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Amorality Isn’t

July 28, 2007

The claim that a thing is amoral is a claim that it is neutral. Amoral means neither moral nor immoral – the absence of morality. Amoral indicates that a thing is neither good nor evil, neither virtuous nor vicious, neither lawful nor lawless, neither right nor wrong. Thus, amorality means neutrality.

We have been told that God filled the world with amoral or neutral things — flowers, bugs, dogs, cats, sounds, smells, tastes, sights, and so on. Certainly it is true that none of these things can be sinful in and of themselves. As the catechism tells us, sin is want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God. A smell cannot transgress God’s law. A taste cannot transgress God’s law. A flower cannot transgress God’s law. Only creatures can transgress God’s law.

But the above analogy falls woefully short of a thorough thinking through of the issue of amorality. Certainly sounds and smells and tastes and scenery cannot sin. But men can. Men can sin by smelling, by tasting, by handling, by looking. Nude bodies, though hardly neutral or amoral, are not inherently sinful. God gave one to each of us, to the praise of His glory. And, God has given a context for righteous nudity. The determining factor is not the fact of the nude body, but rather the use of said body.

But we still haven’t gone far enough in our thinking. The claim that a smell or a taste or a sound is amoral, or neutral, is deceitful and vain. The claim that there is anything – any square inch on the face of this earth that is neutral – is a claim that there are things or places where the Sovereignty of God does not govern. Such claims are in fact immoral.

Amorality is not a neutral claim. Not at all. Amorality claims independence from the rule of God. Amorality claims that not all things were made by God and for God. Amorality claims that the earth is not the Lord’s, not the fullness thereof. Amorality claims that there exists, somewhere in the world God created, a place where Christ is not Lord, and where middle ground can be found between truth and falsity. “Amorality” is not an amoral claim.

Music is not amoral. Music, despite claims to the contrary, always takes a side. Either music gives glory to God, who is worthy to receive it, or it does not. But to make this proposition clear, we need to look fundamentally at the foundations of music.

Man neither invented nor created music. When God created the world, Job tells us that the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy. Some say that when God created the world, he literally sang it into existence. When God created Lucifer, he created in him the ability to produce the most beautiful of music. God created music. Music was created by Him and for Him.

But we should go further. Music fundamentally is a combination or succession of sounds. Consider sound. God made the earth in such a way that a dish can fall to the ground and shatter, and the shattering of the dish will make a sound wave that vibrates two bones in my ear, enabling me to discern what just happened. The sound of a breaking dish can hardly be termed “neutral.” Miraculous, perhaps, but not neutral. God made it, and it gives us cause to glorify him. The same can be said for the sound of a baby’s cry, for the sound of a plucked string, for the sound of a snore, for the sound of a Harley.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has enabled man to distinguish between sounds, to the extent that man has developed complex systems of arrangement and identification. Consider the alphabet. What is it really, but a means of symbolizing the sounds used in language? The letter “D” means nothing without the sound that it symbolizes. Is “D” neutral? God created a world in which the letter “D” would symbolize a particular sound, and that particular sound would mean something.

At this juncture, the “amoralists” will no doubt jump in to argue, “yes, but the letter ‘D’ can be used for good or for evil, lawfully or lawlessly.” And they certainly would be correct. Anything that God has created can be used as an instrument for rebellion against God. But to do so is to misuse, to pervert the correct use of that item. God made it for His own glory. It is not neutral.

The letters of the alphabet symbolize the sounds used for speech. Numerals symbolize numbers. The notes on the scale symbolize the sounds used in music. Middle C cannot be inherently sinful. God created Middle C and man discovered it. God created it for His glory, to be used in His service both in worship and in bringing delight, as man thinks on whatsoever things are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report, and virtuous, and praiseworthy.

