Worship where it is due
The local classical radio station is currently running a commercial in which the symphony conductor is asked what it’s like to conduct. His response is a question: “How can I describe [the monstrous sound of a beautiful symphony]?” Mark Beuving’s examination of the complexities of music and our ability to honour God through it takes a similar approach in Beuving’s book Resonate, Enjoying God’s Gift of Music.
Written in two sections, Beuving’s project is simple yet ambitious.
In the first section, “Understanding Music,” he attempts to prove – through both theological study and the use of practical examples – that music matters for the kingdom of God.
In his theological exploration of music, Beuving points to Old Testament examples. He looks at the obvious (the Psalms) but also at stories like David playing the harp to soothe King Saul and other examples of instrumentation to encourage an atmosphere of worship in the temple.
Particularly helpful to me was Beuving’s reminder of Paul’s exhortation to the church in Ephesians 5:18–20, including “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit.” Considering the vast diversity of musical expression found in the Old Testament, I am encouraged by the creativity and freedom this exhortation offers.
Beuving moves on from a theological foundation to explore present day use of music by both Christ followers and those who are not.
Beuving isn’t shy about referencing specific songs, bands and composers that are meaningful to him regardless of whether the artist comes from within the Christian music industry. I was drawn in by these references throughout the book as they spoke to my own experience as a music lover. It was refreshing to see the author recognize that music in all forms – including music made by non-Christians – can honour God.
As a songwriter, worship leader and overall music lover, I was most struck and challenged by the chapter “What is Christian Music?” Here, Beuving challenges our traditional classifications by critiquing the distinction between sacred and secular. “The Bible insists that all of life is God’s,….so there are truly no secular areas of life,” he argues.
Beuving challenges the common markers used to classify what is Christian and what is not, such as whether the artist is a Christian, whether the words of the songs speak to spiritual matters and even to which record label artists are signed. Instead of accepting these markers, he proposes that the reader ask different questions, including whether the song is truthful, and whether the song is beautiful.
This thought process leads into the second section of the book, “Enjoying Music.”
This section moves from setting a foundation to exploring the practical through listening, creating, embodying, connecting, and worshipping. In each chapter, Beuving urges the reader to rethink how he or she approaches the gift of music in each of these spheres.
The book challenged me to pursue excellence in my musical offerings – whether guitar playing or songwriting – while learning to appreciate that complexity of human emotion God has allowed music to embody.
As a Christ follower, I was also reminded that music can be a window into the world of those who do not share my Christian faith. If I truly desire to share the hope I have, I need to start by listening; the longings of a hurting world are often expressed more honestly and eloquently through music than they are anywhere else.
Beuving’s conclusion, “All Things to God’s Glory,” is a fitting end to this well presented examination of music. Regardless of the style or classification of the music in one’s ears, Beuving warns the reader to avoid worshipping God’s gift of music over God himself, the ultimate Creator (Romans 1:25).
—Ben Harapiak is associate pastor of worship & middle years at North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church, Winnipeg.
For more on this subject, see also Roy Salmond’s series on Discerning Music.