Is The Lid About To Come Off?

The last week has seen a progressively deepening crisis in Hollywood on both sides of the Atlantic. Celebrities, stars and Oscar Nominations Committees have disowned Harvey Weinstein with an air of disbelief and disgust. Prosecutions may follow for this most successful producer.

Now, today, on the BBC’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ program, new allegations, concerning the UK music industry have emerged. Sarah Bowden, a music manager, has spoken about a scale of endemic sexual harassment, abuse and rape which is “as bad if not worse” as anything Hollywood has to offer.

Perhaps, we might wonder, if guilty complicity of promotion-seeking stars, has led to a backlash – those who are ashamed are now seeking their revenge [though not in the case of Sarah Bowden, who repelled all approaches to her cost]. That still does not excuse the advances of these males. All godly, right-thinking, Christians, if not entirely surprised, should nevertheless be sickened by these criminal events.

These revelation, of course, may only be the first – we may well be about to witness the lifting the lid on a proverbial ‘can of worms!’ Can we really have expected anything else from the industry that was born and lauded by Al Freed and Ian Dury under the rubric of ‘Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll’? The best we can say is that we all have been naive.

Perhaps what is more shocking is that the professing Christian church has let the cacophony and din of rock gain a foothold in the Church. Christian Unions in UK universities, now reverberate with sound, have spotlights on the stage, while audiences sit in the dark – forgive me for thinking that this more resembles a Stones or Springsteen concert than the ‘House of Prayer for all Nations.’

Equally alarming is the way the disciples of Jesus, in a large part, have become stupefied by rock. Many today are wedded to their headphones, and are generally undiscriminating, as regards the kind and content of music they listen to – not to mention monetary support for the raunchy videos, gyrations, fashions and lyrics that accompany them.

Respecting entertainment few garments are still unsoiled. Few hearts or thoughts today have been preserved without a stain. Billions have been spent by believers in pursuit of this fashionable pleasure as they dance to the drumbeat of world, the flesh and the Devil.

The last thing I want to do is let ‘the devil have all the good music!’ I certainly have no wish ‘to throw the baby out with the bathwater’! Nor do I desire to parade these comments in Pharisaic self-righteousness. Yet if, at last, the lid comes off the rock music industry, maybe it will shock us and rebuke us, into being a little more discerning and ever-increasingly disgusted.

Yes, I do recognize, that the greatest problem with the world, is that the world remains in us, and that external prohibitions are not a lasting cure for internal problems of the affections of the heart. The key remedy we need is the Gospel and its powerful ‘expulsive affection.’ Yet part of the cure is to hear that warning word in 1 John 2.15:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

It is hard to imagine an industry (for the largest part) which savors more of the world and is lust first unbridled, and then paraded in your face. Minds of Christian youth seem to be being progressively drugged and numbed to its deleterious and damaging spiritual effects. Concentration powers on the banks of the church have been eroded by this amazon river of ever-flowing entertainment. There is a growing impatience with the Gospel Word of Life and the need to be crucified to the world.

This looks very like a river that was polluted at its source – and if that is the case we must be careful not to drink!

17 Comments

  1. Scott G October 16, 2017 at 7:34 pm #

    It is not clear if your comments are specifically about the genre rock and roll or just that many Christians listen to and purchase rock and roll produced by non Christians. If it is the genre then your assumptions are faulty.
    That the world acts like the world is no surprise, but that would not mean the genre of music typically labeled rock and roll is a polluted river. Not all classical music was written for the glory of God or the edification of the church.
    That many in the church recklessly and wrongly treasure the music or entertainment of the world under the banner of freedom does not make the forms themselves worldly, evil, and unsafe. They maybe, but not because the world misuses them.

    • Andrew Kerr October 17, 2017 at 4:01 am #

      Thanks Scott for you helpful comments – if I was intentionally simplistic to make a point while avoiding more complex discussion of the music industry, I had hoped I might not ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater.’