Middle C is moral. Middle C is good. Middle C is right. But Middle C can be misused. It can be perverted. Evil men can worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. These evil men use Middle C in their rebellion against the Lord God, who gave them a tongue to sing and ears to hear and fingers to pluck. Man does not create music.  That has already been done.  Rather, man imitates the Creator in creating musical arrangements. Man, being creative, combines sounds into melody and harmony. Yet man rebels against the Lord in creating rebellious music. ‘Tis not the vibrations that rebel against God. ‘Tis man who misuses the vibrations to create a rebellious sound. A sound of war. Of war against God.

Need we go further? How about the scales? Without reservation, we can say that the scales are good, not neutral or amoral. The power of God gave the scales a sound, a melody, and with those scales, men are able to create beautiful music, virtuous music, praiseworthy music. The scales take sides. They are to the praise of the glory of His grace.

If David said, I will set no wicked thing before mine eye, then there must be wicked things that might be set before eyes. If God said to think on the things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy, then there must be things that aren’t. If God calls for skilled music (Ps 33:3; I Chr 15:22; 25:7; 2 Chr 34:12), then there must be unskilled music. If we speak to ourselves in spiritual songs, then there must be songs that are not spiritual. Music, like every other sight, smell, taste, or sound, is never neutral. All things were made by Him and for Him.

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Categories: Brandenburg, Music
  1. July 29, 2007 at 4:25 am

    Dave,

    You should listen to the entries done on music during the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory at First Baptist Church of Rockford, IL back in 2005. The speakers were Kevin Bauder, John Makujina (author of Measuring the Music), Scott Williquette, and Scott Aniol. Particularly relevant to this matter of amorality is Bauder’s “Meaning and Morality.” I think you will find it helpful. He doesn’t argue for “amorality,” but there are some things to consider about distinguishing between morality and meaning in conversations like this. It’s very thoughtful and exegetically based.

  2. Sam Hanna
    July 29, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Greg,

    With the greatest of respect, Bauder is not exactly an expert in these areas or indeed a reliable judge.

    On “Duller Iron” he currently has an article on Harry Potter and unbelievably he writes “I do not believe that mature readers will be harmed by these volumes. Even should they fall into the hands of our offspring, the damage will probably be minimal. Harry Potter is not spiritually healthy fare for the immature, but it is more like junk food than it is like poison.” These books Bauder admits are “mildly subversive, and as the series progresses, the attitudes become uglier and the actions more violent.” Now, what verse in the KJV (as he probably can find some justification in some wacko version that he recommends) would give grounds for immersing ourselves in rehashed occult literature with immoral pre-suppositions.

    With logic like that, I got a problem on any Neo-Evangelical interpretation Bauder spins on the subject of music. No, I have not read what he says, but I am pretty confident he will steer a middle ground on the subject (at best) and characterise anyone who calls for bold, militant old-fashioned hymns and music only as extreme.

  3. July 29, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Sam,

    Frankly, your presumptions display your prejudice and ignorance.

    First, off topic, Bauder, for all his writing on why he doesn’t accept the position that the KJV is exclusively the only legitimate modern English Bible, still prefers the KJV and uses it in his classroom as his primary English Bible. In speaking personally with him, he told me were he pastoring a church, he would likely still use it as his standard pulpit Bible. He also shared with me he frequently refers to the TR in his original language work. He’s also a very close friend to some of your Free Pres folks in Greenville, FWIW. Though he obviously doesn’t hold the same position you do, you should be careful to make sure you know of what you speak rather than arrogantly presuming and condemning. But hey, it isn’t like this is the first time I’ve had to tell you something like this, Sam- and it probably won’t be the last.

    Secondly, Bauder is very definitely not “middle of the road” when it comes to music. Most would consider him pretty “right wing,” I’d imagine. His hymnal of choice is Trinity Hymnal, BE (the one Kent B. uses). He goes to great lengths to promote hymnody and encourage those with whom he has influence to ponder potential errors and shortcomings in even the Gospel song genre, not to mention the modern CCM/P&W pop culture stuff.

