Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Newsweek and the Bible

I once subscribed to Newsweek (and Time, and US News, and many others). Newsweek ain't what it used to be. This Christmas it gave us its take on scripture in Kurt Eichenwald's "The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin." Michael Kruger, an actual biblical scholar, read it, critiqued it, and his take may relieve you of any need to read it. Kruger:

Monday, December 29, 2014

C.S. Lewis's Oxford

In 1988 two of my closest friends, Norman and Faith Burdick, were living in England with their daughter, Flannery, and I took advantage of that circumstance to make my first visit to the United Kingdom. I was there for three weeks and for one of them they were my hosts — the kindest and most generous of hosts. They took me many places I might not otherwise have visited or even known about. One of them was Oxford. Each of us had read Lewis and Tolkien and were admirers. I took no pictures but they did and after my return I received a packet of them. I just happened across them after thinking they were lost. These are most of the ones that were related to the Inklings.

Magdalen College - where C.S. Lewis taught while at Oxford
Magdalen College Tower
Cloisters - Magdalen College
New Building, Magdalen College - where Lewis's rooms were located
Norman and me in front of the New Building
The location of the rooms that C.S. Lewis had while at Magdalen are just to the right of the entry on what the English call the first floor (we, the second). These are the rooms where the Inklings would gather in the evening to hear Lewis, or Tolkien, or one of the others, read from a work in progress.

Magdalen College Deer Park - behind the New Building
Entry gate to Addison's Walk
Pond at the end of Addison's Walk
Tolkien's house
The pond on the grounds of The Kilns - Lewis's house in Headington
Holy Trinity Church, Headington - where Lewis worshiped and is buried
The grave of C.S. Lewis and his brother W.H. Lewis
Norman and me at the grave

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"We always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

Allen Guelzo is the Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College and has written extensively about the Civil War. I recently read his very good account of the Gettysburg battle: Gettysburg: The Last Invasion. In "Democracy and Nobility: Was the Civil War a second American Revolution?" he begins by defining "revolution":
...[L]et us be clear about what a revolution is: A revolution is an overturning, a reversal of polarity, a radical discontinuity with what has gone before. It means, as the sociologist Jeff Goodwin wrote, “not only mass mobilization and regime change, but also more or less rapid and fundamental social, economic and/or cultural change, during or soon after the struggle for state power.”

Stacked against that definition, our founding revolution, and the revolutions that succeeded it, may not be so revolutionary after all. At first, the American Revolution presents us with a whopping set of discontinuities: The king of England disappears and is replaced by a notion of sovereignty residing in the people; democratic governments emerge in the new American states and coalesce in an unprecedented piece of formal statecraft, the Constitution; the property of prominent American Tories is confiscated; law-codes must be rewritten, and a major debate takes place over whether English common law should still retain authority or be superseded by legislative statute. But much of this revolutionary reshaping happened simply by elevating the revolutionaries’ already-in-place experiments in self-government to permanent status. “We began our Revolution, already possessed of government, and, comparatively, of civil liberty,” said Daniel Webster. “Our ancestors had from the first been accustomed in a great measure to govern themselves” and “had little else to do than to throw off the paramount authority of the parent state. Enough was still left, both of law and of organization, to conduct society in its accustomed course, and to unite men together for a common object.”

In 1843, when one of the last survivors of Lexington and Concord was interviewed by an overanxious antiquarian about his reasons for revolution, Captain Levi Preston of Danvers replied simply, “Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: We always had governed ourselves and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.” In other words, our revolution was a revolution against a revolution, and in defense of an already-existing (albeit de facto) democratic order. The real revolution, we might say, was the attempt of the king of England to meddle in those arrangements. .... [more]
That understanding of revolution is, of course, why a conservative like Edmund Burke could understand and support the grievances of the American colonists but utterly oppose the French revolutionaries.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Love to the loveless

My song is love unknown, My Saviour’s love to me;  
Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.  
O who am I, that for my sake 
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?  

He came from His blest throne  Salvation to bestow;  
But men made strange, and none The longed-for Christ would know: 
But Oh! my Friend, my Friend indeed, 
Who at my need His life did spend.  

Here might I stay and sing, No story so divine; 
Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like Thine.  
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise 
I all my days could gladly spend.

 Samuel Crossman, 1664

Monday, December 22, 2014

"Every voice in concert ring"

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

[Prudentius, 5th Century]

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Help us to remember

Via Tim Challies, by Robert Louis Stevenson:
Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake, Amen!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Cheryl Magness offers "5 Reasons To Attend A Lessons And Carols Service This Christmas" and if you can't attend, to hear:
.... If you have never attended a Lessons and Carols service, here are five reasons to do so this year, either at a local congregation, or thanks to the wonders of technology, on the other side of the ocean.

