Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Disagree with Doug Wilson on Music & Culture . . . and So Does Doug Wilson.

I have a vague recollection of someone saying, more or less, that "the words Doug Wilson mumbles in his sleep are more perceptive and coherent than my most articulate moments." I totally feel that. If I debated Wilson on the utility of the yellow pages in the 21st century, and he took the affirmative, I haven't a shred of doubt he'd mop the floor with me. So while I find myself disagreeing with him fairly frequently, and on some significant issues, I'm not sure I've ever found his arguments easily dismissed, or his analysis na├»vely simplistic.

That's why I was a bit surprised by his case for the three (and only three) appropriate grounds for condemning a musical form. I'm only interested in the second for the purposes of this post, and I'll get to it in a second. But first, here's the thrust of his conclusion:
Outside these [three] basic areas, if we reject a form of music out of hand because it is not the form of music we prefer, then we are trying to kick against the variegated world that the triune God created.
Now, I share Wilson's distaste for the snobbery that rejects "a form of music out of hand because it is not the form of music we prefer." And his second allowable critique does leave the door open for rejecting a particular form or genre "when that music declares openly its rebellion against God." But what if it merely declares its rebellion subtly? Is Wilson denying that's possible, or is he doubting our ability to discern it? I'm not the least bit certain the necessary conclusion is that I'm kicking "against the variegated world that the triune God created" because I think we need a more sophisticated approach than simply affirming every genre that's not explicitly rebellious.

And one reason I'm not so certain is that Wilson himself told me not to be.

Not so long ago, in his friendly but pointed critique of the most controversial portions of the Driscolls' marriage book, Wilson wrote:
I must read the Word to read the world, and I must read the world to read the Word. This extends beyond natural phenomena like planets, spiders, oceans, and lawn crickets. It also includes fallen human culture, and all its tawdry sins. I cannot understand the culture apart from the Word, but I do not approach the Word from "nowhere." . . . 
Legalists give application a bad name. Libertines give lack of application a bad name. They both lean against one another, and the only way out is to learn how to read culture like a grown-up. The only way out is to learn how to make the applications that the Holy Spirit is leading us to make. 
This is why we should not want to ban, discourage, or prohibit anything except what God has expressly prohibited, along with anything which the Spirit of God is leading us to discourage as we make necessary applications from the Scriptures. A whole host of scriptural requirements requires us to be able to read the culture in which we are making those applications.
And then he also wrote here, in a related post:
We need a hermeneutic that enables us to read our surrounding, unbelieving culture. Paul requires it here. Paul is saying that we have to look at what the pagans are doing and that we are to do something distinct from that. We have to learn how to "read" their lust, and write something different.
Put briefly, Wilson believes grown-ups are the sort of people who are equipped to deal with culture when its messages are subtle, not just when it tells you what it's doing in flashing neon. I agree with that Doug Wilson—the one who wrote back in January. He should talk to the Doug Wilson who was listening to John Mayer a couple weeks ago. And if I might, I'd like to listen to that conversation.

And now, on the off-chance Pastor Wilson catches a whiff and finds some response to be worthy of his time, I await my turn as his mop head.


Shayne McAllister said...

A key phrase to understanding his argument is that pesky qualifying "out of hand" addition to how the music should not be rejected. He's not saying you couldn't ultimately reject the specific music or genre, but like you suggest, it would take more thought.

Take this definition of the idiom "out of hand:"

"without any more thought Ex. if you refuse something out of hand, you refuse it completely without thinking about it or discussing it"


Ben said...

Perhaps that's what he means. Perhaps. An earlier comment leaves me doubtful. Just before the three criteria he said that "there should be no ordinary conflict between genres of music," though there might be a conflict of opinions over the appropriateness of a particular genre to a particular occasion.

But even if you're right, I think it might have been helpful—even rather important—to incorporate some of what he said in his January series into his three criteria.

Shayne McAllister said...

Yeah, but I don't think that wish constitutes Wilson disagreeing with himself. It's just that what he seems to say at first glance isn't what he's actually saying.