On Musicians and Reading Books, Pt. 3

Today I’m sharing two more reasons why Christian musicians aren’t known for dropping hundreds of dollars on theology books.

3. Studying God takes time. This is similar to the point I made yesterday about the study of theology being hard. We live in the age of instant everything. I still remember when there was no internet (much less wireless connections), e-mail didn’t exist, you had to wait a week to get your camera film developed, and microwave ovens were a novelty. My, how things have changed. We want to know God NOW. We want to have life-changing 15 minute devotional times, are drawn to the “One-Minute Bible,” and get anxious if we haven’t read anything really gripping in the last two paragraphs. We expect God to fit into the time we allot to Him, because after all, He’s GOD.

When I entered Temple University as a piano performance major in the fall of 1972, my goal was to practice enough to be able to play any piece I desired when I finished school. Over the next four years I practiced an average of four hours a day, seven days a week. Now, when people come up to me and say, “I wish I could play the piano like you do,” I often reply, “You can! It just takes a little gifting, and practicing four hours a day for four years.” We often admire the faith of pastors and Christian leaders, but think there can be a shortcut to obtaining the knowledge of and trust in God they exhibit. There’s no shortcut. Only a joyful, steadfast, time-consuming pursuit of our glorious God and Savior produces that kind of fruit.

4. We think we can know God better through music. There’s a common assumption that music communicates to us in a way that is superior to words. If you really want to know God, you’ll have to forego words and experience Him through music. In his book, Unceasing Worship, Harold Best shares some wisdom about the difference between what art can do and what words can do.

“Even though it is true that every kind of nonverbal expression possesses uniqueness, it is likewise true that no form of nonverbal expression can do what words can do. A jazz riff can no more articulate a methodology for day trading than a Bach fugue can explain substitutionary atonement. So every form of nonverbal expression, instead of going beyond what words can do, simply goes its own way, just as words go their way in doing what no other form of expression can do. And since truth is the most important thing that we can articulate, and since words are a better vehicle for this than any other existing form of expression, the word remains preeminent among all other forms.” (p. 193)

This affects both the words we sing (as Craig Sterling mentioned in his comment to my previous post), and the things we study. As Christian musicians we should know more than anyone that the joy music brings is only the faintest whisper of the superior joy we find in Jesus Christ. And we come to know Him most clearly and authoritatively through His Word. No fugue, guitar solo, piano sonata, jazz improv, or harmonic progression will ever speak to us more clearly about who God is and what He’s done. That’s why every Christian musician should seek to be a good theologian. We should study the Word of God, read books that challenge us, and seek out authors that provide firm boundaries to our affecting, but often vague, thoughts about God.

I’ve wondered at times what would happen if church musicians sought to handle the word of truth as effectively as they handle their instruments. I can’t predict exactly what would happen, but I’m certain that the effect on the worship of God’s people would be very, very good.

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4 Responses to On Musicians and Reading Books, Pt. 3

  1. Darrin January 13, 2006 at 9:44 AM #

    Good series. Reminds me of a warning once given by the prolific hymn-writer Horatius Bonar:

    “One is often inclined to ask how far some of these exulting hymns may be the utterance of excitement or sentimentalism…hymns are often the channels through which much unreality is given vent to in ‘religious life.’ Song, like music, is often deceitful, malting people unwittingly believe themselves to be what they are not. The amount of superficial similarity which has, in all ages, been introduced into and fostered in the Church by music, is incalculable. High-wrought feeling produced by it in conjunction with song, has in many a case misled both the singer and the listener into a belief that their heart was beating truly and nobly towards Christ, when all the goodness was like the morning cloud and early dew.”

    I think Bonar’s point is this: The melody works on our passions and music tends to make us ‘feel good’. These feelings may in turn cauterize our hearts in such a way as we miss the reality of its condition. Bonar, like many others, wrote the lyrical content to reflect that which was in the Word for he knew that it was in words that truth was communicated; truth does not exist in melody.

