Christian Berdahl and Shepherd's Call Ministry


Who is Christian Berdahl?

Christian Berdahl is an Adventist who runs his own independent ministry called Shepherd’s Call Ministries.[1] He has recently produced a twelve-hour series of lectures entitled Distraction Dilemma.[2] Despite the not insignificant cost of $49.99,[3] this series has become extremely popular, with one commentator describing it, ‘selling like fresh-out-of-oven-baked-confectionery-of-whatever-description.’[4]
Berdahl’s series is a criticism of contemporary Christian music (‘CCM’), which relies on a type of rhythm called ‘syncopation’.  Concern over syncopation is not new but ‘has been a ‘hot’ topic in the “worship wars” across the denominational spectrum for years.’[5] 

What is syncopation?

The US National Symphony Orchestra defines syncopation as:
‘a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm. It's the placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn't normally occur… Weak beats and in-between beats are also known collectively as "offbeats," and syncopated rhythm may be thought of as "offbeat rhythm.’[6]

What does Berdahl teach?

Syncopation by all occult experts around the world agree; syncopation is the source of all occult power in pagan worship services.’[7]
There is much to admire in Berdahl’s presentations. For example, he might be right suggesting music is more than its lyrics[8] and can ‘rapidly and powerfully set moods and do so in a way not easily attained by other means’.[9] Most people would agree with him when he says, ‘There is nothing wrong if a piece of music actually influences you and touches your emotion.’[10]
What is more controversial are Berdahl’s claims that:
  •  there is a definitive link between syncopation and the occult;  
  • syncopation, as found in CCM, supposedly leads to demon possession;
  • syncopated rhythm damages the frontal lobe of the brain;
  • the syncopation in CCM stems from African origins and is therefore ‘inferior’ as a form of music;
  • CCM brings out negative emotions, which is bad;
  • CCM is celebratory music, which is also bad; and
  • CCM is full of repetition, which is to be condemned, as bad.


In summary:

Berdahl seems to cite a number of unacknowledged sources. However, some of those sources are in fact lifted verbatim (some might say plagiarized) from Roman Catholic priest Fr. Basil Nortz in “The Moral Power of Music”. Nortz advocates a return to Catholic forms of worship, such as the plain chant.

Berdahl seems to criticize the excessive use of syncopation. However, classical music uses it extensively, such as in Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”.

Berdahl seems to suggest syncopation damages the brain and leads to demon possession. Whereas, the latest scientific evidence, as in a 2011 article published in the US Library of Medicine, “Cognitive and Affective Judgments of Syncopated Musical Themes”, suggests syncopation may in fact be good for the brain. There is no credible evidence that it leads to demon possession.

Music is emotionally powerful but it is itself amoral.  No emotion is inherently evil in itself, as the Bible teaches even God gets jealous and angry at times.

Berdahl tries to tarnish all contemporary Christian music (‘CCM’) with the same brush. Whereas, there is a vast difference between, say, Hillsong and so-called ‘Christian’ death metal. No one is seriously suggesting we adopt the latter in our churches.

Berdahl fails to distinguish between the issues of style and loudness. Adventist psychiatrist Dr. Tim Jennings in a 2008 article Music and the Brain” emphasizes the issue of loudness, as opposed to style, as the primary concern for the brain – we commonly confuse the two.  

Berdahl claims only to follow the Bible. However, he hardly uses the Bible in his presentations.

Berdahl almost exclusively relies on selective scientific accounts, and then often not from peer-reviewed scientists but from fellow lay Christians. However, even if his scientific sources were credible, they are not the test, otherwise, we would all embrace Darwinian-evolution, as that is the premier scientific theory today. The Bible should be the authoritative test for Christians and this is almost totally lacking from Berdahl’s presentations.

Berdahl suggests an inherent evilness of certain styles of music. Whereas, the Bible in Psalms 149 and 150 alludes to a range of instruments (including drums, stringed instruments, trumpets, tambourines and loud clanging cymbals) and styles (including dancing, singing and shouting) – albeit within an ancient Jewish context.

Berdahl seems to condemn music that elicits a heightened state of emotion, which he describes as akin to heroin addiction.  He says CCM is bad because it brings out negative emotions, however, God would seem to sanction a cathartic use of music. A huge number of Psalms are in fact laments, dedicated to expressing grief openly through song.

Berdahl also condemns CCM for its supposed celebrations.  Berdahl claims “He does not serve a party God.” The truth is, the God of the Bible is a party God!  A huge number of Psalms are celebrations of major events, victories and triumphs.  They also express joy and thanksgiving. 

Berdahl seems to condemn repetition. Whereas, the Bible itself mentions repetitive worship, with the Seraphim hovering above the throne of God repeating, ‘Holy, holy, holy’ all day long.  It is only ‘vain’ repetition that is the problem, and even ‘old’ hymns are full of repetition.

Berdahl effectively promotes ‘old’ Western Christian hymns as being the ideal. However, hymns do not reflect the ‘biblical style’ of the ancient Middle East, which according to the Jewish Encyclopedia is most akin to modern Arabic music. These hymns were radical contemporary music when first introduced.

