During my teaching days in Montana and Kansas, I had the opportunity to teach a music appreciation course to middle school students. As we listened to the music of various composers, inevitably someone would always ask, “Is he a Christian?” I was often struck by the irrelevancy of the question. Does the character of the music change based on the answer to that question? Does my appreciation for the piece depend on whether the composer is Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or pagan? In one sense, I might take some satisfaction from knowing that I share the same faith with a composer, but on a purely artistic level, it doesn’t say anything about whether the music is good or whether I like it. To be sure, the moral character of a composer may be reflected in his/her art and if I am aware that someone practices witchcraft or sacrifices goats, I may wish to avoid his music.

Since we were created in the image of God, we naturally reflect God’s characteristics. One of God’s primary roles for us is as Creator, so we are all endowed with creativity, whether that be in the areas of music, dance, visual art, writing, or even in other disciplines, such as mathematics, applied sciences, or even in using problem-solving skills in everyday situations. As Stravinsky observed, “The Church knew what the psalmist knew: Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church’s greatest ornament.

Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17 helps shed some light on this. “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23, NIV). A good composer who does not have a Christian faith can still be capable of praising God through music, even though, to him, it is an “unknown God.”

Regardless of whether he had a close personal relationship to God or not, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is still a masterpiece. Our creativity is a gift from and response to our Creator. It can’t come from any other source. My spirit is drawn to worship God when I hear a Mahler symphony, a Miles Davis solo, or the latest Hillsong CD because of the truth that good music praises God. The distinction between the sacred and secular is often artificial, since the nature of creativity is inherently sacred.