Actually the historical basis of this is a rather racist
argument. This distinction is really only about 150 years old, emerges
during the 19th century as people try to separate themselves from the
massive influx of Eastern European immigrants, and falls prey to a classic
logical fallacy: just because something is popular does not mean it
is of inferior quality! It may mean that it is of great quality and
has connected with a large number of people for really good reasons!
In addition, the attempt to make a big distinction between folk art
and pop art fails to understand how popular art functions. (see William
Romanowskis recent book Eyes Wide Open pg. 72-75 for
a wonderful discussion of this issue! Or if you want to study this even
more in depth, track down Lawrence Levines Highbrow, Lowbrow:
The Emergence Of Cultural Hierarchy In America)
3. There is no Biblical argument to be made that
Western classical music is inherently better than styles like folk,
rock, jazz, and blues.
Attempts to argue for an absolute music aesthetic derived
ala natural theology from the natural harmonic series (like that of
Leonard Payton) are absurd. What sounds in tune to our ears
is a result of cultural conditioning. The blue note cant
be found on a piano keyboard yet it is part of the natural harmonic
series. Furthermore, our pianos are not really in tune in
a scientific sense, rather we follow tempered tuning which
is a compromise so that a piano is sort of in tune for all keys. The
music to which the Psalms were originally set, would in all probability
sound very strange to our ears. Even a minor key doesnt sound
sad in all cultures (for example, much joyful Israeli folk music is
in a minor key!)
4. In particular attempt to commend jazz as a high culture form
while denouncing rock, (its first cousin since both derive from the
blues), makes no sense to people who actually play these styles.
I find that the attempt to delineate between jazz, rock,
folk, and pop is doomed to failure because these styles are all so inter-related.
It may make sense in theory to some who are really only superficially
aware of these styles but to those who actually study the music the
real differences are very slight, musically speaking. The argument that
the rock beat is evil in any form is preposterous. No studies have conclusively
proven that a certain beat can affect you independently of the cultural
baggage surrounding that music. The beat itself is neither good or bad,
to believe otherwise is to fall prey to the heresy of Manicheism. (See
William Edgars article The Message Of Rock Music in
Dean and Porters Art In Question or his review of
Ken Myers All Gods Children And Blue Suede Shoes
in the Westminster Theological Journal)
5. Style is not neutral, all styles have cultural
baggage because music derives its meaning as a cultural symbol.
But there is no pure style, and there is no style that is irredeemable!
Anything made by humans after the Fall is flawed and nothing made by
even by fallen humans can avoid reflecting Gods image as creator.
Music is one way that we extract all of the God-glorifying potential
out of the creation, it is a way that we take dominion over the creation
and till the Garden.
6. So, rather than get bogged down in arguments pitting one style
versus another, let us look to commend what we can in all types of music.
There will always be something to commend and things to
critique. There is a lot of great music around the world, (even people
and cultures who have rejected the true God can make great music) and
we should beware of the idea that all the great music is found in the
Western classical genre. Attempts to compare Bach with say Jimi Hendrix
are rather pointless. There are lots of great things about Bachs
music. But there is a lot that he did not explore, like groove and how
to bring interest and tension and release within the limits of a 12
bar blues form. Too often we take a set of criteria derived from examining
Western classical music, trying to discover how it works, and then apply
that criteria to other types of music that work very differently. This
is really unfair and culturally elitist. Having worked in recording
studios with pop musicians I have seen how much care and thought goes
into the hundreds and thousands of decisions needed to produce a 4 minute
song. It takes great skill to do something fresh within a genre that
has such tight limits as to song length and form and those who do this
well should be commended.
7. The purpose of art is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. There
are lots of ways that this can be done which we can call sub-purposes.
For example, art can tell the truth, it can show
beauty, but it can also (and must if it is to tell the truth after the
Fall) speak of great ugliness. Art can communicate and it can entertain.
Art can make us remember and mourn for the past and it can help us imagine
a still unseen future. And all of these are ways to glorify God! The
problem with most Christian books on the arts is that they try to make
one of these sub-purposes the over-arching purpose and thus leave out
a lot of great work that should be seen as art.
