The final response to Christian Berdahl – on everything


Theomusicologist, you do realise that I’ve been waiting for the LONGEST while for you to pick this unfinished business up – but when we spoke on the phone, you said that this might not end how we’d both expected. Care to fill me in? Hang on, let me guess…

…is this by any chance along the lines of: you’re no longer sure what the point of this exchange actually is? Because I’ve come to wonder that myself…so if I’m wrong…



God is good!

Why do you say that?

Because you’re right!



So…can I get this in your words instead of mine? Sure. You have been – and will continue to be – a good friend and conversation partner. And you know that I have NEVER once tried to tell you what you are supposed to think for yourself. This is indeed true. Of course, I have expressed certain viewpoints very forcefully…

…that’s one way of putting it…

…but in the end, everyone is supposed to weigh evidence and think for themselves.


Something has happened in our church that has caused me to realise that this type of explanatory endeavour is in many ways a complete waste of time. What exactly do you mean? Well, you know that we have been debating this whole business of women’s ordination for the last several years.


I have heard on outstanding authority that in the end, no-one on either side has changed their mind on the subject.

What does that mean?

Well, I could offer all sorts of answers to that question, almost all of which would make me deeply unpopular with most Adventists…

…since when has that ever stopped you, Theomusicologist?!

*wry smile* I own that, but this is the point: Jesus is coming soon, and we are unquestionably the remnant church of Bible prophecy. The biggest way in which I know this is that we have no biblically-grounded and fully codified theology of music and of worship. We have no worship concept as a church. And for nearly ten years I have been hoping to make a difference in this area of our church life, but in the short term, there is no point in trying to begin a revolution of thought when actual thought has essentially died in many of our churches. Now, before you say anything, I know that this doesn’t sound like I’m going soft, but I honestly tell you that this is a soft answer, and I’m now going to tell you how this applies to the ideas and concepts of our good friend Christian Berdahl.


Have you heard the saying:

“A man convinced against his will

Is of the same opinion still?”

No, I can’t say that I have, but I understand it, of course.

Of course.

Wait… Go on! Well…what you’re saying is that no amount of argument will convince anyone who has made up their minds that whatever Christian Berdahl says is right that they are wrong and that he’s wrong – so there is no point in trying to make that point any more. Have I got it?!

Hole in one, my friend. The only people who are going to make a song and dance about this are Seventh-Day Adventists who have such a screwed, uneducated, weak, powerless, ignorant, confused and spellbindlingly naïve concept of the phenomenon of music that nothing and no-one except the Triune God Himself could change their minds, and with some, I think even He would struggle. The institutional myopia, the cultural blindness, the historical ignorance, the musicological bankruptcy – it’s too much to fight all that. Folks who have decided that all syncopation is the work of the devil, and who insist that true worship must look, sound and smell like only what they know have no real idea of what early pioneer worship looked like (EGW has some amazing testimonies), and no real idea how diversity and unity can co-exist in the Spirit without compromise. The biggest shouters against music are not the ones who have studied the subject thoroughly. They are ALL musicological laymen.

Hang on…are you saying that ONLY those with a college or university degree are qualified to talk about music?

So glad you asked. Not at all. Think about all the most effective speakers we have who are untrained. Is there evidence that they have done some hard reading and studying? Yes. And the Holy Spirit has helped them. But watch this: David Asscherick, no less, has come to a position on music that contravenes the standard ‘conservative’ position on music, and folks don’t know what to do with that. The very fact that a rumour has started that GYC won’t ask him back tells us that regardless of the truth of the rumour, there is no security in the notion that a person’s thought can evolve to something outside the archetypal Adventist party line and that there is still room for a diversity of opinion on an issue such as music when on the most important doctrinal questions we have no reason to doubt his commitment to this cause.

Wow…so you’re saying that despite a lack of a formally grounded theology on music, there is still an unwritten position that – if you don’t espouse – you might never be viewed favourably in certain high-up circles in our church?!