Berdahl seems to condemn modern secular music and says we should be distinct from ‘the world’ in our music; however, our ‘old’ hymns often derive from secular tunes of the day.  Indeed, Berdahl destroys his own argument when he plays secular music from the Renaissance period followed by Christian music of the same era and the audience can see they are effectively the same! Even the Psalms were based on ancient folk tunes.

Berdahl engages in racist black ‘African origin’ theories. Whereas, much of modern contemporary music, including jazz and rock, actually owe a lot to Latin influences, which in turn come from Arabic origins, which in turn are most reflective of what would have been the original ‘biblical style’. By contrast, many ‘old hymns’ reflect Western (Catholic) European influences, which ultimately derive from the influences of ancient pagan Greece, Rome and Egypt.

Berdahl blames black ‘African origins’ for the 19th Century Indiana (USA) Holy Flesh heresy condemned by Ellen White. However, African-Americans are not to blame. Ellen White actually condemns chaotic worship and not any particular instrument or style. The underlying issue was an ultra-conservative theology of perfectionism, which made Adventists look fanatical.

Berdahl makes sensationalist claims, such as the notion that the devil sign is made at Christian CCM concerts. However, he presents no evidence to support such outlandish claims and what’s more, engages in the very thing he condemns – emotional manipulation through exciting the audience with melodramatic stories.

Berdahl passes himself off as some expert who travels the world (no doubt on the sale of his not inexpensive DVDs). However, he appears to have no relevant tertiary qualification in music, psychiatry, neurology or theology. He is in fact a theatre actor, and a relatively new Christian (having converted in 1995).  He appears to have hit on a subject that will give him a ‘cult following’ and, together with his concert music ministry, this confers on him a ‘celebrity’ status that is out of keeping with the true ideals of a Christ follower.

Berdahl promotes a catastrophic outcome if his warnings against syncopation are not heeded. However, music style is a ‘non-salvation’ issue of cultural preference, and the most common result of Berdahl’s teaching is strife within a church – to the benefit of the Enemy.   “By their fruits you shall know them…”

Music preference is a very subjective matter, and individuals and churches should chose for themselves what is appropriate in the context of their cultural situation and the people they are trying to reach for Christ. No one is suggesting ‘anything goes’. However, we also need to be honest in distinguishing what really is ‘Thus saith the Lord’ and what is instead simply Western cultural bias (at odds with original Jewish-Arabic ‘biblical style’).


Berdahl relies on unacknowledged sources, including Catholic ones

‘“The medium is the message.” That is to say, the music: its melody, harmony, rhythm, all by itself disposes man to virtue and vice by moving the emotions.’[11]
If one actually takes the time to check the experts Berdahl references, he or she will see Berdahl commonly fails to properly cite sources or relies on unacknowledged sources. For example, whilst the first part of the above quote is indeed from Prof. McLuhan,[12] the second part is actually taken verbatim from an article by Fr. Basil Nortz – a Catholic priest of the Order of Cannon Regular.[13] 
Fr. Nortz shares Berdahl’s fear of syncopation and its use in any form of contemporary music.  Ironically, the solution of Fr. Nortz is for Christians to return to Catholic forms of worship, notably the plain chant.[14] It is not clear whether Berdahl also implicitly endorses Fr. Nortz’s approach and is suggesting that Protestant Christians abandon CCM for more Catholic forms of worship.

Syncopation is extensively used in classical music, not just in CCM

‘Syncopation is not of the devil… syncopation is like seasoning to a meal’[15]
It is with some relief that Berdahl does admit syncopation is not always of the devil.  Instead, he criticizes its overuse.  However, as made clear by an authority no less than the US National Symphony Orchestra:
‘From the masters of the Middle Ages to Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Tchaikovsky to Copland to Lennon and McCartney, there is no such thing as a composer who has not made extensive use of syncopation.’
Note the words “extensive use”. Christian classics such as Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” rely heavily on syncopation.[16]
Thus, to condemn syncopation is not only to condemn CCM but much of classical music. In any event, how much syncopation is ‘too much’ and who decides – Berdahl?  Should we instead return to the non-rhythmic idioms of Catholic plain chant?[17]

There is no evidence suggesting syncopation damages the brain or leads to demon possession

What it [syncopation] does… It short circuits the frontal moral lobe, to a place where they can be possessed.’[18]
Contrary to Berdahl’s claims, a recent 2011 study on syncopation, published in the US Library of Medicine, suggests syncopation can be beneficial, not detrimental, to the brain:
‘Overall, syncopated patterns were more enjoyed, and rated as happier, than unsyncopated patterns, while differences in perceived tension were unreliable.’[19]
Therefore, much of Berdahl’s more exaggerated claims have insufficient support in the latest reputable science. In fact, citing Prof. Culhan’s own criterion, which Berdahl openly endorses, it is arguable that syncopated music should be preferred over non-syncopated music, as it results in a happier emotional response. In any event, Berdahl cites little or no reliable peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support his bold claim, which is that listening to syncopated music leads to demon possession.

