Music and Evangelism

(Olivia Davis) #1

Hi y’all,

I was reading a thread in which people were listing their favorite worship songs, and a question popped into my mind, so I thought it was time for me to make my first topic (am I doing this right? maybe?)!

Here’s my question: What are the potential roles of music in evangelism as they relate to apologetics?

I’m thinking about Steve Job’s comment to the great cellist Yo-yo Ma,“Your playing is the best argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of God, because I don’t really believe a human alone can do this.”

How might music itself might be an argument for God?

Also, if that’s the case, how should a musician (any genre, not only overtly Christian) approach his or her music-making?

I’m very excited to read everyone’s thoughts and get different perspectives on this question!

(Jimmy Sellers) #2

@Olivia_Davis, Here is an article that argues that music is unique to humans and could be a point that can be made for apologetics.

(SeanO) #3

Great question @Olivia_Davis and interesting article from @Jimmy_Sellers! I certainly think that the ability to play music, like culture and language in general, points to the fact that we are made in God’s image. Below is an article on this very topic that makes a few good points. I think a succinct summary would be that no matter what type of music we play, we should perform at our best and our lives should be a witness for Christ to those around us.

To perhaps further the discussion, what originally inspired you to ask the question? Blessings!

(Jimmy Sellers) #4

I like NT Wright’s advice on how to read the Bible comparing it to how one would listen to a symphony…

(Brittany Bowman) #5

Olivia, you bring such an interesting perspective. As a musician, it is a question I have not considered, and it’s brought a lot of meaning to my work. Thank you for sharing this.

The heart longs for beauty, a yearning that directs our eyes upwards toward heaven and I think is in part why music speaks so profoundly to our souls. RZIM did an interesting event on the importance of art in apologetics, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and somewhere in the annals of their Facebook page is a partial recording you might enjoy. Personally, music has been an analogy of our Christian walk, specifically as an individual, following in the footsteps of faith giants, and worshiping with the body of Christ.

A musician receives a challenging set of music and spends countless hours perfecting each measure. The musician cannot fully understand what the finished product will be, but he trusts the instructor to have a greater plan and know if the music is suited to his abilities. It takes faith to begin learning a piece without knowing how beautiful it can be, but we are called to a similar walk of faith as Christians (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Additionally, singing great hymns can remind “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) as we revel in the truth written by our forefathers and sing from the Psalms. Sometimes, when it seems like the world is so uncertain, singing words of praise from others who have written these hymns as a testimony of their faith has been the greatest blessing. As a kid, I would memorize the hymns as I learned them, and it’s one of the greatest blessings now that I’m older. I’d challenge you to memorize a hymn this week.

Finally, we must produce music together in harmony, perhaps an ingenious design from God who requires His children to learn to live together as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). We each must trust the gift of talent God has specifically assigned us and listen carefully to the call of other followers, too. One great tragedy in church music today is the division between fans of contemporary and traditional musical styles. Both sides must remember our calling in 1 Corinthians 8 to not be a stumbling block to others can be a testament to Christ’s love.

There are so many more analogies to make here… art is a measurement of a society’s sophistication, yet even the most barbarbic cultures have enjoyed music, a sign of God’s grace? Once we have begun a piece, we must continue until the end, no matter whether the audience has become distracted, a reminder to faithfully run the race set before us? My mind is churning from your insightful post, Olivia.

Music, no matter the genre, relates to the human condition and helps the heart feel understood. The musician and listener can feel pain, joy, and fear, an experience that transcends languages to help us understand our human condition. As apologists, we can draw this analogy towards Christianity. Abdu Murray describes how Christianity, in contrast to the other major world religions, meets us in each human experience. We are reminded God became man and experienced the same pains and joys we experience. As apologists, we can use music’s connections to begin meaningful conversations as we discuss the heart’s desire to be understood.

I’d love to hear how you bring praise to God through your artwork. I can tell you have a beautiful heart for God.

(Olivia Davis) #6

@Jimmy_Sellers, Thanks for sharing this! It was such an interesting read and I really enjoyed the video that went along with it! I think you’re right – the uniqueness of music to humanity is very interesting. I wonder if our craving for beauty is God-given? That the existence of our music reveals a longing for something greater than ourselves?

I also really loved the video from NT Wright. That’s such a perfect analogy to how we should understand scripture – reading it, absorbing ourselves in it, as though we were listening to a symphony. I’m going to think about that next time!

(Olivia Davis) #7

@SeanO, thanks for sharing this article. I really enjoyed this line from it:

Our music isn’t about us. It’s about drawing attention to the God who gave us music in the first place.

