A worship musician challenges our musical ‘experiences’

‘Playing with Fire: The Use and Abuse of Music’

By Alex Robertson

Barratt Ministries Publications

ISBN 0 9528222 0 2

“Music is power… power to influence and inspire, or to manipulate and control… a wonderful means of expression, or a potent and addictive drug.” 

Although written 20 years ago, for me this book is a classic – and still very relevant.

With many in the Church blissfully unaware both of music’s power or the message their preferred musical styles are proclaiming, Alex Robertson invites Christians to re-evaluate their use of music. He is not afraid to share personal experience of getting his fingers burnt, both as a worship leader and a professional musician.

Robertson shows how music is essentially “a medium for the transmission of a message”; he therefore cautions that New Age music, with its roots in occultism and mysticism, can be used for unknowingly “opening oneself up” to a bogus “spiritual experience”.

Crucially, he goes one step further and dismantles the myth that classical music is intrinsically more ‘spiritually noble’ than other music genres, providing eye-opening facts about several great composers’ personal lives – such as Beethoven’s “crude manners” and the
Masonic influence on Mozart’s work.

Pastor Alex Robertson (pictured with his wife Nancy) says classical music is not necessarily more godly than other music genres

He clarifies the difference between impression and expression – using music as a stimulant to manipulate one’s feelings or as a legitimate vehicle for self-expression. He warns that worship leaders can easily get a congregation clapping and praising God purely through careful choice of harmonies and rhythms, but end up missing out on God’s presence.

As a worship musician myself, the chapter ‘Seven dangers – a personal checklist’ gave me invaluable practical guidelines for testing whether music is having helpful or harmful effects in my life. Since “God works through people, not through music” per se, Robertson demonstrates how brokenness is the key to true music ministry; only when the self is laid down can the musician truly worship God and benefit others by allowing “God’s Spirit to be expressed through [them]”.

‘Playing with Fire’ is not always a comfortable read. But with its call for discernment, humility and careful heart-searching, the
book carries a crucial message for all who want to harness the power of music for the glory of God.

Rachel Cary