Music is not emotionally neutral but it is amoral

‘…Therefore, the way in which they move the passions should serve as a principal basis for judgment on whether any given music is good or bad.’[20] 
Berdahl spends much time and effort demonstrating how music can affect and even to some extent manufacture our emotions.  As observed by Adventist Prof. Wann Fanwar in his recent work on worship:
‘Music is Amoral
Many Christians are prone to label music as sacred or secular or assume music to be either holy or unholy.  However, music carries no moral coding per se.’[21]
For example, as music’s prime and most powerful impact is on our emotions, the fact a piece of music makes us feel happy or sad is not per se moral or immoral, as no emotion is evil in and of itself.  The Bible makes clear that even God gets jealous and angry at times.[22]  It is not emotion in itself but context for emotion that is relevant.
Prof. Fanwar is undoubtedly correct in saying that what distinguishes appropriate music from inappropriate music is functionality.[23]  Thus, upbeat celebratory music would probably be inappropriate at a funeral; sad and mournful music would probably be inappropriate at a wedding – context is key.

The issue is more about loudness, not syncopation or style

Christian death metal, Christian rap – it is an oxymoron.’[24] 
In a recent 2008 article by Adventist psychiatrist Dr. Tim Jennings on music and the brain,[25] Dr. Jennings was reluctant to condemn any particular style, whether it be rock, pop or jazz; rather, he emphasized volume was key.  The issue of volume is often lost in these ‘worship wars’, where volume becomes code for style, when it should not be.[26] There has often been a song service where I have had no issue with the style but the music was simply too loud – often the fault of sound technicians and not musicians.   
Dr. Jennings endorses a range of musical styles as beneficial, including ‘classical, baroque, religious, inspiration, spiritual, and many forms of modern music.’[27] By contrast, the only styles Dr. Jennings has outright concern with include, ‘rap, heavy metal, and other forms of modern music which connote unhealthy messages.[28]  Not many people would disagree with his concerns about those forms of music.
Despite the oft-cited refrain that CCM is like ‘nightclub music’, that is simply hyperbole. As observed by Professor Fanwar:
‘Contemporary Christian music is extremely varied.  The label ‘contemporary’ covers a variety of musical genres ranging from the middle-of-the-road songs of singers like Steve Green to the Hispanic beats of Jackie Velasquez to the country sounds of Susan Ashton to the folk ballards of Ray Bolz to the light right of 4 Him and to the hard rock of Sonic Flood.’[29]
There are vast differences distinguishing most CCM, such as Hillsong, from popular rap and heavy metal.  No one can seriously suggest Hillsong and other CCM played in most churches is akin to so-called ‘Christian’ death metal.  Someone might rightly argue Berdahl’s music itself is a type of CCM!
In fact, modern Christian radio stations, such as Perth’s Sonshine FM, deliberately market themselves to non-Christian audiences on the premise that their music, which often includes CCM, is easy-listening. Joshua Leeds, who Berdahl cites with approval for his more outlandish claims linking music to heroin,[30] makes this exact point, distinguishing the harmful affects on teenagers who listen to death metal and rap, compared with those who listen to CCM.[31]
Obviously, discernment must be had in choosing which CCM songs are appropriate, but Berdahl’s blanket attack lacks credibility.  Comparing most CCM songs to death metal or rap is simply a straw man argument not borne out by the evidence.

Berdahl doesn’t use the Bible as the basis for his views

At SCM our basic creed has been, “If God said it, then I believe it”… A doctrine or a school of thought that cannot be proven by the Bible has no place in our belief system.’[32] 
On his website, Berdahl claims to uphold the Bible as his only test of faith.[33]  Ironically, it has been noted by non-Adventist critics that Berdahl uses virtually no material from the Bible.[34] 
Instead, Berdahl seems to have a propensity to cite supposedly scientific sources. His reliance on Ellen White is also curious, given her clear injunction against quoting her from the pulpit in public ministry.[35]
Even if Berdahl’s scientific evidence was convincing, and that is in doubt, it is still not the test for a Christian – the Bible is.  Otherwise, we should all adopt Darwinian evolution, as that is the premier ‘scientific’ theory of origins.

The Bible does not condemn any particular instrument or style of worship

‘If we are listening to the wrong kinds of music, with the syncopation and heavy drums…’[36] 
If we do take the Bible as our only authority then we should view this issue in light of the book dedicated to music – Psalms.  In Psalms 149 and 150 we see a range of instruments used, including: tambourines, lyres, trumpets, lutes, harps, strings, pipes, clanging cymbals and loud clashing cymbals – that is loud and clashing cymbals![37]  We also see a range of worship styles, including singing and dancing.  Of course these practices have to be read within an ancient Jewish context, such as gender-separated dancing, although 1 Chronicles 16:4-6 does confirm these activities occurred in the Sanctuary, and Psalms 149:1 is set before the assembly of the faithful.

