Having Ears that Hear: A Practical Guide to Discernment in Contemporary Music -- By: Denis D. Haack

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 04:4 (Fall 1995)
Article: Having Ears that Hear: A Practical Guide to Discernment in Contemporary Music
Author: Denis D. Haack


Having Ears that Hear: A Practical Guide to Discernment in Contemporary Music

Denis D. Haack

Within the church, and without, discernment in music has become an issue. Within, believers debate the merit of “contemporary” vs. “traditional” styles in worship, and without, politicians accuse record companies of undermining the morals of young people. Interestingly, though we usually consider them to be separate debates concerning different issues in music, they do share at least three things in common. First, in both debates feelings run very deep, participants see their convictions as largely self-evident, and opponents tend to be demonized. Second, in both debates the argument is often finally resolved primarily through the exercise of power. And third, the debates over music both within and without the church reveal the need for Christians to develop skill in discernment concerning music.

For all its importance to the Christian mind and life, however, few believers have given much attention to discernment in music. “Most of us do not think about music objectively,” theologian and jazz pianist William Edgar writes. “We either pay no particular attention to aesthetic questions, and simply give way to what is happening, or else we nurture our likes and dislikes, our favorite traditions, and leave criticism to those who seem to care.” 1 Give way to whatever is happening or nurture our likes and dislikes—this sums up well how most Christians approach music, yet neither approach is sufficient. What is needed, obviously, is for believers—both musicians and nonmusicians—to be discerning in music.

Five Reasons Christians Need to Be Discerning in Music

1) Discernment concerning music is simply one aspect of Christian discernment, and discernment is essential to Christian discipleship. If our goal is to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), it will hardly do to exclude all those which happen to involve music.

2) Music plays an important role in the life of modern young people. “Day in and day out,” the authors of Dancing in the Dark note, “contemporary youth live simultaneously in the world of their parents and in a separate generational enclave created by the electronic media.” 2 It is not unreasonable to suggest that a significant portion of the younger generation will have their worldview molded in large part by pop culture. “Indeed,” the same authors continue, young people today “frequently shape the important stuff of their lives from the cues mar...

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