Sproul on the Arts Report #5
R. C. Sproul: Recovering the Beauty of the Arts
“Music: The Handmaiden of Theology”
In our adult Sunday school class, we are watching a series of lectures by R. C. Sproul on the Christian and the arts. I'm summarizing them and writing my responses. Here is an index to these posts. Today's post is a summary.
As a follow-up to his talk about music's influence in the previous talk, Sproul began with a long, fascinating discussion of jazz. In order to lay the foundation for explaining the beauty of jazz, he gave a fairly detailed music theory lesson about major and minor scales, intervals, and chords. His point was to show how jazz operates rationally, within structure, that it is highly complex, and that it follows a definitive mathematical pattern. The essence of jazz, then, is freedom within form.
His next move was, I thought, smooth and sophisticated. He took that background about harmony and used it to evaluate “pop” music. He pointed out that pop music restricts itself to 3 chords, and that is has a lack of complexity. Classical music, on the other hand, is far more complicated. It has a richness, a depth of content, and has endured the test of time. Sure, there are simple compositions within the Classical tradition, but intentionally so: artful, sophisticated. Pop music tends to be simplistic: unintentionally so, simple out of ignorance and lack of training, and ends up being boring. Unlike pop music, the more I listen to it, the richer it becomes.
This led him to an excellent line: Eat meat, not milk—in music!
This is not to say that there is never a place for very simple music in worship. Sproul pointed out two: he thinks we should use very simple music with children, and with “primitive people” out on the mission field.
Then he made a very strong point: he asked, What should be enhanced by our growth in the knowledge of God? Our understanding of music! We should always keep enriching the music we use in our worship.
Coming back around to concepts of classical standards for evaluating music, he brought in Jonathan Edwards' ideas about the “sweetness” and “excellence” of worship, the idea of Religious Affections: Edwards thought that conversion itself was an aesthetic experience.
Then he summed up the “Worship Wars” with a sweet one-liner: The Worship Wars are not about good music vs. bad music; they're about good music vs. mediocre music. Um-hm. (Although he didn't mention BAD music!)
Finally, he finished by explaining the title of this talk: Martin Luther said that music is the “handmaiden of theology” because music can teach Biblical truth.