Written by: District President Rev. Dr. Tony Steinbronn
This is the second of a three-part series, to read the first part click here: https://bit.ly/2MUVe8M
Francis Schaeffer observed that modern music is both an avenue for creative expression and the means through which modern man is exposed to new views of perceived reality. 1 Based on Schaeffer’s observations, one can conclude that music provides a window into the soul of the recording artist and into the soul of his target audience, the rationale being that these songs are ethnographic in nature and describe everyday life.
In this next section, I will briefly examine five songs from two popular recording artists in order to understand their views regarding these categories of reality: the nature of man, the orientation of man and the social location of religion; and, then, to identify a story or two from Scripture that speaks to this human condition and the metaphors used in their songs. The first recording artist is Bruce Springsteen, one of the dominant artists of the 1980’s. The second artist is Sting, one of the dominant artists of the 1990s. Both men have a large following. Their lyrics, referred to in this chapter, achieved significant playing time when they were released and still continue to be heard on the airwaves.
Fallen Human Man: Hungry Heart
In his song 'Hungry Heart', Bruce Springsteen presents ethnographic data concerning the fallen human nature of man. The main character of the song is a man with a wife and child in suburban America. One day he decides to go for a ride, but he never returns home. Instead, he experiences an adulterous affair of short duration. He acknowledges that he made a wrong turn in life but, instead of returning home, he just kept on going.
In the song’s chorus Springsteen’s observation that all people have a “hungry heart” provides some of the most descriptive lines in modern music concerning fallen human nature when he identifies the source of human failure to make the right kind of turns in life and to live a life which is pleasing in God’s sight.
The story of fallen human creatures is the story of hungry hearts; hungry, not for God’s righteousness, but for sin. The sins of our hungry human hearts defile us and accuse us before God. As Springsteen looks around at the behaviors of others, he observes the universal scope of humankind’s guilt in that all people have “a hungry, hungry heart.” Paul acknowledged this same universal guilt before God when he quoted from Isaiah to God’s people gathered in Rome (Romans 3:10-12)
Human Orientation: Dancing in the Dark
As modern people look into the mirror of their lives, they really do not like much of what they see. They think maybe a different “look” in terms of clothes, hair or face might be the answer. They know that there is something happening somewhere, but they just cannot find it. They turn on the radio hoping to receive some kind of message, but, as Springsteen describes their existential emptiness and feelings of nothingness, the message may get clearer, but the dump in which the singer is living and the image in that mirror prevent him from finding good in himself or his current pursuits. He can only utter an inarticulate hope that some vague thing may be happening elsewhere.
In the next stanza Springsteen observes that the urban jungle, the place where the masses of the world are taking up residence, offers no solution since the street is the place where a person only gets “carved up” and disfigured. In the end, the main character settles for a “love reaction” and the fleeting, passionate fire of eros.
In the use of the dance metaphor, there is movement and a brief encounter along life’s way, but all of this dancing takes place in the dark. Moreover, the main character acknowledges that he needs something from outside himself to ignite his life, but he cannot seem to find the spark to get the fire of life burning.
The Social Location of Religion
One of the most insightful recording artists of our day is British rocker Sting. In the song 'All This Time', Sting describes postmodern society from the perspective of a postmodern man. Sting, from the vantage point of a de-Christianized Europe, describes the social location of Christianity. In the song he relates that only the river that flows into the sea is constant and eternal. The church steeple in the distance serves only as the dwelling place of birds because of its antiquated and irrelevant message. As he surveys daily life events, he is unable to see God or experience His presence. Thus, his question is: “Father, if Jesus exists, how come He never lives here?”
Not only has Sting lost his faith in God, he has also lost his faith in “Enlightenment” man. In his song 'If I Ever Lose My Faith in You', Sting observes that science, progress, dogma, politicians, and military solutions have all failed in their quest toward utopia; instead, “we’ve been going from a blessing to a curse.”
Since both God and humankind are incapable of giving us a “perfect” world, Sting advises postmodern man in Fields of Gold that humankind’s orientation in life should be to “forget the sun [Son] in his jealous sky,” find a lover, walk and lie in the fields of gold, watch the children run in the fields of barley, and hopefully be remembered by your lover and children when death comes.
Anthropologists have developed two primary methods of understanding culture. An Emic understanding of culture is needed to understand how the people see the world and why they respond as they do. An Etic understanding of culture is needed to compare one culture with other cultures and to test its understandings of the world against reality.
The analysis of modern music assists the learner to possess an Emic understanding of culture in that the musical lyrics grant the perceptive listener a window into how the recording artist sees the world and why he lives as he does. A proper knowledge of the Scriptures permits the Christian believer to compare the Biblical view of reality with the views of reality being expressed in the musical lyrics. Once these two understandings have been achieved, missiological bridge-building can begin.
