How Do We Judge Music Theologically?

7 Apr

 I “came out” the other night as being a fan of Taize-type chant, as a leftover remnant from when we were Episcopalians.  It is like this:

Taize is a community based in France in which people from around the world, mostly youth, go on retreat to try to get themselves sorted out spiritually.

It is a bit like a “light” version of Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri community in Switzerland.

While Christian in its underpinnings, the Taize theology is wide enough to come very close to embracing universalism.  It is also much more rooted in the liturgical churches (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran) than is Schaeffer’s Presbyterian L’Abri community.

The chants at Taize are in many languages, reflecting its international standing.  The above song is chosen because it is in English, instead of Latin, German, French, or Spanish, like the others on the album I downloaded.

It is also hauntingly beautiful, in my not-so-humble opinion.  I like that, while it is chant, it is not the “mindnumbing” chant of some charismatic groups where the same line is repeated for an hour without variation. This piece is intentionally orchestrated for 4:15, with different instrumentation (or not) on each repetition of the chanted phrase.  Very professionally done, with an eye toward taking it exactly where it goes.

I share it to open a(nother) discussion on music and theology.

What are the most important principles when judging a piece of music theologically?  For example:

1) Composition?  This piece is simple chant, with a long tradition stretching back to the Middle Ages or earlier.

2) Rhythm?  This piece has a perfect, relaxing 4/4 meter in its bass line no matter what the voices or instruments do.

3) Harmonies?  Four part, with some suspended tones; no syncopation that I can notice.

4) Words?  Mostly taken from Scripture, turned into the prayers of a heart.

5) Something else?  Someone mentioned the mission statement of Taize being short on theology and I agree with him completely.  So that opens the question of whether we need to investigate the theology of every composer before listening to his music or using it in church.

a) Should we use Handel’s Messiah, which is totally drawn from the Scriptures, if we can’t find a place in the historical writings that assures us that Handel was a saved man?  We may never know that for sure about Handel until we get to Heaven.  Can we still use his music in good conscience?

b) What about using “A Mighty Fortress is our God” if we don’t agree with Luther’s theology . . . or his anti-Semitism?

c) What about composers who are orthodox when they compose some music we use but later drift into heresy?  Should we pull everything they ever composed off of our shelves at that point?

d) What about “the weaker brother” argument in relation to the cover of the Taize album, which clearly features a crucifix?  Are we Protestants who know our theology perhaps in danger of lulling  less studious Protestants into blindly accepting all Catholic beliefs as equally orthodox, without realizing the many significant differences that exist between Catholics and mainstream Protestants, let alone between Catholics and evangelical Protestants?  (Aside:  I truly believe there are saved Catholics because I have many of them as friends. I don’t judge them.  Just pointing out that there are doctrinal differences and that doctrine does matter).

Thoughts?  I have numbered and lettered my thoughts to make it easier to track the many directions this discussion could go . . .


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