Philosophically, it (Northland's music) is unchanged. Let me say it again…unchanged. What we have always been trying to do, and will continue to do into the future, is to make sure Northland’s practice of music (as with every aspect of the Christian life) is built principally on clear teachings from the Bible rather than on reactionary, extra-biblical reasoning that has proven to be troublingly insufficient when exported to cultures beyond American borders. We believe the Bible is sufficient to bring us to right and God-honoring positions regardless of time and culture. Even though we haven’t changed our music at a philosophical level, we are changing our music on a missional level. Where you will see changes is in our intent to expand our training to prepare students for worship and music globally. This only makes sense because, as you may have noticed, Northland International University has become more and more an international, global ministry with a passion to take the gospel where it is not proclaimed. Over 41% of the world’s population is still without a Gospel witness. This has become our students’ burden. Our Director of Fine Arts, Kevin Suiter, has recently informed us he does not believe he can take us forward in this way and thus has announced his plans to move on. We wish Kevin and Grace the best and thank them for the investments they have made here.
Among many others, my question is: What does music have to do with a Gospel witness? That is, how does music affect the mission? That is, what is changing music on a "missional level"? I think it is interesting that a lot folks have come out in support of Olson and his "courage" for making this move at Northland. And all of this is for the mission. How could anyone question it or criticize it, if it is for the mission? I'm sure I just don't understand. I can't understand. Oh, I understand. It's clear enough. And the professing anti-Finney crowd is showing favor to what Northland and Olson are doing.
Your choice or style of music, of course, has nothing to do with the mission, unless you don't understand the mission, which, it's obvious, Northland does not. Well, it is a major part of the mission if you read and follow the Purpose Driven, Rick Warren, method of mission. "Missional" is more than a code-word today. Northland is being influenced to a large degree by the modern missional movement, which perverts a scriptural understanding of the incarnation, and it's why Olson thinks the music at Northland must change to be missional. This idea is strongly associated with N. T. Wright, Mark Driscoll, Dan Kimball, Alan Hirsch, Brian McClaren, and others. You will find the following language all over in missional material:
The Missional Church defines itself in terms of its mission—being sent ones who take the gospel to and incarnate the gospel within a specific cultural context. The essence of missionality begins by looking outward.
You'll also read this type of wording:
As missionaries sent by Jesus, every Christian must learn to exegete their surrounding culture, uncovering the language, values, and ideas of the culture. Using this information, they take steps to reach people with the gospel message in the context of the surrounding culture.
At the root of missional is a severe twisting of the doctrine of Christ, especially His incarnation. It corrupts the point of the incarnation, and, therefore, the deity and humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't come to take on our culture. He came for us to take on His. It also deviates a biblical doctrine of salvation. The gospel is not helped along at all by the contextualization of the gospel.
The evangelism part of the mission, after which is baptism and teaching to observe all things Christ commanded (Mt 28:19-20), is preaching the gospel. Evangelism will not at all be aided by acceptance of the music of a particular culture. Evangelism efforts will not be hindered or helped one way or the other with music. Music should not be used in evangelism. It does not have an evangelistic purpose. To bring music into the mission equation shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the effectiveness and sufficiency of the gospel. It is more akin with a Charles Finney "new measure" than it is anything scriptural. Northland is taking something worse than a step of compromise here. And many fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals and other evangelicals are encouraging it.
Northland is also connecting with Grace Community Church and Master's College in Southern California by inviting Rick Holland to preach in chapel. Olson visited with the key leaders there, including Phil Johnson, who has written (an entire series of articles, also consider this Spurgeon quote from him) and preached against the missional movement and strategy. Has it occurred that the new friendship with these above mentioned men and this missional approach clashes with each other, or is it that this particular point is too tertiary to affect their fellowship with one another? I do find it amazing the defense of the language and this movement of Olson. I haven't read anything said in public against this new teaching and direction. Where is the outcry? Where are the Jack Hyles critics?
I believe that it is true that this is likely not a major philosophical shift for Northland, and neither would it be an issue for much of fundamentalism today. Much of fundamentalism has been using music for "evangelism" for a long time. And you've been able to see that with the "evangelists" involved with Northland. The composition (style) and the words of fundamentalist music have long been written with an intent to have some kind of effect on evangelism or revival. Billy Graham and many other Southern Baptists also have fit quite nicely with this idea of missional with their methods and music. Now rap and hip-hop are approved evangelistic methodology even among the reformed in the Southern Baptist Convention (read Mark Dever). All of this ties in quite well with the missional movement.
Some of those praising Olson also would indicate that they are exegetical and theological. If they are fundamentalists at all, they want to be known as the theological fundamentalists as opposed to a kind of methodological or movement fundamentalists. This situation exposes this not to be true. The lack of theological precision here, the sloppiness, and the lack of discernment is astounding. How could this happen? I think it betrays a covetousness for the things of this world. Theology is easily forsaken for what will keep them fitting in with their worldly ways. They think that evangelism, the mission, is at stake if they don't contextualize a little.
Part of the issue with missional relates to urban church planting and foreign missions. America's cities have so far moved away from the reverent and the holy that there is a huge chasm between a biblical culture and that of the city. To the new missional, you don't really care for these inner city folk or for the pagan on the foreign field if you don't take on their culture. You aren't reaching them like Jesus did. You aren't eating with them per se. And you aren't getting in their "sandals." So they ship in their instrumentation and their improvisation and their rhythms, and now, see, they really care like Jesus did. They've been incarnational and missional. The gospel can't get you all the way to these people, so you've got to reach some on your own. Give and take is necessary. You go a little ways, they come a little ways, you go, they come, until you meet somewhere in the middle. That's how it can get done. And if you're not succeeding, not using these methods, this is where you're failing. And it's because you don't love them like the missional people do.
On top of all of this is the deep disrespect for God and the true worship of Him. This movement is so contrived and has targeted the lusts of its audience to work them with their version of the gospel. God is not worshiped in this. He is disgusted with this. It does not at all center on God, Who He is and what He wants, but on what will please people. In so doing, its makers also produce a distortion of true spirituality, leading their adherents into a false measure of their own fellowship with God. True affection for God is at stake. Men with stoked passions mistake those feelings for some movement of the Holy Spirit.
These men involved at Northland have long relied on worldly methods, the ox-carts of men's invention, to reach their religious goals. The ones they used are increasingly either out of fashion or just don't "work" any more. As Olson wrote, now he wants to see "greater things." If you pray for greater things, you don't need the new measures Olson and Northland, among many others, believe are required to have those greater things fulfilled. And the truth is, we already have the greatest thing, the gospel itself.