34 – For the Beauty of the Earth

Psalm 34

What We’re Listening To

Top Songs on CCLI

  1. Great Are You Lord by All Sons & Daughters
  2. Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham
  3. Reckless Love by Cory Asbury. Reckless Love: The Catechism 
  4. Raise A Hallelujah by Bethel Music, Jonathan David, & Melissa Helser If Songs Could Preach: Raise a Hallelujah
  5. How Great Thou Art by Stuart Wesley & Keene Hine
  6. Cornerstone by Hillsong Worship
  7. O Come To The Altar by Elevation Worship
  8. Revelation Song by Jennie Lee Riddle
  9. Great Is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Obediah Chisholm & William Marion Runyan
  10. Rest On Us by Maverick City Music & UPPERROOM

Giveaway!

Intro to main topic

The question was brought up (more or less): are you more lenient for the Getty’s and less lenient for Hillsong? That is one of the easiest questions for me: absolutely yes. I develop biases over time that I regulatory check, but if someone has a reputation for writing solid music, I will spend less time vetting songs from them. Likewise, I will spend more time listening and researching a song from a questionable source.

This is similar to someone handing me a well known and widely used hymnal. I know that serious time and prayer has gone into curating and vetting the hymns, so I don’t feel the need to. I can rest assured knowing that hymns are theologically sound. At that point, I am mostly concerned with the beauty and accessibility of the song.  Though there are some tertiary doctrinal issues that I still look for, I am rarely at a point where I would flat out refuse to sing a song.

With the Getty’s, it is the same way. They have proven themselves to be dedicated to maintaining both Beauty and Truth with their word choices. They have many peers review their drafts before publication as well to ensure no unintentional errors have been made. They have a public reputation for holding fast to important and unpopular truths (such as the wrath of God being satisfied on the cross as Jesus died), and they have a love for beauty in melody and arrangement. They are innovators and not interested in simply following the trends of the day. Furthermore, they are doing what they can to educate and supply resources to others in order to help them seek to worship in Spirit and Truth.

Hillsong is all about the trends. Trends in music, trends in theology. They don’t sing about the wrath of God or really about sin in any detail. They don’t have groundbreaking music. They don’t have songs that are meant to last. They have a good handful of songs that “pass the test”, but none of them are the best songs out there theologically.  

They do pursue excellence in beauty and in craft to a degree, but not necessarily in creativity.  They write music that sounds good, and they play their instruments with great skill, but they do not do a lot that is unique or original.  Pursuit of excellence in creativity is something that I feel is lacking in Christian music altogether. 

This week in our main topic we are going to cover the pursuit of excellence in beauty and craft, but we are intentionally not talking about the pursuit of Excellence in creativity. This is because I do not believe this is a learned ability, but rather it is a God given ability that can be cultivated. 

(Maybe pause here and discuss the idea of creativity?)

That said, as we go through the Excellence Element, many Hillsong songs will score high in the areas of sound and skill.  For that reason, I do not hold this category as nearly as important as the Psalm Model or Scripture Element. But nonetheless, it is an important part of song discernment.

Main Topic

Last episode, we talked about Excellence as a biblical concept, and gleaning from scripture we found that:

  1. Excellence is the pursuit of growing in knowledge and ability towards the standard of Beauty and Craft set in place by God in both general and special revelation.
  2. Excellence must contain truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, commendability, and that which is worthy of praise.
  3. Excellence belongs to God, is a gift from God, and comes from knowing God. It is tied to God’s glory, to God’s promises, and to sanctification.

If I had any significant time to decide towards a research project, I would love to dive deep into each of those aspects and provide a clear defense for each claim, but for now, I must take the presuppositional argument that these are generally true for music and move on.

Before we jump back into what Scripture says about Beauty and Craft, I want to spend some time carefully explaining what I mean and what I don’t mean.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that one person may see beauty in something where no one else does. There is great truth in this, but there is also a standard of Beauty in God that all other beauty strives towards. If something refuses to strive towards the beauty of God, or if it actively strives against it, any actual beauty is accidental or inescapable.

An example would be a cacophony of random noise. There are “musicians” out there who seek to force beauty into something that isn’t actually seeking to be beautiful on its own. It would be like calling a jackhammer music. While there might be beauty in seeing a construction worker work to the glory of God. The noise created in his beautiful work in and of itself is not beautiful music.

I also want to be careful to make a distinction between “Beauty” and “Preference”, even if there is a great deal of overlap. Preference is subjective and mutable. Typically, someone’s preferences become more refined as the individual matures. Similarly, one’s preferences will become more God honoring as the individual becomes more sanctified. But the Standard of Beauty is objective and immutable. God honoring works of art will work with the preferences of the artist (and may grow the preferences of the artist) to achieve the Standard of Beauty in a unique way.

You cannot have a proper talk about Excellence, Beauty, and Craft in the Bible without talking about the Tabernacle and the Temple. These topics are also highly related to the regulative principle of worship. It is also important to note that Creativity is not a part of human obedience concerning specifically the building of the Tabernacle and Temple.  In these examples, God is the chief creative, but He entrusts man to the Craft.

