Rock Music and the Gospel
A Bit to Read
Rock Music & the Gospel
About a year ago I wrote a Bit to Read about whether the music the radio pipes into our homes and offices and cars and tractors actually helps us or hinders us in growing in the Lord. The article, entitled “Music Musings” (Issue 17, dd April 1, 2007), including the following:
NOTE: that the lyrics of today’s music oppose the Lord is generally accepted as fact. That the way the music is put together (ie, the melody and structure of the music) also opposes God is not generally accepted as fact. The Lord willing, I will come back to this point in a future Bit to Read.
It’s high time that I come back to this point. This Bit to Read, then, is not about the songs one sings, but is about the music that accompanies the songs. The purpose of writing is to support the position that “the way the music is put together (ie, the melody and structure of the music) opposes God.” I choose to make the point by drawing your attention to a book written by John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini, entitled Can we Rock the Gospel?, with as subtitle, Rock Music’s Impact on Worship and Evangelism. The book was published in 2006 by Evangelical Press, and is available from Amazon for some $10. What’s nice about this book is that both Blanchard and Lucarini had written previous books1 critiquing rock music (or its Christian version, known as Contemporary Christian Music or CCM), and both had received flack for their criticism from people (including Christians) who appreciated rock. In their combined book, the two writers respond to the criticism and answer the questions of those who do not want to hear that rock music undermines the message of the gospel. For those willing to hear, their arguments are persuasive.
As the title says, the book is about whether we can rock the gospel, that is, whether one can rightly use rock music to evangelize the unbelieving. To put it differently, Blanchard and Lucarini want the reader to consider whether it is fitting to join rock music with Christian lyrics. They answer the question with a resounding No, on grounds that rock music itself is not neutral. Rock music, these writers contend, conveys an anti-God message through the music itself – irrespective of what the words you sing might say.
1 Blanchard, Pop Goes the Gospel, 1993 and Lucarini, Why I Left the Contemporary Christian Music Movement, 2002.
First, what’s the ‘rock music’ they write about? They use the term “to cover a wide range of contemporary music linked to its original concept” (pg 12). More precisely: it’s a “generic term for the range of styles that evolved out of rock ’n’ roll” and rock ’n’ roll is “a form of popular music arising from and incorporating a variety of musical styles, especially rhythm and blues, country music, and gospel” (pg 53). They’re talking, then, about anything rock, from light to heavy, from the Beattles’ style of rock years ago to the latest grunge.
What’s wrong with ‘anything rock’? Characteristic of rock music is its “constant repetition of chord patterns, beat, a narrow range of notes or a rhythmic figure” (pg 53). Blanchard and Lucarini remind readers that the constant repetition of this musical style has a deliberate hypnotic effect. They quote Jimi Hendrix (and many parents will recall who he is), “Atmospheres are going to come through music, because music is a spiritual thing of its own. You can hypnotize people with the music and when you get them at their weakest point you can preach into the sub-conscious what you want to say.” A second indispensable ingredient to rock music is a driving beat, especially the backbeat (pg 55). The effect of the driving beat (it comes primarily through percussion) is again its effect of the hearer (including the player), for it mesmerizes the listener so that one becomes open to influence at an emotional level. Thirdly, the sheer volume of the sound can again have a hypnotic effect (to say nothing of the damage it causes to one’s hearing).
How do these characteristics of rock music affect its value as a tool to help communicate the gospel? Blanchard and Lucarini point out that the Holy Spirit works and strengthen faith through words. Yet if one drowns out the words through the sheer volume of the music, and if one dulls the mind through the beat and the repetition, how shall the word ever touch the heart of the (intended) audience? As a tool for evangelizing, rock music is patently inappropriate. The lyrics simply disappear under the weight of the music.
And say not, they insist, that ‘Christian rock’ is somehow more suited for outreach than ‘secular’ rock. “There is essentially no difference,” they write, “between the rock music written and performed by secular artists or by Christian artists. Stylistically and musically, they are exactly the same” (pg 71) – and the evidence is available on their pages. Again, “the lyrics of Christian rock songs may in and of themselves be respectful to God and Christian principles, but … Christian rockers are simply copying and imitating a music style that was created and inspired by men who in their lust for freedom –free sex, freedom to get high on drugs anytime they please, freedom to seek a god of some sort through altered states of consciousness, and freedom from any kind of authority– have rejected the God of the Bible” (74).
But, one wonders, is music not neutral? In a series of detailed chapters, Blanchard and Lucarini show that
- rock music “is based on its close connection with the occult and pagan religious practices” (chapter 4). The chapter concludes with the reminder that Christ has no accord with Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15).
- rock music has distinct “association with sexual immorality” (chapter 5). Given that reality, they wonder whether it’s possible to “use rock music without any danger of becoming tainted by its immoral associations” (pg 119), and remind us of Paul’s words: “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity … because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3).
- rock music has close association with drug abuse, violence, rebellion, and blasphemy. After tabulating the evidence in relation to these four points, Blanchard and Lucarini write, “The Christian’s response should be obvious. No matter how much he may like the sound of the music he has no warrant to surround himself with material created by artists whose philosophies and values are in blasphemous opposition to the one who one is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Revelation 19:16)” (pg 135).
That’s not all. Blanchard and Lucarini have followed the effect rock music has had in churches where this musical style has been used. They mention the following:
- it encourages worldliness among the players and the listeners (pg 144ff),
- it encourages exhibitionism and self-promotion (pg 150ff).
- it mixes worship with “a stimulating form of entertainment” (pg 157ff). Yet the gospel is not meant to ‘entertain’ but to bring out repentance and therefore praise for forgiveness received.
- it waters down the holiness of God and the cross of Jesus Christ (pg 162ff).
- it widens a generation gap and splits the church into musical camps by age (pg 165ff). It’s a type of music aimed specifically at young people.
The conclusion is evident: this music is not neutral. The music itself conveys a message, it communicates a view on life that does not take God seriously; indeed, it denies the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It follows that one cannot rightly use any form of rock music as a means to communicate the gospel, let alone to praise the Lord God. Blanchard and Lucarini are adamant: rock music has no place in worship services, whether they be church services, outreach services, praise services, etc. The message of the music works at cross-purposes with the message of the words. In their own words: “Richard Taylor sums up the fatal flaw in the argument that Christian rock is somehow different: ‘We cannot change the basic effect of certain kinds of rhythm and beat simply by attaching to them a few religious or semi-religious words. The beat will still get through to the blood of the participants and the listeners. Words are timid things. Decibels and beat are bold things, which can so easily bury the words under an avalanche of sound’” (pg 211).
Should rock music have a place in the worship of God? These two writers answer the question with an emphatic No, on grounds that rock music has a message of its own, and it’s a message of rebellion against God and His Word, a message embracing freedom and independence from God.
Should rock music, then, have a place in the life of the Christian outside of the worship of God? Yet if there is no square inch of life Jesus Christ doesn’t claim for Himself, how can a child of the King appreciate what does not glorify the King?
February 1, 2008