    Regarding Harry Potter, he notes here:

    A word of clarification. . . .
    This essay was written a couple of years ago, prior to the release of the final two volumes in the Potter series. While my evaluation in general has not changed, I do think that the last two books, and especially the last book, are more obnoxious than the earlier ones.

    In the last book, Rowling distorts spiritual and moral verities to a far greater degree than she has in the previous volumes (though much of what she does is already implicit in the earlier volumes). It is here that she seems to be attempting to communicate an actual philosophy, and it is an obnoxious one. You can get the gist of it from the epigrams that she chooses.

    This is not the time or place to offer a full evaluation, and I still would not place these books on a “banned” list, but my reservations about them are more serious now than heretofore. I certainly do not recommend them for small children.

    Kevin T. Bauder

    Anyway…

    What you need to understand about Kevin is he finds it very important to reason through this music discussion well- it’s not enough to just speed ahead to the conclusion. Otherwise, a hasty condemnation will leave us with all kinds of potential blind spots about our own flaws and shortcomings in “our” own music (examples of which have already been mentioned in this months’ discussion here, eg the “songs” in Church Bus News and “In the Garden”). Biblical discernment in this area must be more than just trusting a few music labels and publishers to “approve” what we sing and listen to.

    Anyway, for the rest of you other than Sam (who seems like he’s going to be stubbornly resistant no matter what I say), I would encourage you to listen to the Bauder audio. While I recognize you may not agree with every position he advocates, I do believe this particular entry will be of great help in at least considering angles you may not have before. I know I found it considerably valuable.

    Hey, if Kent can quote Roman Catholics as favorable sources, why not give Bauder a listen? Maybe you’ll learn something- [sarcasm]even if it is just understanding another “Neo-Evangelical interpretation” that will threaten your world.[/sarcasm]

  4. July 29, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    I love this verbal judo above. I think, by the way Sam, that there is a reason why Kevin Bauder comes across middle of the road on things to you, and I will hit that in my blog. I won’t write it right away, by the way, because there is something I want to write first and I’ll be gone for another half week speaking somewhere else (Pastor Mallinak’s). I’m going to listen to Bauder’s session, Greg, and I will give you my impressions right here under this article.

  5. Sam Hanna
    July 30, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Hi Greg,

    I don’t mind you rebuking me if you have justifiable grounds, but I think you are caught up in hero-worship of your teacher, Mr Bauder.

    Firstly, you attack me for citing Bauder’s doublespeak from his own article and in context – what more can I do? The little postscript you added does not detract from the careless and sloppy, at best, moral relativism he exhibits towards Harry Potter. He does not detract from his previous undiscerning remarks or apologise for them but simply adds that he would be more careful of the latest book but would still not ban it!

    Your explanation about Bauder’s music taste sounds good on the surface, but what you failed to mention was that the recent “Leadership Conference” at Calvary in 2007 at which he was one of the main organisers and speakers at his church boasted that it would have a mixture of “contemporary” and “traditional” hymns and music. Pastor Mike Harding of the FBF was forced to denounce it roundly on “Duller Iron.” Harding states “the Leadership conference definitely sent a message to the participants that we need to modernize or update our worship approach. Personally, I am not comfortable with this emphasis.” Like many so-called Fundamentalists, sadly Harding admits “we are not separating from each other.” Obviously, “Kev the self-styled intellectual” needs to go to some greater lengths to promote hymnody amongst his fellow staff members at Calvary!

    http://www.sharperiron.org/showthread.php?t=4944&page=2&pp=7&highlight=national+leadership

    As for his new love for the KJV, it is strange that he would write a widely circulated book attacking its textual foundation. With friends like that for the KJV, who needs ………..

    I hope Greg, in light of the above evidence, you will have the good grace and Christian integrity to admit that I am not being “prejudiced or ignorant” when I stated what I did.

