Rock music and the pope in our hearts

I’ve written of my disllusionment with rock music, but not my, er, scholarly history with it. When I was in college in the 1980s, my friends and I despised the contemporary rock scene — Poison, Ratt, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue — and so we listened to Classic Rock. That is, Boomer rock: Zeppelin, the Stones, AC/DC, Skynyrd, etc.

I outclassed my friends in my School of Rock pursuits. I read the musings of Frank Zappa. I learned the influences on Dokken’s guitarist, the cymbals favored by Aerosmith’s drummer, and how Malmsteen quite liked Mixolydian mode. I thrilled at Steve Morse’s picking and lamented how Robert Plant had blown out his voice by early ’72. I wore out Live Bullet and pondered things that didn’t require it. I read Billy Sheehan’s bass theories. I learned about genres and influences and who played what instrument on any number of records. I could tell you who wrote hundreds of songs and what they were thinking when they wrote them. I saw Stevie Ray live and bought delta blues. I spent countless hours learning and playing ZZ Top and the James Gang on the guitar, books full of tablature, hoping one day I’d be ‘the man’ (and of course I could play “Stairway to Heaven” and “Over the Hills and Far Away”). Then after college, the hair bands were all thankfully swept away by Nirvana and I graduated to the grunge scene and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. I lost my hearing at many King’s X and Galactic Cowboys concerts. In short, I have forgotten more about 1960s-1990s rock and metal than most of you know.

And I say that with regret, because my heartfelt “study” of this stuff was in place of things like, oh, reading the words of eternal life. In a word, idolatry. To paraphrase Muggeridge, it is a chronicle of wasted time.

I don’t need to tell you that much of rock music is blatantly unbiblical. My conscience was eventually convicted that I should consume music that encourages sinful behavior (especially since music has that way of running through your head). And I couldn’t stand the shallowness, the pretense, and the other earmarks of youth. At best, it’s milk, not solid food (Heb 5:12).

Further, I no longer believe that any popular music belongs in the church. Rather, church music should be sacred, set apart from the trendiness of rock and CCM (or whatever Nashville calls it now). And don’t get me started on the dreadful use of pretentious imagery that usually accompanies music videos in the church (Narnia: “[The old Professor] muttered to himself, ‘I wonder what they do teach them at these schools.'”)

However, with all that said… I remain unconvinced that rock music is “born in rebellion” and is thus completely evil. At its best, rock music can be joyous (Listen to 4:00 to 4:25 of this, for example). Insisting on its intrinsic evil is a misguided attempt to bind the consciences of others. Concerned with antinomianism masquerading as liberty, some Christians seem to want to outlaw liberty altogether (not politically, but in the minds of their readers) and to yoke people where the Bible does not.

“Don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go out with girls who do” goes the old saying. And rock joins that fundamentalist hall of shame. It’s false rigor and shabby righteousness. I say this not as someone looking to excuse personal indulgence; the half-dozen ales I drink every year could be easily cut to none, as could my listening to rock music, and I would be no holier because of it; significantly less so if it were a point of pride.

So what is the point of all this? Former OPC pastor G.I. Williamson nails it in “Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes” (my emphasis):

It has been said that there is “a pope in every man’s heart.” We are all tempted to think that we could improve our fellow Christians if we had charge of their conscience. We are likewise all liable to imagine that we are doing much better than others in the use of our cherished liberty. We would restrict others and relax strictures against ourselves. But the Scripture requires the reverse: charity towards others, and carefulness in the use of our own liberty. We ought to give our brother the benefit of the doubt. We should esteem others better than ourselves. And even where it appears that our brother has abused his liberty, we should correct in meekness taking heed to ourselves. Meanwhile, we should guard against the abuse of our own liberty, taking heed that we do not make it an occasion of the flesh, and exercising care that we do not cause a weaker brother to stumble by the exercise of our liberty.

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