Some Thoughts on Music and Art

11 Nov

I just wrote a short essay about believers and their relationship to music and the arts. I penned it for one of my classes at my Christian College. It contains my personal thoughts, but I have attempted to construct them from a Scriptural foundation, applying the things I have learned at my Christian College in the last few years. Enjoy.

 

“The purpose of this essay is to examine my personal views about a believer’s relationship to the arts and music. When discussing this issue, certain questions immediately arise. These include, but are certainly not limited to, Should Christians listen to any music? If so, what about “secular” music? Are some forms of music better than others? Questions regarding art arise as well: What is art anyways? How do we evaluate it? Can believers view and appreciate abstract art? I will attempt to construct my answers to these questions from the Scriptures; I have also consulted relevant works by other Christians.

I believe that music has a place in every believer’s life. Paul writes to the Colossian and Ephesian churches that believers ought to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” both to and with one another (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16). God commanded Moses to write a song for Israel in Deuteronomy 31. Christians will someday sing a new song to the Lamb (Revelation 5:9). Clearly, the Bible teaches that music is an important part of believers’ lives.

A natural questions arises at this point: Since the music condoned in the Bible is generally either about God or written to Him, should believers listen to any music that is not? This type of music would include instrumental works, songs about life in general, songs about believers’ lives, and so on. I believe that Christians absolutely can listen to such “non-religious music,” so long as it does not cause them, or a fellow believer, to sin. The Bible makes it very clear that you must avoid things which lead you into iniquity (Matthew 18:8-9, Mark 9:43-47). Nor should any believer engage in any activity, including listening to music, that causes a brother or sister to fall into sin (Mark 9:42, Romans 14:21, I Corinthians 8:13). Many non-religious songs pose no problem. Take one of the many country songs on my ipod for instance. Probably it is about trucks and love. I can listen to that song, appreciate the musician’s talents, thank the Lord for the experience of living in the West, and be better off for hearing it. Of course, many songs can be a stumbling block. For example, I find that music with profanity makes it very easy for me to stumble. This is because I usually end up singing a song after I hear it, either in my head or out loud, and often times the curse word(s) will come out right along with it. And then I’ve sinned. So I try to avoid songs with foul language. Of course, there may be other problems with on-religious songs, such as sexually explicit content. Again, if these musical works cause a believer to sin, they must be avoided.

If it is required of believers that they sing and make worshipful music, and it is okay and even beneficial for them to listen to other kinds of music, then that leaves one more question: Are there certain genres or styles of music that are inherently better or more God-honoring than others? No. I agree with Francis Schaeffer that the medium is not the issue; content and effort are what matters (Schaeffer, 1973). If an artist creates a piece with skill and diligence, and the content is not sin-causing, then the work is wholly acceptable. This means that a Beethoven symphony is no more righteous than a rap song by Lecrae. Sure, Beethoven’s 5th may be more complex, but both composers put their best effort into creating a skilled piece with clear content. Others, like Gordon Clark, would disagree with me on this issue, claiming that rock song is not worthy of our Lord (Clark, 1989). But how we can we decide that a piece is not technical enough? Is a child’s drawing not worthy of our Lord because it is not as complex as his mother’s watercolor painting? Again, I believe the issue is content and effort, not medium.

Many people would say that art, like music, presents a challenge to the Christian. However, first priority is establishing a working definition of art. What is it anyways? Many have tried to definite it, some with success and some to no avail. I do not claim a superior definition, but I do hope that my description is helpful. What I present is assembled from the views of Gordon Clark and a definition in the New Oxford American Dictionary. Art, I believe, is the outpouring of human creativity, manifested in such mediums as painting, architecture, poetry, or sculpture, which usually attempts to incite a response in the viewer, either emotional or intellectual.

The Bible is full of art. Schaeffer has pointed out that the tabernacle, the priests’ robes, and the temple were all full of sculptures and tapestries depicting things from nature. Moreover, some were exact portrayals of nature, like the red pomegranates in the tabernacle. Others, like the blue pomegranates, were more abstract (Schaeffer, 1973). God Himself commanded that these things be built. I believe that, like music, any art that is not explicitly religious can certainly still be part of believers’ lives, so long as it does not cause them or other believers to sin. Since God made nature, Schaeffer argues, artists ought to feel free to express their creativity and depict things of the natural world as well, not just explicitly religious material (Schaeffer, 1973).

