So God loves sin…

Warning: this is not a blog post for those who are unable to read in straight lines and think rigorously…and also, if you are not familiar with ‘satire’ then this may be an injudicious use of your time…

~

The $64,000,000 question remains: what exactly, pray tell, is the gospel?

Is it what about people who sing/play ‘gospel music’ say it’s about? In words and music?

Is the gospel all about love? Because if so, then surely the idea of God is not necessary for love…is it? I can love my partner or spouse, or my cat, or my car, or ice-cream…

Oh….riiight, with you now. You’re saying that basically, God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that we can basically keep going as we are. We don’t have to change – other than go to church, pick up a Bible off Amazon and dust it occasionally, and be seen carrying Christian books from obvious authors every so often – be they Joyce Meyer or E.G. White…okay, scratch Joyce Meyer if you’re Adventist, because only Adventists speak the truth, right? Best get rid of those C.S. Lewis books and make sure that your KJV is prominent when you come to church!

Pentecostals, as you were. Evangelicals, you got problems. John Stott and John Piper are (were) literally as far away as east and west from each other on certain things, so you guys have decisions to make as well… Anglicans…okay, every type of belief is possible, so we have nothing new for you. And RCs – some of you cannot in all good conscience take communion with the rest of us, but your work with the neediest in our world remains mind-boggling.

[If you’re not in that list (e.g. Dutch Reformed), then you just definitely keep as you were…]

So, what’s the gospel again??

Kiki Sheard has the answer for you…and the redoutable Trey McLaughlin is here to sing a version of it for you ‘with a little help from his friends:’

Okay!

Try this for size again:

You think I’m everything when I think I’m nothing
When I hate myself you still love me
Love me and…

Wowee!

Wouldn’t you love to be loved by someone who thought that you were everything?! That could be true for those who think they’re nothing and those who don’t think they’re nothing – they think that they’re something but they’d love to be loved by someone who thinks that they would be everything.

With respect to my sisters, these lyrics have all the hallmarks of a woman’s voice. Men want to pursue without limitations. Women want to be desired at all costs. [And yes, those are deliberate over-generalisations to make the point.] So in this song, Kiki Sheard has not told us that God loves us DESPITE our flaws. She’s telling the gospel: God loves our flaws! He loves the bits of us which actually don’t work!

Now, there are ‘flaws’ and ‘flaws.’ If an individual possesses a characteristic that is particularly idiosyncratic, this could be deeply irritating to some people. But it could also be endearing to another. [Where’s Jeremy Clarkson when you need him??] However, sometimes what one person sees as a flaw is not actually a flaw in the first place. Don’t miss that. But ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and a really serious problem could become a deadly problem – like the father who thought that it was good parenting and good bonding to do class A drugs with his daughter, who later died from a bad reaction to something she took at his hand, compounded by the fact that he delayed taking her to the hospital…

All right, enough fooling around the mulberry bushes. Kierra Sheard is WRONG and this song is a recipe for spiritual ruin.

If God loved our flaws, the Cross would not have been necessary. Jesus died for more than our sins as we commit them through abuse of volition (free will). Jesus died for all the wrong and broken things in this world. He died for the adults who cannot seem to give up crack cocaine because they were born addicted thanks to the choices of their parents and who are more biologically wired to that than many of us could ever begin to comprehend.

He died for people who struggle with sexual temptation LONG after making a full surrender to Christ – because the issues of abuse and trauma in their lives have left wounds that are deeper than language.

He died for those who self-harm because they cannot forgive certain people for certain things. And I don’t even mean being abused.

Gospel musicians: we have a duty to preach in song. This song is not a sermon. It is a fantasy. The gifts of music and language have been utilised to create a new God – re-fabricated in human form according to one love-starved human being. Why do I say that? Because those who are fortunate enough to be truly loved KNOW that they are loved DESPITE their flaws. Only those who still don’t know what that kind of love is like can sustain a secular fantasy such as this one – made worse by the fact that it is dressed up as a manifestation of Christian faith affirmation!!!

Secular people might be absolutely disgusted at this idea of God, and they would be quite right.

Here’s a better reference point for the gospel. It comes from Micah 6:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? [KJV]

If God loved our flaws the way this song says He does, He could not and would not be the God as revealed in the pages of Scripture.

Advertisements

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!

Up above my head…

This post is in response to a previous request to elucidate on some comments I made regarding a song with the title of this post as the opening line – not just any old version of this wonderful African-American spiritual. And, even as I type these opening lines, I’m listening to this track and turning up the volume and getting excited – the praise going on here is in fact very serious. I’m talking about the Kirk Franklin and God’s Property version of this spiritual. I really need to arrange and direct a version of this track as soon as God wills, because I think we could do certain things chorally that would bring the spiritual message out even more strongly…

Let’s start with the lyrics:

Up above my head I hear music in the air
Up above my head there’s a melody so bright
And fair
I can hear when I’m all alone
Even in those times when I feel all hope is gone
Up above my head I hear joybells ringing
Up above my head I hear angels singing
There must be a God somewhere
There must be a God somewhere

I hear music in the air
I hear music everywhere
There must be a God somewhere

There must be a God somewhere
There must be a God somewhere
There must be a God somewhere

~

Martin Luther wrote:

“Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate — and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the
emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good?—what more effective means than music could you find?”