    For the record, please note I am not a Free Presbyterian but I have attended their meetings growing up in the UK. I do not support the current compromises the church has entered into in N.Ireland as set out ably by the Rev Ivan Foster on http://www.ivanfoster.org (a site all should read).

  6. July 30, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Sam Hanna said:

    Your explanation about Bauder’s music taste sounds good on the surface, but what you failed to mention was that the recent “Leadership Conference” at Calvary in 2007 at which he was one of the main organisers and speakers at his church boasted that it would have a mixture of “contemporary” and “traditional” hymns and music.

    Obviously, “Kev the self-styled intellectual” needs to go to some greater lengths to promote hymnody amongst his fellow staff members at Calvary!

    Umm, Sam…

    You’re really embarrassing yourself. Bauder has nothing to do officially with Lansdale. He’s the president of Central Baptist Seminary in Plymouth, Minnesota.

    “Better to be silent and thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

  7. Sam Hanna
    July 30, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    Greg,

    You are really are clutching at straws now! The Leadership Conference (wonder where in the Bible they got such a name!) states,

    Calvary Baptist Church and Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary hosted the 13th annual National Leadership Conference, centered on the theme, “Changeless Truths for Changeless Times: Unity and Uniqueness in a Pluralistic World.”

    http://seminary.cbs.edu/content/news/

    Still trying to maintain that “Kev” had nothing to do with it?

    I note you have not answered my other points, but simple resort to ad hominen arguments. I realise you are probably carried away with the heady excitement of hanging out with your pals at Central but a tad of maturity and discernment would not go amiss. Their lightweight intellectualism does not impress me, although I can understand it does the simple and undiscerning.

  8. July 30, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Sam,

    You presented the idea, not that he was a speaker, but one of the “main organisers” at an event being held at “his church.” Furthermore, you argued that he needed to promote hymnody “amongst his fellow staff members at Calvary!” That demonstrates a real ignorance of the facts- no way around it. That’s not ad hominem- that’s just obvious error on your part that you’re not willing to acknowledge. As someone who has attended a conference there, it is well-established that the speakers there are often invited for the very fact that they would disagree substantially on particular issues between themselves. The fact that he spoke at Lansdale connects him with their music position about as much as speaking at this year’s FBF meeting connected him with Clarence Sexton’s position on the KJV.

    I don’t answer your point on Harry Potter because I don’t happen to see it as the problem you do. I think his point is legitimate.

    Regarding the KJV, I don’t think you’ve said anything that contradicts what I said. As I noted earlier, he obviously does not hold the position you do. I’m not sure how your contributions to the discussion changed that.

    The sloppy efforts to cover your obvious lack of knowledge to matters you wax eloquent on by referring to my correction of your “facts” as displaying a lack of “maturity and discernment” seems to me, quite off topic and unrelated to the matter at hand. I simply made an observation that I thought the workshop suggested earlier would be helpful to consider in this conversation. Now I am personally ridiculed, not just because I recommended a resource by someone outside of the approved boundaries of Sam Hanna, but because I actually sought to correct the distorted facts presented by the same.

    Why is it so hard to acknowledge this one statement?

    I

    WAS

    WRONG.

    If it makes you feel bigger to poison the well with cracks about “lightweight intellectualism” and Harry Potter, fine. If you want to call my personal reliability into question because of the company I keep, that’s your prerogative. But this “simple and undiscerning” man knows enough to try to be careful with his facts, and strives to have enough character to acknowledge his error when he has failed to do so.

    ‘Nuff said.

  9. July 30, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Like I said, I like the verbal jujitsu, quite manly, but perhaps we could wait for that particular thread or go after it when I will give the root causes for something “middle-of-the-road” over at my blog at some point. Or maybe we can do it here if the topic grants it. I do think it was relatively on issue here, but it went all over the place and I couldn’t even keep it all straight myself. I think Kevin Bauder does show up at Calvary Lansdale in a large capacity for fellowship where they practice mixed nudity and encourage culturally diverse music for “worship.” Lansdale also teaches ipssisima vox, which contradicts inerrancy. When do we actually separate from these so-called “separatists”?

