exposure to certain kinds of music improves visual and spatial reasoning, memory, and learning…
Many songs that ring up large sales not only produce endorphin highs but relate so well to listeners' emotional lives that people create strong and long-lasting associations between those songs and other events and people in their lives. The songs become anchors. They trigger a flood of emotions and images: some from experience, some from daydreams. These images have the ability to instantaneously produce very powerful changes in emotional states...
Take it from a brain guy. In 20 years of research, I still cannot affect a person's state of mind the way that one single song can.”

Dr. Roger Scruton, research professor at the Institute for Psychological Sciences:
“'The ways of poetry and music are not changed anywhere without change in the most important laws of the city.' So wrote Plato in the Republic (4.424c). Music, for Plato, was not a neutral amusement. It could express and encourage virtue -- nobility, dignity, temperance, chastity. But it could also express and encourage vice -- sensuality, belligerence, indiscipline.”

Dr. Mathew H.M. Lee, director of Rusk Rehabilitation Institute at New York University Medical Center:
“We've seen confirmation of music benefits in helping to avoid serious complications during illness, enhancing patients' well-being and shortening hospital stays.”

Deforia Lane, musical therapist (“Music's Surprising Power to Heal,” Readers Digest, Aug. 1992)
“Of course, music is not a magic, but in a hospital or at home, for young people or older ones, it can be a potent medicine that helps us all"

Dr. Max Schoen, (The Psychology of Music):
“The medical, psychiatric and other evidence for the non-neutrality of music is so overwhelming that it frankly amazes me that anyone should seriously say otherwise.”

Dr. William Kilpatrick (Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong: And What We Can Do About It ):
“Would anyone assert that '(You Ain't Nothin' but a) Hound Dog' has the same 'soul' as Gregorian chant? The one inspires to prayer and contemplation, the other to shouting and stamping. Not that there’s anything wrong with shouting and stamping once in a while, but children these days tend to be raised almost exclusively on that sort of music. Besides, they don't need much incentive to shout, stamp, whine, and demand. They do these things naturally. Why should we want music that validates and confirms such juvenile states?”

Center for Hearing and Communication:
“Studies show that exposure to noise is associated with elevations in blood pressure.”

Plato (The Republic):

For the introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions.

Plato (Laws):
"Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong in music -- that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave . . . a spirit of law-breaking." (Plato, Laws).

Aristotle (Politics):
“Music directly represents the passions or states of the soul – gentleness, anger, courage, temperance... If one habitually listens to the kind of music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form. In short, if one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music, he will tend to become the right kind of person.”

What Professional Musicians Have Said:

Dame Gillian Weir, world-renowned organist (on the high number of beats per minute of much modern-day music):
“You are, in effect, hypnotised by this thing, and there is no question but that it produces addiction.”

Dmitri Tiomkin, famous for his motion-picture scores and dramatic ballads (ca. 1965):
“The fact that music can both excite and incite has been known from time immemorial...Now in our popular music, at least, we seem to be reverting to savagery...and youngsters who listen constantly to this sort of sound are thrust into turmoil. They are no longer relaxed, normal kids.”

6th Century musician Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius (De Institutione Musica):
“Music is part of us, and it either ennobles or degrades our behavior.”

60’s artist Frank Zappa (Life Magazine, June 28, 1968):
“The ways in which sound affects the human organism are myriad and subtle…The loud sounds and bright lights of today are tremendous indoctrination tools.”

Pop Superstar Billy Joel:
"Music is essentially the manipulation of sound ... It has the power to make people feel sacred.  It also has the power to make people feel profane.  You know all the things they were saying about Rock 'n Roll in the early days, saying 'It's gonna subvert our youth.  It's gonna make 'em all wanna have sex.  It's gonna make em all go crazy'?  They were right."

Jimi Hendrix (LIFE MAGAZINE, October 3, 1969, p. 74):
“Atmospheres are going to come through music because music is in a spiritual thing of its own. It's like the waves of the ocean. You can't just cut out the perfect wave and take it home with you. It's constantly moving all the time. It is the biggest thing electrifying the earth. Music and motion are all part of the race of man… But I can explain everything better through music. You hypnotize people to where they go right back to their natural state which is pure positive—like in childhood when you got natural highs. And when you get poeple at their weakest point, you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say. That's why the name ‘electric church’ flashes in and out.”

In the light of such clear confirmation from the experts, and even from musicians themselves, it is indeed a wonder that some professing Christians continue insisting that music is a harmless, neutral medium. The Bible makes it clear it isn’t, health care professionals say it isn’t, musicians admit it isn’t. Why, then, are Christians the only ones playing dumb?

But I can just see professing believers willingly shutting their eyes and ears to the unmistakable evidence above, and instead all too happily pointing out the fact that I have only quoted one single verse of Scripture so far. “What do you mean ‘the Bible makes it clear’? I don’t agree with your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:7-8. Do you have more Scripture to show me? If not, then you can’t prove that music is neutral.”

