Tag Archives: music

What does it mean to be Conservative?

This is a question that has been nagging at me for some time, so I thought I would put down my thoughts on the topic and more clearly articulate some of my personal positions as well.  Let me begin by noting that there are two major difficulties of defining the term.  First, there are so many contexts of the word “conservative” that it has almost lost its meaning.  A quick survey of “Conservatism” on Wikipedia will demonstrate that there are millions of people who all think they are politically conservative, but most of them agree on very few things.  Secondly, there are many contexts for the word; therefore, one must be incredibly clear as to what context they are discussing conservatism in.  For example, many times religious conservatism is equated with political conservatism because many religious conservatives have accepted the political speeches about socially conservative topics within political conservatism and have adopted the party of political conservatism as their own.  In this sense, the politicians have simply made a mockery of Christian religious conservatism by holding out a carrot of social conservatism in order to earn votes.  I could rant about the dangers of being misled and inbreeding religion and politics, but I suppose that I could address that topic more fully at another time.

For now, I want to focus in on a particular facet of Christian religious moral and social conservatism (not to be confused with theological conservatism) that is prevalent in the more Fundamentalist branch of modern Christianity.  It is the sense of conservatism that is used to demarcate boundaries on interaction with modern culture and whatnot.  I’ll offer a few examples to frame what I’m talking about.

Sally and her friend were talking about modesty one day and her friend suggested that Sally should go to Macy’s because there was a sale on shorts going on that weekend.  Sally replied that she holds to a conservative standard of dress and that she most certainly would not be buying such immodest clothing.

Jason wrote a blog post about his conservative standards of music, which kept him from using “sensual music” with a “rock beat.”  He explained that these conservative standards were designed to keep him pure and holy before God.

Brad likes to tell his friends that he doesn’t go to movie theatres because he is very conservative in his approach to movies.  Although he has never attended a movie theatre, he is confident that their use by the pornography industry is more than enough reason to avoid them.  Brad is an avid promoter of Netflix as an alternative to movie attendance.

These three examples of conservatism within Christianity are identical in numerous respects.

First, conservatism for Sally, Jason, and Brad means adding moral standards on top of Scripture.  There is room for a helpful discussion of where creation of personal standards ends and legalism begins, but that is not my point for this article.  My point is that their idea of what is conservative and what is not is based, not on what the Bible says, but on their ideas.

Second, all of these standards gain their relative sense of value from other people, not from God, His Word, or the Gospel.  When someone says that they are conservative, they are comparing themselves to someone else who is less “conservative” or “liberal.”  Inherently, the idea of conservatism when used in such contexts is inherently man-centered.

Third, the notion of “conservative” in moral and ethical situations is almost often able to be substituted for “right” or “best.”  Not only does it imply a man-centered approach, as indicated above, but it also implies that it should be the norm for other Christians too.

Fourth, conservatism, when defined in such a manner, is often based on a misunderstanding of Scripture, culture, or both.  What does the Bible mean by “modest”?  Do “conservative” alternatives to shorts really always demonstrate “modesty”?  What do we mean by “rock beat”?  Is music, apart from the lyrics, really able to make people think sensual thoughts?  Is the modern movie theatre truly a place of pornography and sleaze?  All of these questions and more could be posed in order to question the veracity of the way Sally, Jason, and Brad are using Scripture or understand culture.

Lastly, all three of these views are based on a flawed view of cultural interaction and what it means to be “holy” in contemporary culture.  Whether or not they are aware of it or not, these three individuals are basing their idea of how to interact with culture by simply trying to fight against it.  My question here would be: is this truly the paradigm for engaging culture taught throughout the Scriptures?  In other words, we all believe that caving in to culture is a big problem; however, simply rejecting culture in toto is also a big problem.  It results in an Amish-like approach to all things modern and reduces our effectiveness in reaching our culture.  Christians who don’t understand pop culture, music, entertainment, and dress do not match up to their first-century predecessors like the Apostle Paul who cited the popular secular, pantheistic, Zeus-worshipping poets like Epimenides and Aratus (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12) and attended popular entertainment venues which were filled with the Hellenistic emphasis on the “cult of the body” (1 Corinthians 9:26; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 3:14; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7).  If given the choice between popular fundamentalist conservatism and the Apostle Paul, I would choose the latter any day of the week.

