Boys and Music

Doug Wilson has 7 principles on “how to motivate young men of middle and high school age to enjoy singing well to the glory of God.” You may not agree with all of this, but I think there is some pretty good stuff here. Principle 1 talks about the priority of raising boys to be masculine. Principle 2 follows with this:

“We learn by imitation, and imitation involves persons and personal characteristics. If the music master is not the kind of man that the boys would like to be when they are grown, then they are generally going to avoid the musical pursuits that this man is offering to train them in. If the boys ahead of them in whatever discipline it is (violin lessons, piano or voice lessons, etc.) are admirable to the younger boys, then they will want to catch up with them. If not, then they won’t.”

I would add one item to this point. Principle 2 applies to all persons in pastoral ministry, not just music ministers. Boys are looking for models—exemplars of manhood. They notice when it is missing, and they will drift in its absence. This principle of “imitation” is, therefore, key for all church leaders to understand.

In principle 7, Wilson says there may be something to learn from the attraction of rock music. He writes:

“Instead of sniffing at the popularity of rock… we need to cultivate some humility at this point. We have to recognize that rock is vastly superior to more cultivated forms of music in at least one area — its ability to attract boys to music. If your theory about this is that rock does it all with half-naked girls, you haven’t thought about the subject nearly enough. The immorality of rock culture, and the inanity of the baby, baby, baby school of high poetry, are certainly worthy of our notice. But at the end of the day, they know how to do something that accomplished musicians and musical programs usually do very poorly. In the credit where credit is due department, we should be willing to try to learn what that is.”

Like I said, there’s some good stuff in Wilson’s short essay, and you can read the rest of it here.


  • Nathan

    There is a HUGE problem with Principal 2. Since when do adults take their cues from boys? Adults are supposed to change aspects about themselves to pander to what boys idolize?! It smacks of pride and idolatry when a boy rejects a man because he in not up to the boy’s standard of masculinity. According to Doug Wilson & Denny Burk, it seems that the heart is desperately wicked unless it’s a boy’s heart – in fact, according to Wilson & Burk, a boy’s heart is the standard for masculinity.

    Is this part of the cause of the gender problems within churches: the definition of masculinity comes from the thoughts and ideas of boys?

    I am just so flabbergasted and disgusted by this. Do you know what this kind of thinking does to boys? On the surface, it is great for the boys who are considered “in,” but bigotry is never a good thing. For the boys that are considered “out,” it’s awful at every level.

  • MRS

    Nathan – you’ve obviously never read much by Wilson.

    Donald – Wilson would not argue that point, but would say – as Francis Schaeffer did – that art and music are a reflection of what we know about God, and some forms are consequently superior to others. “Christlike” must take shape in some way…and I say that as a professed rock music junkie.

    Bach > U2, and mature Christians should recognize this.

  • Nathan


    You are right. I haven’t read much of Wilson, but I think one can make the inferences that I did. Denny certainly did.

  • Ferg

    MRS –
    Mature christians should recognise that Bach is better than U2?

    What on earth has that got to do with ones level of Christianity?

    Please explain more of what you mean.

  • Nathan Stuller

    Nathan, I think you are misunderstanding Denny, or maybe he didn’t express himself clearly enough. He isn’t using the principle of imitation to get leaders to act like boys. He is using the principle of imitation to say that leaders should be men worthy of imitation, men whose masculinity can be imitated by boys, and men who can free boys from the impression that Christianity is a feminine religion.

  • Nathan

    Nathan Stuller:
    Denny said: Boys are looking for models—exemplars of manhood. They notice when it is missing, and they will drift in its absence.

    I know that Denny is not saying that men should act like boys, but he IS saying that men should act like what boys idolize. He believes that boys can recognize when a man isn’t being “manly” enough, so male leaders need to be masculine in the way that boys approve or else lose the interest of boys.

    Unfortunately, masculinity is not well defined in the Bible. If it is, I would like to know.

  • MRS

    I should add, as Matt Chandler has recently pointed out, that Christian manhood is NOT about being a tough, rough dude a la John Wayne or Bear Bryant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either, but we must define masculinity in a way that is sensitive to those who are artistic, shy, etc.

  • Nate

    Chandler’s comments on that were not helpful. He painted those who are outdoorsman with a brush-stroke that was unkind and unfair – strikingly similar to what they (we need to be so sensitive crowd) accuse that group of towards those who are “sensitive.”

    Christian manhood is about growing in your live for Christ and taking on the responsibilities of an adult at the earliest possible age. Until the latter half of the 20th century and into this one that meant getting married, providing for a wife and children, and raising kids in the admonition of the Lord. If marriage was not for you, then surrender your life to the Lord and serve Him wholeheartedly.

    And why does it always have to be either/or? My father was an avid outdoorsman; a hunter and a fisherman who was a great artist (woodcarver). This ideology that a man cannot be both physically strong and spiritually sensitive is a crock. If one leans more towards one area or the other, then fine, but lets get out of camping on the extremes. However, a man (who doesn’t have the gift of celibacy; and there are very few) needs to learn to be an adult, get married, love his wife, and raise a family. Extended adolescence is certainly not found in the Scriptures.

  • Nathan

    Most people have a blend of masculine and feminine traits. Boys need to realize this and accept this in themselves AND their peers AND their leaders.


    Nate, there is a LOT wrong with your post, but unfortunately I don’t have time to address it now.

  • Nate

    What, because I would expect boys to actually grow up and take responsibility and become adults (and that I would expect fathers or other leaders to point them in that direction)? Or, is it because I won’t get caught up playing to the extremities?

    What feminine traits do men have? I think your statement Nathan, is wrought with perceptions that have no basis in fact. Compassion, sensitivity, love, artistry… If those are some of your “feminine” traits, you are running to the extremes. Those are all masculine traits, just as are strength, honor, duty, and courage of conviction.

    As I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be either/or… it’s both/and

  • Nathan

    Nate: There is a way to be God honoring adult as both a single and a married person. Singleness doesn’t automatically mean laziness and immaturity. Marriage doesn’t automatically mean maturity either.

    We agree that men can exhibit both masculine and feminine traits. The problem is that boys tend to idolize a certain set of traits and if we pander to that, we create a culture that excludes men and boys that exhibit traits that lean a different direction.

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