1) You Will Hear God’s Word

Lessons and Carols is not a musical concert or play, but rather the story of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind as revealed in His Word. That story begins with the Genesis account of the fall of Adam and Eve and concludes with the Word made flesh in the first chapter of John. Each reading is followed by one or more carols, allowing for further meditation on the text. You will leave a Lessons and Carols service veritably drenched in Biblical language.

2) You Will Sing, and Singing Is Good

People don’t sing enough anymore. (Instead, they listen to mass-produced music and possibly sing along.) Not only do people not sing anymore, they don’t sing together anymore. ....  A Lessons and Carols service is a unique opportunity to hear and sing songs that the larger culture mostly ignores.

3) You Will Unite with Christians Across Time and Space

You will be united across time and space, not just with those standing at your left and right, but with Christians around the world both today and in the past who have listened to the same readings and sung the same texts. ....

4) You Will Be Transported to Another World You will be transported to a world removed from the one with which you contend on a daily basis. ....

5) You Will Remember What Christmas Is All About

You will be reminded, as Linus reminded Charlie Brown, of “what Christmas is all about.” At this time of year there is no shortage of “Christmas.” It’s everywhere, but the world’s Christmas is not the Church’s Christmas. .... Christmas is “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing,” and Lessons and Carols makes that abundantly clear. ....

“A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” from King’s College will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 on December 24, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. EST. Listen live here. .... [more]
And if you're not functional or available at that time on Christmas Eve morning YouTube provides versions from earlier years including this from Christmas last:

5 Reasons To Attend A Lessons And Carols Service This Christmas

A Choral Christmas

Via Mere Comments and the BBC, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen:

Friday, December 19, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

I haven't yet seen Exodus: Gods and Kings. I may not ever. I have read one favorable review and another that seemed determined not to be negative but the others have almost uniformly disparaged the film whatever the perspective of the reviewer. John Podhoretz didn't like it either. From his review:
Raise your hand if you want to see Moses portrayed as an insurgent lunatic terrorist with a bad conscience, the pharaoh who sought the murder of all first-born Hebrew slaves as a nice and reasonable fellow, and God as a foul-tempered 11-year-old boy with an English accent.

All right, I see a few hands raised.... So let me ask you this: How many of you want to see how Hollywood has taken the story of the Hebrew departure from ancient Egypt—by far the most dramatic tale in the world’s most enduring book—and turned it into a joyless, dull, turgid bore? ....

For one thing, Exodus: Gods and Kings is jaw-droppingly offensive in the way it bastardizes its source material. The God of Sh’mot, the second book of the Torah, manifests Himself in many ways—as the burning bush, as a cloud that follows the Hebrews on their journey, as rain and fire, even as a trumpet blast. But he most certainly does not manifest as a human being, since the incorporeality of the divine is a central feature of Jewish theology, the third of Maimonides’ 13 principles of faith. I know Jews make up only 2 percent of the U.S. population and are therefore not collectively a box-office consideration—but if you’re going to make a movie out of their holy book, shouldn’t you, I don’t know, be careful not to throw the holy book into the garbage can?

Oh, and, by the way, it’s possible that the unpleasant kid-God of Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t even exist. Moses encounters the boy only after he’s been buried in mud up to his neck, has had his leg broken, and is delirious. Repeatedly, in the course of the film, Moses’ brother Aaron watches in horror as he goes to talk to this boy but appears, at a distance, to be talking to himself—which is another complete betrayal of the Torah’s account, since, like Moses, Aaron actually talks directly to God. Thus, we are given reason to question whether the God of Exodus: Gods and Kings is only a psychotic delusion. ....
Exodus, Stage Left | The Weekly Standard

Discomfort is another word for tolerance

...[F]oreign to the mission of a university is the idea that students are to be protected from “discomfort” or so-called “microaggression” when they are exposed to beliefs that differ from theirs, or when the university does not accede to demands that it prosecute their moral and political crusades. Discomfort is another word for tolerance. It is the price we pay for living in a democracy and participating in the open exchange of ideas. ....

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Longing for the true King

Tony Reinke writes about one of the reasons Tolkien's vision is so attractive to so many and especially to Christians:
.... On a massive scale in The Lord of the Rings, and on a smaller, but no less significant, scale in The Hobbit, we encounter the longing for the right king to emerge from the shadows and to recapture his rightful empire, an ancient yearning older than mythical kings like King Arthur. ....

