What makes music "Christian"?

For those who love it, those who think it sucks, and everything in between.

Do you agree with this aritcle?

Yes, very much so!
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No votes
Yes, very much so!
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No votes
Yeah, for the mostpart
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13%
Yeah, for the mostpart
1
13%
Somewhat, I don't know
2
25%
Somewhat, I don't know
2
25%
Not really
1
13%
Not really
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13%
I definitely disagree with the whole thing
0
No votes
I definitely disagree with the whole thing
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No votes
 
Total votes: 8

musicmonkey
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What makes music "Christian"?

Unread postby musicmonkey » Sun Jan 30, 2005 8:29 am

What makes music "Christian"?
By Thomas Hohstadt

Pop culture always looks for the "latest thing." Christian Culture included! Market-driven churches parade the latest lingo. Seeker Sensitive evangelists seduce secular senses. Black church imitators "get down," but never "get up." Gen-X bands even break the "cutting edge" in rebellion against the boomers. And moribund denominations risk throwing in a few "choruses."

Still, sensitive spirits ask, "What makes music–separate from the text and title–Christian?" Without this answer, music ministries risk relevance without depth. Churches end not only "in the world," but "of the world." Rather than the "Word becoming flesh," the "Flesh becomes the 'Word'."

So what is the test? How do we know when we're grieving God or going with God?

The answer begins with Hosea. Hosea explains in Hosea 12:10 that God speaks to us through damah, meaning "prophetic metaphor." Astonishingly, damah was the "art" of the ancient Hebrews. It was–and remains–a perfect model of art. If we understand the laws of damah we finally understand the laws of all the arts. We finally understand the awesome power of worship. And we begin to understand the postmodern language of the digital age.

Scriptural Damah demands three dynamics: the "known," the "unknown," and the "transcendent." Without all three, God is not in it.

The "known" is anything familiar, friendly, relevant . . . anything that points to our own identity or the group's identity. It's a common language (artistic or literal). It is reality as we know it . . . our way of thinking, our established notions, our traditions. In short, the "known" is whatever is safe, routine, run-of-the-mill, or ordinary.

The "unknown," on the other hand, is anything unrelated to the known . . . anything that contradicts or conflicts with the known. By comparison with the known, the "unknown" is absurd . . . filled with nonsense, and often becomes a play or parody on the known. It is usually obscure, subtle, hidden, enigmatic, paradoxical, or mysterious. In short, it is anything beyond what we expect . . . beyond the normal . . . anything that boldly intrudes into our comfortable world.

We find many examples of the "known" and "unknown" in music: A good rhythm requires both the "known" beat and the risk of unusual or even contradicting rhythms (the "unknown"). A good melody requires both the "known" melodic "idea" and the variations or enigmas to that idea (the "unknown"). A good harmony hovers around its tonal center yet always morphs into unrelated (or "unknown") sonorities before finally resolving into its "known" center.

Tone colors also paint with metaphoric timbres. Though rarely found among bland bands of contemporary worship, contrasting (or "unknown") textures, instruments, and chord structures offer refreshing relief to the drone of the "expected"–the tedium of the "known."

Form, too, offers the necessary contrast between the "known" and the "unknown." A simple ABA song structure–with the contrasting middle section–serves our example. But we find an even "deeper" form that brings us face-to-face to the "Word." First, some background. . . .

In every century . . . every culture, Christian liturgies always stand on three moods: (1) struggle, (2) assurance, and (3) celebration. These moods rehearse the Christian story in its most basic form: (1) There is darkness in the world, (2) Jesus came to bring light, and (3) He triumphed over the darkness. Music conveying that story–that "Word"–stands on the same three moods. (The text, by itself, doesn't put the "Word" in music if the "Word" isn't already in the music.)

We seldom find all three moods–especially with dramatic tension–in today's church music. One mood at a time is the order of the day:

Other than angry Gen-X bands, musicians seldom perform the mood of "struggle" intentionally. But we often experience unintentional struggle through poor electronic reinforcement, poor acoustics, poor rehearsal, and poor performance. Obviously, the mood of struggle–by itself–simply self-destructs. In short, it is demonic.

