Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Is Rock Music a Sin?



"Is rock music evil?"

This question, or variations on its theme, comes up often in conservative Christian circles (within which I am proud to swim).

Before presenting the answer to this question, a few things must be established:

1. Music is not neutral; it is both an art and a science, and both elements of music must be submitted to Christ.

2. The Bible is the Standard by which all things are to be judged. (2 Tim. 3:16)

3. There are some areas of life which Scripture does not explicitly address; this does not remove those areas from the purview of Christ's Lordship, but it does make diligent searching necessary. (Proverbs 8)

I believe that music is one of those areas; while there are Scriptural principles that apply, there is no dissertation on musical theory between "in the beginning" and "amen".

I also believe that unless we seek God wholeheartedly on this issue He will allow us to be swayed by our own prejudices and lusts.

One other note; throughout this post I will be generalizing with glib impunity.  I trust my readers to give me the benefit of the doubt; I know that not all rock music is head-banging and backbeat-heavy; I know that not all classical is melodious and intelligently complex; I'm using the terms to connote the broad idea behind the genre or style without having to launch into a detailed explanation on every point.

Now, back to the original question.

"Is rock music evil?"

No.  I don't believe that rock music is evil.  I believe that rock music says evil.

Is there ever a time for something that says evil?  Absolutely.  Throughout the pages of Scripture we see many tales told of evil deeds; rebellious sons, abusive men, seductive women- God's Word doesn't hide us from our own depravity.

Even so, in the stories that we tell, there is a place for evil.  It must be handled in a God-honoring and lawful way, but it must be present in our stories, because it is present in God's Story.

So if there is a movie which honors God and which lawfully presents the struggle between good and evil, there may be a need for music which says evil.

However, to make a steady diet of music that says evil is a decision not to be taken lightly.  There may be a time for a Christian to act the role of a murderer, but to take that role on as a way of life is opening a door to dangerous consequences.

And so with every form and style of music.  The Pride and Prejudice soundtrack is beautiful and calming, but it certainly doesn't say the right thing to motivate me during an intense workout.  Bach's Brandenburg Concertos have a level of technical excellence buried within that warrants years of study, but they would not make a fitting backdrop for the bullet-dodging escapades of Jason Bourne.  An epic, swashbuckling Hans Zimmer theme may narrate a battle scene or inspire my run perfectly, but it doesn't belong in the background of an intimate heart-to-heart conversation.  A Chopin Nocturne would fit a gentle goodbye far better than scenes from the apocalypse- unless, as a storytelling tool, the calmness of the music is intentionally contrasted with the chaos and destruction.

To scream "Jesus loves you!" over a distorted power chord and a heavy backbeat is to tell two different stories simultaneously- and the result is chaos, which is contrary to God's nature.  This could be used appropriately as a storytelling tool, but it must be recognized for what it is; it may be appropriate, but it isn't beautiful, and we shouldn't pretend that it is.

Those power chords might exactly match the message of someone reveling in the pleasures of sin- and that would be a lawful and skillful and fitting use of that music, provided that the story is resolved in a God-honoring way.

So instead of asking whether the music is good or bad, let's ask what the music says- and how well it says it- and whether what it says is being used in a proper and God-honoring way.

The communicative power of music is obvious; there is a reason that directors pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a John Williams score instead of knocking on their neighbor's door to inquire about their teenage son's garage-band.  There's a reason that a country singer wears a cowboy hat, a rocker wears a mohawk, and an orchestra looks like a gathering of penguins.  Flames and neon lights don't fit the story of Handel's Messiah, but AC/DC is right at home in that setting.

Why?  Because music says something.  So does lighting.  So does color.

When we depart from the binary "good/bad" approach to analyzing aesthetics, things become more difficult.  Life is easy when we have a list of legalisms to check ourselves against- "Don't watch R-rated movies, don't ever drink alcohol, don't listen to rock music, don't play card games."

Scripture calls us, however, to press beyond the milk and into the meat- to seek wisdom. (Hebrews 5:14)

May God guide us in this search.

Recommended listening: Some excellent talks on music by Ken Myers