Readers of the last post will recall having been introduced to Sir Colin Davis, the uber-renowned British conductor who is fast becoming a hero of mine, as he also seems to be for one of my own great teacher/mentors. He has some very serious things to say about the power of sacred music – he recently conducted one of the hardest pieces of classical music ever written, a major choral/orchestral work called Missa Solemnis by Beethoven  – that little-known composer who may or may not have written something called the Moonlight Sonata…

Now, if you are a honest church musician who has not really ever properly considered the effect that sacred music can have on those who do not confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – and that God exists – take a very good look at what Sir Colin has to say:

“That piece is a hell of a task: it’s so difficult for the orchestra to play and the chorus to sing that performing it is like failing to reach the top of Mount Everest. I think it’s one of the great statements of any time… At the end of the piece, in the final movement, the Agnus Dei, Christ has gone back to heaven, and Beethoven gives us this image of humanity left behind, crawling about in this mud, loaded with sin. The music is saying that humans cry for peace – and make war. That’s what Beethoven means. It’s absolutely clear. The music reaches an intensity of protest which is almost unbearable. And yet, there’s the power with which he sets the words: ‘Credo in unum deum!’ [I believe in one God!] You’d better believe him when he says it. And I do. I believe every word of the Missa because Beethoven makes it possible. But when I’m left alone, I can’t believe anything. So it’s even more poignant for me. But for that brief hour and a half when I’m conducting the piece, I do.”

Now, I had – and still have – the huge privilege of being able to come to the conducting table of European sacred music with a rather greater technical theological knowledge than most conductors. It was absolutely amazing to have had the opportunity to study this work even briefly as a conductor. I have found that many of the finest conductors do in fact get their theology confused and muddled at times (well, they are not Christians or theology students and not claiming to be), but their sincerity about getting the best interpretation that they can is in fact humbling. There is also the fact that Beethoven did indeed do some very, very unusual things in this particular piece – but I don’t want to be too distracted by those technicalities at present. It is the essence of what Davis is saying that matters right now –

– namely, that the spiritual power in this piece of music is so great that for the duration of it’s performance, he actually suspends disbelief in order to faithfully conduct the work. The Missa Solemnis is actually pointing him towards God!

So then: are we suggesting that only the very grandest music points to God? Is it only classical music from the proto-European vanguard that can bring people face-to-face with the idea that God really might just be real? Or can this happen with other music as well?

Liturgical musicologist Mary McGann writes the following:

“A Latino community singing cantos, accompanied by a conjunto or Mariachi ensemble; an Indian assembly singing bhajan to the accompaniment of a tabla and harmonium; a Vietnamese assembly chanting sacred texts and prayers in doc khin – an a capella form of chanting based on the tonal scale of the Vietnamese language. Each idiom is not only an acoustic/sonic tradition, but a carrier of social customs, or ritual expectations, of spirituality, and of cosmology.”

Now, that might be a little bit harder to unpack, but what she is saying is that each of these different religious music traditions is more than just a music tradition or style or genre – they are actually carriers of spirituality itself, and of spritual worldview!

So there are two massive implications for us:

  1. When we hear music, it really can and does point us towards a reality beyond itself. The question is: which spiritual reality are we being drawn towards? Music can make us feel so much and so deeply that we can be fooled into thinking that the sense of fervour aroused within us is the worship of the true and only God, when in fact we have only tapped into the inherent spirituality of the music itself! People can hear music and be drawn towards (and closer towards) God – but they can also be drawn towards (and closer towards) the enemy himself! But ultimately, the kind of music – be it vocal or instrumental – that actually truly lifts the spirits and brings peace to the soul and mind can only come from one side – the side of Truth – as in, the person, not the concept…
  2. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all true Christian believers made a firm commitment to never ever perform a piece of music other than as praise to God?! Whether secular or explicitly sacred, such a policy would have a huge impact on the choices we make as Christian musicians…

I know that I have experienced the positive truth of someone hearing my music and knowing something different about it – it pointed them to the truth. They HEARD it in my playing – no words – no Bible – no theology. Just the music itself carried the spiritual content that made two unbelievers think that there had to be a God somewhere. That was a moment which changed my life as a musician forever.

I didn’t do that. The Holy Spirit did. And now that I am in ministry, sitting in my house in this first phase of Sabbath, preparing to serve as Worship Pastor in my home church tomorrow, I am desperate to be filled with the Spirit so that everything that I do as a musician for the rest of my days on this earth will point someone to God. If Beethoven could explore faith in music to such an extent that an agnostic like Davis is intellectually persuaded by the music itself – even if only for the duration of the music in real-time performance – then it is possible – absolutely possible – for any seriously committed and well-trained Levite to sing, play, direct, conduct, compose and arrange music in such a way that folk will say…

THERE MUST BE A GOD SOMEWHERE!

Believe it.

That is the only reason I am in music – to offer the highest level of praise that I can to my God – and to share faith. Music means everything to me for one reason only – it has helped me to worship God in ways that transcend language, and through it I have learnt what it means to “make melody in my heart unto the Lord” (EGW). God has used music in a powerful way to help me on my spiritual journey and so I can only give it back to Him. It is the highest privilege a musician can have – to praise God in music.

~

I hear music in the air
I hear music everywhere
There must be a God somewhere

~

Music really is one of the ways in which we KNOW that there is a God. What are you going to say to Him today?