There is nothing wrong in music eliciting heightened emotions  

‘I know people that when sad listen to sad music! ...What is wrong with us?  Don’t you think the antidote is what we should have? …We are not even using music in a way that is healthy – we gotta be careful![38]
'I don’t serve a party God'[39]
Contrary to Berdahl’s suggestion that music should not be used to elicit heightened negative emotions[40], about a third of the Psalms do just that.  They are Psalms of lament.[41] Similarly, despite Berdahl’s claim that he does not serve a ‘party-God,’ another large number of Psalms are devoted to thanksgiving and praise.[42] 
Lets not forget ‘partying-Jesus’, whose first miracle was at a wedding celebration. In fact, Jesus was such a ‘partier’ He was accused of being a drunkard.[43] 
Whilst Berdahl may suggest Jesus only came to give peace, which Berdahl interprets as ‘calm’ music (think of a proverbial tranquilizer),[44] Christ Himself explicitly said He came not with peace but with a sword.[45]Therefore, we are not limited to worshipping God with emotional lobotomies. As the Psalms suggest, we should cathartically share our true feelings with God!
Our worship should be alive and vibrant, and if we need to rant against God, he is OK with that too.  I don’t think ‘Prozac style’ worship is going to attract anyone and, from what I know, I am fairly certain it would not be pleasing or acceptable to God either.

There is nothing wrong with repetition, it is ‘vain’ repetition that is in issue

‘The human mind shuts down after three or four repetitions of a rhythm, or a melody, or a harmonic progression... excessive repetition causes people to lose control of their thoughts’[46]
Contrary to Berdahl’s claim, there is nothing inherently wrong with repetition and his complaint is wholly unscriptural. Remember, the Seraphim angels float above the throne repeating ‘Holy, holy, holy’ all day long.[47]  Rather, Jesus made clear that it is ‘vain’ repetition that is the problem.[48] 
In any event, songs from the SDA hymnal are full of repetition. We need go no further than no#1 “Praise to the Lord”, which continually repeats the refrain ‘Praise the Lord.’ As for brains supposedly shutting down after three or four repetitions, we have all sung those ‘old’ SDA hymns with verse-after-verse-after-verse, and yet we seem to have survived the experience with minds intact!

Music is culturally biased

‘If I would walk into some of the SDA Churches today would I have to walk out’[49]
If we look at the original Jewish cultural context of passages such as Psalms 149 and 150, the Jewish Encyclopedia explains modern Arab music is the closest thing to the ‘biblical style.’[50]  Importantly, ancient Jewish music did not use harmonies, syntactical structure, metric form or the repeated melodies common in Western music – all of which features are found in our traditional hymns.[51]  This is alluded to in passages such as 2 Chronicles 5:13.[52]
Arab music stresses the downbeat reminiscent of styles where syncopation is extensively used, such as jazz.[53] In fact, a criticism of Westerners is our inability to appreciate Middle Eastern and Mediterranean rhythms where, in much modern music that the western notation does not capture the subtle timing and syncopation that might be important in a rhythm.’[54] Thus, Berdahl comes close to arguing against the ‘biblical style’ itself! 
We also need to acknowledge that ‘old’ hymns are not that old, and not in the ‘biblical style’ of the ancient Middle East.  Rather, they are the ‘contemporary’ Christian music of Medieval (Catholic) Western Europe of a few centuries ago. 
The earliest Christian music was limited to lyrics from just the Psalms, was irregular in its rhythm, and mostly performed without audience participation.[55] Thus, in 1694 Isaac Watts, the father of the ‘old’ (then ‘new’) English hymn, caused a controversy when he became the first major composer to argue, ‘that it is proper to use spiritual songs of human composure as well as the Psalms of David’.[56]
Therefore, today’s ‘old’ hymns would most likely seem radically contemporary, if not outright dangerous or blasphemous, to many of the earliest churches. As such, we must understand the inherent cultural bias in all of today’s Christian music, whether hymns or CCM.

Most of our ‘old’ hymns come from ‘secular’ music put to Christian words

‘That is secular music from Renaissance time… music was very similar’[57]
In light of the point made above, we should understand that most ‘old’ hymns are actually just recent (in biblical terms of a few centuries) ‘secular’ European music put to Christian words.  Berdahl ironically makes this point himself, when he plays secular music from the Renaissance followed by Christian music of the same era and the audience can see they are effectively the same!
In fact, if we want to look at the issue in reverse, according to Berdahl’s way of thinking, Christians should be open to using the Beatles’ song “Yesterday.”  This song has no drums, syncopation, or rock n roll beat – so what’s wrong with it?’[58] Obviously discerning appropriate songs for worship is a little more complicated than the arbitrary rules imposed by Berdahl.  
If we are honest, the stain of association with the secular world should not be the issue.  As Prof. Fanwar explains, the original Psalms of ancient Israel were largely based on the folk tunes of that day.[59]

