Monday, February 26, 2007

Rock & Roll, etc... Context & Conscience

Continuing the dialogue on music & arts begun last week with Dallas Theological Seminary theologians Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair.


Hello, again! Let's pick up where we left off last week: We bought a U2 DVD and were enjoying it with the kids… then around track 4, Bono lets loose with the "f" word. We immediately took it off the kiddy playlist… but should it come off ours, too?

Dr. Kreider:

Ouch! My advice: always preview things unless you are sure you want the kids to see/hear it.

I wish Bono would not use some of the language he does, but God probably wishes I wouldn’t say and do some of the things I say and do, too. I believe this is a situation where parents need to make parental decisions. I would prefer that my young children not be exposed to things like this. Mute buttons come in handy. But there does come a time when our children need to live in a fallen world, face the reality of the world as it is. I wish I could protect mine forever, but I can’t. But I can choose what I show them. When they are with their friends, they will often see and hear things that I would prefer them not experience, but we can and should be intentional about what happens in our home.

This video raises another issue. We ought to think about how different cultures have different social norms and mores. Irish Christianity is different from American Christianity in many ways. I am from the Northeast originally. Evangelical Christianity there is different from here in Dallas. I’ve learned the hard way that certain words are considered very offensive to Christians here, when the same words are not heard the same way elsewhere. In addition, the context is everything.

Cultures (and sub-cultures) have different sensitivities. Cross-cultural ministry is often hindered by the failure to understand those issues. But to get more into the role of culture in theology would take us away from the question you asked, which is whether or not it is acceptable for parents to see and do things that are not acceptable for their children. It all depends. I do not think that it is hypocritical for me to watch movies that I would not want young children to watch. I think adults can and should have the freedom to experience things which are adult in nature. To use a provocative illustration which is intentionally chosen as an extreme example: I do not think that married couples should have sex in front of their children nor should they refrain from having sex because they would not want their teenagers to have sex. Or, less provocatively, just because I send my young children to bed at 8:00 p.m. doesn’t mean I need to go to bed at 8:00 p.m. Just because my five-year-old cannot drive a car doesn’t mean that I should not drive a car. Get the point?

The over-arching guideline is this: I believe that something that cannot be done in faith is sin. If one can watch U2 concert videos in faith, watch them. If one cannot do so, then don’t. Some people cannot hear the f-word without sinning. Those people have a hard time living in a fallen world. Just last night, in a “family” restaurant, the guy next to me was engaged in a drunken profanity-laden conversation on his cell phone. I did not ask to hear that and there really is not much I could do about it. I really wish I had had a mute button!


I can think of more than a few good uses for a mute button...


Some parents have the conviction that they not watch anything their kids shouldn’t watch. I wouldn’t make that prescriptive for all Christian parents, as I don’t see a justification to do so in Scripture. This seems to me then to be another of those gray areas. It also seems to me entirely possible (actually, probable) that most parents have a more solid foundation of belief and practice than their kids, borne out of the experience of life, and are therefore better able than children to sift the good from the bad, the helpful from the useless. So can you watch the Bono video? Sure you can. So long as your conscience permits. But if it bugs you, then don’t. No big deal.


George Harrison wrote a song called "My Sweet Lord." At the end, we find out his "lord" is Hare Krishna. Todd Rundgren wrote a song called "Light of the World." On the cover of the album, he's sitting in a lotus position looking seriously Eastern meditative. Shake the mold off and flash forward to 2007 and there are any number of mainstream rock bands singing songs that could appear to the listener to be pointing to Christ (e.g., Nickelback). If I discern they're talking about someone/thing other than Jesus... in the context even of salvation... does it matter? Do I cut them off my playlist because they're not dispensing the truth... or do I make the message what I want it to be and keep on rocking?

The answer to this question coming soon...

(Photo by dekeiter1160 used by permission. All rights reserved. See for more pics.)

Dr. Glenn Kreider (left) is a professor of theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and John Adair is pursuing his doctorate in historical theology.


katie said...

Two stories.

A few years ago I watched in horror as the 40 students in my youth program witnessed the Janet Jackson super bowl "mishap" projected on a giant wall in our church youth room.

