The final response to Christian Berdahl – on everything

So!

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…

…wow.

Wow.

God is good!

Why do you say that?

Because you’re right!

Really?!

Absolutely.

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.

Sure.

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.

Uh-huh.

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.

Okay!

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…

…erm…

….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.

WOW!

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?!

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!

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Who is worship actually for??

So the question was asked – as follows:

How do you balance professionalism in music in worship but still be inclusive?

Great question. Important question. Here is what one of the most highly-regarded gospel choral directors working in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church had to say about this:

I’m going to throw in another perspective. The ministry in the Old Testament temple – the Levite ministry – shows us the way; when it comes to the worship service, you need to use experienced people who know what they are doing. Other services/programmes can incorporate musicians who are developing, but worship is an offering being presented to God, so we need to make sure it’s a presentable offering – not an offering in the making.

In the temple, students and teachers alike performed their services, so it wasn’t just the ‘graduates’ but the ‘undergraduates’ – but as they were students, they were being trained in the system, and no doubt were given things to do according to where in the system they were. If it was playing a cymbal, or carrying the cymbal case, (I’m just guessing here, so please do not take this as authoritative) until such time as they graduated, I am sure there was some organised way of taking them through the system. The underlying point here is that they were chosen for a specific purpose, and had to qualify for that role.

Conclusion: have an organised way of incorporating appropriate musicians for worship. Musicians not suited should not be given a responsibility for the worship, but can be included in other areas of church music life which [does not specifically involve worship services].

[note: some may say ‘it’s all worship’, but that is not the case. Again, the Old Testament shows this most clearly, as it is talking about a theocratic system. Within Jewish life there were ceremonies, temple services, and festivals. The Levite role was concerned with a specific aspect; in that system ladies were not allowed to perform certain roles (that was then, not now!); it’s possibly for that reason why tambourines, normally played by women, were not typically found in the temple services; however on occasions of celebration, such as Miriam / Deborah, the ladies led out; and there is the basis of my point: there are many parts of our Christian experience as SDA’s : Sabbath School, AYS, evangelism, etc…, but when it comes to the worship service; that which is being offered to God as an offering – it requires those who are called for that purpose.]

The sanctuary was not set up like a church. Your Bible / SDA Commentary will have diagrams of the sanctuary, and you will note that it is not set up as seats facing one way, and those leading out facing the other. The choir did not face the people; the choir faced the altar! Why? It was about worship, not performance.

The current set up we have (please set me on the right track if I am mistaken – I do love learning!!) is based on the idea of ‘teaching’. You can see how the buildings are big, ornate, and where does the priest/vicar/preacher stand? Facing the congregation, and very often above the congregation – which suggested the congregation – the laity was lower than the priesthood, (maybe it was so they could be seen by shorter people, but we know enough about Christianity’s history to know that priests were [often] seen as ‘rulers’).

The New testament churches were house groups – very practical, people oriented.

We have an expression in our churches where we talk about ‘up there’ or ‘at the front’; strangely enough (I say this in jest) the pulpit is seen to be the ‘front of the church’, yet the ‘front entrance’ is the opposite end of the pulpit. Just a throwaway comment – don’t take it too seriously.

So we have this mentality of the worship service being those ‘up there, at the front’; we watch/listen to them pray; we watch them sing – we give our approval by soft amen, loud amen, very loud ” A – MEN!!’ or applause; sometimes on the rare occasion ‘standing ovation’; they sing a ‘special’ item (let me say it in proper church talk, they ‘render a special’). We introduce the preacher, and give his/her list of credentials, a short biog about them!

So it all becomes performance, and not worship. Hence, we then want to ‘give people a chance to perform’ to include them in the service, because we are very much ‘performance minded’. We may even say ‘didn’t she do well’ after the performance? And we call this worship to God.


I am not advocating a cold church where people don’t encourage; that’s not my point; my point is based on the original comment which said ‘music is worship’ and not just ‘music in church’. My encouragement to us all is that we encourage a move to worship which dispenses with introductions of items and human beings, congratulations of human beings, and is just God focused – all about lavishing God with praise, and not sharing it with any other human being.

Use the Sabbath School – which is a more workshop/creative programme; AYS, which again is more free;, and other programmes to help develop and encourage talent, and when people are ready to have this awesome, even life/death responsibility of leading people to worship God. (Life/Death statement may seem a bit extreme, but Israelites were led into worship …. of a golden calf!) A worship leader has a frightening responsibility!

At some point there will be a follow-up to that post, but for a number of regular and not-so-regular readers of this blog, there is some serious thinking to be done…