I think that totally answers my second question – the musician should approach his or her work as an offering.

@Brittany_Bowman1, I’m suddenly seeing all these parallels between practicing music and walking with Jesus – what an interesting and illuminating perspective! I never realized how using music could be as a clarifying analogy in so many different situations. I also really like the idea of how music is like a universal language, uniting us together. Do you think that there are differences in the performance of a hymn or a piece of classical (or secular) music by a Christian, or do you think that all performances can be conduits for transcendent experiences that point to toward God? (Also I’m delighted to talk about drawing – perhaps we should make a topic for visual art?)

And to answer @SeanO’s question – While I was listening to several of the songs on the worship music thread, they seemed to so clearly speak to me about the reality and love of God. The Jobs quote I had stored somewhere in the recesses of my mind came to me.

Perhaps to sharpen my question, though, I’m wondering how might we respond to someone (not a theist) who says, seriously, that a beautiful performance of Bach is the strongest argument for God they’ve ever heard? I don’t think that this is a hyperbole because we’ve made several points that seem to validate this idea – music does give us an experience of something other-worldly, in that it can be a uniting force for all mankind, and it can be an illuminating force in understanding our relationship to and with God. Perhaps we might think along the lines of how our desire for music is an outgrowth for a deeper, and equally universal, longing for God? (Just an idea).

(SeanO) #8

@Olivia_Davis Great question - I think in the event that someone shows openness to God as a result of music, we have a foundation for pointing them to the God of Scripture. Out of curiosity I looked up some naturalistic explanations for why we enjoy music (from the following articles).

How would you respond to these claims? How can we argue that the enjoyment of music points uniquely to God?

I think one point is that music exploded onto the scene. As far as we can tell from historical records, the love of music did not develop slowly over time. Culture - music, dance, language - seems to have simply appeared - much like the Cambrian explosion in biology - there was a cultural explosion in history.

What are your guys’ thoughts?

These explanations include theories as to why we adapted in such a way that music causes dopamine to be released and therefore enjoyment - some of these explanation are as follows:

  1. Harmony with nature, which has rhythm built in
  2. group solidarity
  3. frightening predators
  4. aided in development of language

(Jimmy Sellers) #9

Let me throw one more log on the fire :grinning: In one of the RZIM modules (Bible or doctrine, not sure) I was introduced to the work of Jeremy Begbie who teach at Duke and has written numerous books on the subject of this thread. I have not read it but it is in my to be read stack. Enjoy.
PS: He have lectures and the like on utube.

(Olivia Davis) #10

@Jimmy_Sellers Thank you so much!!! I’m so excited about this!!!

(Rob Wren) #11

Hey Olivia, great first post! As far as a different genre, I can’t believe I saying this, but Justin Bieber is now singing worship music as part of his set on tour. We have this kid, that most people could not stand, and now hes making a difference. He has song worship music to more than 80 million fans and counting. I know he stayed with the head pastor of Hillsong New York for a month or something, and it changed his life. It’s incredible what God can do!!! He’s just that good.

(Brittany Bowman) #12

Olivia, another topic would be wonderful to continue to pursue how artwork can be used. I am not skilled in this area, but I would enjoy learning from others.

I played in a tiny, country church where if the piano pedal didn’t break, the pastor was on time, and the secretary printed the right hymn numbers, we could really make those hymns ring, haha. People loved the old hymns because they were familiar and spoke truth. I’d love to see someone in apologetics break down the lyrics to analyze the huge promises of hope in lyrics like Amazing Grace. It could make apologetics so much more accessible to others. (I’m closing my eyes right now and envisioning how confidently and beautifully the folks at home would sing if they realized some of the truths I have found in apologetics within those lyrics.)

This is a gray area, but I think secular music addresses the broken human condition. I find myself singing loudly with the radio when a particular song describes an experience I have had. For 3-4 minutes, I finally feel understood amidst the daily adventures of life. What a great analogy for a Savior who came down from heaven and experienced human brokenness. Personally, I think selecting music must be a heart question. Secular music can help me realize my human longing to be understood, but if I stop there, I am in the trap of only celebrating my imperfect human condition without praising the God of hope who rescues me from that condition, making it a dangerous tool to be used in Christian worship. Perhaps if we were more willing to discuss secular music’s lyrics in our everyday conversations with the unsaved, we could use it as a bridge to deeper conversations of Christian truth within the hymns.

