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A Fundamental Problem to the Fundamentalist View of Music, Part 1: Intro Thoughts

March 16, 2009


The music world today has shifted and changed nearly more than the technology world has.  Music is the beat of the soul of man. It doesn’t matter who the person or what the situation, music effects and affects every single living person from the gang bangers who love hip-hop, to the homeless who sing their own, to the church lady who hums old hymns, to the cowboy who loves Clint Black, to the German who sings old pub songs to the tribesman who sings his forefather’s songs of deliverance and seasonal blessing. Music is at the heart and soul of every human.

Humans seem to most deeply express themselves through music. And for the Christian, music is one of the deepest emotional outlets for worshipping God the Creator. In fact, God is the first musician ever; afterall He did create music, sound, notes, words, and the creativity behind the brains of every instrument pioneer and musical style pioneer from jazz to hip hop to Gospel to blues to country to R&B.

God is the ultimate musician, lyricist, and poet. The supreme lyrical being!

If that’s the case, then how come Christians are so divided sometimes on this base human issue of music? I mean apart from personal friendly preference but hostile division of hatred and legalistic judgmentalism.  I’m sure you’ve noticed the debate largely between old time Fundamental Baptists and mainstream Christian denominations. Even between mainstream Christian denominations and the new Emergent church movement. As if there was one more thing left for us to disagree on, now music? Seriously?

Narrowing Down the Debate & Philosophy

I consider myself fundamental in theology, as in holding to the fundamentals of the Christian faith: scripture is inspired and inerrant, Christ Jesus is God’s Only Son and THE way of righteousness before a holy God, man is inherently sinful and evil, the Gospel is our only hope, faith in Christ is what saves us, the cross calls us to lives of holiness, etc.

However I am not necessarily fundamental in methodology. I will use any method or means so long as its biblical or not unbiblical to preach the Gospel and live the Gospel.

Quite possibly the strongest lines of division can be found BETWEEN Fundamental circles of Christianity, mostly Independent Baptists, old-school Baptists, or Primitive Baptists AND any Christian denominations that embrace contemporary Christian music. That is, music that involves a beat, sound, or music style that sounds like “the world”. The philosophical argument goes something like this: “If it sounds “worldly” then it must be “of the world”. If it is a style of music similar to a style of music used in the world then it must be evil.” It’s simply a guilt by association philosophy. Which is inherently misguided and misapplied. It says that because an unbeliever is singing it, and an ubeliever wrote lyrics that probably don’t honor God, therefore the musical style he is using must be ungodly. Guilt by association.

The philosophy of most fundamental circles of Christianity is one that functions foundationally on traditions and faithfulness to a certain system of theology and methodology. The only problem is that they are preaching that their theology and methodology are solely supreme and authoritative. And it is often preached from the pulpit on Sunday and the members’ mouths Monday-Saturday in a divisive, prideful, arrogant, judmental, and close-minded way that results in bitterness, hatred, division, and great hostile destruction to the ministry of the Gospel. It becomes a system of works-righteousness and Galatians legalism that at its core says “one must repent and trust Christ AND look like us to be holy”. And this mindset is not simply reserved for Fundamentalists but also any denomination or belief system that preaches their way, arrogantly.

I am not aruging against absolute standards or a one-way view but rather an orthodoxy steeped in pride and judgmentalism. We must embrace a humble orthodoxy.

Let me say this at the outset: I dearly love my fundamentalist brothers. Especially the ones I personally am friends with and work with. However they and I must repent from ourjudgmental divisive and prideful ways of thinking and believing in the Gospel and trust in divine scripture, the word of God, rather than their denomination’s historical interpretation of the word of God. Reformed men and Fundamental men alike.

Whether it comes to music, dress, style of worship, bible translations, habits and hobbies, church building aesthetics, etc. they apply their same basic philosophy: our way or the highway! But the real way is God’s way or the highway. The problem is that they think their way is God’s way. So like most prideful narrow-minded Christians, they end up deceiving themselves by their own pride.

