The Rock Myth

Andy Wilson
Monday, July 2nd 2012
Jul/Aug 2012

Most of the worship music we refer to as “contemporary” has been influenced by rock ‘n’ roll. As a form of art, the meaning of this style of music involves a whole set of assumptions and ideals, something Ken Myers has described as the “rock myth.” Myers explains, “The essence of that myth was that rock would offer a form of spiritual deliverance by providing a superior form of knowledge, a form that was immediate rather than reflective, physical rather than mental, and emotional rather than volitional.” (1) If these things are inherent to rock as a musical form, then rock music itself, regardless of the lyrics, may imply something about how we come to know and experience truth. It suggests that the immediate, physical, and emotional is more authentic and reliable than the reflective, mental, and volitional. This is something to consider seriously in relation to our worship tunes, especially in terms of how the Bible says we come to an understanding of the truth, as well as Paul’s exhortation to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

There are many ways the “rock myth” has shaped our culture’s dominant approach to music. For one, music has largely ceased to be an activity in which people participate and has instead become a commodity that is consumed. For Oxford musicologist Julian Johnson, ours is “a commercial culture that accords equal validity and equal status to all of its products. In the marketplace, all music becomes functionally equivalent.” (2) In other words, music is often relativized so that consumer preferences reign supreme. To go against this common assumption is dangerous, as Johnson concludes: “A challenge to the music through which one identifies oneself is experienced with the same anxiety as a personal attack.” (3) This may have a lot to do with the extraordinarily long life of the so-called “Worship Wars.”

Another way in which the rock myth affects us has to do with the function music is expected to perform in our lives. For many modern people, music is almost exclusively used as background or distraction in the midst of some other activity (driving, shopping, dining, studying, and so forth). We use music to help set or alter a mood. Thus music is judged on the basis of its ability to arouse a certain set of emotions. When music makes this immediate connection, we judge it to be good. In a culture that sees leisure as a release from having to think, any musical form that requires thoughtful or patient participation is going to be viewed as irrelevant and burdensome.

Music has power, and this power can be directed toward either good or bad ends. Consider John Calvin’s comments on this in his introduction to a sixteenth-century psalter: “There is hardly anything in the world with more power to turn or bend, this way and that, the morals of men.’¦It has a secret power to move our hearts in one way or another. Wherefore we must be the more diligent in ruling it in such a manner that it may be useful to us and in no way pernicious.” (4)

1 [ Back ] Kenneth A. Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 137.
2 [ Back ] Julian Johnson, Who Needs Classical Music? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 14.
3 [ Back ] Johnson, 15.
4 [ Back ] Cited in Paul S. Jones, Singing and Making Music (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), 292.
Monday, July 2nd 2012

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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