A Worldview Invasion
Francis Schaeffer, in his observations concerning the ways in which new ideas and ways of living are introduced into a culture, concluded that music has the ability to cross human boundaries which are normally closed to philosophy, art, and other forms of media. In other words, the worldview of modern man shapes modern music and this worldview invades the receptor’s frame of reference through the vehicle of music.
This assessment of the influence which music exerts upon a culture was attested by the journalists of the 1960s who called the music of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and other British recording artists: “the British invasion.” In the musical lyrics of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger, the worldview and life experiences of certain subcultures within British society were introduced to American consciousness in an invasive way. Along with the lyrics, there were certain attitudes and behaviors which were connected with the new music.
In modern terms, what is the form and lyrical content of the musical invasion in our day? What attitudes and behaviors are connected with the music? How might an assessment of these lyrics assist God’s people in understanding the contours of our modern and postmodern world?
Removing the Roof
Every person we speak with has a set of presuppositions. By presuppositions I mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic worldview, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the reality and truth of what exists. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions. Yet, no matter what people may believe, they cannot change the reality of what is. Thus all people, irrespective of their system, are caught. They cannot make their own universe and then live in it; somewhere there is a point of inconsistency. 2
Moreover, man has built a roof over his head to shield himself at the point of tension; that is, the point where a person has reached the end of his presuppositions. The roof is built as a protection against the blows of the real world, both internal and external. Christians must lovingly remove the shelter and allow the truth of the external world and what it means to be human, to beat upon them. 3
When the roof is off, each person must stand naked and wounded before the reality and truth of what is. This is what shows him his need. Then the Scriptures can show the real nature of his lostness and the answer. Everyone must realize that his system of presuppositions has no answer to the crucial questions of life. He must come to know that his roof is false protection against the storm of what is (Matthew 7:24-27). 4
In order to communicate the Biblical message to modern individuals, we must begin to deal with them by witnessing “at the place where they can understand.” 5 Often modern people do understand the horrible point of meaninglessness as was expressed by Springsteen in Dancing in the Dark. The great challenge of the modern age is “how to communicate the Gospel so that it is understood.” It is my premise that the study of the world views expressed in modern music can assist the Christian in understanding the modern/postmodern world, and its metaphors, so that Gospel communication can be understood by the receptor.
Metaphors That People Live By
The metaphors used in the lyrics of these songs, when analyzed, permit the learner a clearer understanding of the language and thought-categories of the recording artist and his views concerning the major categories of worldview: the nature and orientation of God, the nature and orientation of human creatures, how God works in the world, the basis and nature of truth, ethics and the social location of religion.
As a missionary, I appreciate the metaphors used by Springsteen in the titles of his songs that describe the nature and orientation of human beings: Hungry Heart and Dancing in the Dark. These metaphors find rich expression in the Biblical text and provide ample opportunity for the contextualization of the Biblical message.
For example, David had a hungry heart for Bathsheba. He was so hungry for her that he was willing to kill her husband so that he might have her to himself. Nathan exposed the “hungry heart” of David so that David could possess a true understanding of his reality before, and relationship with, God. David, in his prayer of repentance and faith, asked God to create in him a clean heart; a heart that would hunger after God’s righteousness and God’s design for living. God, in His mercy, filled the hungry heart of David with His grace and forgiveness (and a new design for living).
Or, to the people of Naphtali and Zebulun, the region of Palestine where Jesus did much of His ministry, Isaiah said that these people were, to use a modern metaphor, “dancing in the dark.” It was to these people that the true Light of the world had come (Isaiah 9; John 1).
To Sting’s search for the immediate presence of God in the world, we have Biblical and confessional answers in Luther’s use of the concept of Larvae Dei. God is among us “all this time,” but He must veil Himself as He comes to man in a form which sinful man can bear; namely, the Incarnation of the Son, along with the Word and the Sacraments.
Anyone who has attended a rock concert and witnessed the near creedal aspects of the musical lyrics, along with the cultic actions of the performer and audience, can attest that the observation of Schaeffer is true; that is, music is a means through which modern human beings express their views of perceived reality. It is, indeed, the hymnody of the world in which the people of the world express their worldview, understanding and interpretation of the human condition, and design for living.
The value of analyzing these various forms of music is that it permits the learner the opportunity to take note of the language and the thought-forms used and to gain an understanding into the human condition of the performer and target audience. This being done, one can begin to understand the context into which the Word of God must be sown. Moreover, the contours of the cultural context are expressed in these metaphors thereby providing the Christian with a window of insight and opportunity for conversation and contextualization of His Word through confessional, hermeneutical and Law-Gospel understandings and applications.
1 Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, 186, 201-202.
2 Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, 132-133.
3 Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, 140.
4 Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, 141.
5 Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live, 145.