The Right Kind of Music: The Power of Choosing Good Music
This post is about my research on fundamentalist Christian music. Read more about it here!
The third premise of fundamentalist music philosophy is that Christians can strengthen their spiritual lives and witness to unbelievers by choosing good music.
Good music influences listeners in good ways, so it follows that, first, choosing good music will help a believer become a stronger Christian and, second, that these choices will demonstrate a person’s faith because they show how God has the power to change desires and actions from bad to good.
For evangelical Christians (which fundamentalists are), this is huge!
Choosing good music—and this means choosing to listen to good music and choosing to make good music (for performers and composers)—literally brings you closer to God and helps you fulfill your duty to witness.
Choosing good music is also where the real action happens. If you’re in a fundamentalist church hearing sermons on music, you might agree with the preacher that music is moral, and you might agree with how he (and other authority figures) divide music into good and bad categories. But if you don’t start listening to and making good music—what’s the point of all that agreement?
You have to actually do something with those beliefs in order to benefit from good music and to witness to the unbelievers in your community.
“By their fruits you will know them…”
The line of reasoning from “good music has a good influence” to “good music spiritual strengthens listeners” is relatively straightforward. But why would choosing good music also be a good testimony to unbelievers?
First, fundamentalists believe that a person’s conversion (a person being “born-again”) will result in visible changes to the person’s life. If changes do not take place—not necessarily all at once, but certainly over the course of time—then that person’s salvation is doubtful. Maybe they aren’t “really saved.”
One such visible change—one “fruit” that lets others know the person is really saved—is choosing good music.
But holy living, with its “fruit,” is not the be-all and end-all of fundamentalist priorities. Rather, as fundamentalist author Fred Moritz put it in his book on separation, “God’s purpose for the separated Christian life, or holy lifestyle, is…for the believer to have an effective, powerful witness in the world.”
To put that in the context of music: one major reason to choose good music—to practice personal separation in the area of music—is to have such a witness.
Witnessing through the “New Song”
This passage from the Psalms is often cited as the source for the belief that choosing good music is a witness to unbelievers:
I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord. Ps 40:1-3
Like the psalmist, a born-again person should have a new song—and this new song can be so powerful a witness that it brings others to salvation.
Note: fundamentalists differ on whether the “new” here means recently-written, new in the sense of “new to the saved person” (i.e. different from what they listened to as an unbeliever), or both.
Degrading the cause of Christ
A person’s testimony to their neighbors can promote the gospel or it can distract from it. Fundamentalists believe that if their behavior does not line up with expected standards, then they might degrade the cause of Christ. Retired BJU faculty member David O. Beale writes in his history of fundamentalism:
“Little things are also important; little things may only take a minute, but people do not soon forget. One word spoken in irritation can nullify in a person’s heart to all the truth one proclaims. … Any discrepancy between preaching and practice, between conversation and practice, or between profession and practice can cause the Lord’s enemies to blaspheme.”
If a style of music obscures the gospel, then it potentially risks an unbeliever’s understanding of the Gospel. Listening to and performing the wrong kinds of music can have eternal significance.