(Adam Taylor) #13

Hmm. I’m just starting to think on the apologetics of music, but the first thing that comes to mind is that music always comes from a musician, composer, arranger, etc. i.e. it comes from intelligence. Another point might be that there is order to music. Certain notes and pitches go together together to create chords and so on. The random mixing of different tones is simply noise and doesn’t generally create any kind of harmony. Thinking about the four naturalist explanations SeanO shared, like most naturalistic explanations they seem to reduce everything down to being about reproduction or survival. Theres no room left for someone to create a song simply because its fun or beautiful. I’ll keep thinking on this one.

(Jimmy Sellers) #14

I have to throw in the fact that you don’t have to be musician to understand the language :grinning: which to me is even more amazing. To think you can be minding your business and suddenly you feel a desire to smile or cry just because you hear strange sounds. Even more amazing when these sounds cause you to evoke a full range of emotions and deep reflective thoughts without being able to pluck or blow a note this is truly a language from God.

(SeanO) #15

@adam I think the argument is that we enjoy it now because our ancestors adapted to enjoy it because it somehow aided survival. But the archaeological evidence is clear that music exploded on the scene - just like fully developed animals. So there is really no evidence of this type of gradual process imho. Certainly the idea that God created us to imagine and create is a much simpler explanation. Music is more than just rhythm - it is an expression of our deepest hopes and longings and naturalism still cannot explain our consciousness - the very thing amalgamating all of those deep desires. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts after you have pondered more on the issue.

(Jason Walker) #16

AS a DJ I really need to think about this

(Jennifer Wilkinson) #17

@Olivia_Davis, thanks for asking this question. For years I’ve wanted to connect my profession (teaching violin and piano) more directly with apologetics and evangelism. I hope to have a chance soon to share the seeds of those dreams to get input on them, but I also know I tend to over-intellectualize things. I can’t ignore the most basic connection between music and evangelism – relationships.

I’ve built some incredible friendships through classical music. Since music speaks so much to our hearts, I wonder if making music together deepens relationships more quickly than some other shared hobbies. I’m excited about what God is doing in these friendships right now, and I pray He’ll open doors to share more than Beethoven, to share the hope we have in Christ.

(Adam Taylor) #18

The problem I have with naturalistic evolutionary explanations is that they are generally speculative and based on very little evidence (credit to David Berlinski for that line). I don’t know how anyone would actually prove that the modern symphony has its roots in the pack howl or mating call of some primitive ancestor. The closest thing to research that many Anthropologist do is study primates. However G.K. Chesterton makes a good point in his book The Everlasting Man that there is not a difference of degree between other animals and humans but a difference in kind all together. It seems to me that the naturalist explanation of music must go back to Darwinian type explanations because everything else has already been ruled out. Just like in C.S. Lewis’s illustration in the The Abolition of Man where the authors of the text book argue that there can be no such thing as a sublime waterfall, there can also be no such thing as a beautiful symphony because the category has been excluded all together. Any feelings of enjoyment at the conglomeration of different sounds put together must be coincidental at best. But I think anyone who has heard a really good song knows that music has a way of shooting right past our intellect and hitting us in the soul. And that is very rarely accidental. Songs are written, composed, and arranged in specific ways to achieve a desired effect. From there I think maybe we can begin to think about how design fits into other aspects of life and creation.

(SeanO) #19

@adam Well said. I think the point you made from The Everlasting Man was particularly powerful. The naturalist has already ruled out the existence of the soul or the supernatural and therefore God, so they are incapable of coming to any conclusion other than one within the naturalistic framework. They have boxed themselves in and stopped their ears to any evidence to the contrary. I think they sincerely see no evidence for God in music, but it is because their heart and mind see through a set of glasses that filters out all thoughts that may lead in that direction. At the heart of the issue, as you noted from Berlinski, is not evidence, but presuppositions that are ruling out the supernatural.

I wonder how we can help people see past those presuppositions and break out of the box naturalism has put them in? Os Guiness says people must experience signals of transcendence that point beyond this world or challenge their assumptions about life. Perhaps music is one of those signals for some people?

(Brittany Bowman) #20

@Jennifer_Wilkinson It is so awesome to hear you are teaching music! I too play piano and violin. Some of my most influential moments as a musician were when my teachers would stop our lesson and draw a parallel to life with the music, for example how a certain practicing technique could be applied to overcome obstacles outside of music. They didn’t do it often, but over the years I still remember a few of our conversations, even though they didn’t always relate directly to God. We also learned how to read hymn music, since she said most musicians would play in a church at some point, regardless of their faith. That’s what first peaked my interest in those old, wonderful hymns.

It’s so neat to hear you are dedicated to fusing your profession and apologetics. I wish you music teachers could more clearly see the impact you have on your students, and it is exciting to see someone who cares so passionately about their work. I look forward to learning more from you here on Connect!