Monthly Archives: August 2009

A rabbit trail on kissing

Yesterday morning at Huron Baptist Church, Pastor Steve Thomas concluded his series of sermons on 1 Peter. Our text was the final three verses of the book:

12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Verse 14 always seems to illicit some laughs, doesn’t it? But why is that?

The standard explanation is that the kiss was the cultural greeting of that day; we have simply replaced it with our standard cultural greeting, the handshake. And this is doubtlessly true. Some cultures today still commonly practice a kiss as a greeting; I recall that during the summer that I traveled to Europe on a mission team from Bob Jones University, most guys on the team were at least a bit antsy at the prospect of being kissed full on the lips by a Russian brother.

I’m going to make my point here brief: the reality is that while both the kiss of greeting and the handshake are cultural expressions that have very similar functions, they are not identical in meaning. I would also suspect that our substitution of the arm’s-length handshake for the kiss is related to one of the most unchristian characteristics of our society: a radical individualism that considers the deep one-anotherness of Christian community invasive and uncomfortable.

The reality is that cultural forms carry meaning in themselves. And whether such meaning is associative or intrinsic is irrelevant to this point: if the form carries meaning, we must evaluate its meaning. The handshake is a contextualization of the kiss of greeting, but we must acknowledge at least some level of difference in meaning. And the same would be true if we tried to substitute other greeting rituals. What about a high five? A chest bump? Punching a buddy in the shoulder? These may all be acceptable forms of cultural greeting, but do they accomplish (within the setting of the corporate gathering of the church, where the kiss of greeting would have occurred) the same thing as the kiss of greeting?

Could a culturally acceptable expression of greeting actually be anti-Christian?

Note well: this post is not expressing any settled conclusions on my part regarding a re-institution of the kiss of greeting. I think we have something worth thinking about here, but those who know me needn’t avoid me at public gatherings out of fear of being kissed.

For what it’s worth, I think that this post is quite relevant to our ongoing discussion about musical diversity in the church.


Posted by on August 31, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Theology, Worship


We interrupt this discussion…

Thoughts on this:

1. Clearly the best office ever.
2. Dude was completely justified in shooting the pen-clicker. Completely.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "The Great Office War on Vimeo", posted with vodpod

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Posted by on August 28, 2009 in Random links


The argument for musical diversity, part 2

In the last post, we set forth the main points of the argument for diversity in worship (ADW). In this post, and perhaps in one or two more, I will point out what I think are significant weak points in ADW.

I note, first, that the two stated benefits of ADW are, in practice, inversely proportional to one another. By way of review, advocates of diverse worship tell us that it will do two things for us: it (1) allows us to worship in an authentic way, and (2) gives us opportunity to defer to other believers. But these two benefits will not exist for the same person at the same time. Think about this carefully: to the degree that I am worshiping “in my language,” I have no need to defer to others in the congregation. To the degree that I am deferring, I am not worshiping “in my language.”

Now, please understand that I don’t think that this observation is some sort of defeater for ADW; I note this simply because the advocates of ADW have created a “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario for their position. If we approve of a song, they can tell us that it’s great that we can worship in a idiom native to us. If we are uncomfortable with another song, they tell us that it’s great that we have opportunity to submit to other believers.

To clarify, I don’t believe that anyone intended to give ADW this sort of failproof justification; I’m not suggesting any sort of conspiracy here. I am, however, claiming that the no-lose situation created by ADW is a bit artificial and circular.

We could create a parallel argument for using non-diverse worship (and this can work for non-diverse progressive worship just as well as it would for non-diverse conservative worship): if you like what we’re doing, you’re worshiping in your native idiom, and if you don’t, it gives you an opportunity to learn to submit to spiritual authority in your life. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t expect this sort of argument to gain much traction, only because Americans have an nearly inbred antagonism to hierarchical authority. The point is, authentic worship and submission to spiritual authorities are both counted as goods in Scripture; the fact that non-diverse worship can appeal to either (depending on a person’s response) doesn’t make non-diverse worship right.

