Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best (HarperCollins, 1993). Reviewed by Dr. Barry Liesch
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Written for the thinking Christian musician or non-musician, this remarkable book is one you will want to chew and reflect upon. It’s required reading for some of my university classes. In Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Dr. Harold Best, formerly Dean of the Wheaton Conservatory of Music, unpacks his philosophy of music and worship, sometimes explaining his views propositionally, and other times illustrating them with vivid stories and anecdotes.
In my opinion, Best is one of the few Evangelical intellectuals in the area of music today. Though theologically conservative, he has the capacity to arouse one’s thinking. He’s not timid and he doesn’t “dumb down” to his readers. Writing vigorously and at times complexly, his ideas tumble forth rapidly. This is college level reading that is both engaging and stimulating. No technical musical language, however, is employed
For me, the main value of the book lies in the wide variety of issues he tackles, the rationale behind his positions, and his openness to all styles of music. Best is an avid musical pluralist–that is, he welcomes and “revels” in all the music cultures of the world. His enthusiasm for all music is contagious and his ideas are relevant for Christian worship today. The issue of musical pluralism has enormous implications, for our North American culture is becoming increasingly pluralistic, both musically and ethnically.
I found the first six chapters (there are 10 in all) the most interesting. Chapter one discusses the issue of revelation and God as a creative artist–Best calls Him “the first abstract, non-representational imaginer.” He draws a number of useful implications for us today from the statement, “God did not need to create.” Chapter two (the hardest chapter to understand and maybe the most important) asks questions like, “Is a painting ethical or a fugue moral?”– and it concludes that music without words is “morally neutral.” That’s an important issue to resolve today. My university students, though, have been most impacted by the concept of “common grace,” which is also discussed thoroughly.
Chapters three and four are devoted to explaining and developing the concept of musical pluralism. He explains what it means to “live pentecostally” (an interesting phrase!) from a musical perspective. He helps readers think about their own musical center in new ways, and encourages each of us to branch out to adjacent and distant pluralism. Chapter four draws an analogy between aesthetic laws and the concept of law in the Bible. Best asks questions like, “Can one music be better than another?” These chapters are creatively written and share some wonderful stories.
Chapters five and six deal with the issue of music quality. After reading these chapters, I’ve sensed that my students have become greatly motivated to seek out quality, not only in music, but all areas of life. That’s an enormous contribution the book tends to make on individuals. Best also includes a provocative discussion on “single state” popular music and the use of technology in worship services and music concerts.
For several years, I’ve used Best’s book in my Introduction to Music course (for non-music majors) at Biola University. I’ve discovered that it is excellent for prompting discussion. Senior pastors and worship leaders interested in formulating a philosophy of music and worship will find his thoughts both helpful and challenging. This could also be a good book to discuss together.
This is a book to keep in your library and to refer to again and again. It’s original, and shares the results of a lifetime devoted to thinking about music and worship.
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