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Music: Why the Perpetual Hill to Die On?

Music: Why the Perpetual Hill to Die On?
Sep 12 Tags: music | 10 Responses Print Save as PDF

This Sunday, at age 39, I attended my very first ever Christian hip-hop concert.

That statement probably shocked most of you. Some because I admitted to attending a Christian hip-hop concert. Some because it took me until almost 40 to attend a Christian rock concert. Some because I admitted my age in a public forum.

It had everything. The smoke. The lights. The dancing. The great lyrics. The energy.

I’ll admit…I was quite skeptical and somewhat judgmental. It’s emotion. It’s a show. It’s catchy. There’s a gut physical response. The clapping. The standing. The raised hands.

I both had fun, and I cried.

Soul searching

As I’ve reflected the past couple days, I can’t help but question many of my traditionally held views of music and contemporary Christian musicians. These men and women claim to be believers using these concerts to worship and glorify God. Though their methods, and the crowd response, is not my preference, does that make it wrong? Does its entertainment component negate any outreach or worship value?

Music prompts an emotional and physical response from humans. There have been studies on it. Elevator music soothes and makes you want to linger. Stores profit from that fact.

School fight songs and marching music energize. They produces feelings of patriotism and solidarity. 

People respond to music. Even in the church. Responses run the gamut from joy to sadness to peace to anger to frustration to encouragement. 

Are those responses bad?

In conservative Christianity, we often frown on music that elicits what we’d consider excessive emotion or physical response. Our ideas of what is appropriate are often ambiguous and arbitrary.

  • Smiling is good. 
  • Closing our eyes in contemplation is certainly acceptable. 
  • If it’s a particularly rousing hymn, we should maybe stand. 
  • Clapping works for Sunday school choruses-in Sunday school, not upstairs. 
  • Hand raising is out…except for the really liberal Christians. 
  • And if someone is crying, we’d wonder what in the world is wrong with them.

We’d rather err on the side of not gratifying the flesh and its desires. We write off most physical and emotional responses to music as liberal, worldly, and carnal. We aim to be in the world, but not of it.

But, why “err” at all? 

It’s a shame when we write off music because it results in a physical and emotional response. God created us with bodies and emotions. Why? He certainly didn’t have to. 

We are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Could that possibly include singing, clapping, hand raising, and dancing, as well as tears and quiet contemplation?

When I was standing at the concert, I cried. Was it because the music was sad? No. Rather, the lyrics reminded me of the path I’ve walked the past 5-6 years. It triggered feelings of triumph for having survived. It reminded me of how hard the trials were and that God has a plan for me, and my family, and He is working that out. It reminded me of God’s faithfulness.

Speaking of God’s faithfulness, and singing…there were several months back when my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, that I stood or sat at church, and bawled through the singing. I couldn’t sing Great is thy Faithfulness. I knew the truth of that. But, I couldn’t choke the words out. I was broken. But, even listening through my tears for months, God used those familiar old and new hymns to soothe my soul and bring comfort to my heart.

I love many music genres. I love cranking up the catchy tunes and lyrics of The Greatest Showman while I’m cooking. It puts a spring in my step, and some fluff in my batter.

On the other hand, I was raised with very conservative Christian music. And I love the hymns. I love the history of the old hymns. I love how they’ve stood the test of time. I love the new hymns that are being written. I love their theological content. I love how they draw me to God, and make me bow in worship.

Physical, emotional, spiritual

As I listened to the lyrics at the concert, it was more than just a physical and emotional response.

There was a spiritual response. These were songs of surrender. They were songs of worship. Of acknowledgment of who God is and what He does.

The physical and emotional response to the music neither equates nor negates the spiritual response.

I listen to music. I talk about music. I sing. I teach music and music history. I attend concerts (just not CCM concerts). I write about music. I love music. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Music is important to almost all of us. It is woven into the fabric of our lives, memories, theology and philosophies. Our strong opinions are apparent in our music preferences.

Which is why we make music our hill to die on.

But, are we dying for the right reasons?

Are we dying on this hill because we are uncomfortable with the way people are responding to the music? Are we dying on this hill because the style is not ours? Or are we dying on this hill because the lyrics are not Biblical? Are we dying on this hill because we think the music is not glorifying to God? 

What does God say is glorifying to Him? 

  • We glorify God when we bear much fruit. (John 15:8)
  • We glorify God when we offer thanksgiving as our sacrifice.(Psalms 50:23)
  • We glorify God when we live a holy life. (1 Peter 2:9)
  • We glorify God as we are changed into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:28-30)
  • We glorify God when our light shines bright and others see our works and glorify God. (Matthew 5:16)

Do I think lights, smoke, and mirrors is necessary or appropriate for church? Not really. But, they are tools-amoral- and can be neither right or wrong. They can only be used in a right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate manner.

Do I think these concert songs are appropriate for congregational singing? Not really. But, that’s the issue of singability not content or musical quality. Do I think these men and women in concert were just entertaining or putting on a show? 

Or were they worshiping and leading in worship? Were they attempting to share the gospel, and their Savior through this artistic device?

Honestly, I can’t judge that

And I certainly can’t judge that by the crowd response or by the stage effects. Because I’m not God. The only ones who know if they are truly worshiping is God and the person themselves. God knows the motives, God sees the heart. And even if they have the worst motives in the world it doesn’t necessarily mean that God wasn’t worshiped or glorified in those attending. 

Are there things wrong with some contemporary Christian music? Absolutely! But, are we willing to see any good in it? Are we willing to open our eyes to how God is being glorified through it? I can’t see hearts, but will I practice discernment about the fruit of their lives and music?

Is there room in our Christianity for this music and these musicians? Is there room in our worship for physical, emotional and spiritual responses?