We should be cautious of racist ‘African origin’ theories and European bias

‘We are not down on the Africans[60] …they would sing the same hymns as the Caucasians but with shouting and beating out counter rhythms on tambourines, gourds and logs’[61]
It is with some alarm that Berdahl goes on to raise ‘African origin’ theories of CCM.  Some might find such ideas highly offensive and reminiscent of ‘Negermusik’, the Nazi propaganda that argued jazz was inferior because it combined African and Jewish elements.[62]  With the greatest respect, Berdahl’s views share some similarity with 1930s Germany, where European classical music was declared ‘good’ and everything else entartete musik – ‘degenerate music.’[63]
Importantly, whilst Berdahl tries to blame Africans (by which he seems to mean black sub-Saharan Africans) for syncopated music, notably jazz and rock, these American styles were also heavily influenced by Latin music, which itself widely uses syncopation.[64]  In turn, Latin music was heavily influenced by Arabic music, which as outlined above, is the closest remaining reflection of the ‘biblical style.’[65]
Whilst Berdahl praises the European music of America’s white colonizers, one could equally point to its Medieval Catholic origins. In fact, Western classical music has roots in the pagan world of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.[66] This is something to think about when we are tempted to condemn music of African origins.   

Ellen White condemned chaotic worship, not CCM

‘Eventually this brought about the Holy Flesh Movement’[67]
Given the Bible cannot be used to condemn CCM or syncopation, which seems to be why Berdahl doesn’t use it, it is common for critics such as Berdahl to resort to Ellen White’s counsel against 'shouting, with drums, music and dancing'.[68]  However, detailed study of these statements demonstrates she was addressing the Holy Flesh Movement in Indiana USA, a 19th Century proto-Pentecostalism that followed the teachings of one A F Ballenger (1861-1921).[69] 
Sister White did not condemn any particular instrument or style of worship per se because that would mean she also condemned praying, singing, fiddles, organs and flutes – all of which were involved in the Holy Flesh Movement.[70]  Rather, she reflects the Apostle Paul in condemning a chaotic form of worship[71] where praying, shouting, prostrating, singing and music all occur at the same time, resulting in absolute confusion.[72] She confirmed that otherwise acceptable musical instruments and modes of worship were brought into disrepute by ‘the way in which it [worship] is conducted’.[73]
Contrary to Berdahl’s suggestion, African-Gospel and African-Americans did not cause the Holy Flesh Movement, but rather it was a manifestation of ultra-conservative fanaticism.[74] In particular, the Holy Flesh Movement was motivated by a theology of perfectionism, where a participant asserted, he could not sin and would never die’.[75]
Finally, Ellen White was most concerned about the image of the Church, where unbelievers are led to think that Seventh-day Adventists are a set of fanatics.’[76]  In light of that sentiment, we must be careful not to take the teachings of preachers like Berdahl as justification for fostering fanatical attitudes.

Straw-men are easy to knock over – Berdahl’s extreme examples

‘Crowley’s, “Do What Thou Wilt is the Whole of the Law” is the official philosophy and doctrine of the Satanic Church… you can go to many Christian concerts and people are throwing the devil sign[77] 
As a stylistic observation, Berdahl continually cites some of the most extreme examples of musical and religious practice, such as Alister Crowley of the Church of Satan.  Why Berdahl does this is hard to fathom.  Is it to excite the audience and suggest, by implication, some devious tie between Satanic heavy metal and CCM?  However, no such tie is apparent and Berdahl appears to engage in the very thing he condemns – emotional manipulation. For example, Berdahl cites no evidence whatsoever to back his explosive claim that people throw the devil sign, whatever that means, at CCM concerts.

Berdahl is no professional expert on this subject, he is a theatre-actor

‘I travel the world for God.’[78]
Berdahl appears to travel the world as some paid professional expert on the subject of music, and its impacts on physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.  However, Berdahl does not seem to have any tertiary qualification in music, psychiatry, neurology or theology.  According to his own website profile, Berdahl has a background in theatre arts – he is an actor and media producer![79]  Moreover, despite having an apparently successful independent ministry, he is a relatively new convert, having only becoming a Christian in 1995.[80] With the greatest respect to him, one wonders if theatre acting is the expertise he most effectively utilizes in his ministry.
By analogy, whilst I may like watching medical dramas on television, as a non-doctor, that hardly qualifies me to perform open-heart surgery.  Similarly, whilst we can all be critics on music (I’m being one now), Berdahl takes it much further in purporting to pass himself off as a paid expert. Whilst these matters are not definitive in themselves, taken together it does suggest readers should exercise a degree of caution in assessing Berdahl’s credibility.  

Music style is a cultural preference issue and Berdahl causes undue strife

‘There have been times when I was preaching at an SDA Church when I had to leave the stage because of the music.’[81]
As outlined above, reflecting on biblical passages such as Psalms 149 and 150, the scientific evidence, and historical evidence of the ancient Jewish-Arabic ‘biblical style’, music style is essentially a cultural preference and not a ‘salvation’ issue.  As commentators have observed, the most common consequence of Christians becoming involved in Berdahl’s teachings is strife and division in local congregations.[82]
I am personally a non-liturgical person and don’t much care what music style is used.  There are certainly times when I do prefer less contemporary music and regardless of style, I don’t much like it when music is too loud – often the real problem with complaints about CCM.  However, what concerns me most about Berdahl is not any personal opposition to ‘old’ hymns compared with CCM but rather how these ‘worship wars’ only ever result in division – to the ultimate benefit of the Enemy.


