Friday, October 24, 2008

How biblical is our music?

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. – Saint Paul (Acts 20:27)

Any ministry of the Word should be devoted, not to a handful of pet themes or favorite sentences, but to what the apostle called "the whole counsel of God." It otherwise lacks integrity. A preacher who preaches only on the texts he's most drawn to is liable to end up preaching a lopsided gospel. One strength of working through whole chunks of the Bible is that it forces the preacher – and the rest of us – to wrestle with issues and questions that we might prefer to avoid.

As with preaching, so with music. Church music is a ministry of the Word. It should be devoted, not to a handful of favorite themes and sentiments – however good they are in themselves, and however good they make us feel – but to "the whole counsel of God." Our music should stretch us.

How are Christians, especially evangelicals, doing today, musically? Is this area of church life marked by wholeness, fullness? In many places, no. Proof: Lots of us know scads of Christmas carols, but only a handful of resurrection hymns. Given the New Testament's emphasis, that's scandalous. (See, for starters, 1 Corinthians 15; that's where the apostle says that the truth of the resurrection is what makes or breaks the church. See 1 Thessalonians 4; that's where he says he wants Christians to encourage one another with the hope of bodily resurrection on the other side of death.)

A scant familiarity with resurrection hymns isn't the only problem. There are no doubt plenty of other gaps in our music. How many hymns of confession and repentance do we know? How many songs about perseverance in holiness? How many hymns that spur us to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil? How many hymns about the promise of new heavens and a new earth? How many hymns on the ascension of Jesus? How many on His transfiguration? How many baptismal hymns? How many Communion hymns? How many psalms?

Looking back to my formative high school years in church, I don't remember many songs about any of those things. What I remember is a lot of songs about conversion. Conversion is important, but it's just the beginning, not the fullness, of our life in Christ.

If we want a music ministry marked by wholeness and integrity, it's not enough to ask of each individual song we sing, "Is it biblical?" We've got to ask whether our body of congregational music as a whole is biblical in its breadth and depth. We can't, like the blind men in the parable of the blind men and the elephant, lay hold of the trunk alone and pass it off as the whole beast, however much we like to revel in his trunkitudinousness. There's more to him than that.

Jonathan Edwards said we're naturally drawn to those things about God that we find friendliest. We shrink from the rest, and that leads to distortion. So with our music: We can have a hundred hymns about justification by faith (or conversion, or joy, or something else) that, taken individually, are all biblical. But if we sing little else, we distort God's truth.

The Scriptures have more to say. And so should our music.


Anonymous R.D. said...

Hi Paul...Good to see you & read your blog. Would love to hear from you.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Paul Buckley said...

Greetings, R.D. Help me out here. What does at least the R stand for? Rae?

10:07 AM  
Anonymous R.D. said...

You're good. I don't have your email info any longer, though. So much for privacy on the Internet!

11:32 AM  

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