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Beware of Narrow Interests

By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008

In the Christian Faith, not seeing the forest for the trees can be dangerous, even lethal. Unfortunately Christianity for the last century has mostly tended to an increasing reduction of the range of Christian interests which have only recently been revived by the works of Francis Schaeffer, Christian Reconstructionism, and the “new evangelicals.” By the early twentieth century the Christian Faith had been reduced to personal salvation, personal piety, and prophecy-important matters, admittedly, but many fewer then a full expression of the Faith demands. The loss of denominational leadership and, consequently, centers of learning to modernism; the equation of the gutsy Christian social message with the “Social Gospel” of “liberalism”; and the feeling of alienation from and defensiveness about a society becoming increasingly secularistic and naturalistic-these factors all contributed to a retreat from disciplines and issues on which the Biblical message impinges and to a reduction of the Faith to matters of personal salvation and spirituality. It is no surprise, therefore, that Christianity in the West is scoffed at not merely as foolish (as it always will be by a God-defying world) but as ineffectual and irrelevant (the last things the church in large part until the nineteenth century could have been accused of).

The residue of decades of such impotence and social irrelevance has spawned a generation of believers whose interests as God’s children are woefully slim. They attend “the church of their choice,” usually fundamental or evangelical in doctrine, though perhaps “liberal” in practice; participate in either “door-to-door” or “lifestyle” evangelism; contribute a small part of their income to the church; read their Bible according to their Bible-reading calendar; pray daily for strength to fight the Devil; and attempt to keep their children away from as many “worldly” influences as is possible.

That their whole life should be a sacrament offered to God; that the Faith may involve issues as variegated as economics, pollution, and law; and that they may have insulated themselves to their own detriment from divine provisions calculated to produce greater worship and spirituality never occurred to them.

The narrowing of interests conduces to a distorted view of life, which is lived on the surface and is appallingly facile and superficial, consisting variously of attending revivals, holding VBS’s, working “bus routes,” and so forth-all acceptable facets of life, but none profound and life changing. They elicit a temporal excitement and joy and often appeal to carnal instincts, but never fill the void satisfied only by the more spiritual and profound. That the church activities and amusements keep individuals so busy that they feel the gnawing of the soul only when they momentarily halt from their labors is no excuse for the neglect of the truly whole life.

Narrowed interests create imbalanced spiritual equilibrium. Secondary doctrines and practices seemingly considered more important than truly fundamental doctrines become tests of Christian fellowship, occupy most of the time, attention, and activity, and become ends in themselves. As they are magnified they become out of focus and out of balance with the harmonious system and Christian doctrine of life; and the beautiful symmetry of the Faith is shattered.

The implications of holding views that have become sequestered from the great body of Christian doctrine, history, and general revelation are largely ignored and soon assume a mammoth significance insomuch that minute differences constitute grounds for vigorous disagreement. A genuinely strong conviction on these issues is of itself perfectly acceptable and perhaps even desirable but must be tempered by a recognition of their proper (subordinate) place in the Christian system of doctrine and the knowledge that they have no effect on the substance of the Faith itself.

An appreciation for the spiritual fidelity and genius of T.S. Eliot and G.K. Chesterton, for instance, liberates one from snobby provincialism and theological nitpicking, even though he may disagree sharply with these writers and others in many areas. When one’s interests become too narrow, however, he refuses to benefit from or even consider opinions of those beyond his sacred, arbitrary theological fold; and that refusal naturally leads to an overemphasis on secondary matters and a corresponding neglect of more important ones that should occupy one’s attention.

In addition, a cultivation of love for the pure, true, honest, just, lovely, and virtuous (Phil. 4:8) tends to cure the Christian soul of fanaticism. The aesthetic is the enemy of the fanatical because the beautiful is the balanced and fanaticism is the epitome of imbalance. For this reason fanatic political movements-of either the Right or Left-are generally the enemies of literary, musical and other artistic expression and generate their own substitutes for artistic beauty. Similarly, cheap, populistic religion-of whatever variety-resents, is suspicious of, and attempts to decimate, spiritual beauty.

The Christian whose interests include not only theology, church “revivals,” and Sunday school but also music, art, literature, and science has a great repository from which to draw the experiences of this life and is even apt to have a greater appreciation of those narrow but necessary interests to which other, less well-rounded Christians, devote themselves exclusively.

Music and Subjectivity

Recently the young editor of the youth magazine we publish, The Lordship Letter, told me of a conversation he had with another teenager concerning music. In the course of the conversation he discovered that the teenager with whom he spoke enjoyed listening to a local “easy-listening” station, but felt that music by Steve Green and other contemporary artists was “worldly.” That young editor felt that in terms of the Bible, that practice was highly inconsistent.

I agree.

Four or five years ago I almost completed the rough draft of an article delimiting the boundaries of Christian music performed in church. I never published it, because of the nagging problem that I was constantly forced to rely on subjective factors rather than on the revealed word of God in establishing those “acceptable boundaries.” Though the article included, I believe, some valid points, it could never provide the certain justification that only the Scriptures themselves can provide. I have concluded, therefore, that while the Scriptures furnish an absolute criteria for the lyrics of Christian music (which should reflect the glory of God and teach sound doctrine), they do not provide that absolute criteria for the music itself. It follows that beyond the general guidelines of seeking the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31) and avoiding offending weaker brethren (Rom 14), a wide variety of musical forms are acceptable.