Another hole-in-one. You see, there is a whole massive literature on the phenomenon of music. There are so many disciplines in music it is crazy. Here’s a quick list:

  • Musicology (historical)
  • Musicology (critical)
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Music philosophy
  • Music psychology
  • Performance Studies (academic)
  • Music Performance (practical)

I didn’t realise that music could be studied in such an extensive way…what’s the difference between the those last two? How can ‘performance studies’ be academic?

So glad you asked that too. You know, there is a whole academic sub-discipline that looks very critically and very analytically into the metaphysical dimensions of musical performance – but that is not the same thing as learning how to play and sing to a very high standard – which we call ‘music performance.’

And how many of these have you studied, Theomusicologist?! Don’t say all of them…


….okay, really?!

…yes, really. Each one of those disciplines is something that I have learned about and invested time into understanding. And that’s exactly why – as a theologically conservative Seventh-Day Adventist – I now spend my time triangulating between classical music, gospel music and jazz.

Yeah…and I know that you’ve tried to say very little about that in church, but can you just summarise for me how that works in your spiritual life?

Gladly. As I’ve said elsewhere, I regard jazz as the greatest creative challenge in all of Western music, and because of that it is a monumentally spiritual challenge. Creativity is one of the ways in which we know that we are made in the image of God, so as divine gifts go, that one has a huge threshold of responsibility. And the sad truth is that of late I have returned to certain forms of secular jazz for no other reason than the fact that these musicians and this music has more integrity than nearly everything we do in church. No-one wants to change. We keep the status quo. But most of what I play is sacred jazz, and that is a phenomenal blessing.

So what about gospel music? Is that not creative?! Yikes. It can be, but the biggest issue with gospel is that it has become all about ‘celebration’ and weak paradigms of praise. And the weak ways that gospel singers and instrumentalists try to appropriate jazz is frankly appalling – but that’s ignorance, and it remains bliss. The harmonies are frequently trite, clichéd and conceptually surface-level – and that’s why secular people love gospel music – especially commercial gospel – because too often, it offers no true sustained spiritual challenge to an unbeliever.


So the gospel I do is questioned by some inside and outside the church, because it’s not ‘American’ enough or ‘loose’ enough or ‘hearfelt’ enough. I love this music, but I hate what it has become for too many people. I do gospel music my way and leave others to do what they do. I believe that God is as much a God of the groove as He is the good of non-syncopated beats. The devil did NOT invent music and there is NO beat or rhythm that belongs to him alone. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’d bring trance or trip-hop into church, but won’t be afraid of syncopation either. If I told you that there were studies that showed the power of drum therapy, you might be shocked – but no amount of serious empirical research in auditory perception that proved that syncopation could actually have a healing effect on the emotions at certain times would ever be enough for Christian Berdahl and his followers. Ivor Myers and Dwayne Lemon and lots and lots of others have also gone south on this matter, but they preach other things very well indeed, and I am determined to see the big picture and not get bent out of shape.

Sure! And classical music?

Well, what would you say if I told you that jazz was a classical form?! Don’t answer that – classical music is the greatest intellectual challenge in Western music. And it has wonderful abilities to heal in more ways than I could express. I love Bach, Handel, Brahms, Bruckner, Stravinsky and Messaien – but I can tell you that at certain moments when my faith is weak, I need Fred Hammond and Donnie McClurkin. And when I’m confused and nothing makes sense – jazz helps me put the pieces back together. And when I need to knit my mind together, classical music is the one. They ALL play a part in my ongoing sanity and spirituality.

I…I need to go away and think about all of that…

I understand. For a good Adventist brother, that’s just too much…

…I didn’t say that…

…true, my bad, sorry. What I meant is…

…I know what you meant. And I understand. I understand. And I get enough to totally agree with you that no-one who has made up their mind on this subject is going to let anyone change it easily. But are you going to continue to work in music and theology?!

You had better believe it. But as the SDA church in the UK has largely rejected what I would offer, this blog is now the main forum for my work in the theology of music and worship. And I’m planning a book!


