Owning Up to Redemption

The church needs to establish a working theology of creativity.

Rummaging through an old bookshelf a few summers ago, I chanced upon an intriguing Salem Kirban title: The Devil’s Music. This is a book written decades ago that made the case that rock ‘n’ roll was unsuitable for Christian worship music because it was devoid of anything worshipful. It had some meritous claims, but I was not convinced by its overall wrongheaded, straw man argument. Kirban’s major mistake was made in claiming that some genres are not worshipful. I would understand more if that was said about some artists, but genres are neutral vehicles. Good or bad depends on who is driving.

This same generic claim used to be made about some classical music. Beethoven, for example, was a real punk. He upset some of his contemporaries by ignoring existing composition guidelines. The conservative Christian community has historically disdained ruckuses.

The assumption was that worship is not meant to be noisy. Well, tell that to King David, or to any of the characters who surround God’s throne in the book of Revelation.

In the meantime, the church has heartily adopted rock as the modus operandi for modern worship music (thanks, U2), but I think religion’s mistake of “surrendering genres to Satan” still cripples the church.

I will certainly agree that evil has a hand of influence in many of the messages and culture of rock and many other genres, and brokenness is visible in fashion, sports, commerce, politics, religion, science, and . . . you know, everything else . . . but that does not disqualify any of it from redemption. Darkness has never been reason for Christians staying away. That would be fear. It’s really an invitation to put things right. Jesus already paid the price for all things. He is waiting for the church to claim the return on his investment. Christians can take back any territory lost to the devil in the Fall of Man.

I’m not talking about some weird sort of religious coup here. I mean influencing these areas of society through practicing love, imagination, and the commands of Jesus. Heal the sick*. Cleanse lepers*. Raise the dead*. (*Make sure you take these terms literally AND figuratively.)

Is music broken? Certainly. Listen and watch anger, jealousy, disrespect, violence and addiction glorified in music media. Music television may be the biggest testament of a world in need of a saviour. But contrary to what some believe, God never says to sit back and watch the world go to hell. He gave the church a spirit of power. He set before us a mission which is daunting, but “not greater than we can bear” with Christ. That mission is to “bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).

Without a working theology of creativity (stemming from a imagination that’s been offered to God), the church has only the world to imitate. It will produce bland facsimiles of worldly art, relationships, economics, education, and leadership. Jesus desires for the church to live inspired lives that pull others into the wholeness and adventure that God offers. Jesus’ victory has immediate impact on our daily lives and our ability to be leaders in creativity and innovation. When Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, the underlying meaning was that we would be on the advance, not surrendering territory to “the devil’s music”.

3 thoughts on “Owning Up to Redemption

  1. Caleb

    What do you think about taking a mainstream chart song, probably written referring to love between two partners and singing it in church as worship? Maybe changing a few words like ‘you’ to ‘Jesus’ or just keeping the same lyrics?

  2. Great question. Interestingly, the church actually has a history of doing that very thing for hundreds of years. Many of the ‘sacred’ hymns have origins in love songs or even drinking songs. Some examples are the beautiful carol “What Child Is This?”, based on the tune of “Greensleeves”. A song like “From Heav’n Above” is apparently based on a tune sung in taverns. In past centuries, there was not a sharp distinction between sacred and secular music. A popular ballad with musical merit might have done for a hymn. Today, I know a church that has used “Yellow” by Coldplay in worship. They have their reasons.

    All humans are created in God’s image and all are capable of producing wonderful art. Many important and true things have been well said by artists who are not necessarily Christian.

    However, worship music deserves special regard because it comes out of the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church. It’s not written to create a chart hit, although it helps if it’s enjoyable music, for sure. So, I think we need to establish our criteria, by looking at the purpose of worship music. Perhaps we should say that worship songs should a) draw us into closeness with God, b) glorify him, and c) remind us of his character. You might add to this list.

    Then we should take a look at potential motivations for borrowing from a secular song. Is it because we were not able to write something that expressed what that song says? Is it because we feel that song says it best? Is it because we know the congregation will enjoy it? Most importantly, have we consulted God at all? Or are we focusing on our own reasons?

    Some worship leading teams can play mind-blowing music. They can throw drum fills, guitar solos, and breakdowns in there. They can hire someone who can sing like Aretha Franklin. But let’s remember that worship is about God, not about us or how professional or showy the music is.

    I’ll finish by saying that I honestly believe that someone who is open to the creative infilling of God will be able to write powerful original music. I think the best worship music is the stuff that comes out of the personal relationship with God that the artist has. It’s also worth saying that I’ve been more thoroughly touched by a guy amateurly playing a guitar and singing spontaneously from the depths of his heart than by many professional Christian “worship concerts”.

  3. jop73

    “Darkness has never been a reason for Christians to stay away. That would be fear. It’s really an invitation to put things right.” YES YES YES! I want to shout (in an encouraging way!) at the cowering timid church, especially in UK, who have forgotten they are the Bride of Christ and have His authority and power, and can rise up and redeem ANYTHING in His name. Including popular culture and music and…and…and …. YES! Oh for a generation to passionately seize this!

    Also appreciating your perspective on the secular/sacred thing above.

    Thanks for this great post Craig.


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