Admittedly, my natural response to such an argument would be a discouraged sigh of frustration, and a desire to not continue convincing said persons any longer. I’ve been through this before with many a professing Christian, unfortunately only to receive a similar irrational reaction. “Club frustration” sums it up. But for the sake of those sincere souls who are truly eager to learn more about this important issue—and who are not looking to simply justify their love of a certain lifestyle and genre of music—I will present next more scriptural support for the unique power and non-neutrality of music. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Sounds of Acceptable Worship: Part 3—Is Music Neutral?

Today I will be delving deeper into the conclusion of the last part of our series. It is common to hear nowadays that music is simply a neutral tool in the hands of men, and that therefore the type of music one listens to does not matter; the only thing that matters is what the lyrics of the song are saying. This manner of thinking is especially prevalent in modern Christian circles. As a result of this philosophy, the contemporary Christian music scene is filled with artists of every kind of music subculture and genre—everything from Christian rock, to Christian techno, to Christian bluegrass and country, to Christian punk, to Christian hip hop…even Christian screamo, hardcore and metal.

I, of course, strongly differ with this point of view. As I previously demonstrated, music communicates a message, and therefore it is not neutral.

Now, just to clarify: when I refer to music as not being neutral, I am not referring to the moral sphere. I am not prepared to say that a sound, in and of itself, can carry an inherently sinful quality. It is my present understanding that individual sounds, notes and chords have no intrinsically evil nature about them. I would even go as far as to say that the sound of an angry yell, in and of itself, is not necessarily evil (though it can be effectively argued that 99% of the time it is evil—the reason being that it the majority of the time it comes from a sinful heart with sinful intentions). I am allowing for the enormously rare possibility for there to be an appropriate time for an angry yell. However, an angry yell would not be appropriate in the majority of contexts of society and daily life—and it would especially not be appropriate to present angry yells to a holy God as worship to Him. But more on that later. 

In stating that music is not neutral, I am instead referring to the scope of human emotions. Music is not emotionally neutral. It clearly conveys a certain idea, a feeling, a state of mind. And in so doing it has the power to influence a person emotionally, by circumnavigating the human intellect and directing itself straight into the seat of one’s emotions: the soul. There it can persuade a person to feel whatever the song is suggesting one to feel. Thus, music has an even more powerful effect on a person than words could ever have.

Movie soundtrack composers know this—they use music to manipulate audiences all the time. This manipulative tactic is also often used in modern Christendom as well…during church altar calls. Light guitar or piano tunes are usually played to induce people to come to the “altar” and make a “decision” for Christ (so much for the power of the Gospel).   

The following excerpt is from an article by Bob Jennings entitled, Music—A Message (available in Written Briefly, a short e-book which you can freely download HERE):

But does music communicate? Does music matter? Does it convey a message? Let's try to demonstrate that music matters. Let's try to establish that music does communicate – apart from the lyrics, apart from the listener's connotative memories, and apart from the musicians' morality and motives. Granted, the individual notes, like bullets, are quite neutral. It is, rather, a matter of what is done with them. It is a matter of how they are used, that is,

1. the NOTATION (what notes are played),
2. the RHYTHM (how long they are played),
3. the VOLUME (how loud they are played), and,
4. the BEAT (an emphasis on some notes and/or percussion).

These are the elements that give music a message. A given piece of music, then, ministers an attitude, creates an atmosphere, stirs a mood, and makes an effect. Music expresses a worldview.

THE NOTATION communicates. Play C-E-G on the piano; then change just one note to play C-E-F. It is a different effect. It is a different mood, isn't it? One sound speaks resolution and rest, while the other, warning and tension. You don't need to know a thing about music to feel this. No one needs to have an ambulance siren interpreted. There is an inherent message in the sound. Yes, music talks.

THE RHYTHM communicates. For example, look at church hymns. "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms" has similar content to "My Faith Has Found a Resting Place". Yet, because of the rhythm put to it, the first is cheerful and even lends itself to clapping, but not so for the latter which conveys resignation. In this way, music talks.

THE VOLUME communicates. Take a trombone. Play one note softly. Then blare out that same note. Something is communicated thereby. Crescendos are put on the score for a reason. Increasing the decibels will give quite a different effect. Contrast the delicate reflections of an instrumental quartet with the expansive tide of a philharmonic orchestra or the overpowering electronic 'heat' of a rock band. In this way, music talks. It moves us.

THE BEAT communicates. Tribal musicians work their warriors up into a murderous frenzy with nothing but their drums! The marching band, with nothing but their drums, can make your pulse race with a sense of foreboding power. The accent in our speech – simply the way we say something – can reveal a whole different message or attitude to the listener. The quality of sound talks to us.

