Bad Keys: Why demonizing styles hurts artists

Christian creatives must guard against a mentality that labels certain techniques off-limits

If you play it, he will come.

So claims a certain musician in a recent video posted on Facebook. In what appears to be a music ministry conference, this individual sits at the piano and claims that certain scales and chords invite demonic influence.  The video has become a viral sensation as musicians all over the country have questioned the video’s premise and created response videos where they play examples of these supposedly dangerous harmonies.

While most of the responses correctly point out the errors in this particular video, the fact that it was made in the first place points out a sobering truth – there are still people within religious circles that believe certain kinds of artistic expressions are evil. It may seem an old-fashioned belief, but it usually becomes apparent when controversies regarding musicians and artists arise. Whether hip-hop, heavy metal, trance or trap, there is a tendency in some faith communities to regard certain styles as less holy and more worldly.

There’s nothing in scripture that backs up that belief. Art and music, like money and other created things, are essentially amoral – meaning they are neither good nor evil in and of themselves. Meanwhile, some artists and musicians end up confused and frustrated as their creative choices are scrutinized for the wrong reasons.

Here’s three reasons why the practice of demonizing certain styles can damage an artist’s ability to create boldly and represent her faith freely.

  1. Giving too much credit. When we allow our assumptions about certain kinds of music to dominate our thinking, we give too much credit to those who created the association. While a style of music or art may have been born in a negative environment, the expression itself doesn’t belong exclusively to any group.  The beauty of art is that it can be re-born, re-purposed and re-imagined in all kinds of ways. Just because a style of music is played in one environment doesn’t mean that the environment is created by the music. God is in the business of redeeming people, and faith-centered artists should be doing the same with the things people create.
  2. Taking away too much authority. The Bible states that all things were made by and for God, and that would include music and the arts. When we subconsciously assume that a certain creative style or technique is inspired by evil, we strip God of his authority over all created things and give it to a shadow figure that we don’t even fully recognize.  If God is in control of the universe, surely he is able to maintain his sovereignty over the things we create in it, and that includes the music we play and the things we create.
  3.  Limiting too much creativity.  The idea that certain styles of music and art are to be avoided is based in fear, and great art never flourishes in an environment of fear. When faith-centered artists are warned against expanding their creative and musical borders because of misunderstood taboos, we relinquish using the very tools God has provided us to make more beautiful things in the world. Our creativity by its very nature should challenge conventional ways of looking at things, and that means taking risks at times and bending the so-called rules.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper, theologian

If God claims ownership over everything, we who are created in his image should experience the freedom to explore and utilize all types of musical and artistic expressions. In instances where there is legitimate concern, if we sincerely seek his guidance, we can trust the Master Artist to help us avoid the pitfalls that would lead to spiritual compromise.

When we create with a clear conscience toward God, a mind that is culturally aware, and a heart to use our creative gifts wisely, we’re can be sure we’re on solid ground.

And the devil will just have to stay put.

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