This is how Middle-earth works. Unashamedly, Middle-earth is a world of kings. In his book The Philosophy of Tolkien, Peter Kreeft perceptively picks up on this point.
Though we do not have kings in America, or want them, our unconscious mind both has them and wants them. We all know what a true king is, a real king, an ideal king, an archetypal king. He is not a mere politician or soldier. Something in us longs to give him our loyalty and fealty and service and obedience. He is lost but longed for and will some day return, like Arthur.

In The Lord of the Rings, Arthur’s name is “Aragorn.” When we read The Lord of the Rings, he returns to his throne in our minds. He was always there; The Lord of the Rings only brings him back into our consciousness from the tomb of the unconscious, where he was sleeping.
Tim Keller builds on this point in his sermon on Psalm 2:
We have to have democracy because human beings are so sinful that none of us really are fit to rule. But we need a king. We were built for a king.

The reason for the old myths, the reason for the new myths (all the superhero myths are new myths about kings), the reason we adore kings and create them is because there is a memory trace in the human race, in you and me, of a great King, an ancient King, one who did rule with such power and wisdom and compassion and justice and glory so his power and wisdom and compassion and glory were like the sun shining in full strength. We know we were built to submit to that King, to stand before and adore and serve and know that King.

That’s what the Bible says. The Bible says there is a King above the kings. There is a King behind the kings. There is a King beneath all of those legends. Even the greatest kings are just dim reflections of the memory trace in us.
Tolkien taps into this deep ache within us. We were made by a King, and we were made to be ruled by him. ....

We don’t want kings, but our modern disdain to be ruled by them cannot snuff out this “memory trace in the human race.” As much as we modern, king-rejecting, independents may reject the thought, we really do know we were made to be ruled, made to be governed by a perfectly righteous King, a king worthy of all our obedience and service, who will finally usher in perfect peace and unleash rivers of joyful abundance so great that piles of gold coins will fade to metaphor.

This is the allure of Middle-earth. .... (more)

Hope does not disappoint

Jeremiah 29:11 is number 4 in "The World's 10 Most Popular Bible Verses of 2014" but it also makes an appearance in Sarah Condon's "7 Things I Don’t Want to Hear in Church in 2015." The reference is in number 7:
7. God has a plan for your life.

I love Jeremiah 29:11 as much as the next Church Lady, but when the prophet tells us, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with a hope,” he says nothing about life being easy. There is no mention of a bigger house, a blissful marriage, or even a cancer free life. God simply promises to give us hope. And here’s the well known secret: We’ve already been given our life’s plan in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s plan for our lives started and ended on the cross. Not in the Beemer parking lot.

See also St. Paul to those Romans:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I know you came to rescue me

You’ll probably recognize the tune of this song, but not the words. The story, however, is about as old as they come.

Music Times calls the New York-based, Nashville-produced rock group Cloverton’s rewrite of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” “a truly moving cover.”

Writer Shawn Christ explains that the band takes Cohen’s “iconic melody and infuse it with lyrics chronicling the birth of Jesus Christ.” .... (more)

I've heard about this baby boy
Who's come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I'm singing Hallelujah,    
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon    
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God's only Son was born, Oh Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah,
Halleluja,  Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You'll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Is this “Hallelujah” one of the best Christmas songs ever? | Rare

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

He came and He will return

.... So you grew up in a non-denominational, Charismatic, or Pentecostal church where the word Advent was never mentioned. Instead, Christmas was the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday expressed through jazzed up versions of Christmas hymns and the same two children’s Christmas plays on rotation every other year.

Now you’re older. Expanding your doctrinal understanding and searching for new faith traditions of your own. Like many young evangelicals, your curiosity has been piqued by liturgical traditions and their holy reverence foreign to your early church experiences. ....

Advent is the preparation for the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s birth and also a forward-looking celebration of His Second Coming. So Advent is not Christmas. ....

For our liturgical brothers and sisters, Advent marks the start of the Christian calendar year. For Western Christians, it begins after the Sunday closest to November 30 and extends until Christmas day. ....

...[D]on’t skip straight to the goodness of Christmas carols and nativity plays just yet. If you do, then you miss the biggest and best focal point that Advent has to offer—self-examination in preparation.

.... For Christians, the four weeks of Advent are a time for fasting and penitence in preparation for the feast celebrating the Christ’s birth. As my colleague Nathaniel Torrey explained, Advent is a time to humble ourselves in remembrance of “the profound humility of Christ as he became an infant to save us.”