Beauty

Exodus 28:2

[2] And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. (ESV)

This is part of the building of the Tabernacle and all that goes with it. While there is much description of the Beauty of the Tabernacle in the Torah, this is the chief explanation of something being Crafted for the purpose of being Beautiful and that Beauty bringing Glory to God.  As a part of the Crafting of the Tabernacle, it isn’t wrong to extend that explanation toward all of the other Beautiful things that were Crafted.

Psalms 27:4

[4] One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. (ESV)

Psalms 50:2

[2] Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. (ESV)

Psalms 96:6

[6] Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (ESV)

These other passages refer to both God and the Temple as being Beautiful, and it is important to understand that the final product of both the Temple and the Tabernacle came after passages upon passages of incredibly detailed instruction to the builders and artisans. I won’t quote it, but much of the description of the Tabernacle is found in the last half of Exodus as well as parts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Much of the description of the Temple is found in 1 Kings 5-6 and 2 Chronicles 2-7.

Beauty was a major part of Jewish worship. Every aspect of the Tabernacle and Temple was dedication to the Standard of Beauty, because any less for the House of God would have been blasphemy and disobedience. This is later reflected in the beauty of the Psalter, the Wisdom literature, the Canticles, many of the Prophets  and the Creeds (found in many of the Epistles).

Today, we must not settle for what is popular over what is truly beautiful. The sound may be very pleasant and appealing to man, but we must compare the sound with what is generally agreed to be truly beautiful both in special and general revelation. We mustn’t be fooled by the lipstick on the swine so to speak.

Craft

Similarly, we must discern the difference between the skill it takes to play music well and the skill it takes to construct good music.  Just because the song was played flawlessly doesn’t mean the song was good to begin with.  

Another way to look at it would be this: you might have a builder who makes the best buildings, but the supplier might skimp on the materials. The builder cannot make the materials better just by flawlessly following the plans. Likewise, the worst builder cannot make the best materials into a perfect building. It takes the flawless skill plus the best materials to construct the right building. 

That said, the highly skilled builder should be able to recognize that the materials weren’t up to par.  Continuing to use them would reflect that the builder was either not really that good to begin with or was so incredibly prideful that he thought his skills could somehow still shine through the bad materials.

Musicians that play poorly written/uncreative songs (songs that follow the same chord structure as all other popular songs) to the best of their skill are wasting their talents.  They should recognize that the songs are twaddle and should pursue Excellence by refusing to settle.  Settling, as mentioned earlier, trends towards being blasphemous and disobedient (I am going to be careful not to make a blanket statement about songs I don’t like being blasphemous, but I do want to argue that intentionally settling for what you believe to be less than the Standard of Beauty is blasphemous, but that part of the pursuit of excellence is learning to recognize the Standard of Beauty and growing closer to it).

I am going to go over a couple passages about the Crafting of the Tabernacle and the Temple, and I want to focus on the extravagance of the Craft described. Keep in mind that this extravagance is tied directly to the worship of God.

Exodus 31:1-5

[1] The LORD said to Moses,

[2] See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,

[3] and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship,

[4] to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze,

[5] in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

God gave Bezalel the ability as well as the intelligence to plan out the designs and construct the final product including metallurgy, carpentry, and gemology. He wasn’t just a Jack of all trades, he was an Ace in his broad field.  He was learned and practiced in all of the related arts and with God’s help constructed a tent that literally housed the King of all Glory.

1 Chronicles 29:1-5

[1] And David the king said to all the assembly, Solomon my son, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced, and the work is great, for the palace will not be for man but for the LORD God.

[2] So I have provided for the house of my God, so far as I was able, the gold for the things of gold, the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, besides great quantities of onyx and stones for setting, antimony, colored stones, all sorts of precious stones and marble.

[3] Moreover, in addition to all that I have provided for the holy house, I have a treasure of my own of gold and silver, and because of my devotion to the house of my God I give it to the house of my God:

[4] 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the house,

[5] and for all the work to be done by craftsmen, gold for the things of gold and silver for the things of silver. Who then will offer willingly, consecrating himself today to the LORD? (ESV)

In this passage, we see the enormity of the splendor of the Temple. These materials were magnificent, and it probably took incalculable wealth to pay for it.  And this is something I want to touch on.

The people of Israel, in both the preparation of the Tabernacle and Temple, had to sacrifice of their personal wealth to pay for the materials. God gave them the wealth to steward for a time but called for it back to build a house worthy of His presence.  This type of sacrifice should be present when we bring our worship to God.  We must be reminded of all God had entrusted to us as we work to bring Him glory.

Instead, the world of CCM is concerned with pumping out the most man pleasing chaff today that the wind will drive away tomorrow.  More care is put into making a product to be consumed instead of crafting art that will last for generations.

I have said before that there is no such thing as Popular Christian music, that you cannot primarily seek to please both God and Man simultaneously. You can only primarily please one while going to secondarily please the other.  

A final kind of thought on this idea, there are certain things that everyone understands. Looking at humor, everyone gets a fart joke, but not everyone is going to get a joke that requires a decent amount of exposure to popular culture (or artistic culture etc.).

Similarly, everyone gets that playing a G, C, Em, then D is pleasant to the ear. So many songs have that progression, especially in Christian music.  People like it, but that alone doesn’t make it good, or God honoring.

Why Beauty and Craft are Important: ‘What A Great Set By Our Worship Team,’ Says Pastor After Horrible Set By Worship Team 


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