'Practice of the Presence of God' is a short and insightful work about walking closer with God written in a series of conversations and collected letters from Brother Lawrence, it serves to be both convicting and, at times, questionable. Lawrence's convictions are powerful and frequently humbling, and there is much to admire and emulate in seeking the constant, abiding communication with God (“a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only.”) Lawrences passion of that communion is noble and something to strive to emulate. What I did find lacking, however, was a Christocentric approach to his description of communion with God, to the degree that at times reading this the communication described felt almost like a modalistic/unitarian exercise, and I found myself longing to hear Christ referenced just a little bit more anywhere (for instance, at one point Lawrence says “we know also that we can do all things...” and I was hoping he was going to lead into “...through Christ who strengthens us”, but instead he capped the thought as “...with the grace of GOD”, which is true, but the trinitiaran aspect of Lawrence's theology just seemed lacking in this work. I wanted more of the work and inter-mediation of Christ, and I wanted more of the powerful work of Holy Spirit's sanctification. As it stands, I believe Christ was mentioned twice and the Holy Spirit once. In any case, this is a short and lively read and what I'd describe as take what you can from it but tread carefully.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Thursday, September 5, 2013
'Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns' is a short, clever and timely work addressing how contemporary influences have modified the standard regarding music used churches today as the church moves to embrace a spirit of modernity. I've been bothered by the contemporary movement's sway in the churchtoday and the utter mindless emotionalism most church music seems to have these days so I appreciated reading Dr. Gordon's thoughts and analysis. I believe he nails the issue on the head early on describing how previously hymns would be selected by a criteria of theologically orthodox and significant lyrics, thoughtful lyrics, and songs well-written in regards to melody, harmony and form (p.47). Unfortunately today, so many churches of the seeker-sensitive model, or church intended more for those who are "not taking it(religion) seriously" (p.155) and the "music-lite" invariably reflects a church that also practices "worship lite."
On p.130 Gordon sets out a thoughtful consideration of if a hymn would it still exist as Christian verse if it were not set to music. Personally, I can think of a number of theologically rich hymns such as "A Mighty Fortress" with powerful words that, isolated from their music would still have a very significant message of the glory and magnitude of God. Yet when I think of a Houston-area mega-church I visited recently I recall the lyrics to one song that repeated over and over and over again... "greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city" that, if repeated as verse without music repeatedly would be just inane (and maddening).
Gordon digs in with an analysis of contemporary music and the dangers of mindless sentimentality, or emotion in music for emotion sake, which as he puts it, "reflects and endorses a trivial culture." From contemporaneity the after-effect is that anything not contemporary is rendered odd, quaint, antiquated or outdated, and we're left with trivialized, simplistic, sappy music reflecting the romanticism and primitivism of era's like the 60's, with guitar music led by "middle-aged former hippies unwilling to leave Woodstock." This later point might be something of a generalization (Gordon does do that through the book, and to be fair he sometimes does veer into odd tangents, such as the one on Gillette shavers and landfills(???) on p.107-108) but I do see his point about music trivialization (and I think I have listened to the music of a few of those same 'hippies' in a couple churches that I've been to in recent years.)
The biggest negative of this work, though, is I got to the end of the book, agreeing with most of T. Gordon's points, but I was left wanting a little more of a take-away, namely: if the church needs hymns, then what hymnals does the writer suggest? More specifically, say someone is in a contemporary church, and they're getting fed up with the maudlin sentimentalism of the music, and they want to be in a church with more richer, deeper music, but this is the only church that they have ever knows. Then what churches actually use hymnals, and how would this person find them other than just endlessly church-hopping? Any practical suggestions of where to go to even find that music if a church with contemporary music is all that you've ever known? Maybe even a hint or two could have helped, such as some direction to seek out something like a more reformed, confessionally-centered church congregation, etc. I think a little direction would have helped, even if in the form of some suggested denominations or churches in an appendix) Additionally, there was no real mention of WHAT hymnals would be considered better or worse than others. I think there was a passing reference to the Trinity hymnal, but what other hymnals are there, and how does a layman discern one from another? Again, some practical suggestions of hymnals, and pros and cons, would have been of great value. As it stands, there was only one appendix with a debatable "pop versus classical culture" chart that didn't help much. I would have liked to see a few more resources to help direct people in the right direction with music.
