Monthly Archives: September 2009

On elitism

A conservative believes that his innovation would likely fail to improve the rich tradition that has been entrusted to him.

To be quite confident in one’s own ability to improve the church’s theology, liturgy, or morality demonstrates immense hubris; this is the true elitism.

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Posted by on September 28, 2009 in Theology, Worship


Bauder on Christian Affections

In the summer of 2008, Kevin Bauder taught a course for the Schaumburg Bible Institute, which is a ministry of Bethel Baptist Church. The audio of these lectures has been available for quite some time, but with my new job giving me more time to listen to preaching and lecturing, and I’m only getting to listen to them now.

And you need to listen to them as well.

They are available for individual download from Bethel’s own website, but there you have to download each individually. I have update the tag information for each sermon and combined them into one file for ease of downloading.

If you have time to listen to sermons at all, listen through this series (nine sermons in total). You may not agree with everything that Dr. Bauder says, but he will give you a great deal to consider.

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Posted by on September 12, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Theology, Worship


On irreverence

We are outraged by the man who purposes irreverence, yet there is more hope for him than for the man who believes that his irreverence is reverent.

If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Worship


On September 11

What follows is a quotation from Neil Postman’s masterful Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you read nothing else, at least read the final paragraph.

As Thoreau implied, telegraphy made relevance irrelevant. The abundant flow of information had very little or nothing to do with those to whom it was addressed; that is, with any social or intellectual context in which their lives were embedded. Coleridge’s famous line about water everywhere without a drop to drink may serve as a metaphor of a decontextualized information environment: In a sea of information, there was very little of it to use. A man in Maine and a man in Texas could converse, but not about anything either of them knew or cared very much about. The telegraph may have made the country into “one neighborhood,” but it was a peculiar one, populated by strangers who knew nothing but the most superficial facts about each other.

Since we live today in just such a neighborhood (now sometimes called a “global village”), you may get a sense of what is meant by context-free information by asking yourself the following question: How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? For most of us, news of the weather will sometimes have such consequences; for investors, news of the stock market; perhaps an occasional story about a crime will do it, if by chance the crime occurred near where you live or involved someone you know. But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principal legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the “information-action ratio.”

You may get a sense of what this means by asking yourself another series of questions: What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime, and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha’is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them. You may, of course, cast a ballot for someone who claims to have some plans, as well as the power to act. But this you can do only once every two or four years by giving one hour of your time, hardly a satisfying means of expressing the broad range of opinions you hold. Voting, we might even say, is the next to last refuge of the politically impotent. The last refuge is, of course, giving your opinion to a pollster, who will get a version of it through a desiccated question, and then will submerge it in a Niagara of similar opinions, and convert them into—what else?—another piece of news. Thus, we have here a great loop of impotence: The news elicits from you a variety of opinions about which you can do nothing except to offer them as more news, about which you can do nothing.

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Posted by on September 11, 2009 in Society


The argument for musical diversity, part 4

In my last post, I began a discussion of a few points about diversity (ultimately, about diversity in worship music) that built a bit of framework before we consider Bob Kauflin’s arguments. The first point that I made is that diversity is a proximate, not ultimate, good.

I had said previously that I had three points; the second of the three, however, rolled into the first; I will therefore suggest only one more.

2. The value of diversity, considered within the context of corporate worship, is even more limited.

I am committed to the regulative principle of worship. Because others have written more careful and substantial descriptions and defenses of the regulative principle, I will not attempt anything profound here. The short form of the RP is this: in the context of corporate worship, the church is permitted to do only what Scripture commands it to do.

If the RP is true, there are hosts of good things that the church is simply not permitted to insist that people do in the gathered worship. (If you understand the concept of the RP, you will recognize that, among other things, it protects the liberty of the believer’s conscience.) So, for instance, I noted in a previous post that different cultures have different kinds of greeting rituals. I also contended that these greeting rituals do not all say the same thing; they communicate in different ways, and in so doing, sometimes communicate different messages.

We are commanded in the context of the gathered church to greet one another. While high fives and small talk are not evil (they can, on the contrary, be very good), neither are fair equivalents (in our culture) of the holy kiss (in the NT church); to insist that these elements become part of the gathered worship is, therefore, to violate the RP.

It seems to me that those elements of worship which include the direct participation of the congregation ought to be even more thoughtful about the implications of the RP, as one of its chief purposes is to protect the believer’s conscience. Can we, for instance, rightly insist that the believer sing in church? On the authority of Scripture? I believe that we can.

Can we rightly insist on singing with instruments? Or singing songs of non-inspired composition? Again, I think we can, and that we have Scriptural reasons for saying so. Those who would scoff at such questions demonstrate that they do not take the authority of Scripture in gathered worship seriously enough. Contentious debate has, at various times in church history, surrounded each of these questions; to consider such questions foolish is to engage in a sort of chronological snobbery.

