Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Need for Les Misérables

Two "shames" with regard to Les Misérables:

1.) It is a shame that the average Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian won't see it. They'll go see whatever the latest film pushed as a Christian film is, because it is advertised as a Christian film, pushed on Evangelical radio stations and in churches, and having all the trappings of a Christian film. But Les Misérables has a far richer and clearer presentation of the Gospel than the majority of "Christian" films, without the bad acting, heavy-handed moralizing, and shoddy story telling.

2.) It is a shame that the average man won't see it, because it is a musical. It is rare that we see on screen, or anywhere in media, such an example of what it is to be a good man, a godly man. Jean Valjean shows what it is to repent, to forgive, to live one's life as a defender of the weak, to live sacrificially, and to finish life well. These are things men rarely see at all, but which desperately need to be more visible in our time.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ministers as Gloomy Gusses

Just ran across this interesting quote from Chuck Swindoll:

"My vocation is among the most serious of all professions.  As a minister of the gospel and as the senior pastor of a church, the concerns I deal with are eternal in dimension.  A week doesn't pass without my hearing of or dealing with life in the raw.  Marriages are breaking, homes are splitting, people are hurting, jobs are dissolving, addictions of every description are rampant.  Needs are enormous, endless, and heartrending.

The most natural thing for me to do would be to allow all of that to rob me of my joy and to change me from a person who has always found humor in life - as well as laughed loudly and often - into a stoic, frowning clergyman.  No thanks.

Matter of fact, that was my number-one fear many years ago.  Thinking that I must look somber and be ultraserious twenty-four hours a day resulted in my resisting a call into the ministry for several years.  Most of the men of the cloth I had seen looked like they held down a night job at the local mortuary.  I distinctly remember wrestling with the Lord over all this before He pinned me to the mat and whispered a promise in my ear that forced me to surrender.  'You can faithfully serve Me, but you can still be yourself.  Being My servant doesn't require you to stop laughing.'  That did it.  That one statement won me over.  I finally decided I could be one of God's spokesmen and still enjoy life." -- "Laugh Again", pg 13

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Meditation on Psalm 139

I was looking at Psalm 139, and a good portion of it seems to be divisible according to the incommunicable attributes of God:  vss. 1-6, omniscience; vss. 7-12, omnipresence; vss. 13-16, omnipotence.  Vss. 17-18 turn back to God's omniscience, and the last line of vs. 18 God's omnipresence.  The Psalmist's meditation on these things aren't a consideration of God's attributes as if they were an abstraction, or divorced from history.  God is not distant to the psalmist, but His attributes have personal impact on the psalmist's life.  The reality of who God is is a source of comfort and worshipful contemplation for the psalmist.  God is one who acts in history, in the lives of the people He has created, and He acts savingly for those who trust Him.

But then the psalmist turns a direction we tend to be uncomfortable with - he identifies with God against His enemies.  Singing a melody common throughout the Psalms, the antithesis between the wicked and the righteous, he not only identifies with God, but expresses his desire that God might slay His enemies for their opposition to Him.  But it is on the basis of what comes before, the psalmist's whole-hearted identification with God, that he sets himself against the wicked.  Those who truly identify with God, and delight in Him, will hate the wicked, so long as this age continues.  To have the heart of God is to hate evil and those who do it.

Lastly, the psalmist further expresses his trust in God by opening himself to God's examination, and expressing the willingness to change those things in himself that aren't right.  The Christian life is one of life-long, ongoing repentance.  Contrary to those who think that radical grace means one can live his life however he wants, the true believer understands that identifying with God means conformity to the thoughts of God (vs. 17), even to the person of God.  Trust means openness and, not just any sort of change, but specifically change accordingly to the will and character of the one a person is drawing near to, is open toward.  Repentance, and therefore sanctification, is conformity to the character of God, to His communicable attributes.

It is worth noting, as well, that we see here that humility is not contradictory to hating the wicked.  We seem to often have the notion that the humble man will, rather than acknowledging the wickedness of the wicked, turn the attention quickly back to himself instead.  But this Psalm, as the rest of Scripture, shows this to be a false humility.  A righteous man will hate the wicked and their deeds, while at the same time keeping himself in constant check, lest he himself follow in their ways and so depart from the God he loves.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Unnecessary Beauty of the Holy Eucharist

The joyful character of the eucharistic gathering must be stressed.  For the medieval emphasis on the cross, while not a wrong one, is certainly one-sided.  The liturgy is, before everything else, the joyous gathering of those who are to meet the risen Lord and to enter with him into the bridal chamber.  And it is this joy of expectation and this expectation of joy that are expressed in singing and ritual, in vestments and in censing, in that whole "beauty" of the liturgy which has so often been denounced as unnecessary and even sinful.

Unnecessary it is indeed, for we are beyond the categories of the "necessary."  Beauty is never "necessary," "functional" or "useful."  And when, expecting someone who we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love.  And the Church is love, expectation and joy.  It is heaven on earth, according to our Orthodox tradition; it is the joy of recovered childhood, that free, unconditioned and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.  In our adult, serious piety we ask for definitions and justifications, and they are rooted in fear - fear of corruption, deviation, "pagan influences," whatnot.  But "he that feareth is not made perfect in love" (1 Jn. 4:18).  As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will "represent" it and signify it, in art and beauty.  And the celebrant of the sacrament of joy will appear in a beautiful chasuble, because he is vested in the glory of the Kingdom, because even in the form of man God appears in glory.  In the Eucharist we are standing in the presence of Christ, and like Moses before God, we are to be covered with his glory.  Christ himself wore an unsewn garment which the soldiers at the cross did not divide; it had not been bought in the market, but in all likelihood it had been fashioned by someone's loving hands.  Yes, the beauty of our preparation for the Eucharist has no practical use. ~ Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, pp. 29-30

