Nov 13, 2011

What makes music "good"?

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” ~ Col 3:16-17


Over the years, many people have asked what type of music I like to listen to. Most of the time, my answer is that I don’t listen to much, but instead play music and whistle it. In the car last night, Kevin asked Casey and I a variation of that question: what kind of music do you like? I won’t attempt to recount the conversation, but parts of it and past conversations with others got me thinking about an important point: what defines “good” music? The obvious answer is anything that brings glory to God. The more difficult point to answer is how do we determine if something brings glory to God? To answer this question we need to look at the several components of music. The first component of music is the lyrics, the second is the tune, and the third is the way in which the music is sung or played. When lyrics are present in a song it is often easier to tell whether it has value or not. If it contradicts Scripture or conveys ideas that are contrary to Scripture, then it is not good music. But as Kevin said last night, what about Mary Poppins which has nonsensical lyrics or classical, which has no lyrics at all most of the time? Mary Poppins songs don’t really contradict Scripture, but they also don’t give one a sense of God’s presence. They really have little value other than making you smile at their outrageousness. Why listen to them? Personally, I have no answer. Contemporary Christian music is a different matter. It often has decent lyrics that talk about worthy things, though it rarely goes very deep. In addition, the music often takes center stage and either drowns out the lyrics or else focuses on impressing others instead of glorifying God. Lastly, many artists distort their real voices to make them sound “cooler”, again distracting from glorifying God. Now I’m not saying this is true of every Christian artist; I am mainly just talking about the ones who have strayed to the rock side of things. I am going to skip over a deep evaluation of country, punk, rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, and all the others merely because they rarely exhibit the nature of God. Sometimes you may find a country song that stops talking about beer and girls long enough to share the Gospel, but you almost never find a good song among the other genres for this reason: the foundation for all good music is God. What I mean by that is all music must lead the listener to meditate on the Lord. Every time we hear about good music in Scripture it is about psalms, hymns, and/or spiritual songs. Classical, though it doesn’t have lyrics, has a level of complexity and beauty that reflects God’s beauty and complexity. Music doesn’t always have to be joyful either to praise God. Many psalms were about the destruction of David’s enemies, so even the haunting melodies can remind us of the power and wrath of the Lord. Some people argue that electric guitars don’t glorify God. I disagree. David writes to praise the Lord with clashing cymbals, trumpets, harps, stringed instruments, and I think he might have added electric guitars if they had existed at the time. However, I also believe that the electric guitar, by nature, has the ability to distract us, so I personally like it less than other instruments, though it can certainly be used to praise God. My ultimate point is this: Music is meant to exhibit something about God, whether it be His beauty, His complexity, His character, His joy, His wrath, His power, His mercy, or some other attribute. Whenever music does not accomplish that purpose, we have strayed from good music to less worthwhile things. I am not saying that I am perfect, for I often listen to things that may seem funny, but have no real value. But what I am saying is that we have absorbed our culture’s love for entertaining music and have strayed from music that truly makes us think and music that leads us to a closer relationship with the Lord. For that is what needs to and what must happen when we listen to music, otherwise we have failed to obey Philippians 4:8. And so, brother, listen to that which is good!

Your brother in Christ,


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