All the same this was an insightful read and worth checking out if you're hungry for something more substantial and edifying in church music. Hopefully in a future edition Dr. Gordon could include a few helpful appendixes.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens: In Which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings, Are Considered by William Carey
This short work (although the title is insanely long... why didn't he just call it "Some Thoughts on Missions"?) was an insightful work about the need and importance of global evangelism in the Christian church. Carey emphasizes that the need to preach the gospel to all nations is a command a Christ and that believers are bound to this responsibility to take the gospel into the world. Cary uses Scriptural examples from the apostolic ministry passages in Acts and leads through an overview of early church history and mission work, up to post-Constantine times when "popery"(Roman Catholicism) introduced propagation taking place by force of arms, a strictly non-Scriptural practice, where, as Carey observes, “the confessors of Christianity needed conversion as much as the people they ministered to”. Carey then gives an overview of the reformation of the church, starting in 1369 with Wycliffe teaching Biblical Christianity, and how his teachings eventually spread through reformers like Huss, Jerome and eventually through Luther, Calvin, etc, in which the church returned to the authority of Scripture and Biblical orthodoxy. In the following centuries persecution Roman persecution followed, and many sought religious freedom in the new colonies, which eventually leads the overview of history up to Carey's own time frame (late 18th century).
Carey also addresses some of the objections and complaints to global missions, including the barriers such as distance, language difficulties, concerns of safety within other nations, etc. He remarks on all of these with sound responses, and while admitting that missions can mean a sacrifice of affluence and splendor for that of hard work miserable accommodations, potential punishment and imprisonment, etc. he identifies that for many it is primarily a love of ease that stands as an inconvenience to ministry work, and although difficult conditions may be a part of missions, the obligation of believers is to share the gospel message with the world. Rightly referred to as the "father of modern missions", Carey's biography is a fascinating one, and there are few better to address the topic of missions.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
My recent Amazon review of "Two Views of Hell::
Monday, July 1, 2013
An article I wrote for the local paper:
As a Christian, we believe that the Bible teaches justification by faith alone through the perfect, complete work of Christ Jesus, through his death, burial and resurrection. Through faith in Christ alone the Christian knows and experiences the forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life with Christ. Being brought into newness of life, it is important for the believer to grow in their walk with God by constantly being in the Word. But how many Christians make time for daily Bible reading? And if asked by an outsider to the faith, "So, if the Bible is the central book of your faith, how many times have you read it, cover to cover?", could you give an answer other than just a shrug and a response of, "Well, I've read a lot of it..."
The Bible is the perfect, inspired word of God, and as 2 Tim. 3:16 teaches, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". The love and study of the Scriptures should be essential for the believer, and Christians should strive to read the Bible in its entirety if they haven't.
"But I never have time. I've got work, and this, and that, etc." Well, what I'd like to offer here is a suggestion of how busy people can include daily Bible reading, that the believer "may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17)
Since so many people are always on the go, “listening” can be a good option for working through the Bible. A good step is to invest in a cheap MP3 player (and NOT a phone, since anything that will ring, beep, chirp, or otherwise distract you isn't going to help...)
A cheap, simple MP3 player I've been happy with is the Philips GoGear Vibe 4 MP3 player. No bells and whistles, but works fine, and can hold most all of the spoken Bible. I've seen it around $15-20 online. It comes with ear buds, but if you don't like those you can pick up a cheap headset at Walmart for $5.
Next step, get a FREE download of the audio Bible. There are a number of translations available online free. I'm partial to the ESV translation as I believe it's a sound translation of the Greek and straight-forward English. You can download it free from here: http://www.esvaudiobible.com. For those who like the KJV translation, here's a site to download the MP3's: http://www.harvesttimechurchoftyler.org/freemp3bible.htm
There are many other resources, and if you prefer to skip the download, you could go to a place like LifeWay and buy the MP3s of the Bible and transfer them to the MP3 player from your computer that way too.
Finally, download a Bible reading checklist and print this up, to mark off what you've listened to. There are plenty of these online, but here's a simple example: http://www.marshillchurch.org/files/misc/Bible_Reading_Checklist.pdf
Now, when you're working around the house, cooking, gardening, riding your bike, etc, just put on the MP3 player and you're ready to go. If you prefer to listen to the player while driving, you can get a mini-jack port at the Walmart electronics department and hook this to your car stereo aux port.
