Music and Evangelism


(Olivia Davis) #41

Hi Laura! So glad you’ve joined us.

When I read your replies, my mind immediately went to a scene in Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday. You might already know this, but just in case, McEwan is an atheist – he contributed an essay to Christopher Hitchen’s A Portable Atheist, if that gives you an idea. Yet this passage seems so…interesting in light of what we’re talking about.

In the novel, the protagonist, Henry, is a neurosurgeon and a convinced atheist. But when he listens to his son (ironically, perhaps, named Theo) play the Blues, he calls the music “otherworldly” and “inhuman.” It gives him an experience of order – in his words, a “coherent world.”

I’ll quote from the book. This is Henry when he listens to his son play, which makes him think about music in general:

“There are these rare moments when musicians together touch something sweeter than they’ve ever found before in rehearsals or performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient, when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything you have to others, but lose nothing of yourself. Out in the real world there exist detailed plans, visionary projects for peaceable realms, all conflicts resolved, happiness for everyone, for ever–mirages for which people are prepared to die and kill. Christ’s kingdom on earth, the workers’ paradise, the ideal Islamic state. But only in music, and only on rare occasions, does the curtain actually lift on this dream of community, and it’s tantalizingly conjured, before fading away with the last notes.” – Ian McEwan, Saturday. Anchor Books. pg.176.

We can see how McEwan associates music and religion, but he (as many modern secularists do) sees it as something the solves what religion attempts to do in a much better way. In the eyes of McEwan, it does a better job at creating community. At the same time, music is fleeting, and, in the next paragraph, McEwan writes, “Naturally, no one can ever agree when it’s happening.”

Of course, we see it differently. I think you, @lauragrace73, and @KMac are spot on with the idea of those “moments”… Music is a fleeting, subjective glimpse into what is ultimately eternal and objective. Praise God!!


(Kathleen) #42

@Olivia_Davis - thank you so much for the McEwan quote! It’s beautiful…and very fascinating. Esp. love the part about

…an impossible world in which you give everything you have to others, but lose nothing of yourself.

Isn’t that part of our ‘impossible’ Gospel? That, as we lay everything at God’s feet, as we gain more of Him, we don’t lose ourselves; we are transformed into our true selves? :slight_smile:


(Olivia Davis) #43

Isn’t that part of our ‘impossible’ Gospel? That, as we lay everything at God’s feet, as we gain more of Him, we don’t lose ourselves; we are transformed into our true selves? :slight_smile:

Oh, yes! Beautiful observation.


(Laura Prime) #44

It is fascinating isn’t it that even those with a secular belief can admit or even embrace the “otherness” of music. They will not be able to explain it, but will happily have “faith” in it. I think as evangelists with a particular interest in the arts, we have a big job to do in terms of reconnecting music to “religion” as some might call it, though in reality back to God. For many, religion is a barrier to a true, real and fulfilling life and many throw the baby out with the bathwater! @KMac @Olivia_Davis how would you try to convey this concept that music points to something bigger than itself, ie God, to someone who “loves music but wan’ts nothing to do with religion”? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!


(Olivia Davis) #45

Hi @lauragrace73!

I’m not sure exactly, even though I’ve been thinking on this a few days! It’s a surprisingly difficult question, isn’t it?

Perhaps we could say that music points to something transcendent, like beauty (transcendent in that they persist through time and cultures, i.e. we still enjoy the beauty of Bach’s cello suites). And such transcendental realities point to God, perhaps (this feels like a leap, so maybe we should flesh that out some more). So the fact that music (or good art in general) is effective in pointing to transcendent ideals would open the doors for the anchor of all transcendent, which is God. This is feeling conjecture-y – but perhaps it’s enough for us to think through some more?


(Melvin Greene) #46

What a wonderful discussion, @Olivia_Davis and @lauragrace73!

What is it about music that it seemingly reaches deep down inside us and awakens emotions we didn’t even know we had? What is it about a symphony that stirs our imaginations and takes us to worlds of beauty and serenity? What is music but mere vibrations? What is that to a creature made of random chemicals and electrical pulses thrown together by unguided forces and nothing more?

Why do we have feelings of awe and wonder when we gaze out over the incredible vistas of the Rocky Mountains, or we stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon and take in its vastness in a sort of silent adoration? What about the feelings of smallness when we stand beside the ocean that seems to stretch into infinity? What makes us stand gazing into a clear and starry night sky with the Milky Way spread out over us riveted by its infinitude?

Where do these feelings and thoughts come from? If all we are, are the by-products of time plus matter plus chance, why should these things have any affect on us at all? Unless…Maybe… Somewhere in the dark resses of our minds there is a faint echo of a memory of being in the presence of an infinite, glorious being! Maybe there is more to us? Maybe we have eternity placed in our hearts for a definitive reason? Maybe God did breathe into our nostrils, and maybe we are made in the image of God and maybe we had all this and we lost it and these things stir the memories of that.

These are the questions that I would pose to our atheist friends


(Olivia Davis) #47

I like this train of thought; it’s clarifying for me. It’s almost like great music gives us a transient glance at the divine — a taste of God’s glory — a shadow of the real thing. Perhaps great music could be seen as a window into seeing something of God’s character, which is beautiful and mesmerizing.

And the question to music’s universal appeal — almost as though it plays to a longing for something divine that is at the heart of every person…as if we were all made to have a relationship with the transcendent God!