He expressed a profound theology in music better than anyone has ever done.

Johann Sebastian Bach has long been recognized as one of the greatest evangelists in history. He has, in fact, often been called the “Fifth Evangelist.” In this three-hundredth anniversary year of his birth, he speaks with special clarity, eloquence, and frequency.

The real source of the power of this “minstrel of God” was his intimate devotion to his Savior. He based his music on a solid foundation of theological orthodoxy and consistent personal piety. It is precisely this total dedication to Christ that causes so many unbelievers to miss completely the essence of Bach’s music. Though compelled to admire his unchallenged genius, they do not often comprehend—and even are manifestly uncomfortable with—the intensity of his vital faith. They often prefer the music of Beethoven and Mozart—not because it is better, but because it does not make such personally spiritual demands upon them. A striking example is the recent Newsweek cover article that failed utterly to explain Bach’s greatness, making no reference to his all-encompassing spiritual commitment.

The great musicians themselves have uniformly recognized Bach’s supremacy as a composer. Beethoven described Bach as an ocean of creativity compared to whom all other composers were mere brooks. Brahms would let his meals wait so he could study a newly published volume of Bach’s music. Igor Stravinsky said Bach’s cantatas should be at the heart of every musician’s study.

But music lovers who approach Bach’s music primarily as great art, without understanding his spiritual priorities, miss its most important dimension. A ...

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