The Father of lights gave a good gift to me this past weekend, a retreat to the Wilds with most of my fellow BJU Seminary students.
I enjoyed the preaching, the God-honoring music, the many discussions with individual professors, the conversations with other students, the faculty testimonies, and even the Q&A session (something I often find myself dreading in similar gatherings).
Dr. Hankins, president of the Seminary, did a fine job of corralling the Q&A, trying to keep it on track while letting students speak and ask plenty of questions of their teachers. Not an easy task! The discussion focused on some difficult areas of Christian worship practice.
As the discussion progressed, I became increasingly convinced that we all could have gotten some good help from theologian John Frame.
Frame looks at all ethical questions from three perspectives, because ethics for him comprises three elements: a person applying a norm to a situation.
So, like my other reader, let’s say you’re asking, “Should I have Christian ska in my church worship? CCM Magazine said in 1999 that it’s pretty cool.” Let’s just ask one diagnostic question in each of the three categories to help us find an answer:
- Person: Does it violate your conscience?
- Norm: What does Scripture say about the purpose of church music?
- Situation: What does ska communicate in the culture(s) of the people in my church?
Remember, that’s just one question for each category. We could and should ask many others. Do I have a history of being defiled by non-Christian ska? What are the norms built into the creation of the human ear (i.e., is there a decibel limit I should probably impose in our church)? What do my elders think about Christian ska?
And, as Frame often points out, the categories tend to collapse into each other. The real reason I knew to ask about conscience is that Scripture tells me it’s important (Rom. 14:23). And I certainly can’t read the norm in Scripture independently from my cultural situation.
I stood up during the Q&A and asked a question focusing on the third category: “Would you agree that music is partially culturally relative—that is, appropriate church music in Botswana will sound different from that of Kazakhstan? If you do agree, how do you select which music in our culture is appropriate for worship?”
I think the answer is complicated by the fact that our “situation” includes, rightfully, a long Western tradition of church music and a shorter tradition of evangelical music. The very culture of the US has been influenced by the church, broadly speaking. This is not true of other world cultures.
What do you think?