Last week, I watched a little of the live stream of the Shepherd's Conference in Southern California. It was the technically best live streaming I had ever seen, very convenient. I saw very little because of work and schedule, but I did see a little music, some of a panel discussion, and some of an Albert Mohler sermon. I downloaded and listened to Phil Johnson's session, while doing electrical work at our house.
My evaluation of the Grace Community Church (GCC) music, which I've always heard is very conservative and hasn't moved from that and is like a fundamentalist church, is not good. I say that as someone who really wanted to like it. I wasn't trying to research it. It was what came on when I had any time to watch the live stream. What I got to see of it was the rock group that played one morning for several numbers. I'm not kidding that it was a rock group. The rock group led the congregational music. In pictures and on audio, I've seen that group play at a Resolved Conference, where that music was supposed to be exclusively Resolved music, not something that segued to other compartments of GCC. It was peculiar, when they panned the audience of pastors, to see the pastors "rocking" to that music. They were "rocking" like at a rock concert, which shouldn't surprise anyone, since it was rock music. I understand that with certain types of rock music that people "rock" more, but they were definitely "rocking" as part of their "worship."
Without doubt, when "rock" and "worship" come together like they did at the Shepherd's Conference there at GCC, it's akin to, if not synonymous with, the ecstasy of Corinth. They are confusing the Holy Spirit with the affects of the rock music, like the Corinthians were with their ecstasy. Believe me. That swaying is not caused by the Holy Spirit. All that eye-clenching and wagging of the head is not the Holy Spirit. It is not religious affection. It is what Jonathan Edwards called passion. So GCC is a part of this kind of destruction of discernment, while claiming to be almost headquarters for discernment.
Besides when the rock group played the one morning I watched, the regular evening congregational worship under the leadership of the regular song leader at GCC was conservative: organ, piano, and orchestra with no rock beat. The hymns were all old hymns that I saw (and I saw a small percentage). When they added a soloist, and I saw a woman and a man both sing, they also added the rock rhythm and instrumentation, and the sensuality and entertainment/performance aspects. This doesn't have to happen with a solo, but the two they chose, they purposefully included these features.
I want to pause for a moment to anticipate those who will use mockery as their argument here. You can go ahead, but you're wrong. You should think about what I'm saying, because it's right.
I'm going to get to the irony. Just bear with me. Everything so far matters to the discussion.
Most of this is in order, but for a moment, I'm going out of order. Very recently, someone popular with conservative evangelicals, Carl Trueman, produced with Todd Pruitt an online audio called Birth of the Cool, in which he talked about the importance of being "cool" in evangelicalism today. In the initial conversation between the two, they took an excursion into their love of rock and roll music, especially the Rolling Stones. This started their negative assertions about churchmen needing to be cool. In their banter, they talked about the Rolling Stone mega-hit, Satisfaction, which lyrics refer to sexual frustration, and was controversial when it was first sung because of its sexual content. I learned of the Trueman audio from a tweet by Scott Aniol of Religious Affections.
As I watched only the beginning of Albert Mohler's sermon, I wiki'ed Mohler and read his bio. At the beginning of his Shepherd's Conference session, he proclaimed the value of hymn books and the importance of the old hymns. About that time, I got to the bottom of his wiki bio as I listened and there saw a sermon he had preached, entitled, The Nature of True Beauty, so I clicked on it, and stopped watching the Shepherd's Conference, but listened to that instead. He had preached it at the Capital Hill Baptist Church, where Mark Dever is the pastor. I was amazed by what I heard. I believe it. And now I'm ready to talk about irony with you, and what I meant by irretrievable.
Mohler in his sermon in Washington DC inextricably tied together truth, goodness, and beauty. If you deny or violate beauty, you do it to the other two. He was placing beauty, in essence orthopathy, on the same level as truth and goodness. I agree. Relativistic beauty yields relativistic truth and goodness. God is One. You can't give up one without giving up the others. They are indivisible. Attack or corruption of beauty is the same upon truth and goodness. Again, you just can't separate one from the other two.
The irony is found in the GCC emphasis on truth, so much found in John MacArthur's books, especially recently as we've seen truth become an even greater casualty of our culture. The irony is found in a conference that so professes to protect sheep from error that violates or denies objective beauty. Carl Trueman introduces a talk about "cool" with an endorsement of the Rolling Stones and Satisfaction. Scott Aniol tweets it. Dever advocates rap. Talking about the Rolling Stones smacks of "cool." The rock group in the morning of the Shepherd's Conference with its ecstatic disposition and hip appearance: the eye clenching, the Elton John piano style, the sensuality, the soul patches, the swaying. Everything means something, but this screamed out a rejection of objective beauty. By forfeiting beauty, GCC, Trueman, Dever, and unfortunately Mohler, all also forsake truth and goodness. You've got all these people "fighting for truth," that are undermining truth because of their capitulation on beauty.
I believe Mohler preaches about beauty, because it really is what he thinks. I suspect that he doesn't see people as with him on it, being supportive of what he's saying, but maybe he'll be able to get something started, work on this incrementally, perhaps like he's tried to change Southern Seminary from liberal to conservative. Truth and goodness will not come without beauty. The beauty is actually where the biggest violations are, because it relates to the affections. Love must in fact be love in love for God, and God must be God. You can't love God like someone "loves" his girlfriend or even a sirloin steak. The God of the Bible must be worshiped in His beauty and the denial or ignorance or perversion of His beauty is false and bad, as in not true and not good.
You should be able to see the irony here. There is so much of it. The irony is in the protection of sheep by shepherds, the praise of beauty, the decrying of "coolness," and the appeal for truth from people who won't separate the beautiful from the ugly. God is worshiped in the beauty of His holiness. Worship of God separates from the mundane, the kitsch, the crass, the worldly, the common, and the profane. It certainly doesn't make provision for the flesh. It won't "rock." It is sacred. It rings of God. Rock music doesn't do that. Any Christian hoping to disabuse a people from "cool" will not endorse or like the Rolling Stones. It's ludicrous. It says that these are people who are either rebellious or they don't know what they're talking about.
The other option that I can hear from an imagined defender is that no style of music communicates anything inherently moral. That is not a biblical position or a historic Christian position. That's what Mohler was preaching against in his beauty sermon. There is objective beauty and objective ugliness or other non-beautiful qualities in music. It isn't amoral. This attack on beauty is an attack on the truth and goodness. If you don't stand for the one, for beauty, then you don't stand for truth and goodness either. Don't say that you do.
If you are Albert Mohler, then be clear about this. Don't say that truth is on par with goodness and beauty, unless you believe it. And if you believe it, it can't be just lipservice. Do something about it.
How is it an irretrievable irony? You can't retrieve truth and goodness without repenting over beauty. Repentance, complete conversion, is what is needed here. We don't need half measures. We don't need hinting sermons, hopeful to plant some sort of seed. We certainly don't need sarcasm and mockery and marginalizing of the one who is pointing it out, which, it's too bad, is the expectation here. We need total repudiation that doesn't nibble around the edges. Truth and goodness are not retrievable without it.