The Christian and Rock Music II

What then should be our approach with respect to the attitude of the child of God toward rock music?

It is my position, in the first place, that our fundamental approach should not be what I would call a kind of empirical approach, according to which we base our judgment on experience and garner all kinds of evidence and supposedly weigh the wrongs and the rights, the pros and cons, and come to a conclusion. Practically speaking, such an approach might lead to a ringing condemnation; but with some it might also lead to a partial approval. That approach has also sometimes been taken with respect to the movie question, for example; and only too often it has ended in the fatal distinction between “good” and “bad” movies and the inevitable trend to find some justification for a large number of movies being classified as “good.”

In the second place, I do not believe our approach should be one of mere negative legislation. This is not to say at all that parents should abdicate their position of authority in the home and in relation to their teenagers. But a mere flat prohibition of rock by parental fiat will only provoke violation, and that, too, probably on the sneak. But worse, it does not teach our young people freely and voluntarily to reject this tempting perversion which the world offers them, and it does not teach them to see for themselves that it is contrary to their Christian calling. A mere negative “Thou shalt not” only provokes sin.

In the third place, and positively, our fundamental approach should be that of the antithetical position and calling of God’s people in the midst of the world. It should be that of the thesis and antithesis. As I stated in our December 1, 1985 issue, “The thesis, therefore, is that which God’s people hear of God, and confess and affirm of Him, namely, that He is God in relation to all things—our person, our body, our soul, our heart, our mind, our will, our home, our man-and- wife relationship, our parent-children relationship, society, business, industry, property, education, state, church; and that it is good to do His will.” And our thetical calling is to will and to know this thesis from the heart and to develop its implications with respect to all of life, and thus to confess in word and deed that God, our God, is GOD and that He alone is good. The thesis is the Yes of God’s covenant people to their covenant God. And the antithesis is the No of that Yes. It is the No of righteousness over against unrighteousness, of godliness over against ungodliness, of the truth over against the lie, the No of the love of the Father over against all that is not of the Father, but of the world, over against the lust of the esh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life. And according as we firmly and clearly say Yes to God, we will say No to the world and all that is of it. Such is our calling.

Now consider rock music in the light of this antithetical position and calling of the people of God. The matter is very simple, is it not? It is not even a question. It does not constitute a problem. It is not a debatable issue. That is, not if our antithetical position and calling is not merely a matter of the intellect and of lip service, but a matter of the heart and of grace. It is only when we forget and abandon the former that the whole matter becomes debatable, becomes problematic. It is only when we deny and forsake our antithetical position and calling that we begin to argue the matter, begin to find excuses, begin to try to justify our indulgence in rock and somehow convince ourselves that it is all right to participate at least just a little, that there is not so much evil in it, that perhaps there is even some good in it and some genuine enjoyment. And, of course, once we have forsaken that antithetical stance, no amount of argument will convince us that rock is evil. The old saying will hold true, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

But let us be specific, and let us apply this principle to the various aspects of rock music.

Consider the source. Does anyone doubt that rock originates in the evil world of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life? Consider the performers. Consider their rebellious dress and appearance (Think of this in connection with punk rock, for example.); consider their lewd, profane language and professed lifestyle; consider their on-stage behavior, their lewd, provocative pelvic gyrations. Consider the lyrics of their songs, whether “sexually explicit” or “sexually implicit.”

And especially, consider the music itself. For, do not forget, lyrics and music go together. We all know this instinctively. In our sacred music, for example, a certain kind of music is appropriate for a certain kind of lyrics. A bouncing, joyous tune does not be fit sad and mournful lyrics. The music of a march does not fit the words of a prayer. And the more successfully a composer can match lyrics and music as to mood and emotion and thought, the more successful his composition will be in achieving its goal and design. But let an expert speak on this point. Christian News (Nov. 25, 1985) carried an extensive treatment of the subject of rock music, particularly so-called Christian rock. An article entitled “The Prosecution,” by David Noebel, quotes the late Dr. Howard Hansen, of Eastman School of Music, as follows: “Music is a curiously subtle art with innumerable, varying emotional connotations. It is made up of many ingredients and, according to the proportions of those components, it can be soothing or invigorating, ennobling or vulgarizing, philosophical or orgiastic. It has powers for evil as well as for good.”

This is worthy of special attention. Rock music (even apart from the lyrics) is not amoral. It is not in itself not evil. It has a corrupting influence. One does not have to listen long to the insidious, intrusive, insistent beat of the voodoo drums, to the clashing and crashing disharmonies of rock to recognize this. And especially here there is a grave danger in rock. There is in it a certain intrusive appeal to the emotions which becomes almost addictive. But it is an appeal to the emotions of our old nature, of our old man of sin. To indulge in rock is a very dangerous thing, therefore. For just as music can be a powerful influence for good, moving men in the very depths of their being, so it can also be a tremendously powerful influence for evil, stirring up the base emotions of our old man of sin. This is true in general of worldly music, but it is most emphatically true of rock. Never before has the wicked world succeeded so well in adapting its music to its thoughts, all of which thoughts are not of God! Beware, lest you allow yourself to become enslaved to this corruption!

But what about so-called Christian rock or gospel rock?

One could write another two editorials on this subject without any difficulty. In my opinion, the subject is not worth extensive attention, for the simple reason that this is not basically a different matter from ordinary, worldly rock.

However, let me briefly call attention to the following:

1) To say the least, the Christian character or the gospel content of “Christian rock” is very scant in many instances and highly suspect in others.

2) The lyrics of “Christian rock” are not infrequently guilty of double-entendre. What does that mean?

Double-entendre is “a word or phrase of double meaning, the less obvious one often of doubtful propriety.” An article in Newsweek of August 19, 1985 quoted by Christian News, Nov. 25, 1985, refers to this: “In Grant’s (Amy Grant, an alleged evangelical entertainer) pop psalm called ‘Open Arms,’ for example, she croons, ‘Your love has taken hold/And I can’t fight it’—keeping it unclear whether or not the lover is Jesus.” In its December 2, 1985 issue Christian News quotes from Eternity magazine, which refers to a song by this same Amy Grant entitled, ‘Love Will Find A Way’ in which it is not clear whether she is singing about her lover or about Jesus.

3) Finally, granting for the moment that the lyrics are soundly and unambiguously Christian, the mixing of Christian lyrics and rock music is like mixing fire and water. Or let me quote, with approval, the following from an article by David Noebel (Christian News, Nov. 25, 1985, p. 8):

Rock is music of a decadent, pagan culture. Malcolm Muggeridge addresses this subject in his work The End of Christendom. Why, then, do Christian musicians adopt a musical form that glorifies man’s lascivious nature? Why don’t Christian musicians provide music that is higher and purer than that of their secular counterparts? Even many secular artists admit to rocks evil influences. Rock star David Bowie commented that rock music has always been the devil’s music, and the late John Lennon referred to rock music’s beat in the same manner. David Wilkerson, in his new work Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth, asks, “Is God’s house now a place where even demonic expressions find a place with music borrowed from the altars of Baal?” Since rock music reinforces rock lyrics, and many rock lyrics glorify degenerate lifestyles, why do Christian musicians bother using such a debauched musical form? Christian rock is breaking down the barriers that once surrounded the secular rock world. And as a result, many Christian young people are “rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Christian bands today occasionally share the stage with secular groups, and they’ve convinced Christian youth that rock music is “sugar, spice, and everything nice.” It is, in fact, cultural hemlock.

We agree.

Written by: Prof. H.C. Hoeksema | Issue 2