Ken Myers’ recent visit to Hillsdale College to deliver lectures on Music and the Great Tradition, has me thinking about the relationship between Christ and culture, or at least the way some Christians conceive of it. Ken persuaded me of the importance of music in the created order, why harmonic structures parallel mathematical forms, why singing is such an important part of creation (soulful and soulless) giving praise to God, and why music can have such a profound effect on listeners. He also was convincing that some forms of music are superior to others, that a predilection for some kinds of music reflects a disordered soul, and that appreciation of good music requires education and discipline. (I hear but do not know when these lectures will be available on-line.)
Where I have questions is in trying to correlate musical aesthetic with Christian truth or conviction. I wonder for instance, if we could do for the musical soul what Thomas Boston’s Four-fold State of Man did for the human soul. We might imagine humanity divided up into the following categories
1) Good Music Lovers
2) Bad Music Lovers
In category 1a, we have people who know and love God and also know and appreciate good music. But we can’t regard musical appreciation as a fruit of the Spirit because of category 1b — that is, people who are not saved but appreciate music even more than some of the saints. What accounts for this love of good music is not something spiritual but a natural capacity by which a person with the right training (and some natural abilities) can learn to understand the way music works and revel in its beauty and forms.
The natural aspects of musical appreciation are all the more apparent when we turn to the category of 2a — that is, the Christian who has no ear for the great musical traditions and actually regards people who celebrate good music as elitist. Here, the work of sanctification has no apparent bearing on musical appreciation. If it did, we might expect a believer to listen to more and more good music as he or she dies to self and lives to Christ. But in point of fact, no church in human history has ever countenanced musical taste as evidence of God’s grace. (And I am not saying the Ken thinks it is.) If a church were to do that, we face the uncomfortable reality of regarding Beethoven or Wagner as Christians.
As I say, Ken was not arguing for musical appreciation as a form of sanctification. He was, though, talking about what music and its place in the universe says about the human soul and its relation to the creator. Without sufficient care and theological rigor, such considerations can lead to blurring the lines between what happens in sanctification and what occurs with a well-ordered natural soul. At the end of the day, it seems to me that confessional Protestant culture vultures need to be content with Christians who don’t appreciate good music and humble around non-Christians who understand much of creation and its creator better than most believers. In 2k parlance, culture is part of the ordinances of creation and fallen humans, who bear the image of God still, participate in and enjoy culture as part of their creatureliness. Cult, however, requires more than nature; it requires a supernatural reordering of the soul which may or may not lead to good culture.