      By way of reply there are a number of things to say in dealing with, what you rightly noted is indeed, a nuanced and demanding subject:

      First – by way of historical correction, it was of course Al Freed the Cleveland DJ and not Al Jolson the singer who first popularized the term ‘Rock and Roll’ as applied to a musical genre & it was Ian Dury the UK singer who wrote the song ‘Sex, drugs, rock and roll’.

      Second – I partly agree and partly disagree with your comments regarding musical genres which I find it hard to accept are always neutral morally or spiritually. I’ll try to lay out some of my concerns and you can see if that sheds some more light on the subject.

      1. I think this is a partly a matter, not simply of taste in music, whether classical or contemporary, but of aesthetics and discernment. God has made us in His Image, and human beings, though sinfully fallen and scarred, still have the ability to tell the difference between what is good and noble and what is bad and ignoble, not just morally but also aesthetically. Let me try to give an example of this. We know that a snow-capped mountain panorama, against a clear, blue, sunny sky, or a seascape at sunset, even in a fallen, post-flood world, has a created beauty, glory and design which is given by God. There are some blind eyes which do not appreciate this, of course, but most creatures retain the ability to recognize and celebrate beauty and glory in God’s created order. There is also an aesthetic beauty in the man-made ‘creation’ of Central Park in New York or in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (according to Historians in the case of the latter): again most are able to see beauty and delight if they take time to look. The Manhattan skyline, which demonstrates human industry, architecture and order, while a kind of ‘concrete jungle’ still has qualities of beauty which are aesthetically pleasing to many (particularly at dawn or dusk). We would, however, I think begin to worry if someone opened their photograph album and showed us their holiday ‘snaps’ of America’s rubbish dumps: rubbish dumps may be a necessary ‘evil’, but if we spent day after day and week after week gazing at, delighting and taking pleasure in these things, I suggest we would agree tha there might be something wrong. Tha is because rubbish does not elevate the mind, celebrate beauty, and is not therefore a fit subject of repeated or regular contemplation for the Christian. I think most of us are able to quickly tell the difference between glory and garbage. In a similar way (I’m sure there are some who will argue for the value of contemplating rubbish – like rats or worms perhaps if they could speak, and perhaps environmentalists or ecologists because they must), if we cannot tell the difference between Motorhead and Motzart (I’m sure there is some rubbish in there too – I mean the stuff generally recognized as brilliant and beautiful – except by the biased like Salieri), then our powers of discrimination and discernment need to be retrained or renewed. I have deliberately used extreme examples to make the case clear that genres actually are not neutral. As I think John Piper has put it ‘Being is beholding.’ I think he gets this idea from Jonathan Edwards, if I remember correctly, who had much to say about the parameters of true aesthetic beauty which is based on harmony and symmetry (you might want to refer to the blog I wrote on beauty last June 17th entitled “Beautiful Beyond Description”). The apostle Paul of course also makes the point of the importance of ‘being by beholding’ as we are transformed by gazing on Christ in 2 Corinthians 3.18, even if that is a slightly different, though related, matter. [We could make a similar point about the difference between the face of a top fashion model, the painted Mona Lisa and an average Picasso picture – people instinctively know good looks when the see them, Mona Lisa might not be a beauty but she has something attractive about her, but a Picasso is weird, distorted, ugly, out-of-proportion – some might call Picasso beautiful art but I think it defies definition as beauty].

      2. The terms ‘Rock and Roll’ of course, at least according to most dictionaries, are loaded with innuendo – I gather it was an expression, first used in a song, in the 1920s, and prior to that had been a familiar Afro-American euphemism for the copulative act. Perhaps many today do not realize that. I don’t know if Al Freed at the time was aware of the implication of the term when he popularized it. It could be a case for the naive Christian that ‘to the pure all things are pure.’ Yet, in the 1970s in the UK when the ‘Sex Pistols’ popularized their anarchic, rebellious, discordant, raucous brand of Punk Rock, it didn’t take me to be terribly discerning as a young believer, to know that this was not the kind of thing which would aid my spiritual growth, but would probably be a snare. After all are we not told: “Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.” Again in the case of that sort of genre of music, is it neither noble, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous or praiseworthy! I know, in context, Paul has in mind the self-righteous ceremonialism and legalism of Judaizers, and the life-style that results, not the rock music industry or punk bands of the 70s. Yet I think the principle in Philippians 4.8 holds good.