Musical Bias – Practical Implications

In my experiences with this prideful philosophy of thought, in its most practical outworkings, the fundamental inconsistentcy begins to label anything associated with “worldly” music as evil and of the devil.

For example, inanimate objects become evil. Regardless of how many times the Psalmist, King David, King Solomon, or even Jesus show that musical instruments and “singing new songs” is not only permissible but required joyful worship, the fundamentalist blindly clings to their traditional philosophy that drums, electric guitars, synthesized pianos, a beat faster than 4/4 or 60 beats per minute, any overuse of “canned music” and worldly sounding music are evil and not honoring to God. Why? Because they are used by the world. In other words, if the world uses pianos, electric guitars, synthesizers, trumpets, or fast beats then we can’t because we will then look like the world?

This thought process preaches that inanimate objects can be evil. It’s the same implications with “shorts or pants on women are evil”. When it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, the fundamentalist is stating that pants and shorts are evil. Likewise with music he is stating that drums and electric guitars and fast beats are evil.

Backwards Thinking – Reactionary standards based on the World

So the world ends up becoming our reverse standard as to how we are not supposed to act. If the world does this, then we don’t do this. If the world likes this, then we dislike it. If the world listens to this then we don’t listen to it. If the world dresses like this, then we don’t dress like this. If the world eats and drinks this, then we must not eat or drink this. If the world goes here, we must not go there. And so instead of pulling our standard from scripture, we watch the world so intently as to copy them in the opposite. We shift our focus from what scripture says do to what the world says do to get our “dont’ do”. Make sense?

By doing this our standards become more reactionary instead of intentionally actionary. The world can’t define our actions and beliefs and behavior, scripture must dictate and define us. Then we live in the world and will not look like the world naturally.

Biblical Examples

However this view is not supported by scripture and is actually warned against as “the evil doctrines of men” labeled by Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23.

Even Peter in Acts 11:1-18 was attempting to call clean things unclean. God offered him food from heaven and Peter, instead of being grateful, despised God’s gift labeling it as unclean. Peter was quickly corrected in his thinking by God that what God calls clean no man can label as  unclean. Of course contextually God was speaking of Gentiles receiving the Gospel, but applicably this is a similar philosophy that man prideful authoritates what is or isn’t honorable to God where as God is the one who rightfully decides this. In the end, Peter’s humility and willingness to obey God led to the conversion of a whole household.

Paul in Romans 14 tackles the issue of division due to personal judgments and preferences. Specifically in verse 14, 18, and 20 he says,

14I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

18Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.

Here Paul lays out three principles:

  1. Nothing is unclean in and of itself, but only for the one who thinks so;
  2. The one who serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men;
  3. Everything is indeed clean, but don’t use the clean if it causes another to stumble in his faith.

That’s simple freedom for the purpose of upbuilding and peace between saints. Contextually Paul is speaking of food. But overall this can also apply to one’s personal preference for music styles.

Fundamentalists call certain musical styles evil or worldly simply because the world uses them too. Well who used it first? If a Christian creates a new musical style and the world copies it with secular lyrics, does the Christian then have the duty to cease and desist and give it over to the world? The lines are too fuzzy and confusing to know what is or isn’t right or wrong.

The Real Problem

Text and Context. That is, the Word of God and the World of God. How does God’s Word properly apply and display itself to and in the world? The Biblical Christian says the text is God’s inerrant word interpreted properly. The Biblical Christian says the context is God’s fallible world applied properly. The fundamentalist says the text is God’s inerrant word interpreted my way. The fundamentalist says the context is God’s fallible world seen through my eyes in my way.

