Theology Of Music, Part One


What is the purpose of music? Does it even have a purpose? Is it good, bad or neutral? Does God care about music? Should I care about music? These are questions that every Christian needs to answer to be able to live out 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Music is all around us. I would venture to guess that not a single day goes by where you are not exposed to music. It could be a commercial on the radio, perhaps television or movies, or maybe the crazy punk that drives by your house blaring his stereo at ear-piercing levels. However it happens – it happens. Whether we like it or not music is an everyday part of our lives and, therefore, we need to THINK about and develop a good theology of music.

According to Webster’s II: New Riverside University Dictionary, music is “the art of arranging tones in an orderly sequence so as to produce a unified and continuous composition”. The reality of it is, though, that music doesn’t have one concrete meaning. Music seems to make no sense. It comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. Literature says something, and the visual arts show something. Music seems only to show or say itself. Yet it feels like the most intimate, the most direct and true art. It means different things to different people depending on the context and culture. For some it is their passion – they live, eat and breathe music in every part of their life. Music defines them. For others – they are simply content to have music be in the background, seemingly unaware that it is even there. There is classical, pop, rock, country, opera, blue-grass, modern, instrumental, experimental, punk, acid, blues, hip-hop…and the list just goes on and on and on.

The reason we have so many styles of music is because music affects us. It is the great mood enhancer. The lyrics, melody, rhythm and chord structure all work together to produce an amazing emotional effect upon us. Music is an emotional language that engages with our souls. It can make us feel joy or stir up excitement. It can bring about feelings of sadness and distress. It can move us to tears or make us smile with glee. But is that the end goal of music? Is that it’s purpose? Is that why we have music?

I believe that music is a gift from God given to us to re-direct our attention back to him. Music, ultimately – like all of creation, is here to bring glory to God. We are to use, enjoy, listen, and play music all to the glory of God. Music is given to us by God to be used to draw our hearts and our gaze back to the Giver of the gift. In 1530 Martin Luther wrote in one of his essays:
“I am not ashamed to confess publicly that next to theology there is no art which is the equal of music, for she alone, after theology, can do what otherwise only theology can accomplish, namely, quiet and cheer up the soul of man, which is clear evidence that the devil, the originator of depressing worries and troubled thoughts, flees from the voice of music just as he flees from the words of theology. For this very reason the prophets cultivated no art so much as music in that they attached their theology not to geometry, nor to arithmetic, nor to astronomy, but to music, speaking the truth through psalms and hymns.”

So what are we to do with this knowledge? How does this play out in our everyday lives, in our churches, on our mp3 players? Does this mean that the only kind of music that we should listen to is “worship” music or “Christian” music? Should we only play or sing songs that have scripture in them or mention God or Jesus? Or is ALL music o.k. for us to enjoy?

The basic components of music (melody, harmony, rhythm) are not inherently evil. Music written and/or performed by non-Christians can be good for us and music written and/or performed by Christians can be bad for us. Praise and worship is not the only association that music has in the scriptures. You can find it connected with working, playing, war, funerals, and other everyday events.

So which music should we listen to? How do we make the right decisions about which music is okay for us to listen to and which is not?

This will be the topic of discussion in my next article as we THINK about music and worshiping God together.