Thus, the benefits that are said to accrue from diverse worship, I contend, are not sufficient to justify the practice. Again, I am not saying at this point that diversity in worship is wrong; in this post, I am only saying that the admirable goals of ADW do not justify it. In my next post, I will begin to address Kauflin’s arguments in support of diverse worship, which are, in my opinion, more compelling.


Posted by on August 28, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


The argument for musical diversity, part 1

I’ve now encountered several times (most recently, in this sermon discussing Calvary Lansdale’s philosophy of music) an argument something like this: corporate worship must be diverse; that is, the styles and genres of music used by the church should reflect the wide-ranging tastes and backgrounds of those who have gathered to worship their Lord together. Such diversity, the argument continues, accomplishes at least two things (these are articulated in the sermon mentioned above).

First, a diversity of styles allows all people to worship authentically, because each person (in the course of a service, or perhaps over several services) will be presented with the opportunity to worship musically by means of a style that expresses his true voice.

Second, believers can learn to defer to one another, “in humility count[ing] others more significant than [them]selves” (Phil 2:3). The older believers, while not enjoying the music of the younger folks, can join with them in worship and thereby exercise humility; likewise, the younger can cheerfully demonstrate their love for their elders by joining with them in music that is not to their taste. In such a way, the whole body learns to “[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).

I think we could all agree that both of these are laudable goals. Worship ought to be authentic, an expression of one’s redeemed heart, soul, and mind. Attempting to worship in a foreign idiom is like David battling Goliath in Saul’s armor.

Furthermore, I will certainly confess my need for greater humility and deference to others; having an opportunity to learn and express gracious love is a good thing.

It is my understanding that this argument from diversity was at least popularized by, if it did not originate with, Bob Kauflin. In Worship Matters, he offers several arguments in support of his contention that “music should display variety” (104–106).

The first is that using different styles is appropriate to “[reflect] God’s various attributes.” Kauflin asks us, rhetorically, “How can anyone think that a single kind of music could adequately express the fullness of God’s glory?”

The second is that differing styles “[enable] us to hear the same words with different effect.” He mentions here that most of our older hymns were written first and only later paired with tunes. Choosing different tunes and styles allows us to see the truths expressed in these texts different ways.

His third argument is that the use of different styles demonstrates that we “[recognize] God’s heart for all people.” He says, “Musical variety communicates God’s heart for all generations, cultures, and races. We don’t use different music because we want to keep everyone happy or because we’re aiming for a ‘blended’ service. It’s the gospel that blends us together, not music.”

He continues:

But in our rapidly shrinking world it’s even more important that we at least teach on the importance of this diversity. Christ’s command to take the gospel to the ends of the earth should inform and shape our theology of musical worship. It’s unwise and unbiblical to think that churches is Bolivia, Indonesia, Uganda, and elsewhere must conform to an American’s definition of ‘appropriate’ worship music.

To tip my hand a bit, I’m inclined to think that this third support is the one driving the diversity argument. However, my goal for today’s post is merely to introduce this argument, and to do so accurately. In my next few posts, I will offer some critical interaction with these ideas.


Posted by on August 27, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


We know exactly what you mean, part 3

When I taught at International Baptist College, I almost always had music playing in my office as I studied and wrote. My current job, working maintenance, allows me to expand my listening to include audio books and sermons; I never really listened to either before, because it is pointless to listen to someone talk while reading something else. Listening to someone talk while vacuuming between pews? That works.

So I’ve currently been listening to Jonathan Edwards’s The Religious Affections. (If you’re interested in audio books, this recording is quite good.)

This is my first time through The Religious Affections; I realize that I will definitely need to sit down with the book as well, to give extended attention to what I’ve heard. However, I did encounter an illustration in Edwards that extends a discussion we’ve been having here, and thought that I’d share it.