Really. By the end of 2016, it will be finished. Watch this space!

Wow, that is going to be one explosive read… You betcha. But you know the most important thing about all this?

Tell me.

In the end, the music will tell its own story. It will tell listeners what you believe, and if you believe. And so I am leaving these public controversies along to spend more time on becoming a better musician – a better Levite – and a better human being and a more faithful Christian. And as philosophy grows in my life, so does my vision of God. I can’t tell others how to read, think, live or play their instruments unless I have the express authority to do so. But I can conduct, compose and play to a God-honouring standard, and use syncopation and abstruse harmony to the glory of the Triune God, without whom I would have no mind, no heart, and no hands.

Amen and amen!


A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part Four)

Aha, you kept your word about not waiting light-years to meet up again!

Praise God, here we are. But I’ve come to share another conversation with you, which I am sure we’ll talk about in and of itself.

Cool. So who is this other person? Well, she is a lady who heard our conversation and got in touch to start another one herself. I think you’ll find that it relates entirely to what we are talking about.

Okay, great. Bring it on!

[Hi, and thanks for getting in touch!]

It is very interesting to me that as a conservative Christian who was raised against rock’n’roll and drums in all forms, I was also conditioned to believe that ‘charismatic’ Christians were long on their desire to experience a ‘worship high’ and very short on biblical literacy and doctrinal awareness. As it is, my chaplaincy activities have brought me into contact with a number of young Christians attending charismatic churches who have ended up on my radar because they wanted to study the Bible much more. They had clocked that ‘worship’ was not enough.

All of us in whatever our traditions have to be honest enough to stop and critically evaluate what we are doing in our churches from time to time. I salute you for doing this. I do not want to come across like some sort of know-it-all, but let me pick up a few things from your first comment now.

“Desperately wondering what God thinks of drums and middle of the road rock music as worship;”

These are two different things. What does God think of drums? Good question. What does He think of any of our ‘modern’ instruments? I am not going to make the mistake I have made in the past of launching into a technical diatribe. I am going to point out that Western harmony as we know it did not exist in Bible times – over 1000 years after the NT canon closed, we have the origins of modern hymnody with harmony in four parts. So the assumption that keyboard instruments cannot be a problem but drums might be a problem is an assumption that has opened itself to critical attack from the outset. So whatever position anyone adopts, they need to be able to defend it. My viewpoint in a nutshell: God is less interested in WHAT is being played than with HOW it is being played. Psalm 33:3 exhorts the musician to play with “skill.” That is a musical value that in an ultimate sense is not dependent on individual aesthetics. Something is either in tune, or not. Or in time, or not. Etc. And then, the musician either has a sincere desire to worship God with their whole heart – or not. Only God is qualified to judge, but there are times when human beings can have a pretty good idea about the motivations of others; ‘by their fruits ye shall know them.’ If the worship setup really does resemble a rock concert, complete with smoke machines, people whipping up the crowd and a style of playing that showcases technique over God’s grace, people will know.

As for ‘middle-of-the-road’ rock music, I guess you mean a style, right? Actual ‘middle-of-the-road’ rock music is secular music, not contemporary Christian music in a mid-rock style. What about that style? Does God like that? Similar question to last time: what would make God favour one musical style over another? I am NOT saying that ALL styles of music can be used to worship God, but there are mid-rock songs and groups who write wonderful music. And it’s not that loud and it is never all about the drums. What would make God favour contemporary ‘black’ gospel over contemporary ‘white’ CCM music? Or classical music over hymns? The internet is full of people making cases for and against one style over against another and most have the kind of biblical/theological reasoning that if applied to other questions would guarantee heresy on doctrinal matters that are in fact salvific.

“no drums in OT worship, and no timbrels in the sanctuary, despite drums being used by surrounding countries. Was it because they stir up the flesh, which is at war with the Spirit, too much?”

