Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

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Music in Wartime

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Peter Leithart posted an excellent essay today on how music helps the church in wartime, that is, when she is in immanent danger and under siege on all sides. He shows that in Scripture, music isn’t useless ornamentation. It is integral to warfare and to witness:

To warfare: Because kings make and play musical instruments. Because playing music is an extension of dominion over the world. Because David drove away evil spirits with his harp. Because God trained David’s sword-hand to fight and his harp-fingers for battle. Because David organized Levitical singers and players like an army. Because Jehoshaphat dispersed the Moabites and Ammonites with singers. Because we are filled with the Spirit of power to speak in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Because music disposes the soul to courage. Music makes happy warriors.

To witness: Because Miriam sang the song of the sea, testifying to the Lord. Because Moses sang the Song of Moses, testifying against Israel. Because exiles sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. Because David composed the Lord’s songs in a land of strangers. Because we sing to declare the Name of the Lord. Because Paul and Silas sang til midnight in a Philippian jail, singing the jailer into the kingdom. Because Jesus sings in the midst of the congregation.

At the beginning of Revelation 14, John sees the Lamb standing on Zion, surrounded by the 144,000 who have been sealed on the forehead for priestly service. Like Jesus, each is simultaneously priest and sacrifice, each offering himself. Before they shed their blood, they learn the song of heaven. Before they join the company of martyrs, they join the choir of angels. And by shedding their blood, these singer-martyrs seal the doom of Babylon.

When things fall apart, the church needs are courageous witnesses who obey the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus no matter what. As we offer the breath of our bodies to God in music, we are prepared to offer our blood too. As living sacrifices offering our reasonable worship, we are prepared to offer our dying sacrifices, pouring ourselves out as drink offerings on the sacrifice and service of faith.

Read the whole thing via Music in Wartime | Theopolis Institute | Bible. Liturgy. Culture.: “”

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Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Posted in Music, Worship

Farewell Gungor

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Yesterday, an article was published in World Magazine about the uber-hipster artists Michael and Lisa Gungor and their drift from biblical orthodoxy in their music. Michael Gungor in particular seems to have “lost” his traditional faith at some point along the road, choosing to express in his music a spirituality mixed with some form of doubt. Apparently, Gungor has teamed up with the king of doubt, Mr. Rob Bell himself, to write poetry for a few new EPs, also collaborating with Rachel Held Evans in expressing how “God is mother.” 

The drift from traditional biblical orthodoxy is evident in Gungor’s earlier songs too, and anyone with a keen theological sense could probably see where Gungor was headed. In his 2013 song, “Yesternite,” Gungor writes, “Yesternite the gods they disappeared from sight / the angels flapped their wings and took their songs to flight / the shadows lift their hands and praise the light.” The article in World Magazine points to Gungor’s description of these lyrics on his blog, where he uses “gods” as a general mythological construct to represent the stories that “we thought were true, but no longer are. Stories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in.” Regarding Adam and Even or the biblical account of the flood, Gungor admits that he has “no more ability to believe in these things then I do to believe in Santa Claus.”

The news is very disappointing and sad, especially since Gungor’s music is so rich and creative from a musical standpoint, even if Gungor’s lyrics are ambivalent on the theological issues he addresses in his songs. Gungor’s most popular song, “Beautiful Things,” is often sung in churches:

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

I guess all of this is now in doubt from Gungor’s perspective. But we should be wary of doubt as a spiritually helpful way to evaluate our convictions and traditions. Jesus counseled his disciples with regard to his real nature and his power over the sea, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31). Gungor may not perceive what he is doing, but he’s actually teaching people doctrine with his ambiguous language and, in my view, belittling God by casting doubt on God’s word. This reminds me Matthew 15:8-9. Quoting from Isaiah 29:13, Jesus says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” 

Our convictions should rest in Jesus, whether we find him hard to believe or not. But the good thing is that Jesus is convincing, and he has given us the true story of the world and of our God. God does indeed make beautiful things out dust, and makes hope spring around us, and calls light out of chaos—through Jesus. And we should have faith in him and his word. His commandments are true and righteous altogether. Let’s not depart from them as Gungor has. 

Written by Josh Philpot

August 4, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Music, Theology, Worship

Alison Krauss sings “Carolina in My Mind” by James Taylor

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I’ve had this video saved on my YouTube account for years. Alison Krauss’ voice is so effortlessly beautiful, and I love that she’s accompanied by Jerry Douglas on the dobro. Such a memorable song, too, originally by James Taylor.

