Essential Equations: Goodness in Ministry and Music

I deeply enjoyed drafting the sixth chapter in my work in progress, Fruitful Worship, in which I considered the necessity of doctrinal, moral, and creative goodness for fruitful music and ministries. As I wrap up this chapter, I want to share the following, which may be helpful to those who, like me, might wonder where to begin when it comes to evaluating musical and ministerial goodness:

When it comes to evaluating the goodness of ministry in general (and more specifically worship music/ministry) I have found the following equations useful, each of which presents several related consequences of doctrine divorced from morality:

  • Good doctrine without Good morality = Hypocrisy, abuse, failure as a witness. In a powerful speech on sexual and spiritual abuse in the Church, Diane Langberg shared that teaching capabilities, charismatic personalities, strong leadership, and theological knowledge are not fruits of the Spirit.[1] These can be gifts of the Spirit, but only when they are cultivated alongside and in submission to the fruit of the Spirit. In this year of our Lord 2022, we are seeing the rotten fruit of many so-called “good” pastors and leaders, who excelled at their craft but were rapidly deteriorating in their souls. When we as a church champion doctrine without living it out, the world notices. It is naïve to assume we are better liars than unbelievers; they see through us when we cave to hypocrisy and we fail to witness unto the world the soul-transforming power of the Gospel.
  • Good morals without Good doctrine = Legalism, works-righteousness, ignorance, eventual deconstruction. There is an epidemic of young who were raised according to Christian morality but never truly grasped Christian doctrine. These people are now, understandably, becoming disenchanted with the church and its restrictions and are leaving en masse. Most recently, I watched singer-songwriter Audrey Assad publicly renounce her faith, proclaiming the creed of agnosticism. I worry that, like Ms. Assad, many Christian worship leaders and singers find themselves working, even famously, in a system they don’t necessarily understand themselves. They may feel trapped, living according to rules they don’t really understand in their hearts. We should, accordingly, consider being slower to hire and promote Christian artists. This is not a judgment but a courtesy; it is kinder to give immature believers the courtesy of working out their salvation with fear and trembling away from public scrutiny and temptation.
  • Good creation without good doctrine = Heresy, deception, emotional manipulation, ultimate meaninglessness. I am sometimes appalled at the art I see Christian journals publishing and celebrating. The poetry, especially, sounds beautiful and reads with profundity, but when I take a step back to ask myself “but what does it mean?” I am usually met with convicting, concerning: “nothing.” Now, I realize the danger of trying to ascribe particular meaning to every bit of creative writing. As a poet and short story writer, I often don’t comprehend my own thoughts until after the rush of creativity, until I reread my product to learn what I was trying to say in the first place. However, there remains the fact that to be a Christian artist is to bring order to chaos, light to darkness, dry land amidst uninhabitable seas. If our art as believers is so totally devoid of the doctrine we profess, are we truly fulfilling our role as gardeners and namers? Cultivators of order and life? My poems, perhaps, border on the literal. They are likely too dogmatic at times. But I would always rather that my words be deemed too truthful than beautiful but unintelligible or, worse, meaningless.
  • Good creation without good morality = Arrogance, idolatry, relational strife, gratuitousness, obscuring of injustice. I can think of no more terrifying example of this than the Nazi’s use of German composers. I was appalled to learn that Adolf Hitler adored Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, his famous “choral symphony” that concludes with a glorious, riotous “Ode to Joy.”[2] Worse even than an endorsement from Hitler, I discovered that this symphony and other German works were played at concentration camps, either to mock prisoners as they marched to their death or to obscure the atrocities beneath a musical veneer of revelry.[3] Music and instruments are not good in and of themselves; it is often how they are used that renders the final judgment call.

This list and these examples are by no means comprehensive, but they will hopefully provide a basic framework for understanding the dire necessity of good doctrine and good morality to the influence of good creativity. Creativity, though, is by no means an arbitrary bonus. As a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute, I have a ring that is inscribed with bonum, verum, pulchrum: goodness, truth, and beauty. It is not “goodness and truth” and possibly some consequential beauty. All three are essential to our edification and to our witness in all that is truly good:

  • Good doctrine and good morality without good creativity = Bland music, boredom, total unattractiveness to the world, neglect of artistic and spiritual giftings, rejection of God’s goodness in creation, failure to live into our calling as image-bearers. A church with good doctrine and morality without any emphasis on good creativity sounds like a lifeless institution. The Holy Spirit, as we have seen, is not only active in inspiring scripture and regenerating our hearts but in the furnishing of the Old Testament temple, in generating the songs of New Testament heroes, and in encouraging the singing of the early Church. To be spirit-filled is not just to believe and live rightly, but to engage in good creative activity. How marvelous it would be to be known for our coherence of belief, action, and creation! Wouldn’t it be beautiful for the world to admire the integrity of our art and music? The Church today spends a great deal of time trying to image the world in its art; what if it were the other way around? What if we pursued artistic integrity with such infectious zeal that our equation became:
  • Good doctrine, good morality, and good creativity = A light unto the world, order in the midst of chaos, joyful belief and obedience, artistic excellence that encourages morality and truthfulness, a revival of spirit-filled creativity.

As I write, there is a revival in the field of “Theology and the Arts.” It is a burgeoning field, to say the least. Each time I check Instagram, I see new accounts and journals committed to pursuing orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and astounding beauty. Find these ministries, learn from them, contribute to them, and be encouraged in the good life.[4] It is more than just being good; it is itself very good.

[1] Julie Roys shared her speech here:


[3] Jeremy Begbie has a particularly poignant discussion of this in ‘Beauty, Sentimentality and the Arts’, in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, ed. Daniel Treier, Mark Husbands and Roger Lundin (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007), 45–69.

[4] I personally recommend the following, although my to-read list is always growing: Deus ex Musica, SPLENDEUR, The Big Picture, Poet’s Corner. If you have a particular favorite, I would love to know about it. Feel free to contact me via Instagram or

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