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Gospel of John

It just occurred to me recently, in studying the Gospel of John, that Jesus spends the book in either the synagogue or the Temple teaching, then run out of the Temple a few times, and then avoiding the city altogether until the week of his death. It all begins with him running people out of the Temple himself, accompanied by the allusion to himself as the Temple. In the middle of it all stands the man born blind who Jesus heals and who is thrown out of the synagogue. Comparisons and parallels with the Book of the Revelation should then follow. It's major things like that that you miss when you preach and read Scripture in an atomistic and moralistic frame.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

"Radical Together", Sort of a Review

I had finished reading David Platt's first book "Radical" a few weeks ago, and was amazed at how little of substance the book had.  And since I had the sequel, "Radical Together", I thought I would go ahead and read it too.  Certainly it would flesh out more of what Platt was trying to say in the first book with more detail, I thought.  Alas, such is not the case.  Every once in awhile Platt says some good things.  But for the most part, this book, like its predecessor, is fairly vapid.  Adoption, which he promotes, is a great thing.  Missions is important.  But there is little actual Scriptural exegesis, and almost no theology to speak of.  He goes on and on about the importance of making disciples.  But I have yet to figure out from him what we are supposed to be teaching those disciples, other than that they are supposed to then go make disciples too.  Almost absent is any of the teaching actually found in Scripture.

I respect the way Platt has devoted himself to missions work, teaching, and preaching.  He has obviously been diligent in his service for God.  And maybe the place to find any substantial teaching would be in his sermons and the classes on Scripture he teaches.  But with the lack of clear thought I see in his books, I'm not too hopeful.  I can't for the life of me understand why some Reformed people have saddled up next to him the way they have.  Maybe there's more that I'm not seeing.  As far as his books go, there's just nothing there.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Doctrine in the Context of Community

It is true that doctrine divides. In a sinful world, that division at times is necessary. But it is also true that doctrine is meant to operate within the context of community, and when it functions outside of community, it creates unnecessary division, sinful division. Community becomes warped apart from doctrine; doctrine becomes warped apart from community. Bad doctrine is a community problem, and bad community is a doctrinal problem. It is worth considering that the lack of community in our day could be the cause, or a cause, of many of our doctrinal issues.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

More on David Platt

I am currently reading David Platt's bestselling book "Radical Together", a follow-up to his book "Radical", for which I posted some notes a few weeks ago.  Like "Radical", while the book so far has some admirable qualities, it is lacking in sound theology, or, for that matter, any real theology at all.  A few things in particular stand out.  Platt, being a low church evangelical, seems to have no substantial ecclesiology.  This includes any real understanding of a Biblical doctrine of ordination and the clergy/laity distinction found in Scripture.  Since Platt is an Evangelical and a Baptist, this isn't entirely surprising.  Yet one would expect better from a pastor and former seminary professor.  He also lacks any solid notion of the Biblical doctrine of vocation.  Again, this isn't surprising from an Evangelical.  And the third thing that stands out, in connection with these other things, is his lack of Biblical understanding of the family.  The result of all this in real time is a church situation where all the people are constantly engaged in "ministry", using their jobs for saving souls rather than what they exist for, and neglecting their families for the sake of said "ministry".  It's a disastrous formula, one which has existed in the American church for some time, and which we have been reaping the benefits of, I believe, resulting in the dissolution of the Christian family, the dissolution of the organized Church, and, inevitably, the demoralizing of the State, as all these things are invariably connected.  It would be unfair to say the above doctrines, or lack thereof, have been solely responsible for the circumstances I just mentioned.  I would suggest nonetheless that they have been factors, and significant ones at that, at least in the Evangelical and Protestant community.

But I haven't finished the book, and I don't intend this as a full review.  Yet one small piece jumped out at me as I have been reading the book, which I'll put forward here.

Platt says, "We definitely do not have to construct buildings as houses of worship.  In the words of Stephen before he was martyred by the Sanhedrin, 'The Most High does not live in houses made by men'" (pgs. 62-63).  Platt misses the point that Solomon himself had acknowledged this in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple, to which Stephen was alluding (1 Kings 8:27).  And knowing this, Solomon built God a house anyway.  The point of Stephen's statement wasn't that houses of worship shouldn't be built.  It was that God would no longer be represented by one single house centrally located in Israel, that God would be worshipped from then on among all peoples of the earth, and that the Jewish people had not revered and worshipped the God that the Temple represented, which was bringing judgment upon Israel.

Platt seems to regard only two paradigms for church life - gigantic American megachurches, or emergency living in portions of the world where persecution from the government exists or where church life is simple due to poverty.  The former he rejects as unbiblical, the latter he idealizes.  He can't seem to acknowledge that there are other options, maybe wiser, more biblical options.  It would help if Platt had an idea of the maturity of the Church through history, and the development of Christian culture, evidenced in the spread of the Gospel since the establishing of the Church.  But as this is something that most Evangelicals fail to see in our day, despite regularly partaking of the fruits of Christendom, this isn't too shocking.

Mr. Platt has another book coming out the beginning of the year, one longer than what he's written so far, and hopefully it will be more substantial than what he's published up to this point.  Once again, this isn't to say that he has said nothing important.  But his books are largely so vapid that I have no clue what his foundational theological views are.  Where does he stand eschatologically, for instance?  This has an obvious impact on his conception of missions.  I wonder, though, if he even realizes that .  Perhaps Mr. Platt will begin to reflect more deeply on the various theological topics that have captured the Church over the past two thousand years, and he will use those things to examine his own beliefs and teaching.  This much I can say - from what I've read, these things are incredibly absent from his writings.