Interesting. I studied Jewish music traditions in some detail as a postgraduate student. It is a massive area of study; Jewish culture is more diverse than many realise and their musical traditions are hugely wide-ranging. And all of them go right back to temple traditions. This is not the kind of historical overview that I can right easily (it will take too long to type) but I am interested to know which of your authors (or whoever) is arguing that what can be defined as a ‘drum’ was used in neighbouring countries. Which countries? And what is the language in which they have gotten this information? There are several ‘Semitic’ languages, but what is the word that is being translated as ‘drum?’ And what is the definition of that word in the original language?

1 Chronicles: 4000 instrumentalists. 288 singers. Some argue that David was not authorised by God to bring instruments into the temple. They use certain texts. Problem: if God wanted us to know that David should NOT have introduced instruments into temple worship, why do we have an injunction in Exodus 20 insisting that the priests not raise the altar beyond a certain height and also ensuring the dress modesty of the priesthood, but not a clear injunction as to what instruments were banned? Anytime a person makes a theological case using an ‘argument from silence’ they are on terribly thin ice – it is a flawed methodology of Scriptural reasoning that cannot bear scrutiny and cannot be consistently applied. So it fails the smell test theologically, but many of us STILL use this way of thinking and then wonder why people don’t find our Christian reasoning to be persuasive and compelling. If one is to argue that the only instruments that God approved of were the ones mentioned in Scripture, it is not just the organ/piano/keyboard/saxophone/drumkit that would have to be ditched – it would have to be all the songs and repertoire that can only be played on those instruments…so our hymns would need to go as well. And I can make this point much more rigorously and with more teeth if a genuine occasion arises.

How do we know that there were no ‘drums’ in OT worship? How do we know that other countries had ‘drums?’ What is the logic in arguing that there were no drums when there were percussion instruments? Cymbals can make a very loud noise and can be played in all sorts of ways rhythmically…

2 Chron. 29:25-30, “King Hezekiah then stationed the Levites at the Temple of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres. He obeyed all the commands that the LORD had given to King David through Gad, the king’s seer, and the prophet Nathan. The Levites then took their positions around the Temple with the instruments of David, and the priests took their positions with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah ordered that the burnt offerings be placed on the altar. As the burnt offerings were presented, songs of praise to the LORD were begun, accompanied by the trumpets and other instruments of David, king of Israel. The entire assembly worshipped the LORD as the singers sang and the trumpets blew, until all the burnt offerings were finished. Then the king and everyone with him bowed down in worship. King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to praise the LORD with the psalms of David and Asaph the seer. So they offered joyous praise and bowed down in worship.”

We have no idea what those ‘other instruments’ were. We are not told. But it was not quiet. This suggests that volume is not the issue. You use a very important word: ‘sensuous’ to describe the effect of the drumming in various contexts.

The fact that the drums can be played that way is undeniable. But when you hear ‘sensuous’ drumming, do you only ever hear drums? Think about it. Yes, drum solo features take place and they can and do whip up a frenzy. But no-one would listen to 3/4 songs in a row of just drums. What makes some tracks more sensuous than others? The bass has a huge role. The keys/guitar can also really create excitement and emotion – harmony is so powerful that some church musicians have gotten laid because of the chords they can play. Forget drums, some girls (and boys) are excited by harmony in very unspiritual ways. And the vocals are ALWAYS involved in the most sensuous songs. So the drum beat may be especially compelling, but all the other things on the track are complicit too – which means that to single out the drums because it is easy to pick out the beat is easy, but susceptible to major criticism as an interpretive outcome.

“What about rhythms derived from pagan, spiriting and animist rituals such as Latin rhythms and rock and roll, see Robert Palmer, Rock and Roll, an unruly history.”