Whether in pretense or truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18)

10 Responses to Music: Why the Perpetual Hill to Die On?

  1. beckyjenkinson

    Excellent article, Bernadette! Are we not to “make a joyful noise”?!! Heaven will surprise us! There are many new praise and worship songs that belong in the hymnal! There definitely many songs that are not congregational singing options, but that can touch our souls. Thank you for sharing!

    • Bernadette Veenstra
      Bernadette Veenstra

      I didn’t even think of “make a joyful noise” in this context, but it is so appropriate. Thank you for reminding me of that. How much joy is in our congregational singing and worship?

  2. Bobbiann

    I’m pretty open-minded about Christian music, but the section in this video from about 7:00-8:00 reminds me a lot of the prophets of Baal begging their god to show up: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JoC1ec-lYps.

  3. Cheryl Davis

    I’m not sure why we think that music written 100 years ago is the only valid music for church. I can’t imagine that Christians then had some special calling that Christians today don’t. Hymns are wonderful. Some of the worship music of today is also wonderful. About 24 years ago I helped start a street ministry. One person was catholic – but I think truly a believer. One went to a vineyard church. Each night one person would lead a time of singing. To this day I will sometimes chant a psalm — It makes me think about it more than just reading. We need to move away from hymnal legalism. Don’t throw them out, but have a bit more variety. My four teens love our small assembly — but they don’t love the limited music. They will be more likely to stay in the assemblies when they move on if we expand our musical vocabulary.

  4. Thomas

    I feel that this article is addressing two different issues: Modern, amplified praise and worship / concerts, and the use of modern choruses in the church setting. While they often overlap, I’m only going to address the first.

    My last concert was 3rd Day, 12 years ago. Two things really stuck in my memory. The first was that I told my date I wasn’t going to hop up and down (I called it the chicken-hop) during the concert. She did, and broke up with me after it was over! The other is something that Mac Powell said between songs: “We understand that you’re here to be entertained, and that’s what we’re here to do. If we don’t entertain you, we failed. But we can also glorify God or teach you something about Him while we do it.”
    I too was at the concert to be entertained, and while I appreciated the spiritual aspects of it, I found it also exhibited many characteristics with both the secular concerts I attended when I was younger and with the sensory manipulations I felt during a six month period of attending a Pentecostal meeting.
    So while I don’t have a problem with concerts by religious groups for entertainment, I think as a form of worship or religious experience, they blur the line between entertainment and praise – making it difficult to tell if our thoughts are motivated by love or by the loud music and energetic crowd.
    I’m not against choruses or new songs, just not in favor of music and environments that create false senses of spiritual celebration and intimacy in worship. I couldn’t tell if the people around me were sincerely worshiping or just hyped, but I suspect they couldn’t be completely sure about it themselves, either.

    • Bernadette Veenstra
      Bernadette Veenstra

      Thank you for your comment. This article was definitely addressing a couple different issues. The underlying issue is how we view worship and music. We are often judgmental. The two other issues I was trying to address is why music is so important to us (we connect through music. It elicits emotional, physical and spiritual reactions.). And, then out if that, if music is so important to me, might it be as important, or more important to others, including the men and women performing. And might that importance be based in worship, and not ONLY the desire to entertain. Also, on my heart when I was writing was the question…is it wrong for Christians to be entertained, even entertained at a Christian concert? So, though I didn’t outright ask all those questions, I tried to answer them, in a somewhat logical manner. Hopefully. =)

      I can appreciate your personal experience. And I understand and respect your decision. I would speak to your last paragraph. “I couldn’t tell if the people around me were sincerely worshiping or just hyped, but I suspect they couldn’t be completely sure about it themselves, either.” That was part of my point. I was there, sincerely worshipping. I don’t know hearts. Thus, I can’t judge if someone else is truly worshiping or not. Maybe they know, maybe only God knows. And that was my point.

      Thank you again for engaging in dialogue. I really appreciate hearing why people make the decisions they have made. While personal experience doesn’t trump scripture, not in the slightest, it definitely lends perspective when listening to someone’s position.

    • Mark Palmer

      I recently attended a “worship workshop” with Paul Baloche. On the Friday evening, it was a “concert” format and Paul stated very clearly: “I’ve never done a concert in my life. I only do worship and if you are here for a concert then your motives are wrong. As a worship leader it is always about worshipping the Lord and drawing people closer to him, not concerts.” All I can say is amen! The point is that we can’t paint an entire genre with the same brush.

      • Bernadette Veenstra
        Bernadette Veenstra

        While I mostly agree with this, I don’t 100% agree. I don’t love the fact that he is saying everyone’s motives are wrong. He is answerable for his own motives. I don’t see how he can condemn other’s motives. Also, something that might be wrong for him, might not be wrong for someone else.

        It begs the questions, “is entertainment for Christians always wrong? Is the genre “Christian entertainment” wrong?” My gut response to that thought is what Paul said, “all things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient.” Does scripture forbid entertainment for believers? Or does scripture prohibit believers from being in the entertainment industry? Again, Pauls’ response.

        • Mark Palmer

          I don’t believe Paul B. was saying entertainment was wrong. (I should have elaborated on the context.) I believe what he was saying is that a concert is ultimately about worship. The event was for people who lead music in churches and so the context was that as “worship leaders” people need to realize their music, while being done with excellence, is about the Lord and not them. I think he was also saying that for him, he always views his “performances” as opportunities to lead people to Christ.

          • Bernadette Veenstra
            Bernadette Veenstra

            Context is everything, isn’t it.=)

            I’ve really enjoyed the conversations I’ve had on this article. Thank you for sharing a great perspective.

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