The uncanny power of music over the human soul makes it a dangerous tool in the hands of sinful man; it can be used for the glory of God, or to hypnotically influence people to evil feelings, emotions and desires. While sounds in a musical piece (apart from vocals or lyrics) may not be sinful in and of themselves, they certainly can cause a person to sin. That music is not neutral should be unmistakable by now. But as if the above information weren't enough, we will examine next what the professionals have to say about music. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Sounds of Acceptable Worship: Part 2—Sounds Communicate

As we saw in the first part of our series, the Lord, a verbal and musical being, has enabled all His creatures to worship Him through sounds and song. And as human beings created in the image of God (Gen.1:26), we have been given the capacity to worship God through sounds more than any other earthly created being. This is because we have been given the ability to communicate through sounds more than any other earthly created being. A bear and a lion may roar when aroused, but they cannot produce orderly words to convey their feelings. A cricket and a bird may chirp, but they cannot produce complex oratorios or cantatas. A domesticated dog or chimpanzee may be able to express their desire to be fed, but they cannot verbally articulate their hunger.

Man, on the other hand, has the capacity to utilize sounds in multifaceted ways. Not only can he arrange particular sounds in orderly ways to construct meaningful words and phrases, but he can also accentuate specific sounds within these words and phrases to convey the precise emotion, mood, attitude, feeling, or idea he desires to express. For example, making the statement, “You’re not hungry,” will have a significantly different meaning than asking the question, “You’re not hungry?” 

Verbally, the only difference between both sentences is a change in the tone of voice.

Hence, we see that not only words communicate—sounds themselves communicate. We see this very clearly in Scripture. One example:

1 Corinthians 14:7-8: “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?”

The context of this passage is the believers’ need to utter intelligible speech in order to be understood by others and thus be able to edify the church. But interestingly, the passage compares human language to instrumental sounds. It shows us that as words are used to transmit information, sounds in music (apart from any lyrical content) are used to do so as well.

Of course a keen fellow may object, “I agree that sounds communicate, but they are entirely subjective. They communicate different things to different people. Just how a language may be completely meaningless to one person, but completely meaningful to another. After all, that’s what the context of the passage is talking about!”

The second part of this objection is certainly true. One language may indeed sound like mindless babble to one person, but be perfectly understandable to another, as we see in 1 Corinthians 14.  

And granted, the information that a particular sound communicates can be dependent on the meaning that a culture, a society, or even an individual, gives them. For example, the sounds of the verbal tones used in languages may differ greatly (e.g., the tone of voice in asking a question in Mandarin does not sound at all like the tone of voice expressed when asking a question in English). So in that sense, certain sounds can be subjective.

However, the first part of the above objection is not entirely true. There are certain sounds that are not subjective. There are certain sounds that transcend culture and people group and language—and are understood by all. While some sounds communicate certain things to certain people, and other things to others, many sounds are universal.

-A forceful, angry yell sounds like a forceful, angry yell to anyone from any culture or background—it never communicates “joy and happiness”.
-The loud, startling noise of an ambulance siren does not communicate “peace and tranquility” to anyone anywhere.
-The utterly distressed and hopeless bawl of one grieving a loss will never be understood as an exuberant shout of joy.
-It is hardly likely that the melodramatic violin melodies of a romantic movie soundtrack will communicate “anger”, “frustration” or “aggression” to any listener.

Undoubtedly and undeniably, individual sounds have a unique and powerful ability to communicate. And thus music, which is comprised of a sequence of sounds, also has a powerful ability to communicate, to transmit information without words. And like certain words, phrases and sentences can have an effect on our emotions (because of the information they’re transmitting), so can certain noises, sounds and melodies. Music has the power to influence our emotions. Therefore, it is apparent that music is anything but neutral

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Sounds of Acceptable Worship: Part 1 — Created to Sing

Before we begin examining contemporary Christian music through a biblical lens, let’s take a brief look at what the Bible tells us about sounds and music:

Music Comes Directly from God

Did you know the Lord sings? Yes! 

Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Music is the Lord’s “idea”; musical sounds and melodies directly emanate from Him. 

All God’s Earthly Creatures sing.

He has also given His creation the capacity to sing, to make melodies, and to worship through music. The Lord gives life and breath to all things (1 Tim.6:13, Acts 17:25). All His creatures return this “breath of life” to Him through worship. In fact, all of creation is commanded to worship Him:

Psalm 150:6: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”
Psalm 117: “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!”

One of these expressions of worship, of course, is singing:

Psalm 66:1-2: “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!”

Psalm 67:3-5: “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!”

God’s heavenly creatures also sing to the Lord:

Job 38:7: “…when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Most commentators believe the term “morning stars” to be figuratively referring to angelic beings, rather than literal stars. Regardless, this passage is more clear:

Revelation 5:8-9: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you…’”

All of God’s creation “sings”:

Psalm 65:12-13: “The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.”

Psalms 96:11-13: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”

Psalm 98:7-9: “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together”.

Isaiah 44:23: “Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.”

The intricate and ordered sounds and movements of nature are described as songs and praises of joy unto the Lord.

In glory, the saints will continue to joyfully sing to the Lord for all eternity:

Revelation 14:2: “And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.”

Revelation 15:2-4: “And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire--and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Thus we see that sounds and music are no accident, and neither are they purposeless or meaningless. They flow directly from the character and being of God Himself. He is a verbal being, and as such He has privileged His creatures with the capacity to not only communicate through sounds, but also to worship Him through them.