I would be the first to agree that some rhythms are just not suitable for a church service. But what are the grounds of biblical and musical principle for any assertion of this nature? We can talk about the unholy origins of all sorts of things (the story of the organ goes back to pagan Rome). We can talk about the inappropriate use of all sorts of things (the Bible has been used to justify racism). Does any of that automatically make those things totally null and void? If I want to refer to a person as being happy and carefree, it is still technically within my rights to use the word ‘gay.’ But the difference between what gay ‘denotes’ (‘happy’ etc) and what it ‘connotes’ (homosexual) is considerable. We have a framework for certain things in our societies. The same is true of rhythms. Some immediately evoke a nightclub dance stage. Others, a military march. Now we are happy to use march-style rhythms in our sacred music – but not all Christians believe that our modern, geopolitical wars are endorsed by God and some choose never to bear arms even though we accept that war is a reality of our world. Would we suggest that a marching beat to ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ was an endorsement of human warfare?

I hope that the principles of thought I am employing are made clear. I think I want to draw attention to this business of ‘African music’ – it seems to receive very bad press. Again, as an ethnomusicology student I studied some of the musics of the African continent. Some of the cliches used in anti-drum Christian music arguments are dire beyond comprehension…

Okay okay okay!

This has definitely given me something to think about, Theomusicologist. I’m going to think about this before we meet again. I like this journey we are on very much.

So do I, my friend. So do I. Until next time!

A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part Three)

Okay, okay, so before you say anything, I am holding my hands up and apologising for the stupendous length of time that has elapsed since our last conversation…


Okay, I really want to know if there is a specific reason why you disappeared on our conversation – is there?

What a good question…yes, there is, as it happens. Great, I’m listening! Okay it’s like this: have you seen how many people in my church – the Seventh-Day Adventist Church – conduct their debates on music? Er…yes, I can’t say I’m unaware. You’ve got loads of people in your church who have their opinions and they are all experts. Every last one. University professors. Grammy Award winners. No-one is telling them ANYTHING. As it happens, we’ve got the same thing going on in my church too!

What a world, huh?! Say that again, brother! But look, get to the point, will you?! Okay okay, sorry! So this is it: I kind of went through a stage where I really questioned the very point of this whole public conversation. I enjoy talking with you as you know, but I was not sure that there was any point in continuing on this particular subject. And a big part of the reason why is that I reached a level of total frustration with people in my church. It seems as if the overwhelming majority of people in my sphere of existence who really and truly have an issue with syncopation are members of my church. This does not mean that there are no other people from other denominations who have issues with syncopation – but not to the same extent that appears to be the case in my church due to certain very high-profile speakers who have spoken out against it. Sure, with Christian Berdahl being a particularly obvious example right now… Uh-huh. But for so many other people, how it could be the case that we spend this long talking about syncopation is just crazy. And as many people will not even manage to stay in the conversation with us long enough to really get why this whole anti-syncopation thing is a very big problem, I had felt that if – by and large – the only people who need persuading on this matter are SDAs whose views are already fixed, then I can write that off as a complete waste of time. But as it is, I can see that I need to see this one through with you and anyone else who makes it with us. People have been encouraging – and the levels of sincerity and ignorance are just the kind of thing that get us ministry-types going – so I’m back!

Okay, thanks for sharing that. I’m glad, because I am genuinely interested in your views on this subject; as you say, it’s about more than just this one issue.

Absolutely. And I fear that this will be a shorter conversational installment, but there is a very important thing that I knew I needed to share with you asap. Sounds serious! It is. It really is.

You know that it is a sore spot with me that much of my thought-life has been better shared with non-Adventists than Adventists. But you also know that I’m not about to leave my church. Christian Berdahl’s specific statements have brought out the fire-breathing dragon in me, and I can see that this very systematic way that I have been looking to take apart his whole thesis on this has been pretty heavy-handed.

Hmm. I’ve not thought that – but it is true that I have gotten used to you over more years than we both care to think about. I know you. I know your style. We can joke about it, even. But as I think about it, sure, some of our mutual friends still find you intimidating, even when you say nothing and smile and just be really friendly. They sense that you’re holding back. We’ve managed to get along from the get-go and that’s ’cause we were both committed to that. Um, you mean present tense, yeah? Duh. Obviously that is STILL the case, or we’d not be having this conversation, you crazy, over-analysing gimp! Okay, okay, sorry! Accepted. So as I was saying before someone interrupted me…seriously now, has someone been talking to you about all this and how it comes across?

