On borrowing pagan musical forms

(Old Facebook Post – Revised)

I find hard to believe that heavenly music will be restricted to the styles of 16th to 19th century Europe. The Bible itself demonstrates the appropriateness of borrowing from other musical cultures:

“It is clear that Israel’s psalms have in some places happily taken over Canaanite poetic meter, imagery, and even aspects of their mythology and utilized it all in extolling the unique sovereign and providential power of YHWH.” – Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (footnote on page 443)

I’ve done some study of how music “means,” looking both at music history and at some scientific literature. I’ve concluded that there is some intrinsic emotional meaning to some sounds (for example, sudden, loud or fast sounds tend to increase the excitement level–or, more accurately according to scientific literature, it is unexpected sounds that do this, so an unexpected silence can achieve the same), but that most of the meaning/affective power of music comes from the extrinsic associations we bind up with a particular kind of sound, thanks to our past history and teaching regarding that kind of sound. What we hear and enjoy in our adolescence/youth tends to become the norm by which we experience and compare all other musics we subsequently hear throughout life.

(I’ve heard a story of an ex-Satanist fleeing a church because of the organ music of Bach, which had been used in his Satanic cult, and another story of a mother and infant in severe distress during birth, until medical personnel were convinced to play her favorite heavy metal music–at which point the baby’s heart rate calmed down, as did the mother, and the birth proceeded successfully.)

I think much fundamentalist/conservative Anabaptist teaching regarding music is a reactionary theology, developed on the “battlefield” in response to the rock and roll music revolution, during which time certain sounds were connected quite closely by a majority of musicians with an evil lifestyle. Those concerns were valid for the time. However, such music today is does not carry those evil associations to a majority of listeners and performers, being innocent enough to be useable for radio jingles and children’s educational songs.

The suitability of musical sounds is an important question, yes, but the deeper question is whether the musician is using sound to bless God and neighbor. David used pagan poetic meters to praise Yahweh.


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“The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind”

(Old Facebook Post – Revised)

An excerpt from The Epistle to Diognetus, written about the end of the second century:

“The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, or language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities of their own, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life… They… conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits. Nevertheless, the organization of their community does exhibit some features that are remarkable, and even surprising. For instance, though they are residents at home in their own countries, their behavior there is more like that of transients; they take their full part as citizens, but they also submit to anything and everything as if they were aliens… Like other men, they marry and beget children, though they do not expose their infants. Any Christian is free to share his neighbour’s table, but never his marriage-bed… Their days are passed on the earth, but their citizenship is above in the heavens. They obey the prescribed laws, but in their own private lives they transcend the laws. They show love to all men–and all men persecute them.


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What do I love most?

(Old Facebook Post)

What I love most… trumps what I believe… and determines what I fear and what I confess publicly.

“Many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:42-43, ESV).

What do you love most?


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