Written by Josh Philpot

March 1, 2014 at 4:35 am

Posted in Music

Switchfoot and Christian Music

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There is a very interesting interview with Jon Foreman posted over at the CTK Blog. Jon is the lead singer/writer of the band Switchfoot, which is sort of a quasi-Christian band that emerged in the late 90’s. The irony in that statement is that the term “Christian band” is exactly what the interview is about, and Jon offers a thoughtful critique of the entire notion of labeling his music “Christian” (or any other music from someone who is a “Christian” artist, like J.S. Bach).

I won’t quote the interview here. The key for me is contextualization. I have no problem with a bunch of Christians having a band that writes songs that aren’t explicitly “Christian,” whatever that means (it means various things to various groups; does he mean evangelical? would he define it in a gospel-centered way, as I would?). I would ask, initially, what is the purpose of Switchfoot? To communicate truth? Or, beauty? These things are inherently good because, in a sense, all truth is God’s truth (a la Philippians 4). But does Jon have to be singing about the “gospel” explicitly in order to be a “Christian” band? I don’t think so. A good poet doesn’t just come out and say what is true in explicit terms; he creates beautiful language, and in turn causes his reader to think hard about what he is saying. Switchfoot’s songs communicate something true about God, and in that sense, it is for his glory. Even if Jon’s songs don’t mention “Christ,” the songs still “reedemed,” I would say.

But is Switchfoot trying to communicate the gospel in their songs? I don’t think that they are, at least in the songs that I’m familiar with. If singing the gospel is their intent, then I would argue that they should be more explicit, or at least state this intent at their concerts and in their albums. Using someone like J.S. Bach as an example (as Jon does in the interview) isn’t exactly helpful to what Jon is saying. No one doubted the real intent behind Bach’s music because he put “S.D.G.” (soli deo gloria — to God alone be glory) at the end of every piece he wrote! Lewis and Tolkein—to whom Jon also points as examples of “Christian” authors who don’t mention “Christ” in any of their stories—serves as another example. Even so, does anyone really doubt the biblical allusions to Christ and redemption in those stories? What Jon is doing is different. When Jon sings, “We were meant to live for so much more,” what does he mean? Does he mean, “live for Christ,” or, “live to do something good in the world?” And, does it help his audience at all if they don’t know what he really means? I remember hearing that song on an ESPN highlight reel, and I doubt that the editors of Sports Center were thinking “live for Christ.” So in the secular context those words mean one thing. In the “Christian” music scene, they mean something else.

Lastly, I would say as one commenter does at the bottom of that post that that this entire question is not an either/or proposition—to be an explicitly Christian band or not. Switchfoot is trying to make a living too, and if they want to be in the non-Christian market to make more money, fine by me. I don’t understand why so many Christians have a problem with this, as if being a Christian requires you to write only explicit Christ-on-the-cross lyrics. In a way, Switchfoot is more free to be a positive Christian influence by not adopting that label as part of the music scene. Thus, I generally agree with most of what Jon is saying. I would not, however, use their songs in a worship service. I conclude with a particularly poignant quote from Jon that I found refreshing:

“None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me. I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that.”

Written by Josh Philpot

December 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Culture, Music

Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come

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I really like this new song from Jered McKenna, based on Isaiah 60:1-19:

Arise shine for your light has come and the glory of God is on you
Arise see when the earth grows dark that the Lord will arise upon you
The Lord will arise upon you

Nations will come to your light lift up your eyes and see
We’ll gather together and come to you
And your love will be all that we know
Your love will be all that we know

Arise come to the open gates for the Father is welcoming you
Fear not for the Lord brings peace and redemption to all who believe

Nations will come to your light lift up your eyes and see
We’ll gather together and come to you
And your love will be all that we know
Your love will be all that we know

The sun will not shine cause you’ll be all the light that we need
and violence will end all the wars that we wage will cease

We will glorify your name
We will glorify your name.

The song is on the new “Canticles” album produced by Cardiphonia. Many of the songs from Cardiphonia are really good for congregational or small-group worship.

Written by Josh Philpot

December 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Music, Worship

Sing to Jesus on Piano

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This morning I recorded this beautiful song by Fernando Ortega, “Sing to Jesus.” The song has been a blessing in our worship services of late.

Just me on piano, and I added a double-bass and cello part on Garageband, just for fun. Enjoy! Let me know what you think.

Sing to Jesus

Written by Josh Philpot

August 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Music, Piano