More recently, this past weekend I took a group of junior high kids to a Mavs game. The men sitting behind us were drunk and cussing up a storm, the lady in the lobby was freak dancing with anyone who would join in, and there were creepy guys outside trying to get my girls to talk to them.

I was extremely uncomfortable with each of these situations.

But, I think I am learning that sometimes we protect people/things because they need to be protected and other times we protect people/things because we are afraid. There's a fear that says "if they are exposed to it they will become it."

I've observed this: most of the time the kids are looking more at me than they are looking at the thing I don't want them to see. They want to know how I'm going to react, what I'm going to say/feel/think.

Kids can smell the stench of the world no matter how innocent they appear to be. If we are around for the moments in which they see it explicitly, then, maybe we can model how to live "in" it. Maybe. It's tough.

Still, if I had known what was going to happen at half time, I would have turned off the Super Bowl...but maybe I would have done that out of fear.

Just some thoughts. Thanks for the interesting discussion!

Sarah Onderdonk said...

Katie, those are two very unfortunate situations you describe. I'm sorry that happened to you and those kids! We missed the garment "malfunction," but have been to several professional sporting events and unwittingly given our kids more than any of us bargained for...

I think you raise a critical point about how adults respond/react to circumstances... and how this influences our children. My dad tells the story of the morning he heard a blood curdling scream coming from the upstairs bathroom. He rushed up the steps to find out what dire thing had transpired. He found me... around age 8... standing on the edge of the tub in a state of hysterics.

You see, there was a gnat in the bathtub. Yes, a GNAT.

I know God made 'em... but to this day I have, um, "issues" with bugs. Praise God, I can now cope pretty well with "garden variety" things that creep and crawl. But I'm from Northern Virginia. And I never saw a flying cockroach there. The first time I encountered one of those... about the size of a 747... that had flown in my HOUSE... I reverted to 8-year-old hysterics. UNFORTUNATELY... one of my children was along for the wild ride. To this DAY... he is midly phobic about bugs. And I'm just about sure that it's my reaction to the flying cockroach that sealed the deal.

They are watching us... closely... and they are learning from us.

I posted a while back on my initial reaction to the season opener of American Idol. I despised how mean it was. I told my husband, Todd, that I won't let the kids watch it again.

But, you know what? I've totally changed my mind about that. If the homework's done, they can watch it until bedtime. And we watch it WITH them. And we explain to them that this is a TV show... and that this is a good way to treat people... that this is NOT a good way to treat people... and this is a provocative way to dress/dance... and you're going to see this kind of thing in the world... but it's not wise to flaunt our bodies, because, etc., etc.

One of us keeps the remote within close reach to get away from things we think are just too raunchy or, even worse, the creepy commercials.

As you said, it's tough. Todd and I wrestle all the time with where the line needs to be drawn around media that our children are allowed to see. The line is moving as the kids get older. But they are still young. So we're trying to be careful and discerning... but at the same time we realize that to "shrink wrap" them is ultimately not wise... because, over-protecting them puts them at a very serious disadvantage down the road.

Katie, thanks for your thoughts. This is an excellent build on the interview.

Sarah Onderdonk said...

p.s. we were at the local video store a couple weeks ago. usually, we kind of know what we're looking for and we are in and out. but we spent a bit more time there that night i was really struck with how many occult titles there are. old releases. new releases. everywhere we looked in that store (ex. children/foreign section) we were staring at some freaky DVD cover. the kids were, like, "Look at that! And look at that! And that one, too!"

it's really a shame...

John said...

Katie said: "Kids can smell the stench of the world no matter how innocent they appear to be. If we are around for the moments in which they see it explicitly, then, maybe we can model how to live "in" it. Maybe. It's tough."

This is articulated so well, Katie. The thing I like most about it is the willingness to redeem situations that we unwittingly find ourselves in. As parents, rather than place all the focus on our own discomforts, your statement directs us toward an others-first mentality. What can I do in the midst of this uncomfortable moment that will best reflect Christ and his virtues to my child?

My 19 month old son isn't picking up on such things yet, but a couple of months ago we were on a plane in which we pulled away from the gate and parked on the tarmac. Then they told us we would be sitting there for 90 minutes. At that moment, a guy two rows behind me drops the F bomb loud enough for most of us in the cabin to hear.