      3. In addition, I would have thought that the lyrics, videos, blasphemies, and fashions that accompany much Rock Music, pretty quickly rules it out of bounds of the Christian as unworthy of their contemplation. What I think is concerning is that most Christians (I guess it is the same with the film industry and TV shows or comedy acts) tend to ignore the swear words, sit on through the bad bits, and seem relatively content to support and fund the semi- or frankly pornographic material generated by such groups, often indirectly by the purchase of their music (or maybe it’s just a UK phenomenon). As a very tame example, I really enjoy Simon and Garfunkel’s (that really dates me) folksy ballad ‘Scarborough Fair’. Slightly worryingly, if the next two tracks happen to be ‘Wake up little Suzy …we’re in trouble deep …what are we going to tell our friends when they say Ooo la la’ and ‘Here’s to you Mrs Robinson’ [Given that it’s the background track for ‘the Graduate’ with its pathetic, tragic, promiscuous, storyline], the temptation I might face is to sing, or toe-tap, along. Again, I love ‘The Boxer’ but is it really OK, or glorifying to God, to have imprinted on my brain ‘Asking only workman’s wages I come looking for a job, but I get no offers,
      just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue. I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there, le le le le le le le.’ I know the bible uses some language that prudes find shocking, but that is within a religious context where it is clearly disapproved – and Christians don’t generally humm along to those kind of ‘whoredom’ passages, except in the Psalms where destruction is promised. These are all, you’d probably agree, pretty tame examples, compared to some of the stuff of the 80s, 90s, 00s and so forth.

      4. I think it was the British preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones [not sure of the reference – it may have been in his booklet where he (unfortunately in my view) takes a position against the use of exclusive psalmody, from his original sermons on Ephesians – which the Banner of Truth omitted – but that maybe incorrect], talked a little bit about the non-neutrality of musical genres, if not exactly using those terms [it must have been the early Jurassic Period!]. He talked about the importance of distinguishing between music which elevates the soul by the aesthetic qualities of melody and harmony, thus casting the mind upon what is good and lovely, and music that is discordant and noisy. Again, it should be obvious to most that, for example, Beethoven’s 5th (I think), was deliberately aimed to cause the mind to recapture something of the warmth, beauty, harmony and glory of a created pastoral landscape during the seasonal cycle (if I remember correctly) – most are able, even if Beethoven is not their ‘cup of tea’ [UK expression meaning preference], to see symmetry, beauty and harmony as soul elevating things [in line with Philippians 4.8]. Most will also be able to recognize that heavy metal is noisy, anarchic, hypnotic, rebellious – am I wrong to suggest Christians should not approve these things? The same will apply to music that is intentionally and repetitively rhythmic, hypnotic, deafening, or sensuous or orgasmic – such things, I am told, were once common in pagan religious worship, and often designed to stimulate or arouse eroticism in fertility rites, or to whip worshipers into a semi- trance-like frenzy. Of course all music must have a certain rhythm and beat – as far as I am aware a jig or a reel or a military march are harmless – but there are certain hypnotic rhythms which appeal to what is base and animal in us. That is the kind of thing I have in mind when thinking of some genres and arguing against neutrality.

      5. As in all things, as you rightly pointed out, the Glory of God is key, in music as in any other area of working out the cultural mandate. This was not always sought by classical composers, so I hope I would make the same point about that too, not being a very accomplished musician, who loves to sing, enjoys many kinds of musical genres, plays a little of the guitar (both classical and contemporary), and a few notes on the piano (on the very rare occasion). If His glory is our principal guiding principle, and we apply Scripture correctly, I think we will not find ourselves in any significant disagreement.