.... Observing Jesus Christ’s birth is not complete without preparing, watching, and rejoicing over the coming of His return. .... (more)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Glenn Miller

On the stormy day of December 15, 1944, a military plane transporting big-band superstar Major Glenn Miller to Paris for a Christmas broadcast disappeared over the English Channel. It’s worth taking a moment, on the 70th anniversary of that event, to consider who America lost.

What Miller accomplished in his 40-year lifetime is astonishing. During the 1930s, Miller was among a handful of innovators, along with Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, who brought the big-band era to its artistic peak. He also modernized military music during World War II. By the 1940s, John Philip Sousa’s marches sounded stale to many. Miller infused jazz elements into his wartime compositions such as “St. Louis Blues March.” This added a bit of zip without flouting too many conventions.

“A band ought to have a sound all of its own,” Miller said. “It ought to have a personality.”

The personality of Miller’s band stressed harmony, and the effect of his music was to promote national harmony. The appeal of such tunes as “Moonlight Serenade,” “Tuxedo Junction,” and “In the Mood” transcended not only the racial barrier but also — perhaps more impressively — the generational barrier. ....

Miller received the first-ever RCA golden record — signifying 1 million sold — for “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1942. That was also the year he joined the Army and relentlessly poured his talents into the war effort. Miller was famously the head of the Glenn Miller Army Air Forces Band. He was also, among other things, director of bands for the Army Air Forces training command and host of a radio broadcast called “I Sustain the Wings.” ....
Remembering Glenn Miller | National Review Online

Marginal children

Jonathan Gruber's infamy results from the numerous times he declared that Obamacare only passed because citizens were too "stupid" to realize what they were supporting. His testimony before a House committee reveals something much worse about what he believes:
The scariest words uttered during Jonathan Gruber’s recent appearance before the House Oversight Committee were “positive selection.” They were read aloud by Republican Rep. Thomas Massie, from a 1997 paper the professor co-authored concerning abortion. The opus in question made the Congressman uneasy because of the following passage: “By 1993 all cohorts under the age 19 were born under legalized abortion and we estimate steady state savings of $1.6 billion per year from positive selection.” Rep. Massie asked the professor what was meant by “positive selection.” This question was evidently not anticipated in Gruber’s pre-testimony coaching, so he became evasive.

Considering what it means, this is no surprise. “Positive selection” is no ordinary example of academic jargon. The term is frequently used by evolutionary biologists, who tell us it is responsible for the development of “traits that define our species—notably the enormous brain, advanced cognitive abilities, complex vocal organs, bipedalism and opposable thumbs.” And Gruber refers to mass abortions of unborn babies, whom he describes as “marginal children,” as an example of positive selection that includes the added benefit of saving the government money. ....

A case for Christianity

"Beyond a reasonable doubt" (not "no doubt") is a criterion that can be applied to history as well as to the legal system. A difference is that history has often to retreat to simple probability.  In either case this interests me: Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, by J. Warner Wallace, a veteran detective who spent fifteen years of his career investigating cold-case homicides. From the author:
It's time for a "Cold-Case" approach to the Gospels. Cold-Case Detectives investigate specific types of criminal events:
  1. Events that occurred in the distant past
  2. For which there are typically no living eyewitnesses
  3. And little or no direct physical evidence
These cases are made by examining the nature of circumstantial evidence and assembling a convincing, cumulative circumstantial case. The claims of the New Testament Gospels can be similarly investigated:
  1. The gospels record events that occurred in the distant past
  2. For which there are no living eyewitnesses
  3. And no direct physical evidence
The tools used by Cold-Case Investigators can be applied to the New Testament gospels to determine if the facts they represent are a true record of the life of Jesus.

I want to teach you how to be a good detective. Cold-Case Christianity will:
  • Provide you with ten principles of cold-case investigations and equip you to use these concepts as you consider the claims of the New Testament gospel authors. These simple principles will give you new insight into the historic evidence for Christianity.
  • Provide you with a four step template to evaluate the claims of the gospel writers. Cold-Case Christianity will teach you how to evaluate eyewitnesses to determine if they are reliable. You'll then be able to employ this template as you examine the claims of the gospel eyewitnesses.
  • Provide you with the confidence and encouragement necessary to make an impact on your world. As your evidential certainty grows, so too will your desire to share the truth with others. Cold-Case Christianity will equip you to reach others with the truth.
Cold-Case Christianity will help you understand the power of circumstantial evidence, drawing on 25 years of law enforcement experience (15 years spent working Cold-Case Homicides). I'll share my personal journey from atheism to Christian certainty while describing the essential components of eyewitness reliability, abductive reasoning and the rules of evidence. ....

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Good Christian Men, Rejoice...

