The better question--a question that is still difficult--is what kind of music is best to listen to. Most of us stop to consider what kind of food is best to eat, and likewise we need to think clearly about our taking in of music. The assumption that I have been working with is that not all music is created equally and that music is not benign. Making a decision for or against a particular kind of music can be as much an ethical question as it is an aesthetic question. I say "can be" because there is much to be qualified about the ethics of art. For example, Hitler loved both Wagner and Beethoven. While I could live comfortably in a world without Wagner, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is the tune that gave Nazis a German sense of spirituality and strength for battle. Incidentally, it is also the tune of "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee," a song still loved by the church today. The difficulty in stating that music is ethical is that we might then try to systematically differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil music. This in practice is a very delicate task and ultimately a waste of time.
While music is not benign, it is also complex. It is possible to identify certain behaviors as wrong and to write laws against them because certain behaviors are concrete or exact. Certain behaviors leave little or no room for interpretation. Unlawful behaviors are those specific behaviors that our society agrees are wrong. However, music on the other hand leaves us with large territory for interpretation. As soon as you find something dark or heavy or confused in a song, you might also be able to find something true or good or right--something worth redeeming. It is the complexity of music that has led many to surrender it along with all art forms up to the realm of the subjective: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
But it is not! Beauty is not in my eye or yours. Beauty does not come from humans. Beauty comes from the One who is Beautiful, the One who created "all things bright and beautiful." Beauty is made and defined by God. And here is my most important point: arguing that beauty is objective does not have to turn us into the Stasi. I am not calling for a mass book burning or a purging of all mp3s from hard drives.
Instead of starting heavy handed from the outside--or top down, instead of chasing down every example of wrong music, we start from the inside out. Again, it is a question of formation. If we become more like Christ, if we put on the mind of Christ, if we walk in the Spirit and hunger and thirst for righteousness, then our aesthetic tastes will be shaped into making ethical choices that reflect the beauty and goodness of God.
Below I've outlined what I call "Full Gospel Worship." Our worship should cover all of the eight expressions listed. Some OT scholars identify some 20-30 different types of worship expressions found in the Psalms. I've narrowed it down to eight for the sake of simplicity. You will notice that "Full Gospel" does not mean trite, simplistic, sentimental or idealistic. My understanding of "Full Gospel" arises from Fredrick Beuchner's The Gospel As Comedy, Tragedy and Fairytale where he explains, "the Gospel is bad news before it is good news." A theologically sound definition of beauty then, must contend with the ugliness, horror and tragedy of our existence.
You may be wondering, "What about music that is not strictly 'worship' music?" I've intentionally tried to not create a discussion about worship music over and against the rest of music because in daily practice there is and should be necessary blurring of the line that seemingly separates worship music since all of life is worship. The eight expressions below can and should be expressed in all the music we listen to. Another way to consider it would be to assume that if we properly form our worship music, it will then properly form the way we engage all other art forms. Form the heart and the mind and from it goodness will flow.
- Thanksgiving/Celebration: The God of provision and abundance. The faithfulness of God. The God of Salvation and hope.
- Exaltation: The God who reigns above. The transcendent God. All powerful. The God above all other Gods.
- Adoration: the God who reveals himself. God who is immanent. God who is close in Jesus.
- Confession: the God who is holy, righteous, judge…a look inward at what is wrong, broken, confused.
- Lamentation: a complaint, a look outward at “the state of things” to groan or ache for what is wrong to be made right
- Supplication: prayers to the God who is near, tends to be a prayer for our “daily bread.”
- Intercession: prayers to the God who is above, for God to act on a large scale, for God to move with power.
- Remembrance: rehearsing the works of God, a regular act of attending to God’s faithfulness.