June 28, 2017

Values and Music: A Theological Perspective (Part 3)

Gerald Priest, Ph.D.

This is the third part of five. Part 1Part 2

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?

In Part 2, Dr. Priest argues that music is moral since it originated in God and thus its purest forms communicate the image of God, not the corrupt image of carnality.

Music is part of the atmosphere of Heaven. Angels sing; the redeemed will sing. And if music is part of God’s created universe then it must have been originally good; what He saw and heard gave Him pleasure. What is “good”? I believe it would be that which is in concert with His character and reflected in man’s original constitution. God is not the author of confusion. Therefore, music would be part of a harmonious, symmetrical, orderly creation. Everything would have its proper place, including music. And because man was created to be in harmony with God, with a free disposition toward goodness, whatever he was given, including music, would be a blessing to him because it would honor God. And that is primarily what man was created to do—glorify God.

We must keep in mind that God created man and the universe simply because He wanted to. The universe, with man as its centerpiece, was a harmonious whole. It was beautiful and various, and beautiful because various. There is enormous variety in creation. God took pleasure (and for man’s enjoyment) in creating a seemingly innumerable quantity and quality of species, not to be worshiped but to encourage man in the worship of his Creator. Adam realized his uniqueness as the imago dei, and his rank above all other species, in that he was allowed to name them. There is great significance in that. It solidified Adam’s supreme position in the created order. I think we can safely say that this variety is reflected in all of the visual and auditory arts. But what makes them artistically beautiful is a conformity to divine harmony.

Of course, sin ruined everything. And the result is disharmony, discord, and death. Keep in mind that these were all alien to Adam before the fall. All of these conditions are reflected in man’s culture, a culture of rebellion and corruption. Add to this the fact that Satan is the lord of this world system; that is, he is allowed to control much of man’s society. Sinful man and Satan complement each other. They work in concert as conniving rebels against God and what is good. Satan’s master plan of the ages is to produce what appears to be the greatest good apart from God.

Now, what we see happen over and over again in history is a satanic strategy against the church: infiltration of a corrupt culture (i.e., the camel in the tent) in order to destroy the church—the redeemed reconciled remnant who are meant to express the good, the harmonious, the beauty of holiness, if you will. This will come to fruition at the eschaton when the body of Christ will be glorified and once again be what mankind was originally created to be. Man will be an ontological and practical doxology. Perfection will come to fruition and once again be normal. In the meantime, the sons of God (even though tainted by sin) are commanded to glorify Him by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as He influences our spirit, will produce spiritual fruit.

Spiritual is neither license nor legalism; it is sustainment of compatible mutual love of God (objective and subjective genitive) which is authenticated by “whatever is not of faith is sin.” The ideal is unattainable in this life but nevertheless commended and commanded. It translates, as Paul says, to living in the world, but not becoming of the world. The Puritans called it living in the world with “weaned affections.” Now, if God is essentially holy and we are positionally so, and expected to be practically so, then it means living and growing a sanctified life, that is, separated from that which would corrupt us. That, by the way, is one reason for the Law. It was designed for protection in a society that always tracks toward lawlessness. In this increasingly antinomian permissive society, we are admonished to believe that the Law is bad. Of course it isn’t; it was necessary because of sin. Paul makes that clear in the books of Romans and Galatians. It was an expedient. We don’t need it now because fulfilled in Christ.

Trying to keep the Mosaic Law inevitably makes us transgressors of it; we have been freed from the Law through Christ. We still have law, however. It is His law—the law of love, a superior law, which is still quite demanding. Moses said it was a sin to commit the act of adultery. A lustful look now constitutes a type of adultery. So the law still places demands on us; it’s just a different kind of law. It is, but it always was, ideally motivated by love—“You shall love the Lord your God….” and “If you love me keep my commandments.” This great motivator has never been abrogated, but is verified in Christ. Perhaps we could say it this way: we are no longer under OT Law, but we are expected to obey the commands of Christ because we love Him.

Therefore, if the culture is inherently corrupt, spiritually and morally bankrupt, and we regenerate believers are expected to live holy lives, what does that look and sound like? It means (I believe) that we exercise our freedom in Christ by not permitting the culture to morally and spiritually corrupt us. This means discipline (imposed for the immature and self-imposed for the more mature) to live a pure life within the security of God’s love. Again, we can see this in the purpose of law—protection. We can note this even in human government’s laws. When I realized this as a BJU student, the rules there were much easier to accept. They were in place to protect me—from myself and for the purpose of producing in me a circumspect life from worldliness.

Of course, only the law of Christ is perfect. But love is (or at least it should be) the motivator. Permissiveness, certainly license, is not beneficial; it can be downright detrimental. Notice I did not write “permission” but “permissiveness.” The former suggests circumspection, submission, proper use of and respect for authority; the latter, lack of standard, indiscretion, and irresponsibility. It is not loving to withhold deserved punishment. You may say, “Wait a minute! God withholds it from us.” He does that only because He did not withhold it from His Son who took our punishment for us. This is what we mean when we talk of retributive justice (there must be a fulfilled penalty which permits God to be merciful toward us).

Clearly, God commands us to exercise corrective and punitive discipline toward those in subjection to us (e.g., parents toward children, rulers toward citizens). The cross should teach us that God is never permissive regarding sin; He forgives it only because it has been paid for. But He never condones it. It is impossible for Him to do so. We must realize that it is our natural tendency to tolerate sin and use every type of reason imaginable to excuse it. On the other hand, it is inexcusable for us not to forgive it in others, if it is forgiven by God.

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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