Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
Music is great. Jesus is greater! In part 1 of 3 Bob and David discuss their love of music and why Jesus is even more satisfying. Why is it important to keep congregational music from distracting us from the truths we sing about? And how can we use music as a tool to point people to Christ?
“I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses [through music] and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.” – St. Augustine
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Bob Kauflin: Hey, you’re listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace Music exists to produce Christ-exalting songs and training for local churches, from local churches. For more information and free resources, you can check out sovereigngracemusic.org. Thanks for joining us.
David Zimmer: Hello, hope you’re doing well, I am David Zimmer.
BK: And I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And as you know, this is the Sound + Doctrine Podcast, and we are so happy that you’re with us.
DZ: Bob, I wanted to talk today about the topic, “Music is great. Jesus is Greater.”
DZ: For some of our listeners that attended the WorshipGod Conference, they would have remembered this topic. If they were not there, you spoke on this at the Sing! Conference in Nashville.
DZ: And the Shepherds’ Conference out in California. This seems to be something that’s very clearly on your heart.
BK: Oh, definitely.
DZ: Something that you’re passionate about.
BK: Yeah, a little bit.
DZ: Both of those things, music and Jesus.
DZ: But I think, especially as this podcast will probably be a two-part series since there’s probably a lot to talk about on this topic…
DZ: Well I wanted to start with music because…
BK: Music is great.
DZ: Music is great. And you have given your life to making music, writing songs, writing melodies. And so I thought it’d be really fun to just ask you questions about your love for music.
BK: Sure, sure.
DZ: Where did your love for music start?
BK: Probably, my mom made us… In the home, my mom made all the kids… I had one brother, two sisters, we all had to learn how to play piano.
DZ: Okay, forced to play piano.
BK: Forced, yeah, to some degree. My brother did accordion for like one year.
BK: ‘Cause it was cool. I think he thought it was cool for a while, but not for very long. So anyway, we had a musical home, my mom loved music, so I just kinda grew up with it. We listened to groups like The Swingle Singers, probably a lot of classical music. And so at eight years old, I started playing piano, started taking lessons, and then it was… I think when I was about 12 that I realized you could play stuff that you heard on the radio, like play by ear. That opened up a whole new world.
DZ: So it wasn’t just piano lessons which a lot of people don’t like.
DZ: Especially kids don’t like taking piano lessons.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: The technical side and all the technique and stuff and boring teachers and…
BK: Yeah that… I mean, I had good teachers. I learned music theory, which I did love for whatever reason and I’m so glad. If you’re a musician, a young musician especially, learn music theory, it will serve you for your entire life. But that area of playing by ear led into writing songs when I was 12, 13, and yeah, I just… I started to branch out in terms of the kinds of music I wanted to listen to.
DZ: Well so what would be some of your greatest influences?
BK: Oh, wow. So classically, Aaron Copland, a song called… The ballet he did, wrote for, called Appalachian Spring, I used to listen to that constantly. His writing… A group called The Association, they were a vocal group, which if you know my history, that’s no surprise. Certainly The Beatles, a lot of singer songwriter back in the early 70s. Joni Mitchell was one, it’s funny I’m blanking right now, but just… Yeah, people who made beautiful melodies. James Taylor, The Beach Boys, those kind of groups, I just loved. I never got really into rock so much. I tried to, but really loved someone who could write a great melody with meaningful lyrics. That just… That still appeals to me.
DZ: That was what I was…
BK: Oh sorry I forgot, Steely Dan was a huge influence.
BK: In terms of just harmonic creativity.
DZ: Or musicality.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.
DZ: Yeah, yeah. Great musicians.
BK: YES, a group called YES.
DZ: YES. So are you more drawn to lyrics or melody? You said both.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
BK: Both, yeah.
DZ: They both move you equally?
BK: In different ways.
BK: So I remember listening to a Beethoven piano sonata in the car, driving. So then it would have been in the early 90s, and just starting to weep because I thought it was so beautiful. So music definitely can affect me.
BK: I would have to say not as much as a well-written lyric that’s accompanied by well-written music, that’s better. Because it gives definition to the music. I know why this music moves me. So that’s why great song writers… I think secular artist, Sara Bareilles is a great song writer. Her lyrics can be just so creative. They’re… Joni Mitchell, I think is still a great songwriter. There’s a new artist, Maddie Cunningham, who I know her dad, Scott Cunningham, he’s head of the Worship School for Calvary Chapel.
BK: It’s similar to Joni Mitchell, writes some very creative, thoughtful lyrics.