A more typical mood in our carpeted sanctuaries is wall-to-wall "assurance." We also run elevators and dairy farms with it. Yet, this mood carries a deceptive danger! When music endlessly glosses over the cross with saccharine prettiness and syrupy comfort, it costs listeners nothing! It's an easy reverie . . . a cheap illusion . . . a passive inaction. Without life-changing resolve, listeners simply refuse their promise. And God warns, "Because you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth!"

Many churches, though, live in a continual mood of "celebration." "If we can just get everybody dancing and shouting, we've had 'church'." Not so, if we have forgotten what we are celebrating . . . what we have overcome. Too often, we enjoy the trip without gratitude for the journey. Our <a href="viewtopic.php?t=96">make-believe ecstasy</a> proves only natural glee. So in place of true spiritual victory, we indulge only a catchy, bouncy, jolly, earth-stomping, toe-tapping swing. It's a hollow hilarity . . . a cheap ecstasy. It's as empty as the bubbles in Lawrence Welk's bubble machine.

Christian "celebration" should always look over its shoulder. Our resurrection should always remembers its cross. Otherwise (to paraphrase Isaiah) "Woe unto those" who turn themselves on, but "do not regard the deeds of the Lord." (Isaiah 5:11-12; AMP)

So it's the enigmatic combination of all three of these "known" moods–struggle, assurance, and celebration–that conveys the Christian experience . . . the Christian message. It is the "unknown" paradox of opposing moods in the same song or even in the same moment that creates an inner tension and moves us toward the "Word."

When music speaks with this damah–this prophetic metaphor–we begin to do what God called us to do. Yet, not without risk. . . .

The wonder, suspense, and tension in music require risk, surrender, and sacrifice. These are the risks of faith. Without risk, music will remain like a squirrel in a squirrel cage—endlessly retracing the same steps, but going nowhere. Yet with risk, each performance . . . each song will bring a totally new revelation. And it will surprise the performers as much as the listeners.

Only then can we begin to speak of "transcendence." Only then can we say "Our music is Christian."

© 2000 Thomas Hohstadt

Source: <a href="http://www.futurechurch.net/archives_view.asp?articleid=3">futurechurch.net</a>

Dr. Thomas Hohstadt has achieved recognition in several fields: international symphony conductor, author, lecturer, recording artist, composer, and soloist. A Fulbright scholar, he holds four advanced degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the Vienna Akademie fur Musik. A twenty-eight-year conducting career includes positions with the Eastman School of Music; the Honolulu, Amarillo, and Midland-Odessa Symphonies; and guest appearances in eight nations.

During this time, Hohstadt also authored two award-winning books and twenty-six articles. A devoted Christian and instructor at the International Worship Institute, he opens new visions of empowered worship through the theology of creativity and the prophetic metaphor. In his book, Spirit and Emotion, he cracks the conspiracy of natural emotion posing as spirituality. And in this latest book, Dying to Live, Hohstadt combines scholarly skills and prescient insight to explore the new Church of the Digital Age.
Last edited by musicmonkey on Sun Mar 06, 2005 3:36 pm, edited 5 times in total.

the soviet
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Unread postby the soviet » Tue Mar 01, 2005 10:22 am

wow, what a cool article and a lot to take in. First off, I agree that is very sketchy to define chrtistian bands in the present day and time. There seems to be a growing number of bands on christian labels with very little faith. Some labels seem not to care about your believes, but only to distribute records to boost business. For example, <a href="http://www.toothandnail.com/">Tooth and Nail</a> / <a href="http://www.solidstaterecords.com/">Solidstate Records</a> have had many bands quit and move on up to straight up secular labels and denonce God all together. They seem to get on a label only to start out and only insert the words: God, Jesus, Sacrafice, Praise, and Devotion. This is bad news for you who don't know.