Can you see the stark contrast of views? This worldview of the fundamentalist ends up distorting his every thought and word. Applied to music then would be this:

Fundamentalist View

Text = the words or lyrics of a song, rooted in scripture

Context = only Fundamentalist musical style of choice, i.e. hymns or other denominational ordained music

This view is limited, bound up, and enslaved to a legalistic mindset.

Biblical View

Text = the words or lyrics of a song, rooted in scripture

Context = any musical style of choice so long as its not prohibited by scripture

This view is unlimited, bound only to scripture, and enslaved only to the individual’s liberty of heart to worship God freely.

Case Example – Rap/Hip-Hop

The fundamentalist therefore would hate the musical style called Rap, or Hip-Hop. Why? Well, remember? It’s because Rap is worldly music because the world uses it, has lyrics that don’t honor Jesus, and apparently because the world created this musical style (who knows if that is true for sure?). Therefore the musical style of Rap is evil and dishonoring to God.

What about Christian Rap, you might ask? Oh now that is the utmost form of hypocrisy and blasphemy. The fundamentalist would say “there is no such thing.” How can Rap be Christian? The Biblical Christian responds, “because a man who loves Jesus wrote the lyrics out of his heart to sing a new song to his Savior”. To which the Fundamentalist responds, “oh no sir, if he was truly a Christian, he would leave behind that music of Satan and not conform to the image of this world but be transformed by the renewing of his mind, he would sing old fashioned baptist hymns of faith and repent of that evil beat”.

You see what just happened? The fundamentalist attacked the person because of the person’s musical style. With no thought to the lyrics that honor God (TEXT) and instead attacking the musical style (CONTEXT). The fundamentalist then errs and moves quickly to a prideful jugdmentalism and legalism. The Christian rapper is left confused, judged, hurt, and left to himself with no true biblical explanation for his apparent sin before God.

I leave you with this until next time:

The fundamentalist therefore does just what Jesus warned would happen: Man looks at the outward appearance but God judges the heart (1 Sam 6:7). So the fundamentalist judges the surface, the style of music (rap), and has no clue as to the heart of the matter, the lyrics or text of the song (heart of the rapper).

Don’t all Christians do the same in some manner? Examine your heart.

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  1. Roger Prillhart permalink

    I read most of your article. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to
    Bible Doctrines especially. I love a wide spectrum of music and music
    styles. No matter what style of music or what musical instruments a
    person or ministry uses, there can be good use of it or bad use of it!

    The proof of whether music is “good” or “bad” is whether it tampers
    with the truth of the Bible. I have noticed that when a person, church, or ministry goes astray from the teaching of the Bible, it
    usually starts with the music style. Yes there is a wide variety of
    music to use, but since Satan is a master musician, we must use the
    Bible as a test whether anything is good, godly or evil.

    Write me and I we can talk. I love music and most musicians!

  2. Dan John permalink

    I am a fundamentalist I thought you just painted all fundamentalist with a broad stroke which is not true. I like most types of music with a variety of musical instruments including the drums. It is true that SOME fundamentalist can be stereotyped into that category but I believe that a majority of fundamentalist have no problem with “biblical view “. I currently live in a area with a large population of fundamentalists and with the exception of a few do not have a problem with culture relavant music. This article was well written but aimed at the minority of fundamentalists.

    • Dan John,

      I certainly was not trying to stereotype any one fundamentalist. I consider myself a fundamentalist in terms of theology and doctrine. I have just seen the abusive view of culture and the extreme responses to it. Sorry to group all in one category. Praise God for people like you who hold to your fundamentalist views and still humbly consider the trends of culture.

      God is Sovereign and good. Culture is not evil. It’s the hearts of those who make culture.

      It’s like I heard Pastor Mark Driscoll say: “hold your 1st tier primary doctrines in a closed hand and your 2nd tier secondary doctrines in an open hand”. Closed hand is the Gospel, the Trinity, God, salvation, etc. Open hand is practice, methods, styles, forms, baptism, music styles, worship orders, doctrines of grace, etc.

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