Now before your blood pressure leaps and you send me fiery letters, I want to assure you that I have read the books by Bob Larson, Frank Garlock, Danny Sweat, David Noebel and others. Their theses are often very helpful, but they frequently fail at the very point which provides stability to any Christian’s argument: exegesis. They employ the quotations of musical experts-and not the Bible-to sustain their case forbidding virtually all forms of Christian music except those they regard as largely “conservative” (as they define conservatism, of course). When they pick apart the sloppy and doctrinally flawed lyrics of some Christians songs, they frequently are on sure Biblical footing. All too often, however, they sink into the quicksands of subjectivism when they argue about the music and the rhythm of the songs.

When we discuss Christian music (or various forms of worship and other Christian elements not outlined in Scripture), we must be careful that we are defending the authentic Christian Faith, and not merely some cultural expressions of it. And it is wise to remember that the charge of “worldliness” is a two-edged sword: for instance, the people who today castigate Steve Green and Glad and who listen instead to Frank Boggs (a much more “conservative” musician) often do not recognize that one hundred years ago the vast majority of Christians would have considered Boggs’ music “worldly.”

Worldliness is influence by and obsession with an ethical system in rebellion against God. The fact is, therefore, that music written and performed for the purpose of glorying God and in harmony with the ethical requirements of Scripture is perfectly acceptable. And this music can come in many forms. Orientals, Africans, Indians, and Americans may not employ the same form of music by which to glorify their God, but they glorify Him nonetheless. American Southerners may prefer gospel songs (even hillybilly gospel, which I deem utterly wretched, but which is acceptable-if sung by hillbillies!). Children may prefer energetic, happy songs to which they can clap their hands and stomp their feet. Teenagers may prefer songs with an upbeat rhythm. Young adults may prefer Christ-honoring folk music. Mature adults may prefer staid hymns. But if in both the music and words they desire to glorify God by their singing, and if they write and perform their music in harmony with the ethical requirements of Scripture, their music is perfectly acceptable. Nothing in Scripture can invalidate it.

This does not mean that all forms of music are appropriate to any church meeting. There is a difference between church inappropriateness and Biblical unacceptability. Most churches, no doubt, would assume that happy, hand-clapping children’s songs are inappropriate to Sunday morning adult worship (or any other adult worship for that matter!). But deeming such (or any other God-honoring music) Biblically unacceptable faces the charge of playing fast and loose with exegesis and even perhaps adding to the word of God.

Let’s not be guilty of substituting our own subjectively derived standards for the absolute standard of the word of God whose authority we loudly profess.

Pop Psych Religion for the Gushing BB’s

Like obsequious ladies in waiting, the modern church nauseatingly whoops it up over pop psychology and the pontifications of demographic and trend-watching pundits.

The baby boomers, we are confidently assured, are different from their self-sacrificing parents in that they are willing to devote themselves to a cause only if they are offered several palatable “options” of participation and if they are assured of visible rewards. So unquestioningly, immediately, nimbly, slavishly, the “church growth experts” laser-print a “Christianly” scheme to entice the BB’s and so swell the ranks within the sanctuary, not to mention the all-too-essential gymnasium, “family life center,” Awana club multi-purpose room, and singles retreat cabin.

There must be glossy weekly advertisements of eight to ten Sunday a.m. “classes” taught by certified experts addressing such burning issues as co-dependency, chemical abuse, sibling rivalry, post-menstrual depression, spiritual healing, self-help techniques, and any number of other choice psych tidbits gleaned from the curriculum of last year’s warmed over subacademic pabulum issuing from the humanities divisions in West Coast liberal arts universities. In the modern glitzy cotton-candy church it is served up all piping hot with trimmings of Jesus for taste-and just to save face among the fiftysomething tithers who are occasionally tempted to wonder how “the old-time religion” ever survived without faith-filled megapsych.

Add the latest hip-hot Christian band fresh from Nashville and their thirty-city southland tour, and later the oozing “interactive” pronouncements illustrated on the stylish music-accompanied overhead projector by Dr. Sickmund Fraud III, and you’ve got a sanctuary stuffer-guaranteed.

Don’t be anxious about the teens-They’re pounding to the Christian rap in the youth center after snickering at Sonny Lambolo’s “totally awesome” ten-minute self-admitted “frank” talk (scores a “10,” he exults, on the Bo Derek scale) about how following Jesus just somehow assures better orgasms and how the Spirit can really “send” you. Later they’ll watch the newest video release from Christ on Video International whose plot details the “tough choice” of the Christian gal inseminated by the Christian guy after the singles retreat: to abort or not to abort?

Revival? You bet. Harry Humplestick with his ventriloquist act with Harry, Jr. is advertised lavishly in the local daily and on a bright cartoonish banner adorning the front of the sanctuary. Monday is “Pack the Pew Night,” with the winner getting an odd, very odd, assortment of Harry, Sr.‘s “tomes” covering every revival topic from How to Advertise for Revivals to The Revivals I Have Had and How You Can Get In On Them.

Want to be a party pooper? Just announce in drone tones a serious Saturday evening prayer meeting (with no pop and chips and roller skating in the “fellowship hall” afterward, thank you) and nothing but a plain Spirit-filled exposition of an obscure minor prophet in the dusty and stale older testament of a Book called the Bible by an “out-of-touch” studious egg-head preacher the following morning. Ergo: Solitary reclinement.

In the parlance of ’60’s Virginia Slims: You’ve come a long way, baby.


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