Music As Christian Entertainment?

24/04/2013 — 4 Comments

Music, like food, can be enjoyable. But that’s not its primary purpose. The “entertainment” aspect is a secondary and incidental outcome, not to be pursued as an end in itself. This does not mean that the entertaining effect of music is unnecessary, just as the taste of food is not unnecessary. The problem lies in our finite need to understand things in limited and distinct categories.

I don’t think we ought to classify something that happens to be “entertaining” as “Entertainment” because that would be establishing the identity of something by what it does rather than by what it is.

By definition, I am not a writer, I am a human being who writes. I am not a blogger, I am a son of God who blogs. I am not a sinner, I am a saint who sins.

If you don’t see the ridiculousness of classifying music (Christian or otherwise) as entertainment, consider the idea of classifying a theological book that happens to be humorous as “Christian Humor”. The problem is that the moment we define the book as such, we’re bound to have people reading the book solely for the “humor” in it. To define is to confine. We must therefore be careful with our definitions lest we put our borders too restrictively on ideas that are bigger and more complex than our finite minds can comprehend.

FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

There are many things that we can do for the glory of God. I believe that it is in the process of seeking to glorify and delight in God that we find ourselves delighted and entertained. However, the devil wants to replicate the same “felt” outcomes of delighting in God and achieve them through misguided and misplaced purposes. For instance, while sex is enjoyable, that does not mean that enjoyment is the primary purpose of sex.

When we make the enjoyment the end, then any means of attaining that enjoyment becomes acceptable e.g. pornography and masturbation. In the same way, romantic feelings are an incidental part of the whole package of marriage. However, if we make those feelings the sole basis for a marriage, then there’s nothing to stop us from pursuing them in misplaced objects, e.g homosexuality. There will also be nothing to stop us from getting divorced once those feelings fade.

As I’ve been thinking and researching more on this issue, specifically as it relates to music and entertainment, I feel like I have suddenly stumbled upon one of the many explanations for empty religion in the world around us. The thoughts gathered here are a bit jumbled and all over the place. I do, however, hope that you will find them helpful in thinking through the issue of “Christian Entertainment”:

  • THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

I thought about the way people speak of music as having a certain “power” or “force” to it. I am persuaded that God has created us and wired us to be excited, attracted and delighted by things. Our differences and uniqueness as people are not in the fact that some people are excitable and some aren’t, it is in the fact that we are all excitable, but have different exciters. We all have a sense of humor, but respond to different types of jokes. This is why some people would be attracted to rock music while others to rap or slow music.

Within these categories, the excitement is further refined and subjected to a different “quality” standard. For instance, there are some aspects of music that are skillful and one easily notices them. This is why a lover of rap can distinguish between good rap and bad rap; skillful rhymes and flat rhymes. These do not necessarily mean that the qualities are innate, but rather, the qualities evoke certain responses in the listener. This response is the person-specific-God-given-gene that unconsciously notices, appreciates and delights in quality. Beauty, to a great extent, lies in the eyes of the beholder.

  • ENJOYABLE SECULAR MUSIC

I also began to discern a framework for speaking about Christian artistes learning from secular artistes. There are many secular songs that are beautiful, enjoyable and skillfully crafted. We notice these attributes, not because we understand or are learned in music, but simply because we unconsciously respond to them (by excitement or indifference). Our response to good music is therefore not a rational, logical response, but more of a sub-conscious one. This response does not consider before acting, it just acts. It’s like laughing, or sneezing. It is involuntary.

To this extent, then, I think everyone is justified in enjoying and appreciating the talent, skill and gift in a secular piece of music, irrespective of how blasphemous the lyrics are – before considering the message in the lyrics. This is a recognition of the image of God (creativity) in them, even if they are vessels communicating a dead message. It is an unconscious response to something “of us” in them.

  • A SKETCHY THEOLOGY OF “ENTERTAINING” MUSIC

These thoughts also led me to a sketchy theology of music and art in general. For something to qualify as truly (in the biblical sense) “good” and “beautiful”, it must be “all-together good or beautiful”. This means that all aspects of it must be good. The often neglected aspect of this beauty, and one that I think is primary, is its conscious relation to God. The “story” behind it. What is this beautiful package communicating about God? Is it distracting people from God? Is it becoming a god in itself? The story sets the art and the skill in right perspective. In the same way that human beings are intrinsically and essentially “good” because they are made in the image of God, I believe that good art is intrinsically and essentially “good” for evoking the God-given-instincts in us. However, man is insufficiently good because he is fallen. He is dead and disinclined towards God. The Gospel restores this Goodness through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In the same way, we should not consider some pieces of art to be “good” if the story that the art tells fails to meet God’s standard. Of course the art may be “good” in other secondary aspects, but its primary goodness is defined by what it communicates. Just as the goodness of man is not defined by what He does, but by what He believes – the Gospel. Is the song preaching God as savior and redeemer? Is it Gospel focused or is the only theology in that art what is commonly known as “natural theology”? Fallen human beings are walking natural theologies; they are unconsciously glorifying God although consciously rejecting and blaspheming Him. God is glorifying Himself through them, irrespective of them.

I believe that a similar case can be made for music and art. We seek to redeem music and art by infusing it with the Gospel story the same way we seek to redeem men by sharing with them the story of the Gospel. Therefore, should we think of music as “Christian Entertainment”? Only if what we mean by “Christian Entertainment” is that the song speaks the truth and it is also skillfully crafted. That is, it is all-together beautiful. In that case, all good music is entertaining. But we must never forget that entertainment is not what we look for in music, or in anything for that matter. God is and ought to be our ultimate end, our ultimate delight.

Therefore, dare to destroy the category of “Entertainment” as an end in itself and you will have smashed one more idol in the making.

[Developing thoughts]

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4 responses to Music As Christian Entertainment?

  1. 

    Interesting thoughts. Reading this reminded me of Blair Linne’s interview at http://bit.ly/17NP2P7. My take aways from the interview are:

    – Pursue the Lord above the art form.
    – Be willing to lay it down if it competes with the Lord or other God-given responsibilities.
    – Study your craft
    And more pertinent to this post: – Find a balance between attractive wordplay and clarity of the gospel message.

  2. 

    Doesn’t seem like I hear this very often: that a believer should take delight in what is “all together beautiful”–for only that is truly good….

    I appreciated your post, Cornell. Thanks! 🙂

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