Edwards here argues that spiritual perception is not merely a combination of natural perceptions, raised to a higher level. Instead, it is some wholly new thing. The comparison he offers (bolded below) is the difference between tasting honey and seeing (or feeling honey). The one who sees and feels honey knows something true about the honey, but the one who tastes knows something that can never be known to one who has not tasted (or better, one without a sense of taste). The description of the taste of honey, therefore, would be utterly lost on such a man.

From hence it follows, that in those gracious exercises and affections which are wrought in the minds of the saints, through the saving influences of the Spirit of God, there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind, from anything that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified. For doubtless if God by his mighty power produces something that is new, not only in degree and circumstances, but in its whole nature, and that which could be produced by no exalting, varying, or compounding of what was there before, or by adding anything of the like kind; I say, if God produces something thus new in a mind, that is a perceiving, thinking, conscious thing; then doubtless something entirely new is felt, or perceived, or thought; or, which is the same thing, there is some new sensation or perception of the mind, which is entirely of a new sorts and which could be produced by no exalting, varying, or compounding of that kind of perceptions or sensations which the mind had before; or there is what some metaphysicians call a new simple idea. If grace be, in the sense above described, an entirely new kind of principle, then the exercises of it are also entirely a new kind of exercises. And if there be in the soul a new sort of exercises which it is conscious of, which the soul knew nothing of before, and which no improvement, composition, or management of what it was before conscious or sensible of, could produce, or anything like it; then it follows that the mind has an entirely new kind of perception or sensation; and here is, as it were, a new spiritual sense that the mind has, or a principle of a new kind of perception or spiritual sensation, which is in its whole nature different from any former kinds of sensation of the mind, as tasting is diverse from any of the other senses; and something is perceived by a true saint, in the exercise of this new sense of mind, in spiritual and divine things, as entirely diverse from anything that is perceived in them, by natural men, as the sweet taste of honey is diverse from the ideas men have of honey by only looking on it, and feeling of it. So that the spiritual perceptions which a sanctified and spiritual person has, are not only diverse from all that natural men have after the manner that the ideas or perceptions of the same sense may differ one from another, but rather as the ideas and sensations of different senses do differ. Hence the work of the Spirit of God in regeneration is often in Scripture compared to the giving a new sense, giving eyes to see, and ears to hear, unstopping the ears of the deaf, and opening the eyes of them that were born blind, and turning from darkness unto light. And because this spiritual sense is immensely the most noble and excellent, and that without which all other principles of perception, and all our faculties are useless and vain; therefore the giving this new sense, with the blessed fruits and effects of it in the soul, is compared to a raising the dead, and to a new creation.


Posted by on August 21, 2009 in Worship


Monkeys, ice skating

Come on, click the link. You know you want to see it.

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Posted by on August 20, 2009 in Random links


A fascinating read

This is very lengthy (especially if you follow the link to the followup discussion, which is very good [perhaps better than the original article]), but I found it a fascinating read. I may comment on it in the next couple of days.

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Posted by on August 16, 2009 in Random links


Have sermon, need text

I have recently started my new job cleaning the auditorium (and several other rooms) for Inter-City Baptist Church. This experience has lead me to a specific conclusion, which I’d like to make a point of doctrine (and also a sermon), but I need a reference from which to launch my sermon. Here’s my premise: bringing glitter into the church auditorium is grounds for excommunication.

Do we all agree that this is good theology? And can someone find me a text to support this point?


Posted by on August 15, 2009 in Personal


Old music and new translations

From time to time, I have encountered this argument: “How can you be an advocate of 300 year old church music and 20 year old Bible versions at the same time? If you’re going to insist that we all love Isaac Watts, wouldn’t it be more consistent for you to prefer the King James Version?” Some ask the question sincerely; others (apparently) seem to think that they have found a sort of gotcha question that should undermine my advocacy of conservatism in worship.

I do favor modern translations. At Huron Baptist Church, the church of which I am a member, we use the New International Version as our standard translation. The NIV, NASB, and ESV would all be live options for me if I were planting a church. In fact, I am more likely to use any of those three before I would use the King James, both for personal study and corporate reading.

