Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Critique: Worship Wars by Robert Bakss

Christians have to change.  They are predestined to conform to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29-30).  Not all change is good though.  Conforming to the image of the Son in Romans 8, good, but conforming to the world in Romans 12, bad.  Robert Bakss talks about changing in his book, Worship Wars.  The way he changes is not what I expect in the Romans 8 type of change, the kind authored by God.  He conforms to the world and he doesn't want you to judge him for it.

The Title

Bakss starts in his introduction explaining his title, Worship Wars, with the emphasis on "wars."  In his first sentence, he says it's sad that grappling over "the 'proper' style of music for church" becomes a worship war.  His next two sentences read:
Like the movie "Star Wars", the battles rage from episode to episode, with Bible verses being used as the proverbial light sabres to attack and defend each other.  It is with this in mind I have used a "Star Wars" theme for the sections of the book, with a little bit of "tongue in cheek"! [He's Australian and British punctuation can go inside or outside of quotation marks.]
A secular, blockbuster movie provoking a Christian book title doesn't bode well for an edifying or spiritual conclusion to a theological or biblical treatise.  He had Star Wars on his mind as he considered the sections of his book.  Star Wars itself is antithetical to true worship.  The world does a good enough job promoting itself without professing believers to come along and give it some help.

James 4:1-2

Forthwith Bakss gives his own reasons why music is "divisive among Christians, especially pastors."  Their (not his) "opposition" arises from their "preferences" and their "own self interests."  He says that since singing is personal, even more than preaching, a point that he makes with no evidence, men are "sensitive and desire music to suit [their] personality and temperament."  He says worship wars ensue from the "want to be comfortable with what we are participating in."  Those do sound like horrible reasons, ones that would motivate equally terrible positions on music if that's the way it really occurs.  His basis for this explanation is James 4:1-2.

Bakss reveals here his tack for the book, which is, music isn't worth fighting over.  The fighting itself is the problem, a violation of James 4, he surmises.  Everyone who divides over worship style, that is, causes war, does so because of fleshly reasons, vis-a-vis James 4. They're all wrong also with improper motives.  No particular music itself is the problem -- only the fighting over music is the problem.  Bakss makes a bad application from James 4:1-2 right from the get-go.  How?

James in his epistle explains why wars occur.  He's not saying that everyone who wars does so for the same reason.  No war would occur if there were not people living according to lust, essentially characterizing unsaved people, the proud who will not humble themselves, so that they do not receive saving grace.  However, war itself isn't always wrong, or else Paul would not have called for warring in all the places that he did.  David warred.  Were his righteous wars?  God calls for war.  Sombody's got to fight back when things are going wrong, justifying the fighting.  Both sides of a fight are not always wrong.

I'm not going to go further in exposing Bakss's point, but he messes up right off the bat.  If Bakss directed his application at himself, he wouldn't have even written the book, because he's warring against something by writing it.  That is obvious.  Instead of writing the book, he could have prayed, and not to consume it upon his own lust as James suggests and as a necessary conclusion to Bakss's own viewpoint.  On the other hand, I believe some war is justified, so I'm fine with criticizing his book and rejecting how he worships. I think war over worship is worth it.  Nothing is more important to fight about.  If he doesn't think that's true, he should have never written the book in the first place.  He's not following his own interpretation, albeit a false one, of James 4:1-2.

Music Is a Language

Next Bakss makes a valid point, "music is a language."  He's going outside of scripture to make that point, but I agree with it.  Then he contradicts his own point.  He says, "just like in our spoken language, we are more comfortable to speak one over another."  He compares different languages to different musical styles.  He's saying that the language we speak, our native tongue, is like our most comfortable musical style, as if each musical style is its own separate language.

Musical styles are not parallel or synonymous with different languages.  Music itself is a separate, singular language and the various styles of music are not individual languages.  Musical styles are like styles or forms of the same language.  Language can be used in a moral manner or in an immoral manner.  Paul commanded:  "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth" (Eph 4:29).  Like language, music can be corrupt.  Like language, it can be and should be judged.

Bakss isn't clear in the rest of this section of his introduction, but he seems to be saying that the affect of music comes from its associations.  In other words, music has no objective meaning without association.  The associations of music, he says, are what triggers people or stirs people up to war.  There is inherent meaning in language irrespective of association.  God forbids corrupt communication.  He prohibits corrupt music.

The Lord Jesus saw the corruption brought into God's house and became indignant.  He warred in John 2.  His disciples saw it and thought of Messianic texts, those bearing witness to His identity.  Corrupt music brought into the house of God should cause indignation to righteous men.

Sacred Music

Bakss puts "sacred music" in quotes, questioning the existence of sacred music.  He is arguing that no form or style of music is sacred.  This contradicts his "music is a language" statement, because language can be profane or sacred.  Jesus said it was a primary way by which a person manifests the condition of his heart.

