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When the Unproven Premise Becomes More Divisive Than Ever

"We shouldn't let our worship preferences get in the way of our worship participation," writes Brett McCrackenin. His argument is that we shouldn't divide over preferences; therefore, we shouldn't divide over music. Or should we?

Church with choir

The Gospel Coalition recently published an excerpt from a new book by Brett McCrackenin which he makes a very common argument about music in worship that may sound pious at first glance, yet has a fatal flaw.

Here is the core premise of McCracken's argument summarized in two pull quotes from the post:

"We shouldn't let our worship preferences get in the way of our worship participation."

"Putting aside personal preferences and embracing common, unified, God-centered worship, however uncomfortable it may be, is part of what it means to follow Jesus together."

To both of these statement, I give a hearty, "Amen!" Who would disagree with this premise? Who would defend dividing over mere preferences? No one would.

However, that is not McCracken's full argument. He gets his readers to immediately agree—of course we shouldn't divide over preferences—but his whole point of this premise is a specific conclusion he has in mind: Since we shouldn't divide over preferences, surely we shouldn't divide over music. He shares the fact that he prefers classical music and organ, but his current church is more charismatic and sings things he doesn't prefer. His argument is that we shouldn't divide over preferences; therefore, we shouldn't divide over music.

Right?

The important thing to recognize here is that the argument is formed as a traditional syllogism:

Major premise: We shouldn't divide over mere preferences.
Conclusion: We shouldn't divide over music.

"But," an observant logician will interject, "A valid syllogism draws its conclusion from a least two premises."

Exactly, and herein lies the problem.

The argument presented above does draw its conclusion from two premises, but the second premise is assume and unstated:

Major premise: We shouldn't divide over mere preferences.
Minor premise (assumed): Music is a mere preference.
Conclusion: We shouldn't divide over music.

As far as it goes, this syllogism is perfectly valid. If both premises are true, then it logically follows that the conclusion is also true.

However, the second premise is not only assumed and unstated in this argument, it is also unproven.

In order for the conclusion 'We shouldn't divide over music" to be true, McCracken must prove that the second premise, 'Music is a mere preference" is also true. Problem is, he has not proven it.

Not only has he not proven that music is a mere preference, the burden of proof clearly lies with him since the vast majority of history has insisted that music is not a mere preference.

It's one thing to assume a premise without proving it because it is axiomatic or generally accepted. But this is certainly not the case with this second premise. It is only fairly recently that people have come to assume that music is neutral, amoral, and merely a matter of preference. Philosophers, theologians, and people at large have for most of history, on the contrary, assumed that music is moral, powerful, and a matter of significance.

No, this assumed premise must be proven first before anyone can assert that we shouldn't divide over music.

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

The mission of Religious Affections Ministries is to help churches conserve and nourish historic, biblical Christianity by clearly articulating the teachings of the Bible concerning truth, goodness, beauty, and rightly ordered affections in life and ministry. Visit Religious Affections Ministries at http://religiousaffections.org

 

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