Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Leon Morris (3/15/1914 - 7/24/2006)

New Testament scholar Leon Morris died this past Monday in Melbourne, Australia. He was 92 years old. He was a prolific author, Scriptural exegete, and participant in the production of the New International Version and the English Standard Version translations of the Scriptures. May our Lord raise up many to fill the place he has left.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Prayer Request

I just discovered that the wife of my Bishop, the Most Reverend Walter Grundorf, died suddenly this past Sunday evening. Her name is Carol. I do not know the cause. Please pray for Bishop Grundorf and his four adult sons, Wally, Stephan, Jason, and Daniel, as well as for the other friends and family that were close to Carol.

The Great Debate

Twenty years ago today, at the University of California at Irvine, the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen debated Dr. Gordon Stein on the existence of God. The debate was amazing, with Dr. Bahnsen winning the debate hands down. In honor of Dr. Bahnsen, let me encourage the reader to get ahold of the debate and listen to it.

Unfortunately, the debate is no longer free online. But if you want to get it, you can purchase it here or here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Psalm 136 and CWM

Contemporary worship music (CWM) is often accused of being excessively repetitive. This is often carried out further in the actual worship setting by the Worship Leader who, being led by the “Spirit” (or, whatever mood he is in), repeats sections of the songs several times over. When criticized for this, I’ve heard CWM advocates point to Psalm 136 as a justification for their practices and songs. Psalm 136, you might remember, has the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever” (ESV) repeating as every second line in the Psalm. But when one examines the psalm, a couple of things emerge.

For one, this isn’t a case of a worship leader repeating over and over again until he gets that “worshipful feeling”. This is a pre-composed and pre-written psalm, with no room for improvisation.

For another, if the CWM advocates would pay attention to the alternating lines, they will notice something else missing from their music. The alternating lines are a recitation of Covenant history. The Psalmist (and those singing the psalm) is recounting the works of God in Creation and in Redemption, specifically Israel’s redemption from Egypt and reception of the land God promised them. The psalm is covenantal and therefore corporate-focused. The concern is our salvation, not just my salvation. In the majority of CWM, the focus is on my individual experience of God, not my place in God’s act of saving a people. It is individualistic, and conspicuously Gnostic, focused on inward piety rather than a holistic salvation of a family of people both body and soul.

I have found that even when CWM attempts to address the work of Christ, it tends to be rather shallow in its assessment, not to mention not particularly poetic. I think it would be good for CWM songwriters to spend a little more time in looking at classical Christian poetry and hymnody (particularly pre-nineteenth century hymnody), and contrasting it with the modern aesthetic that shapes their songwriting. If they do that, and honestly begin to question their own practices, they might begin to produce works that will be beneficial to the church.

It might also be wise for CWM advocates to actually let the text of Scripture shape their thinking on these things, rather than running to the Scriptures to find a proof text to justify their practices.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sarcasm, Part 1

“My family and I don’t really like sarcasm,” a friend said to me over lunch today. “I guess we think there is enough bad in the world as it is.” That is a paraphrase, but you get the point of his statement. It stood out in our conversation like a sore thumb, and I’m still musing on what he meant by it.

My friend is from a certain section of the Reformed tradition that is sometimes called “pietistic”. Such people often talk about themselves believing in “Experimental” (meaning “experiential”) Calvinism. Experimental Calvinism tends to focus on the more relational and experiential side of the Christian life.

I think there is much to draw from this tradition. I’m Reformed, and agree with a lot that is taught by these folks. In fact, I was basically drawn into Reformed theology by these sorts of people. Unfortunately, this tradition also has an element of sentimentalism about it that sometimes keeps it from dealing honestly with the harsher aspects of this world we live in. This sentimentalism proves a barrier to a mature Christianity, preferring to live in the nursery of sectarianism rather than being challenged to grow up and engage honestly with other Christians. I am, of course, speaking in generalities. The same people who are immature in one aspect of their faith may be very mature otherwise. And this is true of my friend. I think his pietism isn’t good, but he is in many ways far more mature than I am.

At the risk of turning this into one of those blogs where the author tells you more than you want to know about him, I will admit that I’ve thought about sarcasm a fair bit myself. I’ve wavered back and forth on the issue to some degree, though sarcasm has characterized my speech in part for years. I don’t have all the answers on the subject. But I will say that to eliminate all sarcasm is to take a position that Scripture simply stands against.

There are many passages we could look at, but let’s just take one – 1 Kings 18, Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Most people are familiar with the story. The prophets of Baal and all of Israel gather to Elijah on Mount Carmel at Elijah’s command. The purpose is to demonstrate which is the true God. The prophets of Baal build an altar and begin to call on Baal to send down fire upon the altar. The verse in the passage that most concerns us is verse 27. The King James Version translates the verse this way:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

Now here we have a serious case of sarcasm, and that by a prophet of God. What is even more interesting is the phrase here translated “or he is pursuing”. (I don’t know Hebrew, so I have to draw off the scholars here.) The New King James translates it as “or he is busy”. But both translations obscure the real meaning. The clearer translation is in the English Standard Version, which translates the phrase as “or he is relieving himself”. In other words, Elijah is saying “maybe your God is using the bathroom” or “sitting on the toilet”, if you will.