  2. William Duncan October 17, 2017 at 6:48 am #

    Pastor Kerr,

    I agree with everything you say in principle. As I am a believer and a covenant child, I have a unique view on the subject you speak on. I say unique only in the since that I, like most believers, have the ability to see things from two diametrically opposed positions. As a youngster I was stricken with the rock and roll bug. Being the front man for an ill fated band was the highlight of my rebellious youth. The music however was not the draw. Nor was the message in the lyrics that inspired me. I was drawn to the potential benefits that rock and roll, like other music genres offered, inclusion. The nearness and camaraderie, if you will, of others made me “feel” a part of something. The draw was not only the band membership, but also the membership in a culture who shared the same taste. Of course I didn’t know that then. Of course as the natural progression goes, my fixation changed to fit the period of life I was in. Country Music became popular and I fell in to that genre. Then my conversion opened my eyes. It is not the music, screen media, nor any other influence that drives youth one way or the other, it is the Holy Spirit and his timing. I still love rock and roll. Now, however, I love it for what it is, the image bearing man, though fallen, yet still showing the amazing creating and sustaining power God. I do agree that rock and roll is not ever to be considered worship, “strange fire” and all that. It is simply enjoyment for an old sinner.

    • Andrew Kerr October 17, 2017 at 7:11 am #

      Thanks William for your comments, observations and testimony.
      I am sure that books have been and could be written on this whole complex subject of music, culture and faith.
      I think it also probably fair to say that many people could testify to various ways in which the Rock and Roll scene has impacted upon their lives or influenced them in a certain direction.
      For me in my early teens, there was the whole peer group and attention seeking thing. In my late teens and early twenties, in addition to other unhelpful ‘issues’ in my life, it was actually ‘romantic’ music that nearly wrecked my brain. The ways music can effect our emotions in a harmful way are doubtless legion – it can sentimentalize, inflame, corrupt and romanticize us into ways of thinking about relationships which are ungodly and destructive. Though I’ve never really taken time to cultivate an instrument properly (though I had a fling with a band as a bass player in my mid-teens which never got off the ground), I am quite musical, and it was the love of alluring and soaring melodies and harmonies which took my eyes off the Word of God and set it firmly on the world, aided and abetted by my flesh. I’ve also noticed (I was thinking about this a few hours ago in bed before I got up) of how even, in what most regard as the much more respectable ‘Country Music’ scene, there are lots of questionable lyrics, wrong ways of thinking about life, tugging on the emotional heartstrings, and the wearing of low cut garments and skin-tight pants by female singers, so the whole package of country and western can also have its attractions to the flesh. I wonder how many male and female artists in all genres of music have done things to sell records or attract audiences that were at first against their principles? Just another strand of thought on this topic!

      • William Duncan October 17, 2017 at 9:10 am #

        You are very articulate and express my thoughts for me. Thanks be to God for delivering us and giving us his mind. Yes, the country music scene is much more dangerous because of the impression given of simplicity and its folksy background. Truly the dangers for the Christian is much greater because of this. Rock and Roll has no hidden agenda. . I appreciate your work for the body of Christ.

        • Andrew Kerr October 17, 2017 at 9:57 am #

          Glad you found some encouragement, every blessing.

  3. Jonny Fitzsimons October 17, 2017 at 8:35 am #

    Andrew, thank you for the article and subsequent comments. Lots to think about!

    It is great for me as a believer (and all believers) to be reminded of the need to be careful to never disengage my mind.

    We are blind to so many things when it comes to media and entertainment. It is amazing how many excuses I know I make at times to justify watching or listening to something that I know deep down I shouldn’t.

    I think part of it is our sinful nature and part of it is not wanting to seem odd or different, even amongst our professing Christian peers. Jesus is King over even what we watch and listen to but some areas are easier to submit to him in than others. The reality is we need to continually remind ourselves that he is King over everything.

    • Andrew Kerr October 17, 2017 at 9:56 am #

      Glad you were helped, Jonny. Glory to God.

  4. Angela Wittman October 17, 2017 at 10:26 am #

    Excellent post!

    Yesterday while sorting through old photos, I came across one of me in my Rock and Roll teen years (1970’s) and felt a bit of nostalgia… Until I remembered the rebellion that lifestyle promoted. When I became a believer, I gave up listening to rock music because I began paying attention to the lyrics.

