Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rock & Roll, etc... Is It Risky?

(Pic of bubble wrap man... is he safe?)

Here's the second installment of a frank and thought-provoking interview with theologians Dr. Glenn Kreider and John Adair. If you're just coming on board, you'll want to scroll down and see where we started this series on Tuesday.


Let's pick up where we left off before: Phil 4:8 tells us what we should think about. Most rock music probably doesn’t fall under the “pure” category. Do we put ourselves at risk when we depart the Christian music scene (Christiain radio in the car, etc.) and start venturing elsewhere?


We put ourselves at risk doing all kinds of things. We risk gluttony every time we sit down for a nice meal. We risk pride or vanity every time we look in a mirror. Yet we still eat dinner and still give our hair a good look before heading out the door. The choice before us should not be to either drown in a sea of impurity or put our heads in a hole in the ground. Jesus told us to be in the world, but not of it. Thus, the choice for us is not where we are (in the world), but rather one of approach (how we are going to be in the world). To that end, I might ask of music and art: What do we make of those things we encounter in the world? What about this song is true? What about it is false?

Dr. Kreider:

Nothing is pure in a fallen world. If Phil 4:8 means we can only listen or read or spend time with things which are pure, we would need to leave the world. Note that Jesus (John 17) explicitly rejected that option. Also, much of the Bible would be off-limits for our reading as well. The Bible includes a great deal of tough stuff (see Judges for the stories of Samson, not to mention chapters 20-21!). Further, since we are fallen creatures, corrupted to the core of our being, and will one day die as evidence of our innate sinfulness, it would be hard for any of us ever to be considered pure (apart from the grace of God). If the goal is to separate from impurity, we would have to separate from ourselves.


Then what is Paul talking about in Phil 4:8?

Dr. Kreider:

I suspect that Paul in Phil 4 does not mean that we walk through this world with blinders on, but that we train our minds to focus on God and godliness. But we cannot escape the crappiness of a fallen world. And we should not try, for two reasons. First, we do not appreciate the hope we have if we view this world as already redeemed. Seeing this world for what it is, seeing ourselves for what we are, increases our longing for the new creation. Second, seeing the effects of sin in us and in the world should develop our compassion for the world and its inhabitants (human and non-human) and make us better representatives of the one who loved the world (the creation) so much that he sent his Son and of the one who demonstrated how we ought to live in a fallen world by becoming one of us and coming here to live among us and the one who now indwells us as agents of redemption in a fallen world.


There’s a great song by a guy called Sufjan Stevens called John Wayne Gacy Jr. In quiet tones he offers a brief description of this historical figure, a man who molested and killed over 20 boys. Obviously due to the subject matter, and having a son myself, it is difficult to get through. The song is about dirt and filth and all that goes along with such a person who would commit crimes like that. And while it doesn’t devolve into explicit language, it certainly wouldn’t be the first thing one would think of as pure. Yet in spite of that, the way Sufjan portrays this man as a human being, and, rather than pronounce judgment, shines the light on himself, offers a redemptive purity alongside this terrible story, a purity that those poor boys never knew.

By taking this approach to songs like that, the questions then become broader: The first question isn’t necessarily about this particular word or that particular moment, but about how the material is treated. What is the overall sense of the piece? How is the topic treated? Are things like honor, truth, nobility, and purity seen as virtuous? Of course, one must always be attentive to one’s conscience, and as the particulars of this song or that film violate those boundaries, the individual must respond appropriately. No song is worth one’s conscience.

Dr. Kreider:

By the way, some “Christian” music isn’t very pure either. Some of it has pretty sloppy and even erroneous theology, especially related to the trinity. Some of it is silly and sappy “Jesus is my lover” kind of stuff. Personally, I would rather listen to non-Christians describe the struggle of living in a fallen world than to listen to Christians claim that they have perfect, satisfied, and “blessed” lives. I would not recommend it necessarily, but Godsmack singing “I’m running blind” or “I need some serenity” encourages my faith and hope more than some of what I hear on “safe” radio stations. I would rather listen to Bono sing my testimony that even though on the cross Jesus loosed the bonds of my shame I still haven’t found what I’m looking for than to listen to some Christian cover the song and change the lyrics to “Thank God I found what I’m looking for.” (I heard a Christian artist do that and in so doing she turned the song of hope into a tragic and sad testimony of hopelessness. If one has already found everything she is looking for, she has settled for way too little. The Bible explicitly teaches that we have only received a down payment, the first fruits of what is to come.) I haven’t found what I’m looking for and that’s why I keep running. I am looking for a city whose builder and maker is God, a place were there is no sorry, shame, crying or pain, a place where the streets are paved with gold and have no name, a place where the triune God makes his dwelling on the earth and lives with us forever and ever.


We bought a U2 DVD and were enjoying it with the kids… then all of a sudden Bono lets loose with the "f" word. We immediately took it off the kiddy playlist… but should it come off ours, too?

The answer to this question coming soon...