The point of all of this is that the regulative principle, rightly understood, adds constraints to the value of diversity. We may not import elements into corporate worship merely on the basis of our own justification; they must be authorized by our one final rule for faith and practice.

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Posted by on September 8, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship


The argument for musical diversity, part 3

And we now return to our regularly scheduled discussion.

In my previous post in this series, I argued that the proposed benefits of musical diversity in worship present an interesting conundrum, in that these advantages are inversely proportional to one another. This observation does not undermine the argument for diversity in worship (ADW); however, by showing that the proponents of ADW have created a “heads we win, tails you lose” situation, I hope to have shown that diversity is not as perfectly glowing as it might seem at first glance.

What I’m going to do in this post is set up some background discussion about how we might evaluate diversity as a good. This is an important discussion before turning to Kaulfin’s specific arguments, because this discussion creates the boundaries on our potential agreement with him. So, for instance, even if we agree with Kauflin that God’s immensity and incomprehensibility suggest that one style of music is not sufficient to reflect his attributes, we need to know whether his argument thereby justifies every single style of music. Does diversity have limits?

With that introduction, I now offer three propositions (two of which will be forthcoming):

1. Diversity is a proximate, not ultimate, good.

I am somewhat hesitant to articulate this point publicly, because I haven’t yet found a set of terms that satisfies me. However, I will sketch my point here, and hope that I am saying something coherent.

That we are both fallen and finite is abundantly evident, and one result of these limitations is that some things that would ultimately be desirable in themselves create problems for us. For instance, for an unfallen, infinite being, perfect certainty is not only good, but is an essential component of knowledge. We would like to be perfectly certain about all of our beliefs (thus, certainty is a good goal in itself), but we recognize that such certainty in fallen and finite beings can create significant problems. And so humility and correctability in our believing is a good, but not an ultimate good; it is only good because of our limitations.

What happens when this proximate good is made into an ultimate good? Emergent.

Another example: religious freedom is not a good in itself. When our Lord establishes his Kingdom on the earth and reigns, religious freedom will be abolished, and this is a good thing. However, in a fallen world in which power often corrupts, most of us would prefer a society in which a variety of views are tolerated, even if the ultimate philosophical foundation for permitting multiple religions in the state is shaky.

Or consider theology. One advantage of modern communication technologies is a prodigious increase in the variety of theological positions to which one can be exposed. We are no longer bound to hear only those opinions of those around us (who are, most often, quite like us); we can listen to the theological musing of brothers in Christ from all over the world, and from ages ago. The accessibility of this theological diversity is a good inasmuch as exposure to positions not our own allows us to see our theological blind spots.

(Consider, along these lines, C. S. Lewis’s essay on the reading of old books.)

However, those of us with any sort of conservative theology see trouble lurking in this good. For instance, while a number of oppressed minority groups have, in their distinctive theologies, drawn attention to the liberation theme of the gospel, liberation theology (as a governing structure) is outside the bounds of orthodoxy. So while we might learn something from a theology not our own, we cannot accept this theology on a par with orthodoxy without disastrous consequences for the church and the gospel. The misguided step of making diversity in theology an ultimate good results in the sort of ecumenical dialogue that reduces all the world’s religions to a blank moralism.

How does this relate to the music debate? It seems to me (this is opinion) that some have made diversity in music a goal in itself. I will explain why I think this is so in a later post, but for now, I simply want to make the point that diversity does not carry its own justification; the examples above should show that, in many cases, even when diversity is desirable (because of our fallen condition), making diversity an end in itself creates serious problems.

Diversity can only be a good in itself if no style of music is better suited for worship of the Christian God than any other sort of music. This is, it seems to me, a very debatable claim (although I recognize that I am in an increasingly tiny minority on this point).

Note, here, however, that I’m not even suggesting which musical style might be better suited for worship. Let me advocate a position that is not my own, just for illustration’s sake. Let us suppose that the governing principle of choosing corporate worship music is that it allows people to worship using a culturally familiar idiom. If a person buys this argument (and many do), throwing a Bach motet or a big organy setting of “A Might Fortress” into the corporate worship, although such actions might be diverse (from the perspective of a church using contemporary worship music), they are not good. The Bach motet is so foreign to most people that (given the criteria), it just isn’t worth the work to that it would take to allow people from a different culture to own it.

Now, I have a very different set of principles for determining what is good in corporate worship. My point here is not what principles that we ought to have; rather, I am suggesting that if we have any principles at all, diversity is only a proximate good, and we cannot justify the inclusion of music into our services merely on the basis that it is diverse.


Posted by on September 5, 2009 in Fundamentalism, Worship