It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God, edited by Ned Bustard. Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2013. 338 pp. $19.15.
Music continues to be a controversial topic (maybe the controversial topic) in churches today. Much discussion has centered on style preferences and what those styles may or may not communicate, but the dialogue usually stops there, never penetrating into deeper discussion of the actual craft of music making. At this point a book such as It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God is beneficial.
Edited by artist Ned Bustard, this book is a compilation of essays by and interviews with musicians from various backgrounds and genres. The contributors include some familiar names—Charlie Peacock, Keith Getty, and Shai Linne—as well as some new artists I was glad to be introduced to. The different contributors reveal their opinions on issues of musical craftsmanship and musical style, and they do so in ways that are honest and revealing. Every one of them discusses, in some respect, the discipline required to be a Christian musical artist.
This book contains something for every church musician, whether it speaks directly to a specific musical style, skill, or philosophy. The majority of contributors are in pop music circles, but there are representatives of jazz and classical as well. While these musicians come from different backgrounds and different styles of music, they share the idea that music requires consistent discipline and development. In the preface, Bustard states the reality that “music is not something easily done. Ask any musician and they will tell you, music is work” (3). The essays that follow continually reinforce this thesis. These artists do not talk about how great it is to be a star, or how to write a hit song, but rather they give honest reflection on what is required to be a Christian musical artist of integrity.
This book can help encourage those who find Christian music and church music lacking. Important conversations about musical aesthetics and faith are taking place; they just need to be sought out and discovered. They can be found if one is looking. As a composer of church music and art music, I found many things in this book that challenged me and encouraged me in my craft. I did not agree with everything I read, which is an impossibility in a book of several different contributors (and Bustard points this out in his preface), but there was always something to make me think, which in the realm of Christian music is itself refreshing. And the topics are diverse: there are chapters on specific musical theoretical concepts (harmony, counterpoint), musical styles (blues, jazz), musical practice (rehearsal, collaboration, participation), and even abstract concepts and experiences (delight, suffering, truth).
Each contributor has a brief biography included, but they all appear at the end of the book in the “Resources and Bios” section. Bookmarking this section and referring to it at the start of each chapter will help give insight before reading the content. However, it would have been preferable to have each chapter begin with the contributor’s biography, and then proceed to their material. While the chapters are easily read consecutively, they can also be read in any order. Included at the end of the “Resources and Bios” is a link to a website where samples of most of the contributors’ work can be downloaded for free. This is a valuable resource to observe how each contributor puts his or her own words into practice.
Christians involved in music ministry will benefit from this book, which offers years of experience and suggestions from others that will help shape a philosophy of music ministry. Additionally, church musicians will benefit creatively from what these contributing artists share. Christian musicians outside of ministry will also appreciate this work, simply for the fact that there are more artists like them who are wrestling with the same questions they are. Pastors and church leaders should also read this book, if only for demonstrating the reality that there is more to music and music ministry than simply appealing to the passions of parishioners.
In the continual debate over music and worship, It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God is a valuable resource for all involved, especially for musical artists who strive to bring their art and their faith together. For those of us who claim to have a relationship with the Creator of the universe, our pursuit of artistic excellence should exceed all others. May God grant His church the grace and discipline to do so.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Fort Worth, TX