This is why we’re friends…yes indeed. Okay Theomusicologist. Well, I do make allowances for you that I don’t make for everybody. I see what you’re saying. And I know a bit about where you are coming from. Christian Berdahl may have made some huge academic howitzers but he is still a member of your church and you are not partisan in these matters – you work on the principle, regardless of the affiliations of the person in your gunsights (to use one of your expressions!) That’s one reason why I respect you as I do. But you now think that by slating him in this way it does not help the cause of your church?

Couldn’t put it better myself. I’ve basically laid into his statement and the thinking around it like he is a serious bad guy. I have to hold my hands up and say that as a ministry practitioner, I think I would rather have taken a kinder approach to pointing out the errors in his thought. I’ve been very sincere and very focussed and tried to spread it all out and not just bash him hard. But I believe that I can be gentler in this critique, and I want for my whole approach to just be a bit gentler when we pick this up next. I’m beginning to realise that my forensic critique of all manner of things makes the process of being around me more intense than may be ideal (at times!).

Theomusicologist, I am with you all the way. I’ve watched you grow over the years from the firebrand-in-your-face intellectual combatant who has verbally beaten up anyone in your way to a guy who wants to do good for God in whom you believe with the gifts He has given you. I know you. Not everyone knows you. And yeah, I am glad I’m not you, because the more I learn and grow, the more I see how big ministry is – for all of us. You’ve got a tough, tough job, but we serve an amazing God. He’s got you and He’s got this. Okay, so you’ll let me know when next, okay?

Deal. And thank you.

What are friends for? I’ll see you later. Get some sleep!

A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part Two)

So Theomusicologist, you do realise that I have been waiting a considerable time for this conversation to continue, don’t you??

Yes indeed, and I’m so sorry! It has been an incredibly intense period with pretty much no letup. And you’re not the only one. But as we get into this, I thought I’d share a comment that came from a reader of Part One of this mini-series.

Really? OK, what did they have to say? Let me quote verbatim:

“hmm..interesting piece…Where is your scientific or whatever to refute berdahls “claim”? sorry but it seems all you have here is opinion rather than fact.”

I hate to use the word ‘interesting’ as they used it, but this is a very ‘interesting’ comment… I can only agree. The evidence suggests that they must have read the last exchange we had, but somehow I still find myself wanting to ask if they actually read it… What do you think? Hard to tell from this, I must say. I mean, the fact is that the very ‘claim’ itself…(and that’s a question, why on earth have they put ‘claim’ in inverted commas when the video is as clear as daylight? That IS what the man said!) is  as wild as it gets, and having thought about it a bit, I can see that Berdahl could have made a diatribe against syncopation without over-stating things as he does with that claim.

Yes, I would say you are definitely tracking on this one. I’ve not begun to unpick the issues regarding syncopation itself as yet – so our friend has shown us all exactly how to read and respond to something without a coherent grasp of what has been read. And so it is easy to now accuse me of having only offered opinions rather than fact. As it is, what I have done is very simple: I have drawn attention to a “fact” of history and the video is evidence (for those who accept). I have proceeded to ask a series of questions, and I have also made statements that are definitely more than mere ‘opinion’ – an example being my point that not everyone who speaks an ‘untruth’ has set out to lie. This is just the kind of unfocussed, empty question that I have come to expect from some people, and I am only drawing attention to this for the benefit of those who would actually like to grow their understanding of matters such as these but who are woefully short of “match practice” in the area of thinking for themselves more rigorously. If you want to be taken seriously in a serious conversation with actual technical content, learn how to ask serious questions!!

Okay, right, got you. This person obviously failed to get the fact that they needed to wait to see what case you were going to make in a future post rather than looking for all your answers in the last post. But don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh? Not everyone thinks as you do, Theomusicologist, and I just worry that people who just don’t think like you will just back away from what you say because…well, to be fair, you’re not what a lot of people expect and your firmness about stuff is hard for people to deal with. I find you hard work sometimes and I’m your friend!