    Regarding the Meaning and Music session that Bauder gave, tell me if I’m wrong, but it seemed that his big point was that objects have meaning. He spent half the time establishing that in 1 Cor 8-10, the meat, even though it had no intrinsic problem, did have a meaning because of its associations with idol worship. He ultimately made no application to music, but I think he expected us to do that on our own, since he seemed to run out of time. I thought what he said overall could have some good applications to music, but if I didn’t know that he was conservative about music as I have heard (and assume or he wouldn’t be at Scott Aniol’s church), I could not have known that from this session alone. Maybe I’m wrong, but the session could help out the other side greatly. How? They would all agree that music has no intrinsic meaning and that meaning is only assigned through assocations.

  10. July 30, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    They would all agree that music has no intrinsic meaning and that meaning is only assigned through assocations.

    But part of what you can also conclude through the presentation, Kent, is even if that is the case (associations, that is), the association itself would be enough to conclude that some music is wrong. His major point though, is it isn’t enough to argue that the music is moral unless we first understand how the music conveys meaning. It can do that through certain kinds of musical compositions, but I think his point was that was not the only way we should evaluate music (or other areas). Bauder’s big point was that objects have meaning, but I think his big application was that we need to do better at evaluating how they do that before we jump to the end that music (for example) possesses morality.

    Regarding Lansdale and Bauder, my main concern was that he was being lumped in with their position, when it has been obvious to anyone who pays attention that 1. Lansdale is in the midst of a decisive shift when it comes to their music, and 2. Bauder’s position would not be consistent with that direction.

  11. July 30, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    Bauder seems to be personally a cultural conservative in the fundamentalist world. I can tell by how and what he writes. He is personally conservative on music and on the theater. He rejects, as anyone reading him know, drama as a mode of communication. I respected his stronger personal view. But how serious could it be if he doesn’t separate over it? He doesn’t go after people militantly, well, except for King James Only people, which makes him a hero of all evangelicals and the Bob Jones-type fundamentalists. He will question them, but he doesn’t separate over these cultural issues, it seems. For instance, in his session, he mentioned confronting guys at the school he was in over most of them salivating over the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. He went to great lengths NOT to tell what the institution was. He said he had thought it was pornography. We couldn’t tell whether he still thought it was and we didn’t know whether that was enough to separate from that institution.

    Coming from Sam’s cultural perspective, he would have wanted a clearer rejection of Harry Potter. I understand, however, where Bauder is coming from. He’s being as harsh on Harry Potter as a young fundamentalist can handle, especially after Dan over there writes a whole article that makes “Christian” application from Harry Potter and uses it as a springboard for the gospel. Bauder doesn’t make it clear how serious these things are that he is talking about. He seems to be more upset about the intellectual and Scriptural argumentation than he is about the problem itself.

    I think I’m being pretty balanced in my evaluation, Greg. What does God think of someone who soft pedals on things that He hates? He seems to want to get along a lot, and that is where my blog issue (coming up soon) will deal with the problem. I’ll give him credit for being far more right wing than MacArthur, Piper, and Mohler, and that he gets most of his facts straight.

  12. Sam Hanna
    July 31, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Greg,

    I think you are trying to cover up the reality of what Bauder truly represents or else you are being incredibly naive.

    Bauder has been a leading speaker at Leadership Conference since its inception so it is a bit disingenuous to try and distance him from what is going on. Did he speak out against the CCM? Has he done so since on his own blog and “Duller Iron?”

    You still have not admitted that he blatently compromised on the Harry Potter issue as he wants to please all sides. As I pointed out, at best, he still accepts that in certain circumstances it is fine to read such literature. No doubt, like Kent has said, he did not want to offend “Dr DANgerous” the cultural relativist who thinks it is a fine way to present the gospel. This type of behaviour is what I would expect from Bauder as one who had no qualms about moving from Denver Baptist to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and then to Dallas Theological Seminary for his graduate education.

