by Rick Pidcock
Earlier this week, Bob Jones University released its long awaited “Music Philosophy” paper, which you can read here. Over the past few years, I have purposefully stayed out of the fundamentalist music debates. But I’d like to share my thoughts regarding BJU’s statement.
I graduated from BJU with a B.A. in Bible in 2004. We then moved out to Denver, CO for seven years to help plant a church. And in the Fall of 2011, we moved back to Greenville. Since our return, I have attended a few BJU events, and have been pleasantly surprised by a noticeable difference from when I was a student. While I have my differences with the school, I write this response as an alumnus who wants to be able to support the school. And I believe that the vast majority of recent graduates and current students will be sympathetic to the perspective of this review.
Areas of Agreement
I am actually very happy with how much I agree with this music philosophy. First, I appreciate the desire to connect their use of music to the theological vision of the University. And second, I appreciate the acknowledgement that believers from different contexts will apply biblical principles differently. BJU’s acknowledgement of this biblical truth is a huge step forward from where they were when I graduated in 2004.
I especially liked the following introductory statement:
“Because we seek to apply biblical thinking and decision making to every issue, we must start with an examination of what the Bible says–or does not say–about music.”–BJU (emphasis mine)
The article then articulates five principles about music in general, and then five principles about sacred music in particular.
I agreed with all five of the general principles about music, which were:
- “Music should make me more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).”
- “Music should enrich my spirit in enjoyment of what God has created (1 Tim. 6:17).”
- “Music should edify my fellow believers (Eph. 4:11-16).”
- “Music should discourage in me the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21).”
- “Music should aid my testimony before the lost (Matt. 28:19-20) by demonstrating to them my devotion to God and distinctness from the elements of the world that are organized in opposition to God (1 John 2:5-17).”
Of the five principles about sacred music, here are the ones that I agreed with:
- “Sacred music should focus on the attributes and acts of God (Ps. 150:2; Isa. 12:2)
- “Sacred music should cause me to rejoice thankfully in God (Ps. 33:1; 105:2-3; 108:1,4), fulfilling the command to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength (Deut. 6:4-5; Matt. 22:37-38).
- “Sacred music should involve the congregation as well as the platform leaders (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-19).
- “Sacred music should encourage the unity of the church (Eph. 4:1-6).”
Those principles are not only principles that I agree with, they are principles that I would like to echo and draw attention to. The clear, biblically accurate interpretation and application of these principles are very refreshing and encouraging to read. And this approach is very different than the chapel sermons that I heard in 2000-2004.
Areas of Disagreement
The first area of major disagreement for me came in the explanation of the principle of sacred music which said, “Sacred music should be doctrinally sound (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-19), beautiful (Ps. 27:4, 29:2, 66:2, 96:6-9), reverent (Ps. 29:2), and fresh and vital (“a new song,” Ps. 40:3, 96:1: 98:1), not merely routine.”
To be clear, I am in total agreement with that principle. However, I have some concerns about what BJU said in the explanation section.
Here is the first section that I take issue with:
There are four basic problems with BJU’s application of these passages.
1. BJU is misinterpreting these passages.
Leviticus 19:27-28 is ultimately dealing with pagan mourning and offerings to the gods of death, which the Jews had learned in Egypt. This passage is not about having different hair styles from the culture God has placed us in, much less different music styles. If BJU is correct that Leviticus is about music style as an extension of hair style, then God would be contradicting himself in Isaiah by commanding the very thing that he condemned in Leviticus. Isaiah 22:12 says, “In that day, the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth.” So obviously the context points to something much different than hair style and music style. The Leviticus passage is warning against idol worship. And the Isaiah passage is a call to repentance. BJU’s decision to make these passages about music style not only misinterprets these passages, it cheapens the ultimate points of these passages.
Exodus 20:8-10 is setting apart a day of rest as a picture of the rest that we have in Christ. It is not saying that worship is something different than everyday activities.
Psalm 29:2 is a positive reinforcement of the beauty of magnifying the glorious name of God. Yet, BJU’s entire explanation is a negative warning about what worship is not, rather than a positive application of what it is.
Romans 12:1,2 is about having your mind renewed by the gospel in a way that transforms you to offer your entire life as worship to God. It is not about resisting “the natural pressure to recalibrate standards according to the musical trends of the unregenerate.” BJU is seriously reading things into the Bible that simply are not there.
2. BJU is ignoring other passages.
They do so most notably in the statements, “Our worship of Him should not look like activities that are not worship,” and “He expected worship to be distinct from everyday activities.” Yet, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” In other words, there are no activities that are not worship, and worship is not distinct from everyday activities. Rather, worship includes every everyday activity.