I really appreciate that, and I guess this is why I am trying to communicate on this occasion using a conversational style. It is my professional – not personal – opinion that what Berdahl has said about syncopation is dangerously misleading, and this is why we are engaged in a public conversation about it. But look, I am more than ready to step up the technical conversation. Shall we?

Absolutely! I think it’s time you broke down syncopation in more detail!

Good stuff; so, let’s keep grounded in the context – Berdahl claimed that syncopation itself is the source of ALL occult power in pagan rituals. So my first question is: does the conceptual and practical entity that we call syncopation have what it takes to be the source of any kind of power in and of itself?


Hmm…not entirely sure how to make this one simpler, but let me see…okay, let me put it this way. Just for a moment, freeze on the fact that syncopation is a word with a definition. I’m asking a question on a level of principle here. And the question is this: does “syncopation” have the scope or capacity to actually be a source of occult power in and of itself?

Okay, I am sort of following; I guess Berdahl is saying that it does. Or rather – he is making an assumption on the basis of whatever information he has acquired that syncopation not only has the capacity to be a source of occult power, but that it really actually IS the source of occult power…whoa!

Technical point: that would presuppose that he has actually ‘acquired some information’ – do we know this for a fact? Or has he made this statement on a basis of his own beliefs and opinions?

I’m starting to see where you might be going with all this, Theomusicologist. I’ve just thought of something. I am ALL ears, talk to me! Well, a PhD in systematic theology is not required to understand that Satan himself is the author of sin…sin comes from him, right? That’s what my Bible says – and I’m kind of starting to get a line of thought going in my head that the actual source of ‘occult power’ has be the occult itself, right? Semantically speaking, in this line of thought it can ONLY be the occult itself, my friend! Right! It can only be the occult itself – therefore, the actual source of occult power in pagan worship services is…Satan himself?? Hang on, that would mean that he is the one they are worshipping, but he is the one empowering them to worship him??? Whoa…Theomusicologist, you are a very dangerous person. I can’t always keep up with you, now you’ve started asking questions and my own mind has begun to run into directions faster than I can keep up…you academic theologians are mad, do you hear me?! Mad! My life was simple before I met you…

It’s been said before… But I would hasten to point out that you were responsible for that line of thought, not me! But as you are showing such commendable enthusiasm for the task of thinking through this issue, I think that perhaps we ought to shake things up a bit more. What you’re saying is that you enjoy seeing me even more confused than I am already! Go on, admit it! My good friend, while of course I know what you are getting at, we both know that we can only joke about this because we both respect each other and you know that nothing matters more to me than people having a correct understanding of issues such as this – because sometimes salvation can literally depend on it!

Yes, of course I know this. So shake away, I can take it! What are you about to drop on me? Well now – what do you think the word ‘occult’ actually means?

I already don’t like this question as I know you too well by now! But I will play the game. I’m assuming that it means to do with witchcraft, paganism and satanism. In the way I have tended to use it, I see it as one of the words that defines the kingdom of Satan. Are you about to tell me that this is not quite right? Because if so, I am seriously intrigued!

Loving the framework of that definition, my friend. I can also say that for most of my life I would have said the exact same thing. But I then learnt that the word ‘occult’ comes from the Latin word family starting from the word occultere which means ‘secrete’ – that’s a technical word, but the rest of the word family gives us “to hide,” “conceal” and “covered over.”

Okay…hmm. Wait – are you saying that the word ‘occult’ refers to secret stuff – supernatural stuff that we can’t ‘see’ physically – but that it is not actually always specific to Satanic stuff??

Well, that is unfortunately more complicated than some might find ideal. Why am I not surprised?! Such is life, but let me explain. Okay!

Generally, the modern English word “occult” pertains to: “mystical, supernatural, or magical powers, practices, or phenomena.” That’s a difficulty because theologically we know that good and evil are not equal. What do you mean? Just that! God is the very embodiment of “good.” If God is eternal, then good in any ultimate sense is also eternal. But who does bad come from (if you’re a Christian)?