It is hard to say what makes art “good” or “bad,” but I think a possible system of evaluation is to see whether or not the work accomplishes the artist’s intended purpose. Certainly some measure of skill should be considered, but the primary issue is effectiveness. If the artist wanted to make his viewers sad, does the painting/sculpture/poem/etc. do so? If he wanted to portray the glory of a sunrise, is that what viewers see? This may require an artist to explain his work, or at least point his viewers in the direction that he was thinking. Also, one must remember that an artist can have a target viewer. A work may be painted for a specific person or demographic. If we do not understand it, that does not necessarily mean that the work was done poorly. For example, I do not know very much about French opera. What I think sounds like gibberish may in fact be a rich and technical aria.

It seems that a particularly misunderstood medium is abstract art. Some people suggest that this type of art is wrong, since it is hard to understand and often seems to lack a propositional truth. I disagree, along with Mindy Belz and Edward Veith of WORLD Magazine and the art critic Greg Wolfe. Belz writes that “Just as we take pleasure in the complex pattern of a trees branches, we can take pleasure in the visual impression created by an abstract painting” (Belz, 2005). If the content does not cause one to sin, and the artist does not do shoddy or lazy work, then abstract art is fine. It can be evaluated like all other art. Schaeffer believes that abstract art is not immoral, but “a dimension is lost” because it forgoes useful communication tools like words and clear images (Schaeffer, 1973). I would agree with him to a limited extent. However, plenty of the passages in Scripture are written as very complex poetry, which makes them harder to understand than simple prose. Yet oftentimes, the reaction to poetry or abstract art is stronger than regular art, because it requires deeper thinking and imagination to “get it.”

Thus I conclude, with Scriptural backing, that both music and art have their place in my life. Some art and music is explicitly worshipful, and some is not. Both are permitted, provided that they do not cause me to stumble. No one form of music is “better” than another, but what matters in any genre is content and effort. In art, I think the issue is mainly whether or not a work succeeds at its assigned task, and I also believe that I need not avoid or distrust the abstract arts.”

 

Bibliography:

 

Belz, Mindy. “Art Aflame.” World Magazine, worldmag.com. December 2005.

 

Clark, Gordon H. “Christian Aesthetics.” The Trinity Foundation, trinity foundation.org. May-

June, 1989.

 

Clark, Gordon H. “Art and the Gospel.” The Trinity Foundation, trinity foundation.org. March-

April, 1982.

 

New Oxford American Dictionary. Version 2.1.3. Copyright 2005-2009, Apple, Inc.

 

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art & the Bible. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

 

Veith, Edward Gene. “Abstract Art and the Bible.” World Magazine, worldmag.com. December 2005.

The Married Life

01 Oct

It’s been a couple months since I last posted (my apologies). Tons has happened since then! Life has been crazy and awesome and busy and stressful all at once, and undergirding all of it is the fact that. . . I’m married! It’s awesome! The wedding was great (it didn’t rain until after the ceremony and the pictures; thank you, Lord), and the honeymoon was equally fantastic. That was all back in August. At the end of August, Brett (my wife) and I moved back out to California for our last semester at our Christian College. Right now we’re living about a mile from school in a nifty little duplex. It’s tiny, but it’s more affordable than most places. God truly blessed us with it; we almost ended up in a run-down, expensive apartment complex, but at the last minute we were offered this place.

That was August. In September I settled back into the school routine, now made different by the fact that I have a spouse, not just roommates. Everyone thinks that being a married student would be harder than being engaged or dating while in school, but I disagree. It’s easier, simply because I get to see my wife every day. We eat together, sleep together, study together, etc. It’s great. I work three jobs, but only an average of ten hours a week or so. She works one job and the same number of hours.

We’ll be full time students at our Christian School until December. At that point, she and I will both be done with our undergrad degrees! It’s hard to believe I have been at my Christian College since 2010. Time flies. In December we will also find out to which graduate schools she has been accepted. Once we know, we will move near the corresponding university so she can start her Physical Therapy Doctorate next summer. I will also begin looking for Fire/Police/EMS work at that time.

Stay tuned for more updates! Christian College life is never boring!

The Final Semester Approaches

27 Jul

As summer winds down, I find myself a month or so away from starting my final semester at a Christian College. It’ll certainly be a semester unlike any before; I’ll be married, taking only twelve units, and hopefully working a bit more than usual. Here are two things, specifically related to college, that I want to focus on as I prepare to graduate:

* Soaking up as much Bible teaching as possible. Being at a Christian College gives me the unique opportunity to study the Word as part of my general curriculum. Of course, I will always have the local church as the primary place to hear the Word taught, but the academic atmosphere is different and distinct.

* Leaving an impact on my Christian College. I want to initiate change in areas that I see as weak or needing improvement, and encourage steadfastness in areas that are strong.

Stay tuned and see how things go! I’ll focus some of my later posts on these subjects and give more details at that time.