  2. David Dugas February 10, 2006 at 11:29 PM #

    Amen. My generation, as are most others, is plagued with “feeling God in the room.” God being with you is not a bad idea… but i don’t believe that our “feelings” are what God is about. I Chronicles 29:11, “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.” God’s existence commands a creation-wide screaming of His glory (CONSTANTLY!), and we should take enjoyment from that fact that we rest in glorious grace of He who deserves such adoration and praise!
    I was a counselor/leader at a jr. high camp when I was in high school (5 years ago). It was early session (around 8 oclock) and one student was almost screaming the words to the songs in a highly off key way… i turned to look at this kid, when i did i noticed tears and a smile on his face… in a regular morning service. no lights. no smoke. no free pizza. This kid would’ve split his knees open if he hit them any harder than he did that morning. This was my first glimpse past the selling of worship as a “feel good experience” that God likes to sit in on and a step of guidance towards God’s fashioning my vision for my future ministry.
    Once again I want to thank you Mr. Kauflin for being a great big brother to take time to do this and in doing so becoming a God-glorifying means of grace! The wisdom and experience I am gaining daily as an intern for a youth ministry, puts me in a position to be tempted with such a pride in music. Upon looking at this post after I was just asked to play for the church service every sunday… God is guiding me (and breaking me) in how to deal with this pride (which includes my selfish over zealous proddings at times to accountability partners and other lead worshippers). This reprinting almost everyday of my horrid fallibility, so far, results in God-glorifying embarrassment on my part, and fuels my ever growing realizations of the Worship Leader’s necessity: humility. Thanks again Mr. Kauflin.
    -David Dugas-

  3. Bethany January 17, 2007 at 4:56 PM #

    Hi Bob,
    Thank you for this website. It’s been a tremendous source of instruction and correction for me over the years. I always feel like I’m better equipped to serve after reading what you have to say.

    I have a somewhat related problem because I can’t get most of my worship team to read either!

    I have been on staff at a church of about 175 for about a year. I live a region of the country where change comes very slowly (Appalachia) but our church is making great progress. I inherited a worship team consisting of 9 people, including myself, and 5 of them are in the same family. There are so many other issues that go with this, but many of them I realize I cannot change. I am learning to trust God for help with my frustrations. The one thing I think I can change is my approach to them, but I need help. At least one of them (possibly all) have been diagnosed with a learning disability and obsessive compulsive disorder. Two of them have hearing loss, one is more pronounced than the other. One has a hearing aid but refuses to wear it for some reason. So I suppose I’m asking how can I work with people who have disabilities or special needs in a worship team?

    When I have presented the worship team with some magazine articles, some of your blogs, etc. they looked at me like I was crazy. Read? Why would we read? I realize now that their reading skills may be very basic. They may have never been in an environment where they have been challenged to learn and grow.

    I’m having a very high level of frustration, because there is so much I cannot change due to the cultural climate here. My pastor is awesome and been very supportive through all this, he sees the situation for what it is, and I think he’s also at a loss for what to do.

    Thank you for your time. I would appreciate any insight that you have on this issue.


  4. Bob Kauflin January 17, 2007 at 7:45 PM #


    Thanks for your question and for serving the folks on your team.

    First, the issue is biblical truth, not reading. Reading is a way God has given us of retaining and passing on his Word. However, for centuries truth was passed on aurally. So I’d be mostly concerned that the musicians are understanding the basics of who God is and what he’s done for us in Christ. I’d especially encourage them in knowing what it means to live a life of worship, rooted in the Gospel – serving, forgiving, being generous, pursuing relationships, helping the poor, etc. – because of the grace God has shown us in the cross.

    Second,if someone’s disability keeps them from being a humble learner, I wonder whether or not they should be on the team. Humility is a heart issue, not a physical one.

    Third, I’d try reading simple articles or chapters together as a team and then talking about them. Jerry Bridges has written some great stuff, as has Donald Whitney. True Worship by Vaughan Roberts is written fairly simply as well.

    Finally, I’d continue to keep bringing them back to the basics. We were created to bring honor to God through Jesus Christ in the power of his Spirit. His Word is central to our worship. We worship with our lives, not just our songs.

    Hope that’s helpful. Thanks again for seeking to serve your church.

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