    You still maintain that “Kev” is a friend of the KJV but try reading his book ‘Only One Bible’ on the subject that he edits. David Cloud/Jeffrey Khoo have done an excellent job examining it. One of the more serious heresies are that there is no biblical basis whatsoever “that the original autographs of Scripture have been perfectly preserved in a particular text, text family, or English translation” (28, 49) and. So Doug Kutilek and Kev are not even sure what actually is the Bible and if John 3:16 is part of it!

    I listened to “Kev’s” message at the Geneva Seminary of the Free Presbyterians last year and as usual he could not resist telling them that the KJV had mistakes in it. Incidentally, his argument from the Greek on John 21 that the KJV was wrong simply showed his own ignorance of the subject.

    Bauder also was involved in a dialogue-type exchange with Roman Catholics Richard John Neuhaus and Jeffrey Gros and various other heretics and ecumenists at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School on October 2-3, 2001. He has subsequently tried to claim that he went to take a stand agaisnt them but as he was at Theological Seminary at the time major question marks must be put against his views on separation.

    Even if after all of this you could convince us that Bauder was actually sound on the KJV, music etc (which I doubt) he hangs around with some very dangerous individuals and seems to very comfortable with fellowshipping with those who practice and teach the things he supposedly is opposed to. There used to be a term for someone like that ……….NEO-EVANGELICAL!

    Incidentally Greg, Pastor “Casual” Janz spoke at the Leadership Conference in 06 and he paid a glowing tribute to the work you and he were doing on “Duller Iron” if you read his talk on the central website. One of his more interesting quotes was

    “It appears that Fundamentalists will have churches that ascribe to several different worship styles including confessional, contemporary, revivalistic or blended.”

    It sounds like not only “Kev” is complacent about the kind of company he keeps!

    Next time you are in “Kev’s” class at Central you can give him this tip from Ireland – a man that stands in the middle of the road will be run over from both sides!

  13. July 31, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Sam,

    I’m done. You continue to sloppily misrepresent (such as asking me to read Janz’s talk on the Central website) and distort the facts to fit your own conclusions, as well as intentionally demean and ridicule. You tactics are juvenile and stiffnecked. All I attempted to do was suggest a resource I found helpful in this topic. You use it as an opportunity to demean someone I consider a friend. I don’t mind if you disagreee with his views, but your intentional and personal vitriol and rudeness unleashed in his direction demonstrates a contentious and bitter spirit unbecoming to the Savior. You, particularly, are way to eager to attribute motives and presume conclusions you simply don’t have sufficient knowledge to have a right to draw.

    If anyone else cares to find out, there is audio where Bauder does explain why he went to Beeson, including the process through which he received the invitation to go in the first place. It was delivered to the congregation at Fourth.And far from “hanging out” with them, instead he describes instead some fairly strong confrontation that took place.

    As for what he thinks of music specifically, you can begin to get a feel for his position in this conversation at his old blog (or this).

    Kent,

    I’ll email you.

  14. Sam Hanna
    July 31, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Greg,

    I have cited numerous quotations from Bauder’s written sources entirely in context to show that he is inconsistent and dangerous in his exegesis on a number of issues. It is easy to hide behind false accusations about my motives and style when you don’t want to deal with the fundamental issues. I am just surprised you did not tell me “not to judge.”

    Like most of the “young Fundamentalists” you appear to be blinded in admiration for someone who is clearly a gifted orator and writer without actually testing the matter Biblically. Bauder is no fool and he clearly knows what he is doing and means exactly what he says when he utilises the tactics of the Neo-Evangelicals.

    Incidentally, it is very hard not to be personal when you are the one recommending Bauder to all the readers here as a sound exegete and David Cloud, D A Waite and others are castigating him elsewhere. I make no apology for being on their side not out of some personal prejudice (as you unfairly maintain), but because the facts fit.

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