I am also in favor of (mostly) old music; do note that my advocacy of old music is not simply because it is old. I will expand on this idea shortly.

Are my positions on these two issues sustainable? Or am I being self-referentially incoherent?

I believe that my positions are not incompatible, and my defense is this: Bible translations and church music pursue the chief end of man (the glory of God) by different means.

Church music does (at least) two things: it allows us to express worship to God in a way that engages ordinate affections, and it also instructs the church as to what affections are appropriate in worship. Hymnody is always art; it incorporates both music and poetry. I argue that the sort of affections that are legitimate for worship are best expressed in the church’s traditional hymnody, and that the vast majority of music produced by the past 150 years of the American Christianity tends to debase the affections; it is thus unsuitable for worship.

Bible translations, however, have a different purpose than hymns. The purpose of a translation of the Bible is to communicate, as accurately as possible, the meaning of the original language of Scripture in the receptor language. Good translation is less about the affections, and more about the intellect; translation is largely about the communication of true propositions.

I must concede some overlap between translation and hymnody, in that good translation does have an emotive or affectional aspect. In other words, the difference between a good translation and a great one is that the best translation will not only choose words that communicate the meaning of the original document, but will also attempt to communicate its emphasis, style, and feeling. In a great Bible translation, then, Amos won’t sound like Luke, and the David won’t sound like Paul. They are different writers, and the writings of each should feel different.

Furthermore, the affective aspect of translation is very important in Bible translation. We are all familiar with attempts to translate the Bible for this or that sub-culture, often with devastatingly irrevent consequences. I have one such attempt on my shelf. Thus, I do not believe that reverence in wording is unimportant in evaluating Bible translation; it is (barring such brutalities) the secondary concern of the translator.

But for the most part (particularly in the non-poetic genres of the Bible), the key duty of the translator is to communicate meaning. If this is true, the primary standard for evaluating a translation is its success in allowing a modern reader to grasp the meaning of the original documents. I would argue that the King James, despite its beautiful language, often substantially impedes modern readers from understanding the meaning of the text. Thus, as a translation of the Bible, it is inferior to modern translations with reference to the very purpose of translation.

Some might still think me indefensible; please leave your comments below. I’m interested in the interaction.


Posted by on August 10, 2009 in Theology, Worship


Most recent eMusic downloads

For nearly two years now, I have subscribed to the music download service I was introduced to this service by my friend Ryan Martin, a fellow music lover and Zune aficionado.

A quick digression: eMusic is still a good place to download music, although they’ve recently just changed their pricing structure. As things stand right now, a CD on eMusic probably averages $6.00 or so; not bad, and a bit cheaper than iTunes, but not as great as it was before they added Sony/RCA/etc. If anyone is reading this and thinks, “I’d love to have a good place to download classical CDs,” let me know; I’ll send you an invitation to join, and if you do, you get bonus downloads, and so do I.

Anyway, my new subscription plan allows me to pick new downloads every three months; I thought I’d list here the CDs I just acquired. I haven’t listened through them all yet; I may do a follow up post with some very amateur evaluations. (One item on my long list of “things I plan to do when my dissertation is done”: study music theory.)

So here’s the list:

Psalms for the Soul
Choir of St. John’s, Elora, Noel Edison

Music of the Reformation
Himlische Cantorey

Brahms: The Complete Works for Violin and Piano
Nikolaj Znaider, Yefim Bronfman

Beethoven: Violin Concerto
Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov, The Prague Philharmonia, Jiří Bělohlávek

C. P. E. Bach: Cello Concertos
Hidemi Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Birgit Remmert, Hans Peter Blochwitz, Ensemble Musique Oblique, Philippe Herreweghe

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius
Robert Tear, Alfreda Hodgson, Benjamin Luxon, The Scottish National Orchestra & Chorus, Sir Alexander Gibson

The American Cello
Paul Tobias, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Joann Falletta

Respighi: Il Tramonto
Brodsky Quartet

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Posted by on August 7, 2009 in Personal