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John MacArthur's Lessons

The following excerpt is from a message delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, by John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC 70-13, titled "Questions and Answers." A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article. It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ. Christian Rock Copyright 1993 by John F. MacArthur, Jr.


Question posed to John MacArthur:

"I have a question about the "Christian Rock" movement. Is "Christian Rock" music non-biblical? And if so, is there any biblical proof?"

Answer:

That's a good question and we have answered this question through the years. Let me say it this way, "Is 'Christian Rock' music unbiblical?" A lot of music is unbiblical. A lot of church music is unbiblical. There are some hymns that are unbiblical. There are some Gospel songs that are terrible because they don't say the right thing. When you say "Christian Rock" that's a big thing, I mean that goes all the way from what some people would think is "Christian Rock," that's nothing more than a ballad, (but you know that if you are over 70 that's rock; and to a teenager that's "old people's" music) all the way to the "Heavy Metal," slam, bang, (you know) kind of trash music (well you know what I mean), to what now is "Christian Rap."

So you know that it's a big field, so what I would say is, here's some general criteria to use with any music:

1. Are the words distinctively biblical? Don't tell me you sang "You light up my life baby!" and you were talking about Jesus. That's not distinctively biblical, you could be talking about your sweetheart, your girlfriend, you mother, your daughter, Buddha, or anybody else. So that's not distinctively biblical language. OK? We are talking about, "Are the words distinctively Christian? Theologically accurate? Biblical?"

2. Does the means (the vehicle) which transports those words, which would be: tune, arrangement, style, fit those words? In other words, if I am going to sing a song called "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty" I had better be restricted to a certain "genre" [style, manner] of music or I will trivialize the profound. Understood? I can't sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy" to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Do you know what I mean? Or to some hip, snap your finger, rock beat, because that trivializes the profound.

So I want to find a vehicle, musically, that will move those lyrics on a level that they are worthy of. Now if I want to sing, "I am so happy in Jesus. I am really enjoying my Christian experience," [then] I can turn the tempo up. If I want to sing about the fact that life is bitter, life is painful, I might chose some kind of a "Blues Mood" to do that. There has to be some sense about that, and one of the things that I just can't comprehend in "Rock" music is to take profundity and trivialize it with the kind of music that is trivial. Or worse (I guess) is to take profound lyrics and profound theology and put them to cheap musical style, that is not lofty in terms of it's musicianship; it's not lofty in its terms of its ability to comprehend music as such.

3. I don't ever want to use a style that will drag down the content. It is highly unlikely that I can put the gospel, for example, in a very contemporary musical "genre" and elevate the "genre." Do you understand? The tendency is going to be to pull the gospel down to that level. This is new; there was a song (I have used this illustration before and I'll use it again), there is a song that came out in the "schmaltzy forties" when everything sleazy, barroom, kind of crooning. The pop music, the big time music, was all the crooners, and songs were written for the Church like that. One of them that was very popular (and I remember it even as a kid) "I'm in l-o-o-o-o-o-v-e, d-e-e-e-p-ly in l-o-o-o-o-ve with the l-o-o-o-o-o-v-er of my soul!" Yuk! That is terrible, because now what you have got is [that] you have reduced loving God to some "schmaltzy" sort of sexy relationship that you put in a song sung in a barroom. See, the Church isn't new at doing that.

So what I'm saying is, you have to be very careful, because musical style can communicate so much culture, that all it does is take profound gospel truth and pull it down rather than the truth elevating the music (it usually works the other way).

4. This is a simple one: Amos 5 says, "Stop your songs, your hearts aren't right." I would simply say this: all I would ask of a musician is whatever musical style he chooses to use, I want to know that he is filled with the Spirit. Because if the Spirit of God is using him, his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit will come through in any musical style. He'll modify it enough so that it doesn't cheapen the profound. If his heart isn't right, God doesn't want to hear his songs, that's Amos, chapter 5, "Stop your songs, your hearts aren't right." Go back, get your heart right and then come and sing your song to me. I really believe that you leave it at that point; if the heart of the musician is right, it is amazing how many different kinds of forms and styles he can communicate the truth in. But those are the tests that I would use in that issue.


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