 

Wildfire Season

21 Jun

Wildfire season is ramping up in Colorado, and my summer job is getting busier and busier. After nearly four weeks of firefighter training and refresher courses, myself and the other members of my crew immediately went to two wildfire assignments. In fact, today is my first day off in 10 days, and in the last seven days I have worked 104 hours! That may seem like a bad thing, but long days and long shifts are great. They mean good experience and good paychecks.

Fighting wildfire is a far cry from going to a Christian College. For starters, I am almost the only believer on my crew. Fortunately, the knowledge I have accumulated during my time at a Christian College, particularly in areas such as apologetics and textual criticism and archeology, have served me well. In recent debates with an atheistic coworker, I was able to present a clear and convincing (at least I thought so) argument for my faith (I Peter 3:15), as well as respond to his critiques and questions.

As the summer goes on, I look forward to fighting a bunch more blazes and spending some more time talking with my fellow firefighters about the Gospel. Pray for me as I strive to be a light!

Summer Plans

07 May

Well, my sixth and second-to-last semester at Christian College is almost finished. Two tests tomorrow, a couple of days of work at my internship, a handful of thank-you notes to professors, and I’ll be done. Time absolutely flies. It feels like just last week that I got off the airplane from Israel.

I’ll be leaving California next Monday, heading home to work as a supervisor on a firefighting/trail building team. I hope to develop my skills as a leader and firefighter while building close relationships with my fellow crew members. Using the knowledge I have gained from classes at my Christian College, I may even start a Bible study for any crew members who are interested. I also plan to spend a lot of time with family, whether that’s mountain biking with my brother, fishing and working on cars with my dad, or going out to coffee with my sister and mom.

Of course, the best part of summer will be getting MARRIED! August 10th can’t come soon enough!

Anyways, I’ll keep you posted as things develop. If possible, I may even post some pictures from any wildfires my team gets to fight.

What Higher Education Is Not

11 Apr

Higher education is not regurgitation. Going to a Christian College isn’t just about memorizing information and spewing it back out on a test. That isn’t learning. Sure, sometimes you need to memorize a date, person, formula, definition, etc. That’s fine. It’s part of learning, but it doesn’t stand alone. True learning comes when you digest information. You take that person, date, or formula, and you ask the question why. Why did he do that? Why is this date significant? What makes this formula work?

Learning to think like this, and not just memorize, is especially important for students at Christian Colleges. I Peter 3:15 instructs believers to have an answer for why they believe what they do. It’s so easy to say that we believe in God. It’s so easy to say that Christ is Lord. It’s so easy to say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. But can we back it up? Can we talk through our reasons for our beliefs, or do we just spit out things we have been told but never stopped to process for ourselves?

As you search for Christian Colleges, I encourage to try and find one that makes you think. If all you have at graduation is a bunch of memorized facts, then you will have missed the opportunity to develop your mind at a deeper level. But if you learn to process and digest information, you will truly be a smarter, wiser individual.

Spring Break

21 Mar

Last week was Spring Break. Brett and I drove back to Colorado to see my family, and on the way there and back we stopped to see her parents, who live in southeastern California. It was great to just relax for a week and take a breather from classes. We got some wedding plans finalized, went skiing (I taught Brett how, because she had never been before), soaked in the hot springs, and just hung out with family. God was gracious to us, and we had no problems during our two 11-hour drives except for one flat tire. Ironically, it happened right before we got home. Oh well. We drove through two snow storms before it happened, so things could have been a lot worse if the tire had gone out earlier.

But that was last week. Now I am back at my Christian College and grinding away at papers and projects and presentations. Things are busy, but life is good. Sometimes when things get overwhelming, or I just want to be done with school and working in my career, I have to stop and remind myself what a blessing it is to be at a Christian College. I have good classes with godly professors. I have great friends and some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that won’t be available after I graduate. I also have to remind myself that God has put me at my school for a purpose. I can serve others and get equipped for ministry in the Church and in my profession. And that’s pretty sweet.

Big News!

20 Feb

Well, it’s been over a month since I last blogged and let me tell you, a lot has happened since then! I started another semester at my Christian College, got a job as a private security officer (after lots of training), progressed further in my application with the local sheriff’s office (law enforcement is my dream job), and most importantly, I got engaged!!

That’s right, I got engaged! I mentioned in my early blogs that I was dating a girl named Brett. Well, now we’re officially tying the knot. August 10th is the date we chose. In the meantime, we are doing premarital counseling together with some other couples from our church. The focus of our study is learning — from a biblical perspective –what marriage is, why God instituted it, and what it means to be a godly husband or wife. Marriage, after all, is really all about glorifying God and serving your spouse. It’s a picture of Christ’s perfect love for His bride, the Church.