Also, as you study the Bible, if you find passages that you want to understand better or that could use elaboration, there are many good commentaries. I would recommend Matthew Henry's Commentary. He was a puritan who wrote a concise commentary overview of the entire Bible. You can use the commentary for free here to look up passages: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/
Keep yourself in the Word, and be blessed with growing in an understanding of God's inspired word.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
The Family Worship Book by Terry Johnson serves as a good resource for those looking for a more deeper and substantial time of family worship, going beyond basic devotional practices and actually digging deeper with example outlines of worship, Scriptural reading, hymns, prayer, creeds and confessions, etc. The first few sections introduce what family worship is, why it's important, and how to get started. After the first few chapters the book feels like it goes directly into reference-mode, including a Bible-reading checklist, catechism, and then copious inclusion of psalter songs and hymns.
And while I'm all for this book and think that it's an excellent resource for getting started, the problem becomes that for things such as the sample responsive readings in the book, you're either left having to get multiple copies of the same book, or make copies of the pages that you want to use, and repeatedly in reading this book I found myself wondering, "so why wouldn't you just get a stack of Trinity Hymnals and use those for family worship time?" since so much of what this book includes as reference material is already in the Trinity hymnal (including the Westminster Confession, the Shorter Catechism and plenty of responsive readings, etc.) In fact, it seems like HUGE sections of the book could have been skipped and that Johnson could have just said "Go and buy a stack of Trinity hymnals for your family worship time" (a quick Google search for "trinity hymnal" will find a bunch of sites selling these, around $20 each, in both regular and Baptist flavors, too...) Using individual hymnals for each family member allows everyone to have their own to use for singing and catechism, and they can also make notes in their own copies of favorite hymns, etc.
One other issue I found was the fact that although this book includes a number of hymns, the songs don't include the actual musical notation, only the words, and are followed with comments at the bottom of the song like "All saints old 220.127.116.11.7.7", and speaking as someone with limited musical skills, that type of notation means nothing to me. It would have helped tremendously if the hymns included the musical notation as well, because in that situation if you aren't familiar with the melody you could at least play out the melody on the piano first if it's a hymn you don't know.
So those few gripes aside, it's still a good book for someone new to the idea of family worship who wants to get started, and there are some excellent ideas to incorporate, but again, seems like much of this material could have been skipped, and much more sensibly, simply pick up a few copies of the Trinity hymnal (enough for each family member) and go that route instead.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Having been attending the OPC again after a long number of years, I've become something of a Machen junky. I don't agree with him on everything, but so much of what he writes is just spot-on. Here's a review I did for the local paper:
In The Importance of Christian Scholarship, J. Gresham Machen calls for a revival of learning in the context of Christian teaching, evangelism and defending the faith, largely in response to the objections of “modern”, anti-intellectual evangelical leaders and the insistence that deeper knowledge is not necessary for faith, and that the gospel is a simple thing that does not need to be obscured by too much scholarly research. Machen confronts these alternative opinions by establishing that scholarship brings order out of confusion and makes the message shine fourth more clearly. It is “out of a great fund of Christian learning that the true message springs.” To Machen, in evangelism it's important that we tell the story of Jesus “straight and full and plain” and that what many despise today as “doctrine” the New Testament refers to as “gospel” (one of the things so refreshing about reading Machen is how relevant his message is to today, even though he was writing these works in the 1920's...)
Machen teaches that Christian evangelism isn't just "look at me and my virtues" and "you can be as happy and wonderful as me if you do this and that", but explains that people are not saved by a radiant testimony, but by a preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's only through the gospel and having this taught clearly and with a solid doctrinal understanding that the message is put forward through which they can be saved.
Machen maintains that all objections and criticisms of the faith are addressed in the New Testament. Teaching solid Christian doctrine to believers is about giving to Christian people materials that they can use in both dealing with avowed skeptics and also when they speak with their families, friends, students, etc. Christian scholarship and doctrinal richness empowers Christians to be both strong and fortified in their faith and to have a scholarly response to objections. Scholarship empowers the Christian to give credible responses to these questions.
Underlying preaching is Christian scholarship, necessary to both the preacher and to the man. The gospel is a simple thing, and while some objections would weigh that scholarship can obscure the message of the gospel, the opposite is actually true: scholarship helps the message shine forth more clear.
This work was presented as a series of lectures by Machen and is available for free from here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/53616023/The-Importance-of-Christian-Scholarship-by-J-Gresham-Machen