So, to conclude, I think we have allowed Christians who add their preferences to Scripture, misunderstand Scripture and culture, and fail to take a biblical approach to culture to define terms such as “conservative” in the moral and social contexts of the day.  This is a rather unfortunate occurrence.   Conservatism should be inherently biblical.  Just as subtracting from biblical ethics in order to merge with our culture is wrong, so adding to biblical ethics in order to fight against our culture is equally wrong.  Attempting to claim a standard of conservatism that is higher than Jesus or Paul, in my mind, is not only ludicrous and legalistic, but borderline blasphemous.  We ought not to allow individuals to call us to a “conservatism” that is anti-biblical, and we should return to defining these terms in light of a proper understanding of Scripture and culture.  Based on the authority of the Holy Spirit, Who spoke through the Apostle Paul, we should not allow ourselves to be taken captive by the manmade philosophy of “conservatism” when used in such a fashion (Colossians 2:8, 20, 23).  When we depart from Scripture in order to seek this kind of “conservative” ethical approach to life, we actually demonstrate a low or liberal view of Scripture.  Isn’t it time that we define conservatism by the Bible and not visa versa?

Spiritual Eyes: Meditation on “Be Thou My Vision”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this song lately and I wanted to share a personal testimony from the song that we often sing without thought or consideration.  I will quote the song in poetry and then paraphrase the meaning below each stanza.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Master of my inner-most being, let my spiritual eyes be focused clearly on You.
Do not let anything else mean anything to me except You.
I want You to be that which thrills my mind all day and all night.
When I rise and when I sleep, let Your presence, like the sun, light my path.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Lord, You are my wisdom and my living Word
I will live with You forever and you will be with me too.
You are my father and I am Your son.
You live in me and I live in You.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
I will not pay attention to money or acclaim
You mean more to me than anything money can buy.
You and You alone have first place in my heart.
You are my King and my Treasure.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys,
O bright Heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
As the King of Heaven, You have won the war for me.
On this basis I will see Heaven and the Son that lights it.
Because I desire You with the deepest part of my being, no matter what happens,
let my spiritual eyes be focused clearly on You, the King of my life.

Lewis on Worship Music

Often one hears questions regarding worship that ponder the concept of what God finds more pleasing.  Is a particular genre or style worship music more excellent, and, therefore, more worshipful of our great God?  Is one instrument better suited than another to praise the perfections of Christ?  Is a particular musical quality or technique desired by God?  These questions are outside of my grasp in this short article, but what I would suggest that we do is step back and view what God looks for in worship.  I would like to attempt an answer to the question: “What does God want most from my worship in song?”

To begin, I must admit that I am deeply indebted here to C. S. Lewis’ incredible insights written in his essay “On Church Music” in Christian Reflections.  In his context, Lewis is weighing in on the High Church and Low Church music controversy of his day.  The High Church faction felt that only trained musicians should worship.  The Low Church proponents held that the focus should remain almost exclusively on congregational singing, even if the quality of the musical excellence was degraded.  In this milieu, Lewis offers some excellent rejoinders to both camps.  These points are certainly not lost over the half-century that separates his writing from our time, and would be worthy of our consideration.

1: God wants me to edify my brothers and sisters.

Lewis’ first point is to emphasize the importance of edification in worship.  Drawing from 1 Corinthians 14, he makes the following statement:

“Whenever we edify, we glorify, but when we glorify we do not always edify.”

On a surface level, I recoiled after having read this statement for the first time, but pausing for a moment, I began to recognize what Lewis was saying.  We can say all the right things.  We can move through the motions of worship.  We can even have a good heart for praising God.  But if we fail to edify our brothers, then we have failed to offer God what He wants most in our worship.  The Corinthians passage is an apt allusion here.  Here you find a group of believers passionately worshipping and glorifying God in the Spirit-gift of tongues, but they are cautioned about doing this.  Paul warns these believers of excluding their brothers and even unbelievers in this sort of worship – a worship that speaks only to self and not to others.