John Rutter laments the decline in mass singing, especially in the Christmas season. We aren't far behind the UK in this regard. Rutter:
.... We aren’t, in general, much good at massed singing these days. Look around you at a church wedding when it’s time for a hymn and watch the congregation standing in mute embarrassment, the only sound coming from the organ and the choir (if there is one). That’s partly because hymns nowadays are known only to churchgoers, and they are in a minority; but it’s also inhibition.

Singing is like swimming — a natural, healthy and intensely pleasurable physical activity — but you have to try it, preferably when very young, to make this discovery. If, as an adult, you enjoy singing, you probably came to it as a child. Until the 1950s, you might well have sung round the piano with your family, but then the passive consumption of television put an end to that form of self-entertainment in the home. You could well have attended church, or been drafted into the local church choir — in the days before the British could afford foreign travel and exotic leisure activities, there wasn’t much to do in your spare time, trapped in our islands, and choir practice (if you didn’t fancy being a Boy Scout or Girl Guide) was probably the high point of your week if you were young and seeking after adventure.

By the 1960s that came to an end too. .... (more)


A friend's Facebook post reminded me of this which I posted in 2012:

I have Welsh ancestors and I have been to Wales, twice. I've climbed into Snowdonia, toured Conwy Castle, heard the language spoken, traveled by rail from Cardiff, listened to the male choirs, and long felt an identification with that heritage, but not like Pamela Petro:

It’s pronounced “here-eyeth” (roll the “r”) and it’s a Welsh word. It has no exact cognate in English. The best we can do is “homesickness,” ....
Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you. Or, if we’re mincing words, I miss you. That’s fair, too. But the deeper, national hiraeth is something you don’t have to go away to experience. You can feel it at home in Wales. In fact, that’s where you feel it most.

I’m American, but I have a hiraeth on me for Wales. I went there first as a grad student in the 1980s. I learned to drink whiskey and do sheep impressions (I can differentiate between lambs and ewes). I learned what coal smoke smells like (nocturnal and oily). And I fell in love with the earth. It happened one late afternoon when I went for a walk in the Brecon Beacons. (The dictionary defines beacons as “conspicuous hills,” which is about as apt as you can get.) When I set off from sea level the air was already growing damp as the sun faded. Ahead of me the Beacons’ bald, grey-brown flanks were furrowed like elephant skin in ashes-of-roses light. It soon became chilly but the ground held onto its warmth, so that the hills began to smoke with eddying bands of mist. That dusk was unspeakably beautiful and not a little illicit. It seemed, for a millisecond, as if I were witnessing the earth drop its guard and exhale its love for the sky, for the pungent cattle, the rabbits whose bones lay underfoot, and for me, too. I felt as if my bodily fluids, my wet, physiological self, were being summoned to high tide. The hills tugged on my blood and it responded with a storm surge that made me ache—a simple sensation more urgent and less complicated than thought, like the love of one animal for another. Or the love of an animal for its home. .... (more)

Via Brandywine Books

Paris Review – Dreaming in Welsh, Pamela Petro

Friday, December 12, 2014

On "contemporary worship music" again

Dan Michael Cogan describes himself as "a 'worship leader' for close to two decades" and for much of that time using exclusively "contemporary worship music." He writes that "if I were to visit a 'traditional' church, not only would I be unfamiliar with the hymns, I would also likely cringe when they sang them...." He has changed his mind, and describes why in "My Journey Away from Contemporary Worship Music." The two main reasons he cites:
First, hymns have been sung by the giants of the faith who have gone on before us over the last two millennia. When we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, we join with Martin Luther who wrote it, and with Calvin and Spurgeon and Edwards who invariably sang and cherished it. When we sing It Is Well With My Soul we are encouraged by the faith of Horatio Spafford who wrote the hymn in the wake of the tragic death of his four daughters. And while many contemporary songs have certainly been written by wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ who have surely endured trials, the fact that we can join with generations past and be reminded that the Church is vastly larger than our local congregation, farther reaching than our town or state or country, and much, much older than the oldest saint living today is something we should not take lightly. Indeed, this should birth in us a desire to sing the songs that our Family has sung together for two-thousand years (and beyond when we discuss singing the Psalms).

Second, the content of hymns is almost always vastly more theologically rich. ...[T]he theology in the hymns is typically more sound or healthy than much of contemporary worship music. As I said earlier, contemporary songs engage our emotions more often, where the hymns engage our hearts by way of the mind.

