So, Theomusicologist, you want us to talk about Christian Berdahl. Who exactly is he? Click here.
Why are you ‘responding’ to him? Because we come from the same church, share a commitment to both music and ministry, and yet the current evidence suggests that it is impossible that we could ever be partners in ministry.
So what? Paul and Barnabas parted company because Paul didn’t want to give John Mark a second chance. Who says everyone in the same faith has to always be best buddies? Good point – but here’s the difference: we have no reason to presume that John Mark’s theology was anything other than on point, or else Barnabas would not have been going out to do mission with him. This was about character, not doctrine!
My issue with Christian Berdahl is not even theological. It is his ideology, his pseudo-musicology and the way that this affects his theology which concern me. He seems a perfectly nice human being and I like to think that his Christian sincerity really is just that.
Oh come on! Give me a break! That’s not very nice, is it? What qualifies you to criticise him, anyway? Well, this is not about criticism for the sake of it, my friend. This is about truth. Truth matters – Berdahl himself would say that. And he believes that he is propagating truth. I am coming out publically and saying that while some of what he teaches is nothing but the truth, some of what he wants you to believe really is not the truth and therefore should not be believed at all. This is objective, and both ‘academic’ as well as ‘ministry-centered.’ If you’re going to ask me what qualifies me to talk about this, I can show you my resume - or CV if that’s more familiar. But this is not about academic apropos – this is about me exercising my right as a member of that same church to raise some very serious questions about that intellectual integrity of his output. So if you want to hear my side of this, you need to keep reading!
Okay, fine. So what’s the problem? Oh wait: you said three things…you and these long words. [sigh] Guess we’d best go one at a time. Why did you use the word ‘ideology?’ Well, let me ask you a question: how familiar are you with the actual meaning of this word? Well…I know the word, of course, and I’ve heard it used and read it and stuff, and I’m pretty sure I could use it in a sentence, but…not sure I could, like, actually define it… OK great, thanks for being honest. It doesn’t always happen and it just hacks me off when folk pretend so as not to lose face! I’ll gladly explain.
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions. So, it is basically a comprehensive vision, a way of looking at things (as in a worldview), or as in several philosophical tendencies, or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a “received consciousness” or product of socialization).
Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics, religion, constructions of social behaviour… STOP right there. OK! I’m pretty sure I’m following you. Now before I get confused, link this to what you’re saying about Christian Berdahl. Sorry, yes, I switched into lecture mode, my bad! So this makes me think that I had better break my response to him down into smaller and more manageable chunks…
What, you mean there really is going to be more than one post responding to his ideas? Absolutely! Is that really necessary? Well, he has twelve hours of teaching on five DVDs which appear to be selling like fresh-out-of-oven-baked-confectionery-of-whatever-description, so as I don’t yet have a media setup which allows me to do that, I am very happy to set down some shorter written responses.
Okay, okay. So… I see. Syncopation – that’s what you want to start with? It sure is! Okay, I’m listening.
There are several things that Christian Berdahl has said that have impugned his academic integrity on the subject of music – and in the context of Christian worship. But syncopation has been a ‘hot’ topic in the ‘worship wars’ across the denominational spectrum for years – and in my church, it continues to be a subject about which those who know the least pontificate the most (this is not limited to music…)!
Check out this video:
If you begin to watch from about 6:40 or thereabouts, things are getting interesting, and by 7:12 he’s just about to launch into one of the most jaw-dropping statements I heard at any point in the last calendar year!
Yes, yes, fine. That’s the build-up, got that…now please get to the point!! Okay – here’s what he said:
“Syncopation…all occult experts around the world agree…syncopation is the source of all occult power in pagan worship services.”
Really?? Interesting – that’s exactly what the interview said when he heard that, too! So, what are you saying exactly? You disagree?
“Disagree” is both the right word and the wrong word. That word puts us onto the threshing-ground of subjective opinion. There is nothing in what statement which leads the hearer to think that he is offering an ‘opinion.’ He is telling us exactly how it is, and he expects to be taken seriously! So you’re now saying that this is not true? Are you accusing him of telling lies? Oh man, why do some people always assume that if a person accuses another person of speaking something other than the truth, that they are therefore accusing them of lying? Because that’s the opposite of telling the truth, innit? Er…no. Not that simple. To tell a lie presupposes actual intent to deceive. To be genuinely misinformed and speak an untruth is not necessarily driven by an intent to deceive. These are the types of over-simplistic folly that make it much harder to be credible in conversation, whoever you are and whatever you believe!
I understand. So you would have us believe that Christian Berdahl has made an untruthful statement in this regard, but that he has not necessarily set out to deceive anyone? Yes, from a ‘legal’ standpoint you have expressed this correctly. BUT – this particular statement worries me more than usual. Why? Well…it’s like this: was it necessary to try that hard to convince the interviewer that ALL of the occult experts around the entire world agree on this point? What kind of research project would it take to be able to make that statement truthfully? How much research has he actually done on the subject? And in how many languages? Over how many years is he talking? What’s his definition of ‘occult?’ That word is less straightforward than many Christians like to think…
And then, what exactly is syncopation? How does that work? And in the context of the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ example, are his use of the words ‘beat’ and ‘accent’ even technically correct?
Whoa. Okay, you are not here to play fun and games, are you? Not for a microsecond. And I will tell you why. Seven years ago, I attended some seminars by a gentleman called Brian Neumann. He stood up, told us that he had “studied these things…he knew” and almost everyone took him seriously. I was a graduate student in the anthropology of music at that time and I went and spoke to him. It was not a good exchange. I soon discovered that he had no formal qualifications in musicology or theology.
That was not and is not a big deal in itself. What was a big deal was that he made a number of point-blank erroneous statements. The kind which no self-respecting student would allow themselves to make when presenting their ‘research’ to an audience. I tried to explain this to a few people in my church, but no-one listened.
Since then, Brian Neumann has had to resign his ministry due to personal indiscretions. But he had already impugned his integrity by publically making statements that were not the truth, and insisting that he had ‘studied.’ We all make mistakes. Large and small. But why try to make out that you have studied more than you have?
Okay. Are you saying that you think that Christian Berdahl is doing the same kind of thing? Hole-in-one. I’m not equating him to Brian Neumann, who is still a child of God and who I am told is on his way back spiritually (Praise God!), but I am saying that this is the same sort of vibe. Berdahl is a media professional with a gift for music who appears to have overstepped the bounds of his technical knowledge and now wants to propagate ideas which will not bear scrutiny. This time, I’m not going to let the ignorance and myopia of my church members get in the way of me making a public stand against these wrong ideas. But I can see that we had better halt this conversation and pick it up next time. How does that sound?
That sounds good. Okay, until next time. God bless! God bless you too!