I just listened to Harold Best's final lecture from his visit a few weeks ago to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's School of Church Music and Worship (the SBTSSCMW, I guess). The title of the lecture is "Text and Music: Content and Context for Music in Ministry." Listen to it here, especially the last quarter of the lecture. I gave a few audibles while listening; laughs, sighs, oos, and ouches. This is some good stuff. I took the time to script out another excerpt. Let me know if you make any noises while reading (or listening). But let me first set it up by saying I don’t totally agree with everything Dr. Best says concerning music and truth. He believes music is “the most relative thing in human utterance, when in point of fact the important aspect is the text that the tune carries.” I have to believe there is at least some objective truth and beauty in music, simply by nature of God’s creativity. I do agree, though, that music is a servant and not a master, especially in terms of church music. The point Dr. Best is driving home is that “music is not the worship,” and that it would serve the church well (pastors, worship leaders, and the whole congregation) if it were taught and led in a right theology and practice of worship and to use music in the proper context, i.e., to understand music for what it really is, namely a servant to the Word of God. Best is a very passionate speaker, and at times rabbit trail-ish, so I [bracketed] some directives. Enjoy.

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If it’s true that "texted music" has this wonderful ability to take total relativity as to truth [music], and the absoluteness with regard to truth [text], and couple them together so that in a way you don’t ever want to separate them again, and if the heart of worship resides not in the worship team but in the congregation, and if the true worship team is the congregation and not the worship team, which of course it is, the congregation is the worship team, then you have to say the congregational song is the heart of church music. It’s the absolute center. It is the foundation of church music, to which then all other forms of music are subject and related and in harmony but nonetheless contingent. That’s the only way you can deal with the question of text and content, and music and context…

A lot of church people use the idolatrous…saying, “The music brings me to worship,” and the congregations sucker into that because they haven’t yet been informed about a theology of artifact [the proper role of music], and the worship leaders and the pastors do not preach a theology of creativity and artifact to the extent to which we are taught to believe that music is the result of worship and not its cause. That’s dangerous! [What he is saying is that it’s dangerous for us to think that it is music that moves us to worship, instead of worship causing us to sing and make music]. And we are so submerged below the danger line, with regard to the causal power of music in our worship practices, that if it’s not a heresy it should be, and if it’s not near blasphemy it should be, and if it’s not idolatry it is.

I will quickly say that about music, church music, throughout all history. I’m talking about the contemporary because we’re living now. But I grew up in the old platonic [theoretical and not practical] wonder of “truth equaling beauty,” whereby I was taught that beautiful music is equal to the presence of God. And you’re brought up into the paradigm that effective music is the presence of God. In both cases text is ignored; in my case aesthetics [the appreciation of beauty] was worship, and in your case results are worship. With that in mind, we all have to repent of something.

I am ever so sorry that in this culture the word “worship” and the word “music” have come to mean each other. And I am ever so sorry that the only way worship takes place in most churches is to begin with a musical package which either will fuel the idea that the music is the worship, or it will fuel another idea that music leads to worship, or it will fuel the idea that this is the place where worship takes place. And then there’s a sermon, then there’s Scripture, and then there’s the offering, and so on and so forth.

Now, some of that’s being reformed. There’s no doubt about that. The younger people leading worship today - I have to use that term, even though they are not biblically allowed to do that; there is no such thing biblically as a worship leader; there is a minister of music; there might be a song leader and a song service; those old evangelical terms are far more biblically accurate…this is a liturgy of music, it’s part of the larger shape of worship; but let’s allow the term in its inaccuracy to exist because it’s being used all the time, and even, ironically, it’s institutionalized by this seminary [Southern Baptist] by calling this the “School of Worship and Music,” which is a very dumb thing [the class laughs]; but it’s done, and so Chip [the head of the SBTSSCMW], with this beautiful spirit that he has, these incredible skills, a man whom I admire to the core, is responsible to carry the burden of the seminary while trying to teach music, because the seminary has fluffed off in its responsibility to build a theology of worship among its senior pastors; therefore the minister of music is the guy whose job is on the line, if the job doesn’t get done and people aren’t attracted, they’re the guys that go, because they haven’t led worship right; they haven’t done the right thing.

And you poor people; you know, I wish Al Mohler [the president of Southern Baptist] were here, or anybody else who’s president of seminary; you guys [students and young worship leaders] are being put on the line in the name of the Holy Spirit through the worship of artifact [the worship of music] in ways that are just unkind and uncivil and unfair.

Um, I don’t have any feelings about this [the class laughs], but I really, I really, I really hurt for you guys. And I pray that in your worship leading - let’s go back to that term and use it - you will understand the wonder called "texted music," but that you will understand that you have to work your head off reconstructing, or deconstructing, the marriage of text and music, to the extent to which the Word of God becomes preeminent and drives the music, and the music itself sinks into that wonderful John 13 liturgy of washing feet. Music’s role is that of a servant; it is kenosis-ed, it is emptied out. And I would like to hear more worship teams that are emptied out, to the point where instead of overwhelming the congregation [musically] they under gird them.

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