    Yes, let’s pray the church become more discerning into what she allows in her ears, mind and heart!

    • Andrew Kerr October 17, 2017 at 11:57 am #

      That’s an excellent point, Angela – crying to God instead of complaining about Christians! Let’s pray for grace to remember to do this!

  5. Pam October 17, 2017 at 11:11 am #

    Thank you for this thought provoking essay. I know I am an old fogey but I wonder why my church doesn’t find it odd to call the platform of the church a “stage” but then again, it is set up as a stage, with the “praise team” the focus, with the drum set right under the cross. The lectern is below the stage so the first thing you see when you walk into the “sanctuary” is the drum set and all of the things that go along with a pop band. I love these people but just wondering why they don’t notice this. Once while channel surfing I came across some famous rock concert and thought “oh, that’s where they get the design and all the standing and hand waving.” Thankfully things have settled down and our church isn’t as bad as many, but I still wonder why no one notices how much the service looks like MTV at times…so pitiful. So I appreciate your words and will think about them. (and certainly no one really cares what an old grandma things…)

    • Pam October 17, 2017 at 11:12 am #

      meant “thinks” – sorry.

    • Andrew Kerr October 17, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

      Pam, I don’t think you are an old fogey at all for seeing things this way – church design and architecture usually says a lot about the priorities of the church – no Christian is perfect, every church has its weaknesses, but if the Word is subordinated to something else (in practice not just architecture), and particularly to the tastes, fashions and desires of men, the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, has been demoted and the Spirit is grieved. Sadly, you’re not alone (I know sometimes we get nostalgic about tradition for the wrong reasons), but this kind of intrusion into worship is ‘the elephant in the room’ which few seem ready or able or willing to notice. How we need a move of the Spirit and revival of true preaching in the Western world! My longstanding fear is that all this will lead, sooner of later, if churches don’t repent, to further withdrawal of the light of the Lamp by the Lord of the Church. I’m glad, for your sake, and all the other sheep who worship with you, that things have improved a little. Don’t give up saying and praying! As Jesus said to the restored Peter ‘If you love me ….feed my sheep!’ That’s what the leadership of the Church has as its primary goal and task.

  6. Robert Parkes October 18, 2017 at 5:54 am #

    many thanks for this thought provoking article, there’s quite a lot to unpack. I think it would be good to have a better/deeper understanding of philippians 4:8. On one extreme i think the church is insulated against many things to do with the world, for example the holistic vegan lifestyle, medical uses of cannabis and yoga (remove the false religion from it and mobility exercises is what is left) . They have a multitude of benefits for physical and mental health as long as they are understood as Grace from God rather than being overwhelmed with fear that they have the potential to be made idols of. While the other extreme i think is becoming clamorous about the things happening in the world because we all know what the news channels say and what 1st hand witnesses say tend to vary quite a bit. It’s all too easy to skip over (the positive) being in the world and then solely focus on (the negative) being not of the world. to live Christ like more fully in every day life.

