The Battle for Christian Music by Tim Fisher

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This is a relatively good book taking the conservative side in the Christian music wars. Fisher does an excellent job of tracing the purpose of music as presented and found in Scripture. Music in the Bible was not for the purpose of evangelism but for praise, instruction and edification. This is a point well worth considering when vast armies of Christians are trying to reach the lost through music, and in the process are willing to compromise their principles to get the job done. Fisher challenges the idea that any and all musical styles are amoral, that only the lyrics make a song Christian or worldly. I believe that the author stakes out the right position, but when the rubber meets the road things get a little bumpy. Even if we concede that certain styles of music may not be honoring to God (which I think we must), who decides these things – and more importantly, on what criteria? Fisher suggests that Christian music is that music in which text, music, performers, and performance practices are conforming to the image of Christ (p.16). Good test and much can be objectively evaluated by this test. But unfortunately too much still remains subjective; how do we discern? Fisher says, “Bad art, literature, or music is bad because it lacks conformity to God’s character” (p. 26). Again, good principle, but hard to implement in many cases. Fisher says, for example that classical music is good music by this standard, but rock, and most country is not. This would be an easy line to draw in the sand, if only it could be proven. Who is to say that classical music is good music? Nothing in Scripture declares this to be so. As a matter of fact, classical style of music would have been totally foreign to David and Jesus and their generations. They would have not even recognized this genre of music as music. And would most likely, had it popped up in their time, it would have been condemned by biblical era musicians. This does not mean that classical is bad, but there is no scriptural basis by which we can declare it as good either. The same criteria could be used for all other types of music. I may not appreciate Jazz or rock or classical, that does not mean that it is ungodly. At the same time, Fisher is right to remind us that music is not neutral. Music affects us, sometimes deeply. Perhaps this is at the heart of the issue, and the problem. If music, any music, moves me towards sin in thought or action, it is inappropriate. But, unfortunately, what affects me in a certain direction may not affect another in the same way. I wish all of this were as easy as the author makes it sound.

I think Fisher is on to something when he writes, “Too often our opinion of a song is not based on the musical, textual, or even biblical worth of it – but rather on how it makes us feel” (p.104). This sensual approach to music needs to be carefully examined, especially when it comes to choosing music for our worship services. Are we attempting to develop a sentimental congregation or one in which the word of Christ dwells richly within us (Col. 3:16)? Are we attempting to please the romantic nature of our people or are we attempting to praise God? These thoughts, squarely drawn from Scripture, are some of the best parts of the book. Also good is some of his Old Testament history of music and musicians. Fisher’s chapter on Luther is excellent as well. Not so helpful is when he used Scripture out of context, brought his own eixegesis to the text, or simply made up what he wanted the passage to say. He did this far too often to not make comment. Still, this volume has enough to commend it for study.

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