Friday, December 16, 2011

The Gift of Secular Music




I hesitate to use the word secular in referring to non-sacred music since it reminds me of how the Amish are always referring to everyone outside of their sect as the English, with the implication, always, that while they are not being condemned per se, they are not of us which is what you must be in order to be accepted. The word secular has sometimes been given this property in Evangelical Christianity. Admittedly now and then it might fit but often it does not and that is why I hesitate with its use. Nevertheless, since it is here with us at the party, oh well. So then, what do I mean by “the gift of secular music”?

First may I be clear that I, personally, do segregate music between that which entertains me and that which I use for worshipful expressions (sacred or spiritual). And I am certain the begged questions of “what if some worship music ends up entertaining you” or some insinuated form of the question of the in-between meta will arise to which I respond that I recognize this but its vitality to the topic does not require addressing it at the moment so forgive my not pursing it in order to make my larger point (and forgive the protracted qualifier here, nothing worse than a PSA announcement before the show!).

God has granted us numerous opportunities for many dimensions of experience in this world. And as a believer it certainly is true that at no point should any of these cosmic extensions be experienced apart from the filling of God’s Spirit in our lives. However, this is where the problem lies for many. While it is true all things should be done in a spiritual state (that is, while being filled with God’s Spirit) not all things we do are spiritual in nature.

Eating is a human function, not a spiritual one. The believer is to be filled by God’s Spirit, not in order to make everything a spiritual function but in order to always be guided by God’s motives and Word. So to eat while being filled with God’s Spirit does not make food something that should be avoided because it is not a spiritual function, rather it should be an exercise guided by God’s Spirit which brings proper motivation (being led by the Spirit) and proper principle (God’s Word). And sometimes this may be greatly impacted by God’s Spirit and Word and at other times it may not be significantly impacted. Each case must be measured accordingly.

Take book reading. Many Christians enjoy novels of adventure and drama. The Bible does not forbid this. It is what some call adiaphora (ἀδιάφορα) which refers to “indifferent things” or as is often called - matters of liberty. And this is where we come with secular music.

Secular music certainly is to be enjoyed in the state of being filled with God’s Spirit which also means,  as I stated earlier, being guided by God’s principles. And the first thing we see is that there is no direct prohibition against it. So the second thing we must then do is understand what principles the Bible provides to guide us. And when we search, discover and establish the biblical boundaries of such music we may take advantage of the full pleasure of secular music being offered, again always while filled with God’s Spirit. I can further this point by naming a few principles but I won't because this is not the thrust of the essay (that is, the points themselves), and so for now I will leave that to the reader to discover.

I am reluctant to name a few of the secular performers I enjoy for the sake of weaker brothers or sisters. I genuinely am concerned that such naming of these may be stumbling blocks because they may represent strong former ties associated with sinful habits. However, I do have something more modest in mind.

The other night, PBS broadcast a program that was centered around Frank Sinatra’s music. The show was to raise money for PBS but my focus was on Sinatra’s music. I enjoy most all of what he does (he did get my verbal commentary when they presented him singing My Way, but he is dead and gone and could not hear it and the cat and my dear spouse both looked at me with a certain understanding) and so I sat there watching the program with the satisfying digestion of good musical entertainment. It was fantastic, frankly (yes pun intended).

So let’s expand this to today's entertainment since we still have secular music intended for personal diversion which does not violate biblical principles. What do we do with these? Well, my suggestion is thank God for them and praise our Lord for such gifts of entertainment which help us relax, be amused, experience emotions and motivate us and so on.

Just as you would and do enjoy many secular things, music, too, is to be enjoyed through the filling of God’s Spirit and the principles of His Word. But remember, it is not sacred music and it is not intended for such uses and it is no unusual thing to understand why, when people use music designed for entertainment or some non-sacred purpose, they find it very discomforting and out of place when they are subjected to attempts to use such in sacred or spiritual contexts. Thank you, Father, for the gift of secular music (FM, no static at all).

7 comments:

David said...

Very interesting thoughts on music. I think I agree with most of it, though I am still thinking about it. One small criticism. You say eating is a human function and not a spiritual one. Indeed? What of 1 Cor 10:31? What part of our behavior has zero spiritual implications, even if we don't sense them? Sex is a human function, but is it not a spiritual one as well?

Anyway, thanks again. I have been thinking some about secular and popular Christian music of late,and how one ought to relate to it. Appreciate your thoughts.

Alex Guggenheim said...

David,

The principle with respect to eating and sex is this:

"Anything that an unregenrate person can do cannot be, categorically, a spiritual exercise."

Even singing, itself, is not categorically a spiritual exercise but spiritual singing is because it moves from human considerations as primary to spiritual ones.

This would be the same with eating. Eating, itself, is not categorically spiritual, it is human since the unregenerate may and can do this activity. The difference for us is that we are to be filled with God's Spirit for all activities and bound by God's Word in principle for such activities. But it does not make such activities spiritual in nature though we do exercise ourselves spiritually when doing so.

The only "spiritual eating" I know of in the Scriptures is the Lord's Supper. And it can only be accomplished by those who are regenerated. Those who are not can mimic Communion but it is not happening in reality.

Sex as a spiritual function is somewhat ambiguous. I would be interested in what you perceive is spiritual about it in order to answer it.

But let me compare the above with what would be catgegorically spiritual activities. Some of them would be prayer, learning God's Word, singing praises to God and edifying one another this way and teaching God's Word. These are distinctly activities which, in order to actually be accomplished, require one to be alive spiritually. Again, the unsaved may mimic but they do not accomplish any of its realities.