‘You can’t refute what I am about to tell you’[83]
The important point in all this is that Christians should always check things out for themselves, as the wise Bereans did.[84] Each person and each congregation should determine for themselves what music best reflects a proper understanding of worship. I am certainly not advocating an ‘anything goes’ attitude. However, we do live in the world and need to reach people within the cultural context of their lives, just as Jesus did.  We need to be careful to distinguish between a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ and what is actually Western cultural bigotry dressed up as pseudo-science.
Perhaps the last piece of advice should come from SDA church pioneer Ellen White who said: Common sense is an excellent thing in the worship of the Lord.’[85] Common sense will tell you that listening to CCM like Hillsong on a Christian radio station as your drive home from work is, firstly, immensely superior to listening to secular popular music, and secondly, hardly likely to result in demon possession. 
Taking the above matters into consideration, we should probably take the more sensationalist claims of otherwise well-meaning theatre-actors, such as Christian Berdahl, with a grain of salt and a good dash of discernment and not just unthinkingly believe everything they say.

[1] “About Us”, Shepherd’s Call Ministry: <>, retrieved 2 Apr 14.
[2] Christian Berdahl, in his introductory presentation The Distraction Dilemma: A Music Overview, which can be viewed on YouTube at: <> at approx. [31:30] minutes.
[3] Apparently in US dollars, as of 2 Apr 14: <>
[4] An interesting Adventist blog that discusses Berdahl’s presentation is A Response to Christian Berdahl – Syncopation by Theomusicologist, <>, retrieved 2 Apr 14.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Syncopation” Kennedy Centre of the US National Symphony Orchestra: <>, retrieved 2 Apr 14.
[7] At approx. [6:40] in Berdhal’s presentation Satan’s Musical Church, which can also be viewed on You Tube at: <>
[8] Supra n2 at approx. [5:15].
[9] Ibid at approx. [10:28], citing Dr Norman M. Weinberger.
[10] Ibid at approx. [13:30].
[11] Supra n2 at approx. [10:00].
[12] Fr. Basil Nortz, O.R.C. "The moral power of music." The Homiletic & Pastoral Review (April 2002): 17-22: <>, retrieved 2 Apr 14.
In fairness to Berdahl, only the first sentence is in quotation marks.  However, Berdahl gives the impression the entire quote is from McLuhan, and he certainly does not inform his readers that the statement in its entirety comes from a Roman Catholic priest.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid at approx. [27:10].
[16] Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, “The Role of Rhythm in Church Music (Part 2),” Ministry: International Journal for Pastors (July 1974): <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Supra n2 at approx. [7:30],[29:30].
[19] Peter E. Keller, Emery Schubert, Cognitive and affective judgements of syncopated musical themes (Adv Cogn Psychol. 2011; 7: 142–156, 2011) <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[20] Ibid at approx. [5:03], citing Prof. Culhan.
[21] Wann M. Fanwar, Heart of Worship, Rev. Ed. (Thailand: Institute Press, 2013), 87-88.
[22] Deut. 6:15; Ex. 34:14.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Supra n2 at approx. [50:30].
[25] Dr. Tim Jennings, “Music and the Brain”, Comeandreason Ministries (8 May 2011): <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[26] Ibid., where Dr Jennings cites a 2008 neurological study on this point, Sarkamo et al., Brain: A Journal of Neurology (January 2008, Vol 131;3 p 866-876).
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Wann M. Fanwar, Heart of Worship, Rev. Ed. (Thailand: Institute Press, 2013), 83.
[30] Supra n2 at approx. [15:30].
[31] Joshua Leeds, “Music for Babies - Music for Teenagers” Sound Remedies (Healing Arts Press, 2001): <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[32] Supra n3, “Beliefs”.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Jason Laurie, “Distraction Dilemma” School of Fish (25 Jun 13) <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[35] Letter 11, 1894; The Review and Herald, Jan. 20, 1903, quoted in Colporteur Ministry, p. 125.
[36] Supra n2 at approx. [18:10].
[37] Ps. 150:5.
[38] Supra n2 at approx. [13:35].
[39] Supra n2 at approx. [1:16:12].
[40] Ibid at approx. [14:30].
[41] See J. J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004, referring to Psalms 44,60,74,79,80,85 and 95.
[42] Supra n36, see especially Psalms 9,106,115,118 and 138.
[43] Matt. 11:19.
[44] Supra n2 at approx. [1:06:00].
[45] Matt. 10:34.
[46] Supra n2 at approx. [1:13:21].
[47] Is. 6:1-8.
[48] Matt. 6:7.
[49] Supra n2 at approx. [58:00].
[50] “Music and Musical Instruments”, Jewish Encyclopaedia <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[51] “Music, Synagogal”, Jewish Encyclopaedia <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[52] Ibid.
[53] Ed Morales, The Latin Beat: The Rhythms And Roots of Latin Music From Bossa Nova (Cambridge MA: Da Cap Press, 2003), xvii.
[54] Middle Eastern Rhythms FAQ <>, retrieved  3 Apr 14.
[55] Wann M. Fanwar, Heart of Worship, Rev. Ed. (Thailand: Institute Press, 2013), 74-78.
[56] Ibid, 79.
[57] Supra n2 at approx. [21:30].
[58] Steven L. Anderson, Contemporary Christian Music (2006): <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[59] Wann M. Fanwar, Heart of Worship, Rev. Ed. (Thailand: Institute Press, 2013), 88.
[60] Supra n2 at approx. [23:30]
[61] Ibid at approx. [33:46]
[62] Sabine Gillmann, “Jazz under der Nationalsozialismus,” H-Net Reviews (Ruhr Uni. Bochum, 2004), retrieved 19 September 2011.
[63] Anon, "Musical Notes from Abroad," Musical Times (vol. 79, no. 1146 August), 629–30.
[64] Ed Morales, The Latin Beat: The Rhythms And Roots of Latin Music From Bossa Nova (Cambridge MA: Da Cap Press, 2003), xvii.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Theodore W. Burgh, Listening to the Artifacts: Music Culture in Ancient Palestine, (T & T Clark International, 2006).
[67] Supra n2 at approx. [33:50].
[68] 2SM pp. 31, 36.
[69] 2nd Selected Messages Chapter 3 (Intro). 
[70] Ibid, as all are mentioned in her description of the events.
[71] 1 Cor. 14:26-40.
[72] Ibid.
[73] 2nd Selected Messages, 37-38.
[74] For a very good source on the “Holy Flesh Movement” SDA Net, see: <>, retrieved 3 Apr 14.
[75] Supra n64, Intro.
[76] Ibid, 33-36.
[77] Supra n2 at approx. [43:35].
[78] Supra n1 at approx. [59:00].
[79] Supra n3, “Staff”.
[80] Ibid.
[81] Supra n2 at approx. [58:00].
[82] Supra n33.
[83] Supra n2 at approx. [28:30].
[84] Acts 17:11.
[85] Gospel Workers, p. 325. (1892) (Evangelism, p. 505).