I simply don't by the record label or simple words inserted into the lyrics, but the overall picture. I am just saying think with your brain, not your ears. One of the most inspiring bands to me, who are somewhat christians, is <a href="http://www.mewithoutyou.com/">MewithoutYou</a>. The band is comprised of 2 non believers, 2 liberal christians and one man out to change to world for Jesus Christ at every turn. All the lyrics are heart felt and deeply inpacting, at least on my life. The comes into play when i am their shows. Some of these songs are worship songs to God, but i feel bad worshiping if it isnt divinely inspired and played with the heart requried for such a task. I still sing along and hope that the Lord is pleased with my actions. The question is, does it have to be inspired by God to be a christian song?

I think "christian songs can come in all colors and shapes, but need to either inspire us to good or tell a story of of struggle and God's awsome intervention to save their soul. Being christians in a band just isnt going to cut it anymore.

I also agree about the three moods upon which you should feel. You have to have the known to connect with listeners, or no one will care about your music, but think of it only as a fable or story. The is there to inspire us to repent and search God out on a daily basis.

lastly, this whole idea about having all three moods in a song is interesting and reminds of something i learned in history class one day.
Somebody once wrote on how ideas are changed and we grow as a society. "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis"

thesis- known and excepted way of doing something
antithesis- new ideas that havent been proven yet or widely excepted (unkown)
synthesis- the blending of the two ideas to grow stronger, more unified
Reasons not RULES make us strong!

neilinphilly

Re: What makes music "Christian"?

Unread postby neilinphilly » Sat Mar 05, 2005 8:25 am

Whoa David.

This is really interesting stuff. I hafta admit at one time when I succombed to peer pressure, I was simply a progressive rock freak. We always hear about diversity now, and learning diversity from God, you learn to open your heart up to a lot of different and new things, like many genres of music. Having grown up with hard rock, now I find many of the old hymns of the Church phenomenally inspiring as they are saturated with Biblical doctrine.

Back during the Jesus Movement when Christian rock was born, there were a lotta Christian bands and most of their music prompted you to worship in the Spirit. I find that some of the current bands are using the niche to make a mark in the music world to eventually move into the secular arena.

Living only an hour from NYC, I've had frequent opportunites to visit <a href="http://www.brooklyntabernacle.org/">Brooklyn Tabernacle</a>. The BT choir has about 175 members! Their music is infused with black gospel and man do they rock! They aren't entertainment, they lead you into worship, that place where you transcend above all the cares of this world into the presence of the face of Jesus.

To me, Christian music is effectively "Christian" when it's all about Jesus, not about "me."

YBIC,

Neil

hizson

Unread postby hizson » Thu Sep 08, 2005 9:15 am

I agree with neilinphilly...so many artist start out in the Christian genre and then in time, as their popularity grows, they get away from everything Christian. I think this is because there are by far, many less Christian groups that they have to compete against to be recognized. Many, in my opinion, use this only as a spring board to launch careers as rock stars....and this is their goal from the start.


David you have written something that might well be the start of a book. To respond to all, or even most would require some very in depth writing, of which I feel less then qualified. Well written though. Thanks for sharing.

Jere

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Unread postby musicmonkey » Thu Sep 08, 2005 10:00 am

Hi Jere,

Many of my posts are articles written by someone else. I usually quote the author and source.

As for your comments on artists using the "Christian" corporate wagon to launch their mainstream careers... I dunno... I'm sure there are some but I think the CCM ghetto is pretty much self-contained. There's a popular joke that goes... "If nobody will pay you to sing because you suck, start playing for churches, they pay bad artists more than most bars pay good artists."

A genre is a style of music and the whole concept of basing a genre (that incudes everything from pop to folk to rock to rap and country or electronica) purely by the religious affiliation of the songwriter is completely mind boggling to me.

Let art be art. Let a songwriters's worldview come through their songwriting. Don't promote bands soley based on JPMs (Jesus'-per-minute) in their lyrics. Don't call the music itself Christian or Secular (See <a href="viewtopic.php?t=298">Changing The Conversation [Between Art & Faith]</a>).

For that matter, I think the US would be better off if you stopped calling each other Republicans and Democrats. I think there's alot of purple out there. Truth and lies are present in everything humans make and we need to seek God and His Word for discernment in all things - from entertainment to politics and even the words from the pulpit.

David


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