(Photo by doubtingthomas blog; see
for restrictions.)

My Dream Job: a Christian "Oprah" (Dr. K... oops. Improper adjective use??)


James Somers said...

We must be sure also that we don't cause others to stumble with what we partake of in this world...freedom is not meant to hinder others...Paul said he would abstain from meat if it was going to cause another to stumble. likewise we must not "vex" ourselves with the filthiness of the world as Lot did and had no witness among anyone around him. There's a big difference in observing a cesspool and wallowing in it.

James Somers said...

questions to ask yourself before you partake of something in this world:
Will this make me appear to be ungodly?
Will this hinder my testimony?
Will God be happy with what I'm doing?

People in this world are watching us as ambassadors of Christ...when people are depending upon our words and deeds to lead them out of eternal hellfire, we had better be careful how we present ourselves in this world.

Sarah Onderdonk said...

Hi, James!

The idea here is not to wallow in areas that lead to sin. But to free ourselves to experience a range of media that explores truth. God, after all, is alive and at work in art forms outside strictly defined Christian entertainment.

You have raised something here that I know is of concern to others. And we should all be mindful of the impact of media exploration not only on ourselves but on others. I wrote a term paper recently on a periscope in Romans that shows how God permitted people to sink deeper and deeper into the sinful beds they made. I did a little armchair culture analysis on America from the 1950's to today and you can definitely see "progression" in terms of moral slippage. (I think it would be very cool for someone to study this topic from the perspective of history... the "pendulum swings," as one of my classmates termed it, of moral decline/correction throughout history. Maybe someone's done this?) But it does seem that we suffer today from a kind of desensitization as tolerance levels for attitudes and behaviors that once would have been "shocking" are more acceptable if not fast becoming the "norm."

So is there the risk that Christians can become desensitized to the point that we are, as you warn, wallowing somewhere evil? It happens, sadly, all the time. Is music a gateway? Some older Americans still blame the Beatles for the scourge of drugs in the U.S. Whether or not that's part of the story, rock 'n roll is here and it's here, no doubt, to stay. It has influenced several genereations now of musical appreciation and, like anything else, some of it's good, some of it's not.

I think the operative word for us, as Kreider/Adair have said, is conscience. Two aspects to this. First relates to "me." What, in good conscience, can I listen to? It might be different for me than it is for you. Second relates to my influence on "you." What, in good conscience, can I lead you to consider? This requires discernment on my part. I'm probably not going to shove an edgy CD in the face of my friend who's a new Christian (unless I discern that's actually the best way to reach her). She's most likely going to need a different kind of food to fuel her fledgling spiritual walk. And I should be sensitive to that. When I became serious in my Christian walk, I immersed in Christian contemporay music for years. This was something, for me, that was important and necessary.

This is a bit of a rambler... but one last thought here. My boys, as you know, are young. Especially in the early years, Todd and I were absolutley single-focused on the rigors of caring for babies/toddlers. I stopped listening to most music. We almost never went out as a couple(a mistake). For a period of several years, we just checked out on everything but children's activities and national/world news. A few years ago, I went to a mall downtown and discovered that fashions had changed (no kidding). I turned on the Grammy's and realized that I knew almost no one (though music is one of my life's passions). My dear and lovely friend Jamey was aghast even recently that it took me five seasons to turn on American Idol.

It struck me like a thunderbolt that checking out on "culture" was tantamount to becoming a fossil. How as a writer could I reach people without an understanding of where they are coming from culturally? How can I empathize with someone if I don't understand their plight?

I was pleased with the way this interview came together because it really gets at issues that are a lot bigger than music and movies. It strikes the heart, I believe, of how we are to relate to those whom we serve.

It's a complex issue.

I think your three questions are fantastic. I think if we operated within that framework, we would be quite effective. I also think there's considerable latitude within that framework to understand the world in which we live.

Thanks for posting, James!

Kreider said...

Some thoughts: On more than one occasion Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners, with spending too much time with them, for doing the things that they did, for not keeping his disciples in line. I wonder if perhaps I ought to be a little more like Jesus? Perhaps I should not care as much about what Christian people might think about me and care what people who don't know Jesus might think about him. Perhaps in order to understand what it is like to live without hope, I need to hang out with hopeless people. Perhaps Lot (whom Peter calls a righteous man) is an example to be emulated not one to be avoided. Perhaps the one who is in me really is greater than the one who is in the world. Perhaps I can change the world (or, be used by God to bring change) by being with those who need to change. Perhaps I need not be so afraid of "the others" (an excellent movie, by the way). Perhaps I should care more about what unbelievers think of me than what believers do. Perhaps the incarnation is more than a means by which God provides salvation for me, but really is a model for ministry. Maybe self-preservation and protection of reputation should not be as important to me as self-sacrifice and giving up my rights. That the creator of the universe condescended to become one of us, to not only walk around with us but to take on the corruption and death of our world might indicate that he wants me to do the same thing.