By way of example, one of the top ten contemporary songs being sung in American evangelical churches right now is called One Thing Remains. While there is nothing in the song particularly bad (in fact, much of it is pretty good), it seems to me that the purpose of the song is to work the listeners into an emotional state. The chorus is:
Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love never fails / It never gives up / Never runs out on me / Your love / Your love / Your love.
With the repetition of a simple lyric like that, it isn’t a stretch to say that the composers’ goal was not to engage the listeners mind. Whereas Augustus Toplady’s hymn Rock of Ages is doctrinally sound, it also is a very moving song of our dependance upon Christ our Rock:
Rock of Ages cleft for me / Let me hide myself in Thee / Let the water and the blood / From Thy wounded side which flowed / Be of sin the double cure / Save from wrath and make me pure.
So I make this plea to my fellow ministers, do not neglect these milestones from ages past. In fact, I would make the case for the abandonment of most contemporary songs. .... [more]
I recently read somewhere else that it is a bit unfair to compare contemporary compositions to the very small proportion that have survived from past millennia since very few of the new will likewise survive the winnowing that will occur over time.

There are over two hundred comments on his post which will not surprise anyone who has lived through the "worship wars." He followed up with a post responding to the most common objections to his argument, and then another post giving examples of contemporary songs he would use in worship.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

For Christ is coming

Praise be to you and grace from Him
Who freed us from our sins
Who loved us all and shed His blood
That we might saved be.

Sing holy, holy to our Lord,
The Lord Almighty God,
Who was and is and is to come.
Sing holy, holy Lord!

Rejoice in Heaven all ye that dwell therein,
Rejoice on Earth ye saints below,
For Christ is coming, is coming soon
For Christ is coming soon!

E'en so Lord Jesus, quickly come.
And night shall be no more;
They need no light nor lamp nor sun
For Christ will be their All.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


George Frideric Handel's Messiah was originally an Easter offering. It burst onto the stage of Musick Hall in Dublin on April 13, 1742. The audience swelled to a record 700, as ladies had heeded pleas by management to wear dresses "without Hoops" in order to make "Room for more company." Handel's superstar status was not the only draw; many also came to glimpse the contralto, Susannah Cibber, then embroiled in a scandalous divorce.

The men and women in attendance sat mesmerized from the moment the tenor followed the mournful string overture with his piercing opening line: "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God." Soloists alternated with wave upon wave of chorus, until, near the midway point, Cibber intoned: "He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." So moved was the Rev. Patrick Delany that he leapt to his feet and cried out: "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!" ....

...[W]here Bach's oratorios exalted God, Handel was more concerned with the feelings of mortals. "Even when the subject of his work is religious, Handel is writing about the human response to the divine," says conductor Bicket. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Messiah. "The feelings of joy you get from the Hallelujah choruses are second to none," says conductor Cummings. "And how can anybody resist the Amen chorus at the end? It will always lift your spirits if you are feeling down."

Handel composed Messiah in an astounding interlude, somewhere between three and four weeks in August and September 1741. "He would literally write from morning to night," says Sarah Bardwell of the Handel House Museum in London. The text was prepared in July by the prominent librettist, Charles Jennens, and was intended for an Easter performance the following year. "I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excel all his former Compositions, as the Subject excels every other Subject," Jennens wrote to a friend. ....

Other Handel oratorios had strong plots anchored by dramatic confrontations between leading characters. But Messiah offered the loosest of narratives: the first part prophesied the birth of Jesus Christ; the second exalted his sacrifice for humankind; and the final section heralded his Resurrection. ....

There is little doubt about Handel's own fondness for the work. His annual benefit concerts for his favorite charity—London's Foundling Hospital, a home for abandoned and orphaned children—always included Messiah. And, in 1759, when he was blind and in failing health, he insisted on attending an April 6 performance of Messiah at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. Eight days later, Handel died at home. ....

Mozart paid Handel the supreme compliment of reorchestrating Messiah in 1789. Even Mozart, however, confessed himself to be humble in the face of Handel's genius. He insisted that any alterations to Handel's score should not be interpreted as an effort to improve the music. "Handel knows better than any of us what will make an effect," Mozart said. "When he chooses, he strikes like a thunderbolt." (more)
My favorite recording is Handel: Messiah, conducted by Trevor Pinnock. There are probably newer performances I would enjoy as much.

The Glorious History of Handel's Messiah- page 1 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

By their fruit...