As I said, my son didn't pick up on it, but it offered me an opportunity to reflect on how I would react in such moments when they occur in the future and my son does notice. My hope is that the reaction will be seasoned with compassion for the guy, rather than compounding the problem by running away or getting angry and disgusted.

Thanks for your comments, Katie (and Sarah too!).

James Somers said...

several interesting things here to address:

1.) control--do I have control of the sitation, what my children are exposed to, etc...if I have control as a believer then I should control it so that God is glorified and that my witness before the world and my children is maintained. can I tell my children to do what I say and not what I do?? The examples of driving a car or marital relations are not contextually accurate, in my opinion. marital relations--sure kids, when your married, it's godly and given by the lord...driving a car--is not a sin and therefore is not part of this issue.

2.) If I don't have control of the situation then guiding my children through such a situation is key--ie...the person using profanity...I let my children know that profanity is not acceptable and thus they realize that this person is wrong in what they are doing...I might even throw in that I used to use the same sort of language before Christ saved me and changed my life.

3.) Can I partake of things that are wrong for my children in faith. Paul makes it clear that if we submit ourselves to sin, we become the servants of sin. christ is clear that if we sow it we shall reap it...God is not mocked. If it is a matter of what we expose ourselves to, like a U2 concert...then we need to be aware of what we are listening to for our own souls may be vexed as was Lot, who though righteous himself was powerless and defeated because of what he chose to surround himself with. We are feeding the old man many times and not the new...and we are being watched by a lost and dying world who we are to be a light to in this world. We can cause others to stumble, including our children if we aren't very careful!

Kreider said...

I am confident that I can speak for John and Sarah when I say that none of us would disagree with you on the issue of sin. None of us would defend the practice of sin. None of us would say that parents can or should sin while telling their children not to sin. None of us is saying that sin is acceptable. I hope that is clear.

I do not believe that listening to U2 is sin. So I listen to the music in faith. I do know people who could not listen to U2 in faith, and they should not listen, or at least they have the right to try to control their lives so that they need not listen to this music.

I think you make a helpful point about control. Parents do have responsibility to control what they can in relationship to their children. I also agree strongly with you when you write that parents should be taking advantage of teachable moments. Life provides many opportunities to teach our children life lessons. Thanks so much for reminding us of that.

della said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed the recent posts on music/media. I personally wouldn't want to experience a day without music. A couple of thoughts have stayed with me through the reading.

1. I agree that we are called to be His witnesses and we have a responsibility to lovingly refrain from behavior which may cause others to stumble. As I look back on my own life, my pride and self-righteous attitudes have been the greatest stumbling blocks. Several years ago, I ran into a man who lived in my apartment complex when I was in my 20's. He recognized me and came over and asked if I remembered him. He looked familiar, but I really didn't know him. He told me who he was and we began having a friendly conversation. He then said, "You are so much nicer than you used to be." He went on to say how he always felt like we (our Christian group) looked down on him and his friends for drinking beer and listening to rock music at the pool. I asked him to forgive me for being a Christian "snob" and we talked about our journeys with God. One of the things I told him, "I was afraid." (Katie mentioned this; it's so true.) I was afraid to enter his world, even though his world was not that different from mine. Different sins perhaps, but sin in both worlds. I guess what I am trying to say is that there are many ways to be a stumbling block. The question to ask is "how can I love this person?" For me personally, it usually means repentance from fear and a willingness to enter another person's unfamiliar world.

2. Sarah, you talked a little about media and our children. I'm often astounded at what parents will allow their children to watch on television (not thinking of A.I., Sarah,knowing how vigilant you are). I think it's our responsibility to protect our children as we teach them to relate to people in this world. But again, it seems like the real problem is the "why." Why am I saying yes or no to this? Do I let my daughter watch a movie that I believe is inappropriate so that she can fit in with all her friends? This seems like a greater sin than letting her watch the movie. I think we ought to look at what motivates our decisions. Is it fear or is it love?

Sarah Onderdonk said...

Romans: 14: 13-18

"Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or trap before a brother or sister. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean in itself; still, it is unclean to the one who considers it unclean. For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer walking in love."

Seems a key to understanding Romans 14 is the clause:

"For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat..."