  1. Christian Berdahl is a baptized member of the SDA church and an elder in his local SDA church. He speaks at ASI, on 3ABN, and at SDA Conference campmeetings.
    To lump he and Walter Veith in with those in a cult is being recorded in heaven.

    The information that he shares does not sit in a vacuum. Many others present the same comprehensive material. Pastor Ivor Myers (Sonic Warfare), Pastor Dwayne Lemon, Pastor Doug Bachelor and many others share the same basic information.

    Christian Berdahl does not condemn all CCM. I personally observed him playing several CC songs and recommending them.

    If he is in it for the money I find it interesting that he let people copy his presentation at an SDA campmneeting. I personally copied 30 sets and sent them out to friends. Anyway, a workman is worthy of his hire. $50 for a jam packed series like that is inexpensive.

    1. "Christian Berdahl is a baptized member of the SDA church and an elder in his local SDA church... To lump he and Walter Veith in with those in a cult is being recorded in heaven."

      Isn't Walter Veith as well?

      "Many others present the same comprehensive material. Pastor Ivor Myers (Sonic Warfare), Pastor Dwayne Lemon, Pastor Doug Bachelor and many others share the same basic information."

      If they do, they're wrong too. Being a "Sevy-celebrity" doesn't make what someone say biblical true.

    2. "Christian Berdahl does not condemn all CCM. I personally observed him playing several CC songs and recommending them."

      And the article acknowledges that. There is a whole part acknowledging that. It cites Berdahl's statement:

      'Syncopation is not of the devil… syncopation is like seasoning to a meal’[15]

    3. This is far from an unbiased review of Christian's ministry and/or sermons.
      It is interesting to note that you point out syncopation as Christian's 'errors' actually he mentions that well placed and tasteful syncopation is excellent, that he uses syncopation in his music and he also mentions the example of Handel's messiah. Rather he points to excessive poly-rhythms. That is a very different story and a very different effect to syncopation.
      This person is clearly out to discredit Christian's ministry and he won't let a little thing like the truth get in his way.
      The fruits of Christian's ministry speak much louder than your criticisms.

    4. His understanding of polyrhythm is not correct. He thinks that a drum is a polyrhythm. Any music which is polyphonic is polyrhythmic. However, there is a type of polyrhythm or polymeter which can be used in meditational/trance music; it is a type of rhythmic device, not an instrumental device. There is a lot of incorrect theory, musicology and ethnomusicology in Distraction Dilemma. I have no reason to doubt Berdahl's genuine walk with the Lord, but he's done something which has been done for years. It's popular, because everyone likes music, but we do need to be aware that a lot of the theories have have been dismissed long time ago; it's as though we didn't get the memo! A lot of what is being spoken about is as a result of theories which used to be put about as fact which people picked up on and kept alive for years, and people just took it all in, without a thought or any research. Any professional music lecturer with academic qualifications (of which I am one) would easily see the simple music theory errors in a lot of what these unqualified musicians say.