If someone is going to say that music is a language, no manifestation of humanity has more of an opportunity to be corrupt than language.  The Bible itself says this.  Like with language, there is a range of acceptable moral music, but there is a threshold where one enters into immoral language or music.  This immoral music is what should not be used in worship for God and righteous people should war against it.


Bakss testifies that he wrote Worship Wars "born out of a worship war within me."  He had preached against the position on worship music that he now promotes.  First, he confesses that he had sinned by preaching against the music he now favors.  Second, he rationalizes why he did such.  He didn't know any better, just like his parents didn't think there was anything wrong with painting his crib with lead paint.  He parallels his former position on music to  slave owners in early United States history.  The idea here of course is that those people could change on slavery and so could he about music.  People can be wrong.

It is true that large groups of people are often wrong all at one time. The Dark Ages are witness of this with most saying the world was flat.  What Bakss tell us unique about him for his approach of the subject is that, one, he could use his legal training as a lawyer to dig this one out, and, second, he studies both sides of the issue for objective sort of witness.  Furthermore, he isn't going to depend on anything outside of scripture (except for perhaps that music is a language and I'm going to guess many, many other things throughout his book), like "psychology" and "assertions of the musically elite," but just the Bible.  He's implying that this is going to be a new approach, just looking at the Bible, and nothing else, like "subjective feelings" and "cultural bias."

My own personal testimony is that I grew up in Southern Indiana with bluegrass, country, or just plain popular music, and I in time rejected those as fitting for worship of God, that is, they weren't sacred.  I changed.  When I changed, the assumption here as posited by Bakss is that I, among others like me, it was because of the illicit influence of psychology, musical elitists, non-lawyerly types, and people who were experts on music, rather than lay people, who have an edge over someone who knows more.

No Expert

In recent days, before he died Harold Camping promoted his hermeneutic and theological positions by bragging that they were not under the influence of any kind of special training.  Bakss writes:
Whilst I write with a measure of candour, it is certainly not my intention to portray myself as an unquestioned authority on this subject, nor do I want to be slanderous or malicious in the presentation of my research.
He started his book by impugning the motives of those who differ, then also later writing, "We simply must get to the point when we can talk about these issues in a calm way without assigning malicious motives to those with whom we do not agree."  It would be best to keep the discussion to the music itself and not judge motives, even if Bakss already failed at that stated goal.

Bakss continues:  "I simply desire to be a musical layman's voice of balance and reason."  You can write at a layman's level, but you've still got to write what is right.  And if expertise doesn't matter, why does it matter that you are a trained lawyer?   He insists his motive is "to help bring about a cease fire" in the worship war.  His "heart's desire is not that worshippers become liberal, but rather that they become liberated from man's traditions, to worship God with a fresh liberty from the Holy Spirit."

If music isn't amoral, it can be used as false worship, so the war is against false worship. A cease fire would the wrong decision.  Bakss has already failed at showing the amorality of music.  Christians don't have the liberty to sin.  False worship is sin.

"Fresh liberty," I surmise, is one discovered by someone once oppressed by Pharisee-like additions to scripture.  Judging worship style, he is asserting, is a Pharisee-like addition.  The offer of, shall I say, "a fleshly lust" or a "lying vanity," isn't a "fresh liberty."  Satan told Eve she had liberties that she really didn't have.  The Holy Spirit doesn't manifest works of the flesh.  What Bakss poses as liberty really is lasciviousness, something that we can and should judge according to scripture.

Next:  Chapter One


Dave Mallinak said...

I'm just curious whether Bakss offers any proof for his major premise in the book. His major premise is that musical style is a matter of preference, and from there he builds his case. When I watched his "Idea Talks" interview with Josh Teis, it was clear that this is his major premise. Though I reviewed the interview at least three times, I could not find any place where he even attempted to prove that point. Does he beg the question in his book too?

I think the point should be made that we ought not to approach the Bible like lawyers, advocating for a particular position and using the Bible as a source to make the case. It seems to me from everything I have read and heard from Bakss and Teis that these men use a lot of special pleading. They want a particular outcome, and they work their arguments to ensure that outcome.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I would say your whole comment is true, especially based upon the interview and as much as I've read so far, but I want to be careful to read the whole book before I make conclusions. I've made it only through the introduction and chapter one, reviewing the former. I'll get back into it this week either Monday or Wednesday. I want to break it up a bit, maybe once a week on the review and then one chapter per review.

His syllogism, as far as the introduction goes, would be:

Major Premise: War is wrong because it starts for wrong reasons.
Minor Premise: People war over worship.
Conclusion: People warring over worship are wrong because they start for the wrong reasons.

His proof text in the introduction was James 4:1-3.

I listened to half his last sermon on his last Sunday morning, and it was horrible. It was a similar type of use of scripture.