Monday, June 22, 2009

A Defense of the Peter Masters' Article with Criticism of its Bad Reviews part two

Quite a few reviews have been written for Peter Masters' article, "The Merger of Calvinism with Worldlinessm"and mainly negative.

Douglas Wilson's Review

I have enjoyed reading Douglas Wilson in the past and using the Canon Press logic curriculum. I watched his debate with Christopher Hitchens and learned some helpful truths in dealing with atheists, which we have in plenty here in California. However, as I have become more familiar with him, my appreciation has grown dim. He ends the first paragraph of his review of Masters with this high opinion of himself and personal insult of Masters:

If you are involved in ecclesiastical punditry, never ever let a fat pitch go by.

The assumption is that Wilson has taken Masters' article and hit a home-run. Masters lobbed an easy one to Wilson, so he need only argue with half his brain tied behind his back. I'm sure this is the "serrated edge" that Wilson claims to wield. Let's see what he can do with Masters' soft ball.

Before we can even witness a swing of the bat, Wilson scorns again:

Masters . . . rejects some of the doily arrangements on the davenport of old school pietism. So to speak.

The portly Wilson begins his subtle attack on Masters' manhood, relegating his concerns over genuine worship to the sewing and knitting room. Later you get his hint of the feminine with these phrases:

[H]is (Masters') definition of worldliness is more indebted to the residue of Victorianism.

[People like Masters] sprinkle their daytimers with weekly wine and cheese events in support of the local symphony and/or arts councils.

[Y]ou also have ask the same question about Liszt and Chopin, not to mention other composers of other pieces that sweet homeschool girls play at their piano recitals.

Wilson mounts a preemptive defense of this line of mockery with an explanation of what a bad thing Masters has done in implying that MacArthur and Piper "don't have the love of the Father in them." I didn't read this implication in Masters' piece but Wilson applied the special juice for reading between the lines. I wonder if one can purchase the juice at Canon Press.

Wilson's main problem with Masters' review is his "appeal to certain sectarian traditions as though they were the emerald glow around the throne of God." Nowhere does Masters appeal to sectarian traditions. Pass the cracker-jacks as we wonder when Wilson might waddle to the plate.

Wilson gives himself three wacks at Masters' underhand tosses. Right away he displays the most apparent contradiction of himself. On the one hand, he claims that he would not "allow a Time/Life worship song into a worship service," because of his understanding of "what kind of music is suitable for that occasion." Then later, he writes this:

While working on this post, to take a snippet of my playlist at random, I have listened to "Feelin' Alright" by Joe Cocker, "Rivers of Babylon" by the Melodians, "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians, "Lonestar" by Norah Jones, "Almost Hear You Sigh" by the Stones, "Watching the River Flow" by Dylan, "Motherless Child" by Clapton, and you get the picture. Now here is a quick quiz. Get out your Bibles, everybody. Is that playlist worldly?

Wilson says he understands "what kind of music is suitable" for a worship service. Based on his standard of exegesis for his musical playlist, how does he know what music is suitable? Where does the Bible list the music suitable for worship? I've got a simple solution for Wilson: use the same "understanding" that you have for "suitable worship music" to determine whether your playlist is worldly. Wilson wants to have it both ways. He can judge his worship service music with an understanding that he has, but no one can judge his musical playlist because those songs aren't specifically listed anywhere in scripture.

Masters must have had some movement on that fat pitch because I felt a breeze coming from Wilson's bat.

The other genius reason that Wilson says we don't use rock music for a worship service is because "
ours (sic) forms of it are almost always lousy rock music." Aaaaah. Yes. If we just knew how to do "good" rock music, then it would be acceptable---I guess good like Dylan, Clapton, and the Stones. Every good classical piano player I've ever asked says that rock music isn't hard for him to play. Maybe our Christian rock isn't violent, syncopated, or sexual enough.

Most of Wilson's essay just assumes that Masters doesn't have the special knowledge, cultural education, and maturity that Wilson possesses in discerning what is worldly music.

Before agreeing with Masters that young Calvinists shouldn't go clubbing, Wilson takes his last big whiff. Masters writes that Christians need "the personal guidance of God in the major decisions" or else strike "a death blow to whole hearted consecration." Wilson spins this into making "personal life-decisions as though the gift of prophecy were still operative today." How did "personal guidance" become extra-scriptural revelation? That's not what I got out of Masters' statement. What I read in Masters' sentence, and perhaps he was not clear enough at this point, was that God can guide believers in the application of Scripture. Application of the Bible doesn't require extra-scriptural revelation. Consecration to God requires applying Scripture. The Bible doesn't tell us the name of the person we're going to marry or what the titles of the songs are on our playlist, but it gives us the principles and we rely on the Holy Spirit ("personal guidance of God") to live a consecrated life.

I concur with Wilson's last statement---"It is not that difficult." Unfortunately, Wilson has taken tee-ball and made it look like Nolan Ryan.

Frank Turk's Review

Frank Turk, the Centurion, chimed in the discussion. Many might have a hard time believing that I essentially agree with Frank through his entire post until he gets to his eleventh paragraph. I don't know if that will make him happy. I would tweak the first ten paragraphs here and there, but it is this statement about Masters that brings Turk and myself into conflict.

[H]e honors and confesses a proto-fundamentalist view of all things, down to making even matters of style and context into urgent doctrinal crises and therefore matters over which to separate.