One thing we learn in reading Scripture, and particularly narrative, is that we aren’t told everything that is said or done. God is selective in the things he reveals to us in His word, and the gaps are often apparent. At this point we have to remind ourselves that this isn’t just the human author making a choice of what to tell us, but it is also God Who inspired the writing. God could have left the whole “mocking” aspect of this event out. He could have left out the words that Elijah used, and just told us that Elijah mocked them. He even could have just left out the statement about Baal “relieving himself”.

But he doesn’t. Why? The modern American Christian, now feeling a bit queasy, has had his nice effeminate image of God set in a tailspin. I don’t know why God chose to tell us this part of the event. There might be some great theological reason behind it, but if there is, I don’t have a clue what it is. One way or the other, here is a prophet of God who, being justified in his defense of God by God’s responding to his prayer a couple of verses later, is laying out some pretty heavy sarcasm against God’s enemies.

I could have picked out other passages. One that immediately comes to mind is God laughing mockingly at the kings of the earth in Psalm 2. But when it comes down to it, to call all sarcasm sin is contrary to the clear example of Scripture.

“Well, sure, it’s okay to mock our enemies,” some might say, “but sarcastic people often even use it on their friends. You can’t find that in Scripture.”

Yes, you can find it in Scripture. But I’ll have to address that at another time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Happy Birthday, John Calvin

Today is (or, considering the hour, was) John Calvin's 497th birthday. Which means that three years from now will be the 500th. Anybody want to take a trip to Geneva in three years?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Book Study Quote #6

Our sixth book study quote is a prayer to St. Raphael. St. Raphael was the guardian angel of Tobias in the Apocryphal book Tobit. To learn more about Raphael, go here.

Prayer to St. Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings

O Raphael, lead us towards those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us! Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead us by the hand towards those we are looking for! May all our movements, all their movements, be guided by your Light and transfigured by your joy.

Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of earth, we feel the need of calling to you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the Province of Joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country.

Remember the weak, you who are strong--you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene, and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.

Book Study Quote #5

For our next study quote we take a different direction, this time towards the subject of Purgatory. O’Connor specifically referred to Catherine of Genoa’s Treatise on Purgatory in her letters, so that is where our next quote is from. St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) was a Roman Catholic mystic. For the complete text of the Treatise, as well as a brief biography of her, go here.

The souls who are in Purgatory cannot, as I understand, choose but be there, and this is by God's ordinance who therein has done justly. They cannot turn their thoughts back to themselves, nor can they say, "Such sins I have committed for which I deserve to be here ", nor, "I would that I had not committed them for then I would go now to Paradise", nor, "That one will leave sooner than I", nor, "I will leave sooner than he". They can have neither of themselves nor of others any memory, whether of good or evil, whence they would have greater pain than they suffer ordinarily. So happy are they to be within God's ordinance, and that He should do all which pleases Him, as it pleases Him that in their greatest pain they cannot think of themselves. They see only the working of the divine goodness, which leads man to itself mercifully, so that he no longer sees aught of the pain or good which may befall him. Nor would these souls be in pure charity if they could see that pain or good. They cannot see that they are in pain because of their sins; that sight they cannot hold in their minds because in it there would be an active imperfection, which cannot be where no actual sin can be.

Only once, as they pass from this life, do they see the cause of the Purgatory they endure; never again do they see it for in another sight of it there would be self. Being then in charity from which they cannot now depart by any actual fault, they can no longer will nor desire save with the pure will of pure charity. Being in that fire of Purgatory, they are within the divine ordinance, which is pure charity, and in nothing can they depart thence for they are deprived of the power to sin as of the power to merit.

I believe no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls, more and more as the hindrance to His entrance is consumed. Sin's rust is the hindrance, and the fire burns the rust away so that more and more the soul opens itself up to the divine inflowing…

No tongue can tell nor explain, no mind understand, the grievousness of Purgatory. But I, though I see that there is in Purgatory as much pain as in Hell, yet see the soul which has the least stain of imperfection accepting Purgatory, as I have said, as though it were a mercy, and holding its pains of no account as compared with the least stain which hinders a soul in its love. I seem to see that the pain which souls in Purgatory endure because of whatever in them displeases God, that is what they have willfully done against His so great goodness, is greater than any other pain they feel in Purgatory. And this is because, being in grace, they see the truth and the grievousness of the hindrance which stays them from drawing near to God.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Windows

Here is a poem by George Herbert entitled The Windows which I ran across a couple of months ago. I’m not putting it here for any particular reason other than that I like it.

LORD, how can man preach thy eternall word ?
He is a brittle crazie glasse :
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers, then the light and glorie
More rev'rend grows, and more doth win ;
Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw : but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the eare, not conscience ring.

Occasional Riddle #4

The credit for the following “riddle” goes to my friend Jim Vogl:

If someone is a fan of the Cowboy Junkies, would that make him a Cowboy Junkies junky?