Over the past few days the evangelical community has been talking about the kinds of things you would expect — the meaning of Thanksgiving, the turn to the Christmas season, the fact that some stores were opening on Thanksgiving Day and the various issues of the season. And then came rap. Out of the blue, when least expected, the topic changed to rap and the Gospel. Over the last few days a great deal has been written and said, sparked by a panel discussion at an evangelical conference in which rap music was dismissed as unworthy of evangelicals and of the Gospel.
I recognize the arguments made by the panelists. I am tempted to make them myself. In fact, I have made them myself … in my head. I know the arguments well. Form matters when it comes to music, and the form of music is not incidental to the meaning communicated. The biblical vision of music grows out of the union of the good, the beautiful, and the true in the very being of God. That union of the transcendentals means that Christians should seek only those musical expressions that best combine the good, the beautiful, and the true.
In other words, Johann Sebastian Bach. In my view, Bach got it just about right, even almost perfect. His music is an exhilaration of proportion and purpose in which form and message are precisely, intentionally, even magnificently combined. Bach is never far from me, especially when I am working and particularly when I am writing. I should acknowledge Bach in my books. Karl Barth listened to Mozart, and I love Mozart’s music (at least, most of it). But Mozart is a genius in a way that Bach was not, and genius can easily get in the way of musical art. Add to this the fact that Mozart’s worldview was seriously flawed. That explains why his magnificent but unfinished Requiem Mass in D Minor is so moving, but so unsatisfying. Beethoven’s pantheism and Enlightenment sensibilities do not ruin his music, but they do make his incredible music rather inaccessible for Christian worship.
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