At the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, he says, "Beware of false prophets; by their fruit you will know them." We quote our Teacher. So why don't we apply his words? "So often Christians approach that as if it says, 'by their gifts you shall know them' or 'by their results or charisma you shall know them,'"
In Leadership Journal I find "The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill," by a pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He summarizes those lessons and they have broader implications than merely flaws in Mark Driscoll's management style.
1. A pastor's character shapes the church.
Pastors and leaders need to stop obsessing over methodology and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Schlaepfer says, "You need to realize the fact that you are going to reproduce your soul in your church, whether you intend to or not. And if you are sarcastic and defensive and arrogant, that's going to be reproduced in your people. Your soul, the fruit of the Spirit that's in your life, your strength and weaknesses as a leader, are going to be reproduced in that church."
2. "Submitted" does not mean "quiet."
"I am wrestling now with what loyalty means," says Clem, looking back on his days as a Mars Hill pastor. "I feel like I kept quiet as a pastor and elder at Mars Hill in a commitment to 'unity.' I put up with stuff I probably should not have put up with because I thought I was submitting to authority. ....
3. Beware of false "success."
Statements like, "Good leaders have followers" or "Living things grow" become mantras at churches like Mars Hill, says Gaydos. This logic extrapolates quickly to "great leaders have tons of followers" and "the faster things grow, the more alive they are." Soon, small attendance numbers and slow growth become problems to conquer. ....

"If you are finding yourself worrying about 'leaving a legacy' or 'What does the city think about what we're doing' or 'What will you leave behind,' soon it will be all about your movement and not about your relationship with Jesus at all, simply receiving his love and presence." ....
4) Emulate Christ's servant-leadership.
McKnight comments, "Jesus offers what I think is the most significant statement about leadership in the entire Bible that will lead us toward a gospel culture. He uses language that we are all afraid of. He says that you are not to be called Rabbi, you are not to call anyone father, you are not to be called instructors, because you have one teacher—Jesus, and you have one Father—God the Father, and you have one instructor—the Messiah. The greatest will be your servant. .... [more]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

P.D. James on DVD

In the current Weekly Standard Jon Breen, himself an author of mysteries, provides another appreciation of P.D. James and concludes:
Like many British detective series (and practically no American ones), the Adam Dalgliesh novels were faithfully dramatized for television. Several of them were presented as a multi-part series, as might be accorded the classics of Austen, Charles Dickens, or Anthony Trollope, but rarely detective stories. The Dalgliesh novels had the complexity of character and plot to stand up to long-form presentation, and the results may be the best series of detective-fiction adaptations in the annals of television. They stand alongside the novels themselves as the best possible memorial to one of the finest, and least replaceable, crime writers in recent memory.
I believe I have the all of those British productions on DVD. Roy Marsden, perfectly cast, portrays Dalgliesh in all but the last two. Martin Shaw, another fine actor, took over the role for those. P.D. James: The Essential Collection collects nine of the stories. They may also be available streaming. Just two nights ago I spent over four hours watching the three episodes of Death of an Expert Witness. I started too late in the evening thinking I might watch over several days but instead sat through them all, not finishing until about 3:00 am.

Better things ahead

Republished: C.S. Lewis's Letters to an American Lady. Lewis never met the American lady in question but the correspondence continued for thirteen years. This collection of his letters to her was published in 1967, four years after Lewis's death. (The cover on the right is from that original edition in my library.) From this review of the book:
Throughout the letters we see examples of Lewis’s warm piety. His Christian faith was no academic affair, and it deeply shaped the way he lived and viewed the world. He concludes most of his letters to the lady with a variant of the line “Let us continue to pray for each other,” and we get the sense that he really meant it.

His warm piety is also evident in the way that he approached death. He faced a number of physical difficulties throughout his life, but he could sense his time was drawing to a close in the last couple of years. This sense of the end was not a source of pain or anxiety for him, however, and he exhorted the lady not to fear in the face of death as well:
Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hairshirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.
Lewis’s piety, however firm and warm, did not inoculate him against the pains of this life, and he clearly felt them acutely. Indeed, he experienced one of the worst possible torments: the death of a spouse. .... [more]

Friday, December 5, 2014

Too many laws

I haven't commented on the controversy about the death of Eric Garner primarily because, apart from agreeing that it was tragic, none of the various positions people were taking made much sense to me. Finally I came across something that did. Stephan L. Carter clerked for Thurgood Marshall and teaches law at Yale. From his "Law Puts Us All in Same Danger as Eric Garner":
.... It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. .... I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand. ....

Part of the problem, Husak suggests, is the growing tendency of legislatures — including Congress — to toss in a criminal sanction at the end of countless bills on countless subjects. It’s as though making an offense criminal shows how much we care about it.

...[M]aking an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it. Overcriminalization matters, Husak says, because the costs of facing criminal sanction are so high and because the criminal law can no longer sort out the law-abiding from the non-law-abiding. True enough. But it also matters because — as the Garner case reminds us — the police might kill you.