And is Satan eternal?

Er…no, I know he’s not, somehow, but I can’t say why… Let me help. Question: what was Satan? Well, he was Lucifer before he was Satan, and as Lucifer he was an angel, the chief angel in heaven. Of course! And did angels create themselves? No, God made them! Right, so they are not eternal, are they? No, and that means that Satan is not eternal…

Now this is theology, isn’t it? Lucifer had a beginning, and as Satan he will have an end. Sin has a beginning, and it will also have an end. So good and evil are therefore not equal.

You know, I kind of knew they weren’t – but at the same time, I didn’t know that. So how does this relate to the definition of ‘occult?’

Well, the linking of ‘mystical,’ ‘supernatural’ and ‘magical’ is complicated because ‘magic’ cannot apply to God, but ‘supernatural’ can and does, and even ‘mystical’ can and does. I know that some people will get bent out of shape on that issue because they honestly associate the word family around ‘mystical’ to heresies such as Gnosticism, but I can’t stop to fix that right now. My point is that for many people (maybe even most people), all of this ‘supernatural’ stuff is essentially in the same dimension of life.

Okay! So, this is what you call ‘an overgeneralisation to make a point’ isn’t it? Absolutely. Right. And yes, that makes sense to me, actually – because most people I know outside the Christian world have a much more vague conception of the real differences in beliefs across different religions, and even different worldviews. But even that’s not straightforward – because for some African Christians, belief in both God and what we Westerners would call ‘magic’ is not as far apart as would be ideal…

It really could not be less straightforward. Both inside and outside religious communities, confusion reigns. I jokingly refer to what I call the ‘divine magic wand’ when I want to make a serious point about some Christian people’s views regarding and expectations of God and what He is supposed to be doing. There is NO divine magic wand – the very concept is reprehensible on every level – but my point is that one of the great deceptions of the modern world (and the pluralistic notions that are now as common as litter on the streets) is this mish-mash of religious understanding. Result: for too many of us, the dividing line between good and evil is now seriously blurred. I have a confession to make, by the way!


I used to watch shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer regularly when I was younger. I comforted myself with vague notions that all this stuff was not real, so it wasn’t hurting me. But eventually I realised – and I know it had to be the Holy Spirit – that to watch these programmes was effectively endorsing the values they espoused, even if I was only interested in being “entertained.” If the storylines were effectively “make-believe” based on lies, then how on earth was it coherent for a Bible-believing Christian to be watching this stuff?

I’m with you, Theomusicologist, and I have a few tales of my own in that regard. But look, we both have to go soon. You’ve spent all this time talking about the word ‘occult’ and our understanding of things to do with the occult. And I am STILL waiting to get to grips with the actual business of syncopation itself! So I need a signpost to where we’re going to go before we part company today, if that’s ok…

Of course, and I really appreciate your willingness to engage with me and my very strange mind. Here’s the signpost: It is not just the secular people whose notions of the occult are scrambled – it is also many Christians! We needed to talk through the fact that good and evil are not equal, didn’t we? You had access to all the information to know that fact, but you hadn’t put those pieces together. Uh-huh. So when anyone talks about “occult power” and “pagan worship services” it is imperative that we break down those phrases – because where I’m going is this: if Berdahl really knew anything about this stuff on any serious technical level, he would not have expressed himself so loosely. I’m not merely questioning his credibility in the area of a technical musical concept such as syncopation; I am questioning his actual understanding of words like ‘occult.’ He insisted that he had somehow come into contact with information from “all occult experts around the world” and on that basis his statement about syncopation ought to be taken seriously.

This is not about a simplistic, emotional response to a highly questionable statement. This is about asking how and why Christians don’t think more rigorously than they do, and encouraging everyone to think more deeply about the stuff that they hear preached and taught. Until next time, my friend: God bless you!

And you too, Theomusicologist!

A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part One)

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!