Why is it so challenging to be a Christian musician?

As an undergraduate student of piano at a Christian liberal arts college, I struggled with my chosen vocation.  I found myself asking questions like, “is this subject really worth studying as a Christian?” and “shouldn’t I be pursuing something more obviously “ministry” oriented?”  Ultimately, I longed to know how the study of music can be a legitimate calling for a believer.

Why these questions, this terrible pressure to justify my calling?  Among the reasons were these:

First, I felt the tug of my field on my heartstrings.  The music world tends to be all-encompassing.  It can inspire whole-hearted devotion because it is both powerful and demanding, but this devotion easily becomes idolatry.  As Philip Ryken puts it, “Art is always tempted to glory in itself, and nearly every form of art has been used to communicate values that are contrary to Scripture” (Art for God’s Sake, 12).  I have seen this born out very deeply in my surroundings during my current studies in a secular environment, where many of the musicians around me live and breathe the music they play.

Second, there seems to be a modernist attitude implicit (and occasionally explicit) among many Christians that music “doesn’t concern anything objective, anything that could invite claims to truth” (Begbie, Resounding Truth, 14).  Or if it does have anything to do with objective truth, as it was thought to in ancient Greek philosophy and Augustinian theology, it simply points beyond itself to those objective things and has little or no value in itself (Begbie, RT, 83).  Related to this issue is the frequent verbal orientation of the church’s view of music.  Music is often seen solely as a servant of words instead of a form of communication and worship in its own right.

Finally, and poignantly, there are more urgent issues out there, such as natural disasters, climate change, hunger, AIDs, and unreached people.   As a result, it is easy to conceive music and the arts as trivial and inconsequential, a distraction from life (Begbie, RT, 14-15).  I wondered if this were true, and if I were devoting my life to something with a negligible role in the process of serving God and others in the world.

Fortunately, my path did not stop here.  In my next post I will explore in brief the reasons that have helped me to develop a more well-rounded theological view of music as a Christian vocation.