On the other hand, the unsaved may eat and they do accomplish the reality or objective of its exercise which is feeding their body since this is the objective. Hence, it is a human function and not a spiritual one, though in doing this the believer does exercise himself spiritually in both being filled with the Spirit and guided by the Word, it still remains categorically a human objective and not a spiritual one; namely, the feeding our bodies. I hope this clarifies the landscape of my view. here.

David said...

Since you define spiritual as that which the unsaved cannot do, it stands to reason I cannot come up with an evidence of a spiritual exercise by an unregenerate individual that you will find satisfactory as an example. We are looking at this completely differently. I was taking the point of view that all human activity is intrinsically spiritual - not necessarily GOOD spiritual, but with spiritual overtones and implications. A man who does not eat to the glory of God makes an implied statement about his view of God EVEN STILL as he eats NOT to the glory of GOd. In that sense, I mean such activity is spiritual. I am in no way meaning to absolutely equate sex or eating or any such activity you call "human" with prayer, Scripture reading, preaching, etc. But it is my view that all human activity has spiritual significance - somme to the good and true, and some not to the good, and false. You write "Anything that an unregenrate person can do cannot be, categorically a spiritual exercise." But I am unprepared to concede that a pagan who can love his wife.or discipline his children....exists in a spiritual vacuum. In other words since a pagan can love his wife - how does that fail to meat the standard of a spiritual exercise? (You may argue in some sense it is not a TRUE spiritual exercise, but I do not see how you say it is not one at all.) Regards

Alex Guggenheim said...

Let me respond to your points to further clarify:

Since you define spiritual as that which the unsaved cannot do, it stands to reason I cannot come up with an evidence of a spiritual exercise by an unregenerate individual that you will find satisfactory as an example…I was taking the point of view that all human activity is intrinsically spiritual - not necessarily GOOD spiritual, but with spiritual overtones and implications.

The problem with human activity being intrinsically spiritual is that for a human to engage in spiritual activity they must be alive, spiritually. The Scriptures approach the spirituality of the unsaved as someone who is unregenerate, meaning not spiritually alive.

You write "Anything that an unregenrate person can do cannot be, categorically a spiritual exercise." But I am unprepared to concede that a pagan who can love his wife.or discipline his children....exists in a spiritual vacuum. In other words since a pagan can love his wife - how does that fail to meat the standard of a spiritual exercise? (You may argue in some sense it is not a TRUE spiritual exercise, but I do not see how you say it is not one at all.)

To love one’s wife or discipline their children does not require spirituality-or for one to be spiritual. A pagan can and does his wife. This is not a spiritual exercise; rather it is an exercise of the soul and mind. While the soul and mind are categorically inanimate as the human spirit is, the human spirit is only made alive upon faith in Christ.

Therefore, when a pagan loves his wife it may certainly involve the inanimate properties of the mind and soul but it does not involve the also inanimate human spirit which is resurrected (regenerated, made alive) upon our spiritual rebirth or being born again via faith in Christ. Hence, it is impossible for the pagan to act spiritually. However, as I said, because the properties of the mind and soul are like the human spirit (inanimate), possibly their activities are considered “spiritual”. However, in reality they are not, per the Scriptures since to be spiritual and act spiritually requires one to be alive spiritually.

But it does stand to reason that some lean toward spiritual ideas when the pagan or unsaved person acts with thoughtfulness, goodness and depth toward others. However, this is out of human virtue stemming from the human properties of mind and soul and the Scriptures do not treat the unregenerate as spiritual people.

Ultimately what I am bound by is the categorical view of the Scriptures with regard to what is and is not spiritual and with respect to humans. And the Scriptures categorically treat those who have not been regenerated as spiritual dead and incapable of spiritual activity, again, though they may be to exercise great human thoughtfulness, depth and consideration.

Alex Guggenheim said...

David

My error in the above. The word inanimate should be replaced with the word immaterial. I meant immaterial but for whatever Christmasy reason put inanimate.

David said...

We probably do not fundamentally disagree in the grand scheme of things, I think we simply are not agreeing on the meaning of terms, or are emphasizing different things. I say that because I compltely understand (or so I am convinced) your point of view, and the sense from which you speak. I think however, for whatever reason you have missed my point. You seem determined to define "spiritual" in a way that you seem to mean "genuinley, Biblically spiritual."

I understand a disctinction between saved and lost, spiriual and unspiritual as you define it. It's all wonderful - and fine.

However, all I ever meant is that there is no subject, no anything that is not intrinsically spiritual because the distinction between secular and spritual is artifical. I dont mean that in some oddball New Age way, I mean all of the universe, and all of the world and all of mankind and all of everything that exists is the Lord's. Which is not to say everything is redeemeed, or that everything is loved (or loved equally by the Lord.) When I fail to limit the word "spiritual" to only Christians I am not opting for or promting some sort of definition of spiritual that breaks down the doors and lets the unbelievers and Christ-rejecters into grace. Not at all. I merely mean to emphasize that there is no human activity WITHOUT spiritual overtones. We do not do ANYTHING outside of God's purview, and everything is JUDGED by a spiritual JUDGE and all I ever meant is this notion that there are areas of existence outside of God's reign and sovereignty is false. So, when I say that singing is a "spiritual exercise" for all, I merely mean that it either fails or succeeds as legitimate under the unblinking gaze of a Holy God. But it is intrinsically spiritual - falsely or truely, whichever it is. I think this is the Reformed position. Perhaps not well expressed, but I am not sure why it would be a source of heartburn.

Alex Guggenheim said...

David,

I do understand what you are saying. My disagreement is not on failing to understand what you are asserting rather that I am asserting, per the Scriptures, that when we refer to human spiritual activity it requires one to be alive spiritually which can only be true for those who have been born again-this is because such definitions are bound by the Scriptures for the Christian. I do understand what you are saying, though.

And yes, I am sure we have very similar theological agreement on fundamental issues. Thanks for the interaction.