2: God wants me to submit my desires regarding worship styles to that of my brothers and sisters.

The second point that Lewis makes is the importance of humility in worship.  He argues that both sides of the worship of his day had assumed “far too easily the spiritual value of the music they [wanted].”  They had placed particular musical styles above their brothers and sisters.  They were willing to fight and war over worship styles.  Here Lewis makes the awesome point that God is most glorified, not simply when we worship the way we want, but when we sacrifice ourselves in worship and worship in a manner that our brothers find helpful.  Lewis argues that the High church worshiper gains the most out of worship when he “sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish.” If he fails to do so, “the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation.” Lewis also argues that the Low church worshiper gains much as they sacrifice their desires and struggle to learn to their High church brother.” He goes on to suggest, then, “that the problem is never a merely musical one.”  The problem is a failure to demonstrate Christ-like humility towards our brothers in the assembly.

3: God wants the intentional praise of myself and my brothers and sisters.

The final and culminating point that is made in the essay is that there is the importance of intentional worship.  To explain what Lewis means, let’s follow his line of reasoning.  Lewis holds that there is a very elemental sense in which all of creation glorifies God.  A simple look at the Psalms illustrates this concept well.  It is from this concept that we gather the idea that God is glorified by things that are beautiful, strong, majestic, etc.  These things glorify God because they exemplify the potential of God’s creative excellence even in the fallen world.  It is in this sense that the explosive waterfall, the sprinting cheetah, the soaring eagle, and the skilled unsaved musician or athlete could be said to be glorifying God.  Lewis states that “we must define rather carefully the way or ways in which music can glorify God.  There is…a sense in which all natural agents, even inanimate ones, glorify God continually by revealing the powers He has given them.  An excellently performed piece of music, as a natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be.”  Thus aesthetic “excellence” in worship is certainly able to worship God, but it is not the true measure of divine desire in worship.

I will here reproduce an extended citation from the essay: “What is looked for us, as men, is another kind of glorifying which depends upon intention.  How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry, and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know…  But I must insist that no degree of excellence in the music, simply as music, can assure us that this paradisal state [the merging of natural glorification and intentional glorification] has been achieved.  The excellence proves ‘keenness’; but men can be ‘keen’ for natural, or even wicked, motives…  We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer.  That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats…  For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which the father values indeed, but values only for the intention.”  With this last and powerful sentence, Lewis closes the essay, leaving us to consider the ramifications.

In conclusion, Lewis points us to three areas in which we should learn to value what God values in our worship in song.  First, we must learn to value the edification of others.  Second, we must learn to value the humble serving of others and their worship needs.  Third, we must learn to value redeemed intentionality in worship.  Excellence without edification becomes the obnoxious repeated clanging of a cymbal.  Excellence without humble condescension, denies the spirit of the incarnation.  Excellence devoid of intentionality places an improper value on my scribbled child-like sketch of the Almighty.  Let us all seek to value what God values in our worship this week!

His Favorite Song of All

He loves to hear the wind sing

as it whistles through the pines and mountain leaves

And He loves to hear the raindrops

as they splash to the ground in a magic melody

He smiles in sweet approval

as the waves crash through the rocks in harmony

And creation joins in unity

to sing to Him majestic symphonies


And He loves to hear the angels

as they sing, “Holy, holy is the Lamb”

Heaven’s choirs in harmony

lift up praises to the Great I Am

But He lifts His hands for silence

when the weakest saved by grace begins to sing

And a million angels listen

as a newborn soul sings, “I’ve been redeemed!”


But His favorite song of all

Is the song of the redeemed

When lost sinners now made clean

Lift their voices loud and strong

When those purchased by His blood

Lift to Him a song of love

There’s nothing more He’d rather hear

Nor so pleasing to His ear

As His favorite song of all


It’s not just melodies and harmonies

That catches His attention

It’s not just clever lines and phrases

That causes Him to stop and listen

But when anyone set free,

Washed and bought by Calvary begins to sing.