8. The idea that art must be received rather than merely used (C.S.
Lewis, Ken Myers) seems to reflect a Platonic view that art is only
helpful as a springboard to spiritual thoughts.
Remember, the purpose of art is to glorify God and the
Book of Ecclesiastes (from which the phrase the chief end of man
is to glorify God comes), insists that we are to find joy even
in our frustrating lives in the ordinary things of life. This creation,
including art, is not merely a catalyst for more spiritual
9. We should encourage people to praise God in their own culturally
The days are long past when people are trying to do worship
music in a rock style just to reach the masses. The issue in our day
is should musicians adopt a foreign musical style in which to praise
God? Is there a Holy Ghost musical style (like people used
to think of Koine Greek as a unique Holy Ghost Greek? Of
course not! Calvin seems to have attempted to invent a particular church
style of music but in fact the music of the Genevan Psalter reflected
the popular styles of the 16th century because you cant make music
in a cultural vacuum. Nor should we even try! At the end of Revelation
we see the kings of the earth bringing their splendor, the fruit of
their culture, to the Lord as an act of worship. This is what we should
be doing now! If the church is made up of every race, tribe, and tongue
then shouldnt our worship (including our music) reflect this?
We should do music that is culturally honest to who we are.
10. But, we must also do music that reflects that the Church is
bigger than just our own narrow demographic.
The church is multi-cultural and extends through the
ages and our music should reflect this! I love Marva Dawns comment
that if the church is truly the church and includes greater variety
than just me and other people like me, then everyone is going to have
to sing some songs they dont like! The older people should invite
the young to teach their own music and the young should be respectful
and learn the music enjoyed by the older people, all for Gods
11. Just because we shouldnt make absolute statements about
one genre being inherently better than another, does not mean we can
make no judgments about particular pieces of music and their appropriateness.
But each piece should be evaluated by how well it fits
the words and by how it measures up to other songs within the same genre.
In other words, is this song trite within this genre or is it a creative
use of this form. Remember, all styles have baggage, and some are more
easily used to convey words of substance than others. Folk music for
instance, which is what we consider the style of the Indelible Grace
recordings, has a long history of conveying words of substance and power.
12. Dont let superficial differences fool you in making judgments
Musically, a melody like the one Sandra McCracken wrote
for Thy Mercy My God is no different than the melody for
Immortal Invisible. The difference in sound has more to
do with the block chord harmonization we are used to hearing when Immortal
Invisible is played hymn style. But analyzed as far
as melody, rhythm, and harmony is concerned and they are very similar.
13. Indelible Grace Music is not out to deconstruct church music!
Actually hymnals, with their metrical index, are designed
for us to try alternate tunes for the hymns! We are trying to encourage
musicians to use their gifts to set the great hymns of the faith to
music that is authentic to who we are culturally, and which will help
us hear and feel the deep emotion of the text. (For further discussion
of these issues see my Criteria For Judging Rock Music at
14. Controversy over setting new tunes to older texts is nothing
Consider the objections to new tunes catalogued by Thomas
Symmes in 1723 (writing in New England responding to those who objected
to singing the psalms to new tunes).
1. It is a new way, an unknown tongue.
2. It is not so melodious as the usual way.
3. There are so many new tunes, we shall never have done learning them.
4. The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently
5. It is Quakerish and Popish and introductive of instrumental music.
6. The names given to the notes are bawdy, even blasphemous.
7. It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it.
8. It is a contrivance to get money.
9. People spend too much time learning it, they tarry out nights
10. They are a company of young upstarts that fall in with this way,
and some of them are lewd and loose persons.
15. Why not set words written for the poor to music invented by
Many hymnwriters (Watts, Cowper, Newton for example)
deliberately wrote words for the poorer classes condescending
to their level of education. The musical style of Indelible Grace is
rooted in the musical styles of the poor (blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass.)
Seems fitting to put words written for poor people to music invented
by poor people. John Newton wouldnt let Handels Messiah
be sung in his church because he thought it too worldly (though he did
preach a sermon series on the text!)