      There are a lot more error than 'syncopation' (which by the way is as European as it is African, so that's another error); basic music theory errors such as demonstrating 4/4 time when playing a piece of music in .....3/2 time .
      Also, he tells people a lot what they should think. That's the major problem with a lot of these seminars: the listener does not have the opportunity to think, or think differently; they are basically told what t think and made to feel bad if they think outside the box.... or even think at all!!

  2. According to the bible my dear brother you are wrong and Christian is doing the Lords work

    1. Um, I think the article has exhaustively shown that the Bible says the opposite of what you say the Bible says. Just because you say the Bible says what you want it to say doesn't mean it is what the Bible says.

    2. I think you don't know wat ur saying brother as I've sighted mistakes in your biblical references as a consistent bible reader so stop discreting Christian s ministry while u don't know ur bible

    3. I think you don't know wat ur saying brother as I've sighted mistakes in your biblical references as a consistent bible reader so stop discreting Christian s ministry while u don't know ur bible

  3. Please clarify your reference:
    [35] Letter 11, 1894; The Review and Herald, Jan. 20, 1903, quoted in Colporteur Ministry, p. 125.

    I can find no reference to your claim of a "clear injunction against quoting her from the pulpit in public ministry".

    Larry Fox

    1. "In public labor do not make prominent, and quote that which Sister White has written, as authority to sustain your positions. To do this will not increase faith in the testimonies. Bring your evidences, clear and plain, from the Word of God. A Thus saith the Lord is the strongest testimony you can possibly present to the people. Let none be educated to look to Sister White, but to the mighty God, who gives instruction to Sister White"

      Ellen White, Letter 11 (1894).

  4. Quite are a Jesuit Falindan!
    Bye the way...say hello to Satan....your father.

  5. Also...listening to are definately a Jesuit!!!...

    1. Ha ha - that says it all, in demonstrating how your views are driven by conspiracy theory madness rather than actual facts

  6. I've just come across this, and am a musician of academic qualification, AND avid, regular daily reader of the word. The observations, from a musical point of view, are quite correct. If you want to hear a musical seminar try someone like Dr Doukhan who has musical qualifications, is a professionally trained musician, has studied extensively and lectures in church music history. As an academic musician myself, I know straight away whether someone is a musicologist or not. Of course, there are many things one can know and discover without a qualification, but when it comes to critical reasoning, and really getting to heart of a matter, it's only arrogant to believe one is as qualified to speak as one qualified to speak.
    I've watched extracts and seen things which are just plain erroneous. One example is a piece of music in 3/2, full of syncopation, being played to demonstrate 'a straight rhythm in 4/4'. That is about as accurate as using Florida as an example of a state with snowy mountains. Berdahl's presentation style is great (but then he is a theatre actor), and I have no reason at all to believe his heart is not genuine in what he is doing, and would not call refer to him as a cult; what he teaches is nothing new at all, and has been around for decades; just when we thought we had clarified the errors in such things as 'syncopation is evil [we live with syncopation every single day; you walk down the street, in time, and sounds around you come in 'off the beat'. ] Birds sing in syncopation

  7. Thank you Christian Berdahl for prompting me to take a closer look at the music I was listening to. It helped me to see other things in my life that weren't in harmony with Jesus self-sacrificing love and life of service to others. It isn't about me, it is about how I spend my time, talents, money, loyalty etc to bless others. Jesus wasn't about entertaining or escaping, as we often are, He was about blessing, healing and saving. Ministering to others is a natural outcome of beginning to comprehend the Amazing character of God. As we understand something of this mercy our hearts are drawn to love and care for others instead of selfishness reigning in our hearts. Far fewer conversations will happen over these kinds of topics and more ministering to others will take its place because we will be doing the work God is calling us to do. May the Lord forgive us for our indifference to the needs of others we have walked by and ignored

  8. Thank you Christian Berdahl for prompting me to take a closer look at the music I was listening to. It helped me to see other things in my life that weren't in harmony with Jesus self-sacrificing love and life of service to others. It isn't about me, it is about how I spend my time, talents, money, loyalty etc to bless others. Jesus wasn't about entertaining or escaping, as we often are, He was about blessing, healing and saving. Ministering to others is a natural outcome of beginning to comprehend the Amazing character of God. As we understand something of this mercy our hearts are drawn to love and care for others instead of selfishness reigning in our hearts. Far fewer conversations will happen over these kinds of topics and more ministering to others will take its place because we will be doing the work God is calling us to do. May the Lord forgive us for our indifference to the needs of others we have walked by and ignored

  9. Brother Simon ur lost and discrediting a man of God with faulty accusations an useless proof is arrogance and ignorance awe unto u I pray the Father has mercy on u for disputing the truth