It isn't as simple as this for Masters. For him, like myself, this is a worship issue. He wants God to be recognized, believed, and worshiped. When evangelicalism offers a worship that so contradicts the character and nature of God, men will be deceived as to who God is and what He desires in worship.

That is about all I differed from Frank.

Dan Phillip's Review

Dan Phillips writes a criticism of Masters' article after he had read both Turk's and Wilson's. Phillips makes this amazing statement about Masters and about Spurgeon:

As disappointing and largely wrongheaded as Masters' rant is (basically he dismisses "new Calvinists" because he doesn't like their music style and their worship style), I am afraid he is at least somewhat in Spurgeon's tradition.

I can applaud the honesty of Phillips. He agrees that Masters takes the same position as Spurgeon on this, so that he rejects what both of them say. Later he says that Spurgeon should not have condemned theater-going---this, of course, coming from a Phillips who is a regular theater attender and who writes reviews on his blog for many of the movies he has seen.

His other problem with was the statement about "personal guidance" that Wilson referred to. I think that Phillips read Wilson and then interpreted Masters in light of reading Wilson. I think they are both wrong about what they are rather reading into what Masters believes and teaches. The pretty much renders moot most of the second half of his post.


Gary Webb said...

OK. It is confession time. During my early high school years (read early 70s), I enjoyed listening to and almost being intoxicated by the drug-induced music of some of the same guys on Douglas Wilson’s playlist: the Stones, Cocker, and especially Clapton. I even (and this is even more difficult to admit) imitated some of the spastic movements displayed by Cocker when he was singing with that beautiful voice of his (Is it singing?). My hair came to my shoulders. I loved wearing my dirty/sloppy bell-bottom jeans that dragged the ground and had a few holes and patches on them. Fortunately, because I lived in a good home with moral parents, I didn’t get to experience all the cool things that Cocker, Jagger, and Clapton modeled, like hallucinogenic drugs and “free sex”. Just like Wilson, Rick Warren, and other evangelicals – I loved (and I do not mean liked) the guitar riffs that punctuated this music.
Of course I was lost, or, as Ephesians 2 puts it, I “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
However, my musical choices and desires changed when the Lord Jesus Christ saved me. I admit, when I had only been saved a few months and still did not attend a Scriptural, New Testament church, I attended the prom, loving the rock music, with my hair reaching its greatest length. As I read the Bible and got into a Bible preaching church a transformation began to take place … a transformation that seems to have somehow passed over Wilson, Warren, Driscoll, etc. Today, though the music still sometimes has an attraction to me, I despise it and all the “worldliness” that goes along with it. How can I approve things that are excellent (Philippians 1:10) or prove what is acceptable God (Ephesians 5:10) and allow my mind and body to be controlled by Cocker, Jagger, and Clapton? I am sure some worldly evangelical can give me a passionately delivered reason.

Damien said...

I don't know most of the bands Wilson referred to, but the Rolling Stones? He discredited his entire article with that one statement.

some people really make it hard for us. sheesh.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Bro Webb

Sorry I didn't get this comment up sooner, true confession and all. I was away from computer for several days.

Same to you Damien.

Anonymous said...

[H]is (Masters') definition of worldliness is more indebted to the residue of Victorianism.

What's unmanly about the Victorians? These were the people who conquered a quarter of the earth's surface, and brought civilisation to a lot of uncivilised places. Moreover, folks like David Livingstone and Charles Gordon were Victorians. I'd compare them favourably against the well-padded softies found in most American churches today.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Good question, Titus. Usually Victorianism is used as a negative, saying that someone goes with the grain of an hyper-regulated culture. It should be considered to be a positive, since that was one of the greatest times in Great Britain in all of history. In the flow of the essay, there is more to it than just an era, but the era of a woman, Victoria, leading a nation. I've read a lot of Wilson. He is weaving the womanly through his piece. There is even more than the sentences I pointed out. His "listen list" is also intended as a kind of "manly list" too, which is often the idea that we're supposed to get from his choice of hard rock. The Victorianism goes with the tone of the piece, indicative that this is an effeminate standard that Masters' has.

Damien said...

honestly I did not get effeminacy out of Wilson's article, but a contrast of two cultures. I think terms like "doily" "davenport" and "victorianism" were used to describe the characteristics of a certain era, albeit an era in which the Christianity of the Puritans and Sprugeon was alive and well.

Even his "sweet homeschool girls" comment didn't give me the same impression you got. he was making the point that oftentimes classical composers are given a pass even though many of them were worldly just as the rock stars of today. Hence, the most innocent and pious of Christians (the homeschool girl) is allowed to play songs from worldly composers, yet rock music is out of the question (which then brings this back to the issue of musical styles yet again).

I'm sure you know Wilson's style better than I do, but that was my impression even before reading your response to his article. I'm curious as to how Wilson would explain his statements.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I've read a lot of Wilson---his book Recovering the Lost Tools of Education, Fidelity, Courtship, his book on marriage, and then I go over and read his blog from time to time. I don't see him answering this blog (it would give too much credit to what I've wrote---if I wrote the identical thing I did and my name was Christopher Hitchens, you'd get an answer).

With that being said, I do think he was taking the subtle shot at Masters. I say subtle, because it wasn't something he said directly, just had woven into the piece. I think that Wilson sees Masters' music overall as effeminate. Yes, the major point he made about the Lizt/Chopin was that these guys were "worldly culture," but the 'way he said it' was the issue of the effeminate. Wilson may deny this. I kind of look at it as having deniability like a purposeful breach of courtroom regulation by a lawyer that was attempting to leave the jury with some influence.