After we get married, we both will have one semester left at our Christian College. Once we’ve graduated in December, we’ll be moving to wherever Brett’s graduate school is. She is going to study Physical Therapy, but we don’t know where yet since she won’t get acceptance letters until this fall. Lot’s of unknowns, but God knows! All we can do is plan flexibly and see what He has in store.

Stay tuned for more about my life as a student at a Christian College!

Back from Israel and Final Thoughts

13 Dec

Well, I’m finally back in the States. 19 hours on a plane is a long time! I figured I’d take a few minutes to jot down a few thoughts and lessons from my History of Ancient Israel class. Here are a few things that I and/or my classmates took away from the course:

 

  • God is sovereign over the nations and over all of history. The Lord raised up an entire nation from one man and providentially brought them into and out of Egypt and into the land of Israel, where He preserved them from and punished them with the surrounding nations. For example, II Kings 13 says that Jehoahaz, ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel, was under heavy oppression from the Arameans, a nation to his northeast. Scripture records that God raised up a deliverer for Israel when Jehoahaz entreated God for help. Though the Bible doesn’t name this deliverer, a study of ancient near eastern history reveals that at this precise time the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III came and attacked the Arameans, freeing Israel from their pressure. Though Adad-nirari III by no means intended to save the little nation of Israel, the Lord used his campaign against Aramea to do just that. Just think about it for a minute. God literally raises up and brings down empires as easily as I wrote this sentence. That’s amazing!

 

  • God’s preservation of His Word is astounding. There are absolutely no other ancient near eastern texts that even begin to compare. For example, if archeologists find fragments one short inscription from some other king during the same time, perhaps about where he built a city or who he killed in battle, it’s an incredible find. Yet we have the entire Word of God! Truly, we can have full confidence that what we read in our Bibles today is the revelation of God given to the biblical authors thousands of years ago. Also, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, the Bible is amazingly accurate and detailed in its historical records. They mesh exceedingly well with evidences from archeology and the relatively few ancient texts we have found. For instance, the Bible says in II Kings 15 that King Pekah of Israel had been killed and replaced with Hoshea. Tiglath Pileser III, king of Assyria at that time, says the same exact thing in his records.

 

  • We are a covenant people, just like Israel was. We have been purchased by the Lord via the blood of Jesus the Messiah. We are members of the New Covenant prophesied in places like Joel and Jeremiah and Ezekiel. God is our Master. He owns us and we are slaves to Him now, not to sin. As members, we receive benefits like eternal life and sonship in the Kingdom of Heaven. We also have responsibilities, like serving the Lord and proclaiming His Gospel. In the words of Paul, we are not our own; we have been bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

Four Days Down South

11 Nov

I just got back from a four-day trip to the deep south. No, I don’t mean Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Texas. I mean the Negev, the southern region of Israel. The biblical Negev specifically refers to an hour glass-shaped region between the city of Arad and the Brook Besor. In the middle of the Negev region sits Beersheva, an important biblical site. All three of the Patriarchs came to Beersheva: Abraham dug a well here, as well as Isaac (who came here from Gerar in Genesis 26:23). Jacob left from here to go to Padan Aram, and then stopped by some time later on his way to Egypt. Beersheva was also an important administrative city during the reign of King David.

The modern term Negev, however, does not just mean the region I specified above. Negev today means all of southern Israel. Included in the broader Negev region would be such sites as Elat on the Red Sea (I snorkeled there) and Kadesh-barnea, from where Moses sent out 12 spies to examine the Promised Land.

A little bit to the north, near the bottom of the Dead Sea, is the ancient fortress Masada. It is a large fortress compound that saw its greatest days during the time of Herod the Great. He made it a “Rome away from Rome,” complete with imported foods, bathhouses, and multiple palaces. Jewish rebels took it over during the 1st Jewish Revolt, and only after building a massive siege ramp were the Romans able to capture the hilltop fortress. I personally ran up the winding path that leads to the top, and let me assure you that it would have been absolutely brutal to attack Masada with people throwing stones and shooting arrows at you. Sadly, about 960 Jewish people who were living in the fortress committed suicide rather than be captured by the Roman forces.

A little bit farther north, near the top of the Dead Sea, I visited the site of Qumran. This is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These scrolls, written between 200 BC and 68 AD, testify to the amazing way that the Lord has preserved His Word. When discovered and translated, the text of these scrolls matched extremely closely with existing translations from 1000 AD! The highlight of Qumran was standing in Cave 1 where the complete Isaiah scroll was discovered!

This was my last major trip while in Israel. The next time you hear from me, probably about mid-December, I will have just gotten back to the States. Shortly after that I will be back in California studying at my Christian college. Time flies so quickly…

 

Sam's Blog

My College Experience