April 28, 2017

“A New Song for an Old World” (Final Excerpts)

More notes & excerpts from Calvin R. Stapert’s book, A New Song for an Old World. Previous excerpts: OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight

In our last post, we began reviewing Staperts assessments of three arguments that moderns use to deny that music may be pernicious. The first argument is the “it’s just a song” argument which essentially dismisses the possibility of any moral or spiritual component to music. See our previous post for Stapert’s discussion of point one.

The second argument:

“A second argument that would remove music from the purview of ethical criticism begins with an important theological fact: all things were created by God; therefore, all things, being the work of a good Creator, are good. So far, so good. But then, in claiming that music is one of the good // things that God created, the argument comes to the erroneous conclusion that music is thus removed from the purview of ethical criticism.” (Stapert, 197-198)

In response:

Tertullian directly responds to this reasoning: “No one denies—because nobody is unaware of it and even nature tells us—that God is the creator of the universe, and that the universe is good and is given to man. But because they do not really know God . . . They are necessarily ignorant as to how He bids or forbids the things of His creation to be used. They are also unaware of the rival powers that confront God for the abuse of what divine creation has given for use. . . . We have not then merely to consider by whom all things were created, but also by whom they are perverted.” (Stapert, 68), (referenced by Stapert, 198)

Stapert: “God did not create music—at least not what we normally mean by music—and thus music cannot be subsumed under ‘all things’ that God created. Sound is part of God’s creation, and it is one of God’s good gifts. So are musical talents such as aural skills, rhythmic sense, memory, imagination, and the like. Music itself is one of God’s good gifts if by music we mean something akin to what the ancients meant by musica mundana—order, balance, harmony, and proportion. These are characteristics of creation, and thus they are also good when they are present in the sonic arrangements humans make. But here is where the problem comes: humans have fallen from their originally created, perfect state, so now all their products are tainted. Sound, talent, and music (in its ancient sense) are God’s good gifts, but God did not make any ‘pieces’ of music. They have all been made by human creatures, all of them depraved, all of them potential vessels of common grace, and some of them redeemed. Therefore, their works make up a mixed bag that needs careful and critical scrutiny.

“Tertullian saw through the ‘all-things-in-God’s-creation-are-good’ argument to its root cause. People resort to this argument, he said, when they fear ‘losing some delight or enjoyment of the world.’ Again, it is the magnetism of pleasure that brings out specious arguments to protect the sources of one’s pleasure.” (Stapert, 198)

The third argument:

“Third, there is the argument from church growth: if we wish to see the church grow, we must adopt the music of the ambient culture.

In response:

Stapert grants that it is inevitable and also desirable for church worship to adapt to the culture in which it finds itself. It is desirable, for, insofar as the culture reflects creational goodness, it is good for worship to be expressed in a way that reflects God’s glory in that culture. // But there is also the danger of cultural translation that distorts the gospel. Certain “cultural forms” may “clash with the gospel” (citing Plantinga and Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits, 48). Certain mediums may affect and distort the message. (Stapert, 199)

“Richard A. Muller, in ‘Tertullian and Church Growth,’ notes that ‘the progress of Christianity from the time of the calling of the first disciples (ca. 30 CE) to the beginning of Roman toleration of Christianity (311 CE) was one of virtually unparalleled church growth.’ Although some ‘accommodation to the ways of the Greeks, of Romans, and eventually, of Germanic tribes’ accounts in part for the remarkable growth, he points out that an ‘equally important aspect of the growth of the church was its intransigent opposition to the social and intellectual currents of the Greco-Roman world.’” (Stapert, 199)

Some concluding remarks:

“The early Christians can inspire and encourage us by their courageous and unwavering posture against the corrupt and very popular culture of their day. They can teach us that we need to draw a line, and they can encourage us to stand bravely behind that line. But can they show us where to draw the line?

“The answer, of course, is that they cannot. At least that’s the answer if we are looking for watertight lists of what is on each side of the line. We have no concrete examples form their own time from which we might be able to learn, nor do we have specific lifts of principles from them that could help us know where to draw the line. And it is doubtful, in any case, that they all agreed where the line should be drawn. From what has survived of their writings, we can learn that they drew two lines about which there was widespread agreement: they agreed that some very specific—and prevalent—areas of music fell below one of the lines, and that psalms and hymns—if their texts were not heretical—rose above the other line. We will never know what they thought about everything in between. But // they have left us something more valuable than lines and lists: they left us imagery, and with their musical imagery as our guide, we can make responsible choices.” (Stapert, 200-201.)


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