The Right Kind of Music: Can Music Teach Us About God?
This post is about my research on fundamentalist Christian music. Read more about it here!
Can music teach us something about God?
Fundamentalist Christians say it can. Specifically, that music can reveal or reflect God’s nature and in so doing, spiritually strengthen those who listen to it.
Here’s the line of reasoning:
First, music can reflect or reveal certain aspects of God’s character such as orderliness and beauty because it is part of the created world. Fundamentalists here are arguing from “general revelation”—the idea that the created world reveals certain things about God by virtue of being created (one passage used to support the idea of general revelation is Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”)
And second, when music is, say, beautiful, then it reveals God’s character in a way that can illumine that character quality to listeners. God allows his nature to be revealed in music, and when music accurately reflects God to listeners, their attention flows back to God—a circular movement from God to music, music to listener, listener back to God.
This is one reason fundamentalists say music is moral—music that accurately reveals God's character to listeners is good music. But what if music is inaccurate?
When Music Misleads Listeners
As a corollary to the argument: if music can do this, then it can also not do this. In the first version where music reflects God, music is like a clean, accurate mirror. In the latter version where it doesn’t, music is like a dirty or distorted mirror. When someone listens to the latter kind of music, they are spiritually misled by the music instead of experiencing something spiritually beneficial.
In other words, the latter kind of music causes listeners to develop an inaccurate understanding of God.
This is where the argument becomes even more serious: what is an inaccurate understanding of God, but idolatry?
The belief that music can itself be idolatrous (or, depending on how it’s worded, that music can promote listeners’ idolatry) is one of the many reasons fundamentalists give music such a prominent place in their discussions of lifestyle and spirituality. Listening to the right kind of music is extremely important if you believe that it can literally affect your understanding of God and potentially lead you into idolatry.
Curious about fundamentalism and music? Check out this introduction and the FAQs.