This requires that we, like detectives or psychologists, try to understand as best we can where the other person is coming from. The illustration used by Paul relates to food. My pastor might say that "food" is analogous to "opinions" here. Paul perhaps is saying that there will be diversity in some of our opinions/actions. If our actions are objectionable in the eyes of another, we need to refrain from doing what we're doing in the presence of that person.

Using the food analogy, if I bring a bucket of KFC to a picnic lunch with a bunch of vegetarians who believe that killing animals is evil, that might be hurtful to them and selfish of me. But what I don't get out of Romans 14 is the sense that I should never eat KFC because I know of people who don't like meat. This seems to me to be situation specific as it relates to matters that are not FUNDAMENTAL to our faith.

So this leads me to consider what I would do with my U2 DVD that has the "f" word in it. (U2's lead singer is not shy about proclaiming his faith and some of his songs seem to point directly to Christ... so I'm very much liking some of the messages... but wishing, frankly, the profanity wasn't there)

Would I buy it for my 8-year-old son to give as a birthday gift to his best friend? No way.

Would I buy it for my friend who gets very upset over profanity? Nope.

Would I buy it for James (or any number of people who have shared the same concerns he raises)?
Probably not.

Would I buy it for Dr. Kreider?
No. He probably already has it.

Would I buy it for Della?
Yes. But I would tell her up front that Bono uses the "f" word around track 4.

Would I buy it for Katie?
I don't know Katie (but like her blog!). So I wouldn't risk it.

Would I buy it for John Adair?
Hmmm... might not be artsy enough.

Would I buy it for my friend who's exploring Christ or a new Christian?

Depends on the person and what I know about him/her. I'm thinking of friends who are cynical who love rock 'n roll whose hearts might be "softened" to the gospel message if exposed to music they can relate to that seems "real," bad word and all. (A case of God working good, perhaps, out of all things.)

I will reiterate what Katie said: tough issue. A tough and emotionally charged issue.

Very good discussion. Appreciate everyone's view on this. Della, good point about understanding our motivations. That, after all, is where the Bible tells us God is closely looking.

James Somers said...

We might do well to look at how the Lord will handle these matters when his Kingdom is established upon this earth.
He shall rule them with a rod of iron. The things that are debated about now, will not be here in his kingdom. Christ will enforce obedience during that time...does the Lord change his mind about sin from now to then? No, he is the unchanging God. But at that time he will enforce what he is longsuffering with now. Shouldn't we understand that even though God is longsuffering toward sin now, he still hates it. He allows Satan to work at this point, but he does not hate it any less. The bible still says that we should not be yoked together with unbelievers. This refers to their ways. We are to be separate, a peculiar people, seeking first the kingdom of God and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, not seeking ways to excuse sin and thereby promoting sin to a fallen world. If we do such things, is it any wonder that many lost people excuse themselves from Christ by saying I live better than the people down at the churchhouse? If we are profane and enjoy profane things then how can we say that we are obedient to the one who died to condemn sin in the flesh.

Perhaps we would be better servants of the Lord if we sought to please Him and not our own selves.

John said...

Hi James, I agree that God hates sin. I wish I hated it as much as he does, but alas, I still falter at times. And I wish this could go without saying, but I totally agree that we should seek to please Him more than ourselves.

The yoked with unbelievers passage you bring up is an interesting one. You talk about not engaging in the "ways" of the world. What does that mean, exactly? Does that mean we don't go to movies? Listen to music? Drive cars? Sin?

The Amish have gone to one extreme here, but most would say that they go too far. I don't want to assume which practices you think should be avoided, but maybe rather than referring to practices (like listening to music), a better approach would be to engage in such practices in a, to use your biblical term, "peculiar" way. In other words, I don't listen to music like the "world" does. I listen to it like a Christian, sifting what's true from what's false.

Pretty much every song ever written (outside of those that use only explicitly biblical language)has both true and false parts, so we've got to sift and work through those things in any context we find ourselves. I hope to approach such activities with the mind of Christ, a mind focused on what is true, a mind that hates sin, a mind that loves people, and a mind that wants to walk in the world in a redeeming way, pointing out the underlying redemptive themes wherever I go. But just because I am willing to give those things a hearing does not mean I vouch for their truth content.