    • Andrew Kerr October 18, 2017 at 6:26 am #

      Thankful that you found the piece stimulating Robert, and it’s an interesting point that you make. Without wanting to stray into a full contextualized explanation of Philippians 4.8 (though I suspect Paul would have had ascetic practices not too far from his mind), as a minister and former medical practitioner, I would have some concerns about practices like Yoga or medicinal uses of Cannabis, even when stripped of some of their associations. I have seen first hand in my wider family circle the psychiatric damage that drugs like Cocaine may produce. I am also told that Cannabis, by inducing an altered state of consciousness and sense perception, can create altered mental and physical states of those who take it – paranoia, hallucination, de-motivation, concentration loss, anxiety and memory loss seem to be (as far as understand), recognized side effects. In the UK news this week, a hallucinogenic drug is being touted by doctors as one of the answers to deep long term depression because it resets part of the brain. I am not so much troubled by the serious and deleterious psychological complications of what may be taken in medicinal doses, as the spiritual dangers of altered states of consciousness and the damage to the personality. The same concern would apply to semi-hypnotic states produces by transcendental meditation techniques that focus on objects to relax the mind (though I know almost nothing about this). If the aim is to relax by vacating the mind, I would counsel against such a practice. I do not know, but I wonder is there a danger of opening up our minds to demonic or satanic influences – Satan presents himself to us as an angel of light. If this is true for the believer, how much more dangerous might these drugs and techniques be for unbelievers. I would have also thought that we need to do all we can to improve memory function for meditation on Scripture (not to mention performing and remembering routine tasks of daily living). In other words, while I do think we need to be careful not to reject things that God created which are beneficial and good, we also need to be wary of abusing God’s good things for a purpose they were not intended for. I suppose this approaches the principle that Paul espouses in 1 Corinthians 10.23, with one eye on the sloganeering of those who took a more relaxed approach: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful; all things are lawful for me, but all things do not edify.” Yet as he continues “the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness”. In considering all these things, and the blessing of self and others, we come back to the final conclusion, v11, “Therefore whether you eat or drink or whatever you do” in exercising liberty “do all to the glory of God.” Does this help address the issue?

      • Robert Parkes October 19, 2017 at 11:47 am #

        thanks for the reply. in cannabis there is thc which is the psychoactive part which you spoke of but there’s also cbd that counteracts the thc. cbd oil taken hemp thankfully has a minuscule amount of thc. I would like to know your viewpoint on the plant based diet as the only doctor i know of who is knowledgeable and well researched in the plant based diet is Michael Greger M.D. ( an American). It is a secondary issue though with a pig factory slowly being built 0.2 mile from my parents house, doesn’t help. facebook page is stop the newtownabbey pig factory.

        • Andrew Kerr October 19, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

          Thanks again Robert.
          First, if, as you suggest, it is possible to strip out ALL the psychoactive part of cannibis, or administer it in non-toxic or non-therapeutic doses (if that is really a possibility), and all that is left is a harmless, purely medicinal, component (and we could be certain of that), then my concern would be alleviated – I would add a caveat however: pressure groups for change can promise to only use one component of a substance if legislation could be passed, and then we find out later, lawmakers have opened the door to widespread abuse of the physical and the psychoactive components (I’m not aware to speak with any authority on the current legislation or classification of cannabis). This is the thin end of the wedge argument!

          Second, I know nothing at all about the plant-based diet you mention. Since that is the case, I don’t feel I can comment directly on your question with any authority – I would be just hazarding a guess, which is not the role or responsibility of a minister of the Gospel.

          I can however make a few observations. Plants for food of course were God-given in Eden before the fall so if someone, in preference, preferred to eat all or mainly vegetables, that, I presume, would not be harmful – thought of course that was a pre-fall world before sin entered in – but I can’t think of any reason why it would be harmful medically (though I am not a dietician or up to speed on nutrition). There is the text, of course, which tells of Peter having a vision on the rooftop of the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa – I take it that the Lord’s command to ‘get up, kill and eat’ has to do with Peter’s scruples as a Jew about eating gentile cuisine that the ceremonial law classified as unclean. On the other hand, we are not to refuse to eat with thanksgiving any food that God has created for our enjoyment as Paul tells us in Corinthians. To insist on a Vegan or Vegetarian Diet regimen, therefore, unless there is some medical allergy to meat protein or something like that, would be contrary the Gospel. The third thing I would say is, in my experience, some who advocate strict diets of various sorts which depart from the standard norms, tend to be overly strict to the point of approaching asceticism not only in food but in other areas of life. I suppose, therefore, I treat all claims for special values of certain diets with a skeptical eye. My general sense is that we should avoid such extremes, restrictions, or prohibitions – while I know certain meats have hormones injected, I can’t help but notice that even organic foods use natural fertilizers (usually animal waste products, as far as I understand), not to mention the artificial fertilizers used on mass produced food. I think, in the end, the the only way to eat ‘pure food’ is to have our place in the new creation. That is a banquet menu all believers can look forward to without having any scruples. Till then, we should feel free to enjoy, all the foodstuffs God gives, unless advised otherwise by our doctors. Every blessing.

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