July 24, 2017

Values and Music: A Theological Perspective (Part 2)

Gerald Priest, Ph.D.

This is the second part of five. Part 1 can be found here.

In Part 1, Dr. Priest points out that the first and most important criteria in making musical choices is theological: does my music please God?

To begin, music is not amoral; apart from any lyrics, music conveys a message. There is a musical quality, I believe, to the universe. It pulsates with rhythm and wondrous sounds in marvelous conjunction. Someone has said that music is the voice of the soul. I would go so far as to say that it is part of the image of God in that it is inherent in the divine concord within Himself and is imparted to the soul of man. This is why I believe that music is moral: it is intrinsic to God.

Every society throughout every age has had its music. It is a remarkable means of communication both horizontally among men and vertically between men and God. It communicates a message without a word uttered; music is a language of itself and is receptive. This means God responds to it. In fact, this is the expectation of David in the Psalms as he joyfully praises and submissively thanks God. He expected God to listen and to enjoy what he sang because he invokes God with praise of His attributes. This reveals why David was a man after God’s own heart, and how God could use his music to soothe the “savage beast” within Saul’s heart. The goal should be in our music (as with anything else) for God to respond favorably, to agree with it. When we do this, we glorify God’s holy character; we affirm His attributes, both of His greatness and His goodness.

I find it interesting to see how Ephesians 5:18-19 is worded to reflect this. If musical quality is inherent in both God and His foremost creation (man), then it is logically a form of communication (note that the Psalms are musical expressions—they are God’s Word which we sing back to Him, i.e., mutual communication). But the regenerate believer is in the best position to communicate this medium properly, since He has the Holy Spirit to influence and inform his music of worship: the filling of the Spirit results in singing, not arbitrarily, but singing specific types of music with melody, that harmonious quality of God’s nature, which supposes an invoking of divine pleasure by the words, “with your heart to the Lord.” Simply, God is pleased when we produce music that is in tune with His perfectly harmonious nature. It reflects our oneness with Him through Christ whereby the indwelling Holy Spirit grants assent within the heart. It also reflects the proper attitude in the music of worship—thanksgiving. Good (see below) music encourages the heart to soar heavenward in gratitude. And, as it is congregational, it is mutually encouraging because mutually edifying.

Finally, in keeping with the idea of music being part of the divine image, it should be uniformly expressed in those aspects we generally associate with the imago dei—intellect, volition, and emotion. Good music (both the chords and the lyrics) will enhance or properly stimulate all three to glorify God. Music which is associated with the life of carnality is often emotion-driven and emotionally-sustained. But we should be very cautious of anything that by-passes the intellect and is only glandular. What makes this response even more problematical is that often an emotional “high” can be mistaken for spiritual euphoria.

To be continued.


Gerald Priest served many years on the faculty of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He is now retired and lives in Greenville, SC.


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