3. BJU is presenting an incomplete view of God.
They say, “Because God is holy–in a class by Himself, set apart…”. They then only try to apply those three Old Testament verses. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with somebody who had been an official representative of the University at the highest levels for 30 years. This person told me, “In the Old Testament, people were afraid to even mention the name of God. So we should be very cautious in our music style just in case God might get angry with us over it.” Many other BJU music philosophy proponents have also used similar scare tactics about God’s holiness to bolster their argument. BJU rightly acknowledges the transcendent holiness of God as described in Isaiah 6:1-5. However, in Christ, the holiness of God is transferred to us, the distant becomes near, the infinite becomes intimate, and the condemned become commissioned and confident in the holy presence of God (Isaiah 6:6-8). God was just as holy in verses 6-8 as He was in verses 1-5. But the gospel made a cowardly worshiper into a confident worshiper. And we can be just as confident because of the gospel.
4. BJU is missing what makes our worship acceptable to God.
Just as our souls are made acceptable to God only by faith in Christ, so also our worship is made acceptable to God only by faith in Christ. Consider these verses:
- “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.”–Hebrews 13:15
- “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
–1 Peter 2:5
BJU music philosophy proponents communicate that our music is acceptable to God through our choice of music style. They may not put it in exactly those terms. But they claim that some styles are unworthy, and some styles are worthy. Thus, their faith is in their music style, which is self-confident, self-righteous worship.
Music Policies at BJU
The statement says, “In the application of these principles, BJU’s music policies essentially will remain unchanged.” If all Scripture is profitable for correction and training in righteousness, and if BJU just did an extensive study on what Scripture says about music, then how can their applicational policies essentially remain unchanged? I thought that principles were constant, but that application may change. BJU is saying that even their applications will remain unchanged.
Questions and Answers
The statement then closes by answering three questions regarding the morality of music, associations of the song writers, and rock music.
1. Is music a matter of morality?
I actually completely agreed with their reasoning in this paragraph. They dealt very accurately with the extremes on either side. They communicated the subjectivity of music. And they said, “The elements of music (pitch, rhythm, tone quality and dynamics) communicate broadly but only imprecisely.” My only question here is that if music communicates so imprecisely, then why is BJU going to remain so precisely unchanged in their music application?
2. How do associations affect our music choices?
I was also in agreement with their reasoning in this paragraph, though I know I would probably not be as concerned about some artists as they would, which is fine.
3. How do we define rock music?
“When compared with the characteristics of other musical genres (e.g. folk music, patriotic music, classical concert music and traditional sacred music), the rock genre is distinguished by the combination of some or all of the following characteristics–sensual singing styles, dominating beat, heavy percussion, overwhelming volume and an overall atmosphere that counteracts self-control, especially when coupled in performance with elements such as defiant demeanor, immodest attire, sexually suggestive dancing or crude gestures. Attempts to couple worldly vehicles like rock music (and other pop styles) with sacred lyrics and settings create a moral tension for the believer and contradict the Christian’s call to a consecrated approach to life (Rom. 12:1-2).”–BJU Music Philosophy Statement
This paragraph completely bewildered me two particular levels.
First, the description of performance elements is completely foreign to my church’s worship. The reason I bring my church’s worship into this discussion is that BJU has blacklisted my church due to our rock music style of worship. Never once have I seen our worship team exhibit “defiant demeanor, immodest attire, sexually suggestive dancing or crude gestures.” So BJU is completely building a straw man here.
Second, the description of the rock genre characteristics seems to me to be taken straight from Scripture.
For the most part, I was very happy with the overall tone and structure of the BJU Music Philosophy statement. I agreed with nine of the ten principles about music. I also appreciate that they identified this issue as a “debatable issue” of “Romans 14.” That one admission alone would have never been made when I was a student from 2000-2004. My main concerns are that their philosophy is incomplete, and that the missing parts are very significant factors regarding the acceptability of our worship. By leaving these parts out, BJU has ultimately built a theological structure in which our worship is offered by faith in our style, rather than in Christ. By refusing to change their applications, they have become hearers of the Word, and not doers. And by expecting their students to live according to their extra-biblical standards, they have created an environment that the students for the most part have never and will never be in again. If BJU is serious about preparing young people for real life, then they should create an environment that allows for both strong and weak believers to exercise Romans 14 together, rather than forcing everybody to live as weak believers.
BJU started this article off by saying, “We must start with an examination of what the Bible says–or does not say–about music” (emphasis mine). I agree with that. And as a graduate who would like to support them, I would encourage them to re-evaluate how much of their music philosophy statement says things that the Bible simply “does not say.” I’m very grateful for the progress that has been made. And I will be praying for them to continue growing in the years to come.