Many Musical Expressions
Food is wonderous. I resonate with author and speaker Paul David Tripp when he says, “For me, I love how much of the glory of God is edible!” I agree with every word of Tripp’s good confession. Bread, fruit, ice cream, chocolate, and beef- bring it on! Baked, broiled, frozen, boiled, and fried- you bet. All these possibilities glorify the Creator (1 Corinthians 10:31 and 1 Timothy 4:4). There is so much to appreciate in the wide world of food, including many interesting combinations of tastes, textures, aromas, and colors.
Music is delightful. Much like food, I appreciate a wide variety of styles and approaches in music. Soli Deo Gloria! I am blessed by all sorts of musical approaches and styles: acapella, instrumental, contemporary, classical, extemporaneous, popular, ethnic, or even the hard-to-define. Through embracing the doctrine of common grace, I have grown in my appreciation of many different secular and sacred musical expressions.
Just like there are many types of music, there are also many different applications for music. For example, the music at a funeral should have a different feel than music at a wedding. The score behind a war movie should is distinct from the music that accompanies a comedy.
One point must stick before we proceed. It is not my intention to come across as overly critical of music or even Christian music, for that matter. There is much that can be said regarding the myriad types and applications of music. To be clear, I am not addressing all forms of music or even all forms of “Christian” music. And lest someone in my circle takes this personally, I am not taking a swipe at my home congregation or any church of which I have served. I am addressing a question broadly and generationally. I do not have a particular church or denomination in mind, but I am asking these questions of the church in America today.
Hopefully, you understand me.
Music in Christian Worship
I would like to raise some questions regarding one application of Christian music. My particular concern has to do with the songs we sing to God and one another when we gather for worship. All of life, including every musical expression, should be open for evaluation by Scripture. But that is not my aim. This article is not commenting about contemporary Christian music, Christian entertainment, or any other musical expression. I would like to limit this article’s scope to address the music we sing to one another when we gather to worship our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
What are we to make of our worship music? Please permit me to frame it a different way. Maybe it is better to ask, “What is our worship music-making of us?” Here is the fundamental point, “May I kindly request that our worship music promote more thinking and less amusement?”
When I ask for more thinking and less amusement, someone may object and say that I am creating a false dichotomy. After all, is not preaching for the head and music for the heart? Another person may ask exactly why should music promote thinking? On what authority are you making that claim? Another may ask if promoting thinking is even the point; what measures can be taken to show that music is, in fact, promoting thinking and not amusement?
Thinking on the Word of Christ
Both the Old and New Testaments are full of helpful passages on music, but one text brings the issue into laser focus, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)
Colossians contains some of the loftiest theology in the entire Bible. Here we learn that all creation was made for Jesus Christ, exists through Him, and is advancing towards reconciliation in Him. (Colossians 1:15-20) In Jesus Christ are found all the “treasures of wisdom” (2:3). Jesus Christ is the Creator made incarnate as it says, “all the fulness of the Deity” dwells in Him bodily. (2:9)
Somewhere in the middle of Colossians’ letter, the emphasis shifts from the indicative to the imperative. Therefore, Paul tells his audience to be “rooted and built up in Christ and established” as they bear fruit for God (Colossians 2:6-7). He desires that the radical Christian behaviors prescribed at the end of Colossians’ letter be inseparably linked to the lofty theology about Jesus Christ proclaimed at the beginning of the letter.
In chapter three, Paul applies these truths to the local church. Believers are to set their minds “on things above” (Colossians 3:2), “mortify” things that are earthly in them (3:5), and “put on love” as they endeavor to live in harmony with one another (3:14). Importantly, when Christians gather, they are to sing help them stay connected to the truths contained in Scripture. The musical expressions of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” will cause thankfulness to God to rise up in their hearts. (3:16)
God wants Christians to stay connected with the truth of Scripture. As outlined by the Apostle, the purpose of Christian worship music is to ensure that “the word of Christ” dwells in us richly (Colossians 3:16). In that same verse, we are enjoined to “teach” and “admonish” one another through this music. Those sound like thinking words, don’t they? They are not amusement words.
Amusement Means Not to Think
Consider the word music itself. At its root is the word muse. When someone tells us to “muse” on something, they are communicating the need to think deeply and ponder that thing for a while. “Musing” sounds very much like the command in Colossians 3:16, where we are told to have the word of Christ “dwell richly” in us. It is very interesting that the verse also tells us to admonish and teach one another through singing. Music in this sense, and remember my point, I am addressing the songs we sing to one another and God as we gather in Christian worship, should cause us to “muse” on the word of Christ. It should promote sound biblical thinking.
What is the opposite of “muse”? The answer is amusement. Literally, the word amusement means “not to muse.” Or more simply, an amusement is “whatever distracts from thinking.” Amusement parks are spectacles where people escape and forget about things as people feel the rides’ thrills and are tickled by many distractions.
Putting Thinking Back into Worship Music
Let us put the “muse” back into music when we gather to worship. When we sing our worship the King and Savior Jesus Christ, our music should promote more thinking and less amusement.
What do you think? Let me rephrase…
What do you sing?
Adam Rasmussen is the Associate Professor of Humanities at Arizona Christian University where he teaches students to flourish under the Lordship of Christ in all of life as they grow in their understanding of faith, reason, and culture within a biblical worldview. His Ph.D. in Educational Studies is from the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.