DZ: Well and excellent guitarist and musician and singer.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the whole thing. And as far as Christian lyricist-musician, someone like Sara Groves or Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite lyricists and musicians. Just… When it comes together to produce a song like “Is He Worthy?”, it’s just so, so moving. But I’ve listened to his albums… A number of his albums many times and found them very moving.
DZ: Well, yeah, and Dancing in the Minefields was the first song I ever heard from him.
BK: Yes, yes.
DZ: And even though that wasn’t necessarily like a “Is He Worthy?” kind of song, it’s still like, excellent lyrics, excellent melody…
BK: It talks about profound things.
BK: Things that mean something that relate to life in the big sense, but in a very personal way.
DZ: Well, he has a… Yeah, he absolutely has a way of simplifying big concepts.
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DZ: Yeah, and that’s what every really great lyricist can do.
DZ: Is pull those like macro-micro things, big ideas into small phrases.
BK: Something that affects everybody that sounds like it was just meant for you.
DZ: Right, that’s a great way to put it.
BK: That is so hard to do.
DZ: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it. So but you have been writing songs for… You said since you were in high school.
BK: I used to write lots of songs in high school, mostly for girls. I would… This is so bad, I would see a girl, I’d say, I wanna take her out and I would write her a song. And then I’d play the song, and of course she would just be, “Oh, this is so amazing.” And I’d say, “Hey, there’s a dance coming up, do you wanna come, back to school dance, do you wanna come?”
DZ: Oh, my goodness.
BK: Yeah, I did that many times.
DZ: And those would be this… You would just make slight tweaks, like brown eyes, blue eyes…
BK: No, no, that’s so wrong. I would come up with fresh ideas…
DZ: Oh, my goodness.
BK: And just… I’m sure they were bad, but they were from the heart, and so they were… The girls liked them.
DZ: That’s amazing.
DZ: So how… When did that switch from petty love songs in high school to songs that…
BK: More meaningful songs?
DZ: To more meaningful songs. Not that those are bad songs, but when… What was the switch that… When you got saved…
BK: Yes, so I was 17, freshman in college.
DZ: So when you were a freshman in college, was there a shift? Like when you entered GLAD, which I think was much later, was there a… There was a big shift in your songs.
BK: Well, actually GLAD, if you didn’t know, was this group back in the… Well, they have been a group for a long time. But I was in GLAD in college, but we would just… We were playing dances and you know college parties and stuff. It wasn’t until ’76, graduated from college that we started… We’re saying, “We’re a Christian band.” And so during that time I’d be… After I became a Christian in ’72, I definitely started writing songs more purposefully about the Lord. Not all of them, but definitely moved in that direction. And by the time we went full-time in ’76, I think all the songs that I was writing were about, in some way, the Lord, and wanting to draw people to Him. ‘Cause I thought He’s more important than the music you’re hearing. So even back then I was thinking… I had that thought that as good as music might make you feel, Jesus is better. And so I wanna use my music to direct you towards Him. So that was going on then.
DZ: Well, right along those lines, like as someone who has given their life to making music, writing songs, have you felt that temptation to sort of mix your affections? That gets complicated when you have… You know that music is so moving…
DZ: And so powerful, and so incredible, and it can also be a tool to share the glories and beauty of who Jesus is as well.
BK: Yes, yeah, yeah.
DZ: So have you ever been tempted to mix those affections? And what would you say to someone who feels really drawn to music and maybe not as drawn to Jesus?
BK: Well, yes, I have felt that tension, and I think this whole… This podcast and the next one and maybe a third, I don’t know, is gonna be addressing that. What I’d say to someone… But I wanna share a quote with you that has to deal with this…
BK: From Augustine. It’s from his confessions where he was kinda chronicling his relationship with the Lord, how he came to believe in Christ. He struggled with music in particular, and… Before I share it, music is powerful in itself, when you bring it into the church, it’s even more significant. You’re using it to magnify the Triune God, you’re… To teach and admonish each other. We’re stirring up our affections for Christ. It’s helping us feel the truth. I think it’s what music does in the church, it helps us feel the truth. God doesn’t want to simply speak to our minds, He wants to speak to our hearts, our affections…
DZ: I love that.
BK: Our emotions even. And He wants us to feel why these things are so significant. Music at the same time helps us express things together as one. So there are a lot of reasons why music is so significant.
BK: But it can be a temptation, it could be a temptation to love the gift more than the giver. So listen to this quote, as Augustine says, he’s talking about his response when he’s sitting in the middle of Christians singing beautifully. He says, “I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses through music and the benefits which as I know from experience can accrue from singing.” So he’s saying singing is a good thing. “Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church in order that by indulging the ears, weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet, when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth, which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin. And at those times, I would prefer not to hear the singer.”
