Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Five questions for Christians to engage with popular music

Pop music - like any other form of art - is made of what Francis Schaeffer called 'glorious ruins', made by people made in the image of God, yet ruined and sinful. How as Christians can we discern what is good in pop music without endorsing what is wrong and sinful?

Here are five questions that you can use to begin to consider these questions:

1. What's sort of response do the song writer and musician want the hearer to make? How successfully is this intention achieved?
2. How technically excellent is this piece of music? (this considers the skill of the composers, musicians and producers)
3. Is the musician being true to their talent and worldview - or are they making their music primarly for fame or for money?
4. What's the content and message of the song? What can we agree with? What do we disagree with?
5. To what extent is the agreement between what's being communicated and how it's being communicated? (Jerry Solomon: ‘The ideal situation occurs when both the medium and the message agree.’).

These questions show that it is entirely possible for a musician to create a song that is creative and technically excellent while its theme is something we can’t agree with (or vice versa). Much of the music we encounter will contain both things we agree with and things we disagree with and it is dishonest to deny the reality of either. When we write off a song or musician because of their lyrics or performance, we deny the God-given talents that they inevitably have. In so doing, we miss much of the way in which God has blessed the people he made with common grace.

Additionally, if we evaluate music based on our personal preferences, we exalt our preference to place of ultimate authority. As Christians we recognize Scripture as the ultimate authority for our belief and practice and we should also root our assessment of an individual piece of art work in the same place.


Paul said...

Viewing the music holistically, if the lyrics and music disagree, then perhaps the song means something completely different to the lyrics. Sometimes the music completely denying the words can make the most powerful statement.

Anonymous said...

Switching this around, there are many great Christian songs with great music and awful words (remembering a Women's Fellowship service where the choir sang 'Let me have my way among you' - shudders) and many great words with abysmal tunes.

And reaching that balance is an incredible gift.

peterdray said...

Yeah Paul, I agree. Lily Allen's current 'The Fear' is one where music and words don't agree, which underlies the juxtaposition of celebrity and deep insecurity. But something like Alexandra Burke's cover of 'Hallelujah' is a case where performance and words don't really match at all.

Judin - I wasn't really thinking about Christian songs but you are right. I also hate it when I feel like the poetry of songs is stripped away and I'm just singing a catechism.

Paul said...

Agreed on 'Hallelujah'.

The answer to the Christian issue is simple. More interesting catechisms.

If we can say it, we can sing it. Let's just say things in a more interesting way - e.g. http://www.credenda.org/issues/17-4thema.php

peterdray said...

Whoops - I certainly wasn't attacking catechisms! What I am against is when I feel like I'm being forced to sing Calvin's Institutes and where all of the poetry has been stripped away (not that there aren't bits of Institutes that are poetic, but you get my drift...)

What you link to has some beautiful turns of phrase. Thanks.

OddBabble said...

Hi Peter,
I may have missed something, but are you suggesting that if the content of a pop song is something that we wouldn't agree with as Chrsitians, then we shouldn't listen to it? If so, I would love to debate with you further!

peterdray said...

Hi OddBabble,

No I am absolutely not saying that! (In fact I'm saying the opposite: I'm saying that even if the message is bad or contradicts the Biblical worldview, we can and should still appreciate the common grace in a song).

I guess the only reason not to listen to a song was if it tempted you to sin.

OddBabble said...


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