I don’t mean this as a criticism of cops, whose job after all is to carry out the legislative will. The criticism is of a political system that takes such bizarre delight in creating new crimes for the cops to enforce. It’s unlikely that the New York legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. ....

...[A]ctivists on the right and the left tend to believe that all of their causes are of great importance. Whatever they want to ban or require, they seem unalterably persuaded that the use of state power is appropriate.

That’s too bad. Every new law requires enforcement; every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence. .... [more]
An interesting coincidence: today is the anniversary of the end of Prohibition in 1933.

Law Puts Us All in Same Danger as Eric Garner - Bloomberg View

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"Holy Ghost"?

Thomas Kidd reacting to J.D. Greear's frustration that it “seemed like people in the Bible had a fundamentally different relationship with God than my own. There was a hollowness in my spiritual life. God was more a doctrine than a person.":
.... Non-charismatic evangelicals often have no practical theology of how the believer is to walk in step with the Spirit. Part of the problem is doctrine itself – Ed Stetzer reports that a stunning MAJORITY of evangelicals (51%) describe the Holy Spirit as a “force” rather than a person. This speaks to impoverished teaching in the churches, but I wonder if part of the problem is also language – would people understand the personal nature of the Spirit more readily if we (like our Pentecostal brethren) still called Him the “Holy Ghost”?

.... Whatever you think of cessationist doctrine, it is tough to have a vibrant theology of walking in the Spirit if much of your teaching on the Spirit focuses on what others should not be doing. .... [more]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Thinking about how many Christians seem to respond upon hearing that someone famous may have converted to the faith: "Christian Celebrity Mascots: The Dangers of Conversion Without Transformation":
.... The hollow back-patting and pride with which we rejoice in celebrity conversion neglects a Biblical manifestation of Christianity — the true nature of which revolves around transformation. When we become more concerned with who is one of us and who is not than with giving glory to God and seeking genuine transformation, we tend to gloss over the inherently gritty nature of Biblical transformation, which is seldom instant, easy, or black and white. By and large, the Bible addresses the idea of transformation within a context of gradual change — a process that is learned at the hands of more mature disciples who are ready and willing to bear with new Christians as they work to first digest spiritual milk and then eventually solid food.

Romans 7:14-20 aptly describes the baffling intensity with which a Christian grapples with his own sinful nature — a battle of wills made infinitely more confusing by the fact that the dual desires at war belong to the heart of one man. That one person might simultaneously desire to good and desire to betray his better intentions in order to sow the seed of evil in his heart is perhaps the singularly most difficult thing about being a Christian, and while time and maturity might never make this easy, it makes one practiced. While a trusted support system might not be a foolproof safeguard against sin, the support of genuine Christian fellowship and accountability is at the heart of discipleship. A new Christian has access to neither experience nor fellowship, because both of these things take time, effort, and often failure.

The evangelical Christian community has a history of glamorizing conversion stories not only when that conversion falls from the lips of a celebrity, but perhaps particularly so in those instances.... [more]

Monday, December 1, 2014

Above reproach

Today Challies describes the characteristics of those who should not be leaders in the church: the "anti-elder."
It is tragic but undeniable: There are many, many people in positions of church leadership who should not be in positions of church leadership. There are many pastors who should not be pastors, many elders who have no business being elders.

This is not a new problem. In the pages of the New Testament both Paul and Peter labor to describe the man who is qualified to the office of elder. It is noteworthy that almost all of these qualifications are related to character. Where we are drawn to outward skill, God cares far more for inward character. ....

In the book of Titus, Paul writes to a young man and charges him to appoint elders in every church in Crete. He tells him what kind of man to look for and as he does this he gives a glimpse of the anti-elder, the kind of man who may seek the office but who is absolutely unsuited to it. ....
  • The anti-elder is a dictator. Paul says, “He must not be arrogant.” The anti-elder is marked by arrogance and aggression, and therefore he makes decisions that are to his own advantage rather than to the advantage of the people in his care. ....
  • The anti-elder is short-fused. “He must not be…quick-tempered.” The anti-elder has a hot temper and a quick temper. He lives by his passions, and refuses to exhibit any kind of mastery over his anger. ....
  • The anti-elder is an addict. “He must not be…a drunkard.” The anti-elder is addicted to alcohol or other addicting substances. ....
  • The anti-elder is a bully. “He must not be…violent.” .... He will use force of personality or the strength of his position to coerce people to do his will, and to be domineering over them. ....
  • The anti-elder is greedy. “He must not be…greedy for gain.” The anti-elder is greedy for financial gain. .... [read it all]