BK: He was really grappling with this issue of, “Which do I love more? Do I love Jesus or do I love the sound of singing?” I remember a time, I hadn’t been a Christian too long, maybe six-seven years when I became convicted… It may not even have been that long. I became convicted that I don’t want Jesus to be replaced by music. And I said, “I’m just gonna stop playing piano for a time, because I may be loving the music more than Jesus. It was a struggle to figure that out, but Paul says, in Colossians 3:16, he makes it very clear what’s to be dwelling in us when we’re singing or listening to music. He says, Colossians 3:16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”
BK: The Word of Christ, not musical experiences. Not technological creativity, not the size and volume, not skill and excellence. All those things have their place, but what’s to dwell in us richly is the Word of Christ, the Gospel, the good news that Jesus left His throne and became like us, took on flesh so that He might live a perfect life and die in our place as a substitute for our sins, taking the wrath we deserved, and then rise from the dead saying that that payment was sufficient and that we could… Too could have a resurrection in life. That’s the Gospel. And yeah, that’s pretty amazing, and that’s greater, that’s better than the music we use to praise Him with. So I have a passion for this, I think every Christian musician should have a passion for this. And so last year, I think it was 2019, we had the conference, WorshipGod Conference, and titled it “The Glorious Christ: Music is Great. Jesus is Greater.” ‘Cause I think as musicians, we can really struggle with this.
BK: I think our churches can struggle with this. And I think we can kinda confuse the feeling that music gives us versus the affections that Jesus wants to give us.
BK: We have a whole industry built up around it, and there’s some good things about that industry, in the sense that it makes music for the church so accessible to Christians. We have more songs more instantly accessible to us than any time in the history of the world.
DZ: Yeah, right.
BK: Which is great. But at the same time, it starts to flip. It can easily flip where Jesus is serving our musical desires.
DZ: Yeah, yeah. Well, and even going back to that quote, which is an excellent quote by the way, where he says, I see a great benefit, Augustine, I see a great benefit in our singing in our gathering, but to make it a grievous sin, to be putting the singer above the message, or the music above the meaning, the word dwelling rich within us.
BK: Yes. I don’t think most of us would see it as a grievous sin.
DZ: Yeah, so even unpacking that… How would you unpack that?
BK: Well, it’s like hearing… It’s like, and we can get… We’ll get into more details of this, but it’s like hearing someone sing, or hearing a band play on a Sunday morning and being more impressed with the band or caring more about who’s playing the guitar, or who’s singing the lead vocal, than the content of the songs that are being sung. That’s not good. But our churches are filled with people like that. And sometimes we train them to be like that, we train them to be more emotionally responsive to arrangements and instrumentation than we do content.
BK: So we’re beating ourselves over the head trying to think, “How can we make this song sound better? And what can we do, what pad can we play, what track can we play that’s gonna make this sound better?” And not giving as much attention, really, to what words we’re actually singing.
DZ: Yes, right.
BK: Which is upside down.
BK: And in God’s economy, the words are what drive everything, it’s why we have the psalms and not a soundtrack for the psalms. I love soundtracks. I listen to soundtracks all the time.
BK: But a soundtrack is not going to move… Change me morally. It’s gonna move me emotionally, but God’s interested in us being changed. So when my church… And this is a sign that my church would love music more than Jesus, or think music is greater than Jesus. When my church thinks more about the arrangements, or the vocalist who’s singing, or the instrumentation… “How good exactly is that guitar player?” And I’m all for great guitar players, but when our churches are thinking, “Oh, I love it when so-and-so is on the electric, ’cause they do those riffs, and it’s just… ” That’s a sign that our people could be thinking that music is greater than Jesus.
DZ: Yeah, instead, “What is the driving force?”
BK: Yeah, yeah.
DZ: Yeah, that’s excellent… That’s…
BK: Well, I want it to be helpful because it matters.
BK: It matters.
BK: And there are signs that our church is valuing music more than Jesus, and there are signs that we ourselves think music is greater than Jesus.
DZ: Right, right, right, right.
BK: And I wanna talk about those. I’m not sure that now is the time to do that, but we need to end this.
DZ: Yeah, no. I think that’s a great… I think that’s a great place to stop on the conversation because I know there’s so much more you can be… We can be talking about, so. Yeah, that music is great, Jesus is greater.
DZ: And we’ll pick that up again on another podcast.
BK: Looking forward to it. Thanks for joining us.
DZ: Thanks for joining us.
DZ: Thank you for listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources, you can visit us at sovereigngracemusic.org.