This discussion is delicious. Thanks, @Jennifer_Wilkinson.
@WarnerMiller, I love this story! I think it’s a great example of how God gives us creativity. It also is a great example of the idea articulated by William Booth in the article that @SeanO gave us. To quote from it:
“You must sing good tunes. Let it be a good tune to begin with. I don’t care much whether you call it secular or sacred. I rather enjoy robbing the devil of his choicest tunes, and, after his subjects themselves, music is about the best commodity he possesses. It is like taking the enemy’s guns and turning them against him." – William Booth
I’m not saying that Jay-Z and Kanye’s song was a “devil tune” (haha), but I think the idea is sort of the same – taking something that wasn’t intended to glorify God and then making it do exactly that!!
@SeanO, I’m intrigued by the question, “is it possible to have instrumental music that is irredeemable?” At first, I thought, well, maybe something that’s really dissonant, that doesn’t show any beauty, and my mind went to a few pieces that aren’t beautiful but are still “art music”. After thinking through those, I realized that it depends on how we conceive of music.
I’d argue music is essentially an emotional medium. We love it because of how it can enrapture us, how it makes us feel – it challenges us and moves us. It’s also amazingly complex to study and play, and in a way shows us how order can emerge from chaos (all those notes on the page and all those musicians!). At the same time, because music is emotional, there are so many different emotions that intentional sounds elicit.
So, for example, Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.
It’s dissonant and hard to listen to, but at the same time, I don’t think it is incapable of glorifying God. It’s so effective at providing a collective emotional experience. I mean, I can’t even listen to the whole thing. It almost becomes a conduit for empathy for the victims of Hiroshima. But…How might it glorify God? Perhaps it represents the chaos of life without having him as an anchor? In some ways, the ability to interpret is useful and can incline a heart to worship even through dissonant music.
And music, of course, elicits different emotions for different people. Franz Liszt’s Cantique D’Amour (Hymn of Love) is one of the most powerful pieces of piano literature I’ve heard…y’all, listen to it When you think about Liszt’s history and that he was an abbé for 21 years, it’s all the more meaningful.
I think in the end, the measure of whether or not something (anything, music/ literature/ paintings/ @Jimmy_Sellers’s Leonard Cohen song!) glorifies God is whether it inclines our hearts to worship. As @KMac wisely pointed out, in the end, all things will glorify God! What makes us meditate upon Jesus and his love for us is being used to his glory to glorify him. If when we listen to music and our hearts feel troubled, if we feel prompted by God, we can redeem it (as @WarnerMiller demonstrates!).
I sometimes feel burdened by the worship music that my church does because it seems to present a watered-down Gospel, but at the same time, there are people in my small group who say that the songs lead them to a higher view of God. God REALLY had to work my hymnal-thumping and Bach-loving self on that one, and he still does (every Sunday! I’m such a work in progress!). But, even then, look at that – God used the music that didn’t initially incline me to worship to make me rely on him even more. How typical of Jesus to transform a weakness into a cause for worship!