In the grand scheme of things, the issue of “rock music” may not seem very important. Of all the many errors in Bill Gothard’s teachings, his misleading teaching on music initially seems much less damaging than some of his more glaring theological mistakes. Yet while it is true that music by itself is not of great import as far as salvation and right living are concerned, Gothard’s teachings on music were a key component of a larger worldview that allowed ATI families to wall themselves off from the world and create division within the body of Christ. Consequently, it is worthwhile to take a serious look at the substance of Gothard’s teachings concerning rock music. There are many components of Gothard’s arguments, but my primary concern in this article is to focus on one glaring issue: the lack of Scriptural support for much of Gothard’s position.
At the core of the Institute’s argument against rock music is the idea that no music is amoral. In other words, musical styles themselves–regardless of lyrical content–have inherent morality. Thus, there are moral musical styles and immoral musical styles. It is therefore possible to take a collection of musical notes and assemble them in a way that is either good or bad, just as a chemist can take elements and make substances that are either beneficial or poisonous, or a writer can take an assortment of words and form a sentence that is either uplifting or blasphemous. If this is correct, then we as Christians are responsible for discerning which musical combinations are moral and which aren’t. Attempting to do so quickly reveals the major problem with Gothard’s argument.
The Bible never directly speaks to musical styles in any way. There are verses about singing (Isaiah 42:10), and using music as worship (Ephesians 5:19), and even dancing (Jeremiah 31:13), and an entire book of Psalms that were intended to be sung. Yet nowhere does the Bible make any judgment on what melodies, harmonies, or rhythms are appropriate and what aren’t. Despite this, all of the Institute’s materials on music begin with the assumption that “rock music” and the “rock beat” are worldly and immoral. This is essentially a totally subjective judgment with no basis in Scripture. As a result, Gothard frequently contrasts “rock music” with what he calls “good music,” without any explanation of how such music was determined to be “good” in the first place. For example, in the IBLP booklet, “How to Tear Down the Strongholds of Rock Music,” the author claims that “One of the elementary principles of good music is that in 4/4 time, the emphasis should fall on beats one and three, but especially on beat one.” He continues by saying, “Most contemporary music has completely reversed this pattern and uses a subtle or dominant emphasis on the second and fourth beats of the measure.” This is presented as worldly and immoral. However, the author makes no attempt to provide any Scripture to support the idea that such a rhythm is sinful. In fact, an examination of IBLP materials on music will show that nowhere does Gothard cite any Scripture that speaks specifically about musical styles in any way. This undercuts the very heart of Gothard’s position. If it cannot be established from Scripture that certain types of music are inherently immoral, then much of the argument falls apart immediately.
Because Scripture does not speak to musical styles directly, Gothard has to resort to other tactics to enforce his point. For example, in the Advanced Seminar Textbook, the writer labels rock music as “carnal” and “worldly,” and then cites verses like II Corinthians 10:4-5 or Galatians 5:17 as proof that such music is evil. This seems to provide a solid scriptural argument, yet it falls apart under closer examination. Once again, the author is starting with the assumption that certain music is “worldly” and other music isn’t. However, he fails to provide any sort of biblical method of determining which is which.
Gothard twists and misuses Scripture in several other ways. In the previously mentioned “Strongholds” booklet, he argues that rock music is sinful because it causes teenagers to “[violate] the Fifth Commandment” by listening to rock music when their parents do not want them to. He uses Ephesians 6:2-3 to prove the point. However, this fails to address the possibility that a parent may have no disagreement with his or her child listening to rock music. Gothard is working under the assumption that parents reading the booklet will disagree with rock music, and therefore he can accuse children who listen to such music of being rebellious without having to support his claims about the music’s inherent morality. This gives parents the opportunity to declare something sinful just by the fact that they are opposed to it.
Gothard also tries to attack rock music indirectly by contending that those who listen to it are guilty of offending their brothers in Christ. He states that “Those who listen to ‘Christian’ rock music are offending a growing number of Christians. In doing so, they offend Christ, because Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of the brethren, we do unto Him.” He then misuses Romans 14:21 to support his argument: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.” He neglects to mention that Romans 14 is addressing a specific issue in the church and cannot be applied to any and every situation he wishes. Simply because someone can claim offense at an issue does not mean he can then expect all Christians to immediately cease that practice. Gothard also ignores Paul’s prior statement in verse 3, “[T]he one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” Yet this is exactly what Gothard is doing.
These are just some examples of ways Gothard abuses Scripture to support an inherently unscriptural argument. It seems absurdly simple to say, but an entire generation of IBLP parents and students completely missed the fact that the Bible simply doesn’t speak about this issue. And with no clear scriptural guidance on the topic, it is impossible to justify the contention, division, and condemnation that has resulted from this issue. Gothard has chosen to condemn and judge those who enjoy rock music, without acknowledging that he has no scriptural authority to do so. In doing so, he puts himself at risk of being guilty of carelessly using God’s word and creating unnecessary division within the body of Christ.
 Advanced Seminar Textbook, IBLP, pages 123-125
 “How to Tear Down the Strongholds of Rock Music,” IBLP, page 5
 Advanced Seminar Textbook, pages 125-126
 “Strongholds,” page 2
 “Strongholds,” page 6