A Biblical Theology of Music (part two)

March 10, 2016

 

 

Excerpt from my doctoral dissertation on the Theology of Music, written at Dallas Theological Seminary 2011.

Elements for a Biblical Theology of Music

 

Music is woven through the Bible as a unifying thread that crosses path with creation, fall, redemption, grace and hope. Jeremy Begbie warns that a theology of music cannot be built only on passages about music in the Bible because, “It certainly does not supply anything like a ‘theology of music.’ No verses or passages address at any great length how music is to be viewed in relation to God.”[1] He reminds musicians who are going to build a biblical theology of music that, “Gaining theological wisdom about music from Scripture will come more from taking account of the whole sweep of God’s creative and redemptive purposes that Scripture recounts than by scrutinizing specific biblical references to music.”[2]

 

Therefore a theology of music must be built on a much broader theological basis where God’s creative and redemptive purposes from the beginning of creation to the creation of the new heaven and the new earth are taken into account.

 

Music has a role in the whole purposes of God as the chronology of time unfolds.[3] Few musicians, however, have developed a biblical theology of music and have therefore never seen the world of music through God’s eyes. Jacques Attali, in his book Noise, writes, “Music is more than an object of study; it is a way of perceiving the world.”[4] Christian musicians who build a biblical theology of music perceive God at work in music. Musicians must be encouraged and equipped to think through the elements on which they are to build a biblical theology of music (see figure 2.1).

 

Figure 2.1. Elements of a Theology of Music

 

In this article we look at the first element on which musicians build a biblical theology of music:

 

 

Lordship of Christ

 

The first element for a biblical theology of music is to recognize the lordship of Christ. A person, who recognizes Jesus Christ as Lord of all, should be free to be creative. “How much of life is Christ to be Lord over?” asks Francis Schaeffer. “Is he only interested in that part of life we think of as religious or spiritual? Or is he interested in every facet of our lives—body, soul, mind and spirit? The sort of art we make as Christians will illustrate our answer.”[5] He continues to argue that many Christians have tended to relegate art to the fringe of life.[6] This attitude hinders musicians to be creative and to broaden their engagement in culture.

 

A true understanding of Paul’s doxology about the lordship of Christ in Colossians 2:14-20 teaches that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe and is creation’s foundation, filling, life-giver, sustainer, and purpose-giver. He has saved this fallen world through his death on the cross. Christian musicians need to come back to Christ’s lordship over creation, over redeemed lives and over fallen cultures. Schaeffer says, “As Christians we are to look to Christ day by day, for Christ will produce his fruit through us. True spirituality means the lordship of Christ over the total man.”[7] This also includes the area of music and creativity. Christian musicians should not be known for effortless Sunday worship music or contemporary Christian music limited by Christian jargon and symbols only. This leaves the rest of God’s creation untouched. This must change.

 

In his book, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, Steve Turner argues that evangelical Christians traditionally take redemption as their starting point in everything they create and thus limit the lordship of Christ from the rest of creation.[8] Many Christian musicians categorize music as either Christian or non-Christian and say that all Christian music must include something about Christ and his death and resurrection.

 

However, when musicians begin to understand the lordship of Christ over all of creation as witnessed among the musicians at Lívdin Church Center, they begin to understand that everything in God’s creation can be the starting point of their music. Musicians who understand the lordship of Christ will not be limited to composing a mini sermon in all their music. Of course, they will include Christian truth in their music, but they will also record the questions and anxieties of their time and worldview that will contribute to discussions in their culture in a God honoring way. With all of creation as their starting point, they will build common ground with the secular world and be able to bring in the hope of redemption where it is possible or suitable.[9]

 

For both Turner and Schaeffer, who strongly believe in the lordship of Christ, creation (or everything in God’s creation, redemption included) should be the starting point of an artist’s art. The phrase, “Christian art,” must be redefined and its narrow connotation reestablished.

 

The risen Christ is Lord of all of life including body, mind, marriage, homes, work, business, education, money, relationships, sports, art, music, leisure and culture. There is no area of life about which one can say Jesus is not Lord. This frees musicians to get involved in their church and culture. Furthermore, it reminds musicians who their master is so that they do not have to be confined to doing music for the sake of music but for their Lord’s sake and for his glory.

[1] Begbie, Resounding Truth, 59.

 

[2] Ibid., 59.

 

[3] Like music, theology is also conveyed in a practical manner, whether in writing or in speech, whether in the systematic setting fort of specific doctrines, or in hymns, sermons, prayers, or formulated creeds and confessions of faith. These are practices in language oriented to addressing and expressing God. Furthermore, there are multiple types of theological thinking. In Scripture, narratives, parables, canticles, prophetic speech on the edge of poetry, and wisdom teachings, as well as the specific formulation of “doctrine” – what is to be believed about God and the world. Don E. Saliers, Music and Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007), 20.

 

[4] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 4.

 

[5] Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, IVP Classics (Dowers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1973), 14.

 

[6] Ibid., 14-19.

 

[7] Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, 15-16.

 

[8] Steve Turner, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2001), 35. Turner was a student of Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri in the mountains of Switzerland in the 1970s. This book has been helpful in the literature research, because it deals with the same questions I was struggling with as a younger professional musician and others I still contemplate.

 

[9] Turner, Imagine, 12.

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