Monday, September 30, 2013

Christian Freedom

Some helpful words from Owen Strachan (and Martin Luther) on Christian freedom:

Christian freedom is one of the hottest spiritual topics today. To folks accustomed to moralistic Christianity and sets of rules that guide Christian conduct, Christian freedom is oftentimes a Copernican discovery, a worldview revolution. The gospel does not exist to make people buttoned-down and morose, grimly discharging duty to the divine, but explodes in the human heart, liberating it to live joyfully in Christ. Shame and guilt and moralism are alike defeated in Christ.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Fun: Bono Impersonates Bill Clinton

I had no idea that U2's frontman was also an impersonator, and this impression is pretty good.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review of Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Jesus: A History"

Author and scholar Joel L. Watts had his review of Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's Killing Jesus: A History appear in the Huffington Post here.

Simply put, there is nothing here beyond an attempt at agenda-driven drivel produced for the lowest common denominator. I wish I had my day back.
There are numerous issues with this book, most of which are covered in any Introduction to the New Testament (higher education) class. 
They destroy context and literary construction to, and I can only assume this based on the evidence of reading the book, hide the actual message of the Gospels. 
I don't know much about Watts as of know, except that he has reviewed for Christian publications in the past (e.g. Tyndale, IVP), but it's sad that people that don't seem to hold to Christian doctrine (e.g. Martin Bashir) can spot politically-driven Scriptural abuse. 
Read the Bible, folks. Correctly.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Media's Misunderstanding of the Pope . . . and Religion in General?

I'm not Catholic, but I think there have been a few notable and honorable actions taken by Pope Francis. I've also seen evidence of much of the media's inability to understand religion. An ethnodoxologist friend of mine recently posted an article by a Catholic columnist that has some interesting points that we should all heed when it comes to dealing with the media and understanding conversation and context.

 "While this continuing media failure exasperates Catholics who actually understand what Pope Francis says, it raises a more significant question of media credibility on religious matters, and perhaps even more broadly than that. Catholic doctrine and teachings are easily accessible and understandable, and yet the media don't appear interested in checking facts first before publishing news stories that inevitably mischaracterize the words of Francis and the teachings of the Catholic Church. Just how well do they report on other religions making news, whether that is Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or even atheism? Do they research those topics before publication, or are they building fact-deficient narratives on those topics, too — and at what cost to clarity?"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Responding to the Recent Attacks on Christians

Our church will be holding an evening service on Sunday, November 3, of reflection and prayer for persecuted churches. This event was scheduled more than a week ago, when we were thinking about Syria, Egypt and a few other parts of north Africa.

Now we're thinking about Nairobi and Pakistan, and praying also that we won't have to tragically and heartbreakingly add any other regions to this list before we meet to pray corporately. In the meantime, I found these thoughts very biblical and helpful for prayer and general response.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lament in Worship

Good points from Bobby Gilles: 

In recent years many churches have begun to recover the biblical practice of lament (and of course many others never lost it). Biblical lament is the practice of bringing our sorrow to God, and admitting our sense that something is wrong with this world and with our hearts.

But should lament be a regular rhythm of worship, or should we reserve corporate expressions of lament for when there is a big loss that affects the whole church family, or a major tragedy in the community, or a headline-grabbing event that rocks the whole nation?
Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reality Show Will Feature Church Plant Pastor Family

From Jon & Kate Plus Eight and the Duggar family to Preachers of LA and the popular Duck Dynasty, yet another fascinating, quirky and implausible Christian family will find its way into reality television: Brandon and Jen Hatmaker.

HGTV is in plans to make a reality TV show of their life, title pending. Brandon is a pastor/author and leader/co-founder of a charitable church community impacting the proudly-weird and culturally-flourishing city of Austin, Texas. Jen, his wife is also an author/speaker and a more popular blogger whose convicting, out-of-the-box yet biblical thoughts on ministry and motherhood (along with her self-deprecating sense of humor) have gained her much popularity among Christian women and even opportunities in the mainstream media. They have five children, two of whom have been adopted from Ethiopia.

And now this family's home life will be on cable television.

My thoughts: While some from the more conservative side of the evangelical community have criticized the Hatmakers' atypical ministry as too faddish and/or socially active (and some don't enjoy Jen's realism in her writing), I support them as we do need more balanced people like them in ministry. However, I'm a bit uneasy about the concept Christian families appearing in reality television. While the Hatmakers would arguably the best-yet representation of positive community-impacting and biblical living, reality TV shows about families and/or businesses have usually been just an opportunity for viewers to observe and sometimes caricature and mock, rarely (if ever) imitate.  Also, Tim Tebow inadvertently taught our country's Christian community a lesson in the theology of Christian celebrity (e.g. how we shouldn't rely the work of God upon Christian celebrity success) that we shouldn't forget, including with Duck Dynasty. As the Hatmakers step into this arena, I hope and pray that the show reflects their Scriptural and charitable values and these aforementioned land mines are avoided.

Your thoughts?    

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Great Schism in Christian Music (That People Don’t See)?

In studying the history of Christian music, I’ve come to learn of a great schism, and it’s not what you think. It’s not organ-and-hymnal vs. electric-guitar-and-PowerPoint. It’s not acapella vs. accompanied. Here’s another shocker: as a pastor and composer, I’m at least a little happy this schism exists.

I don’t think we can pinpoint the exact time when this schism happened, but it’s best seen in the convicting words of John Wycliffe. During the Middle Ages, the Church’s spiritual health was poor and in decline, but its music was truly flourishing and innovative, having explored polyphony in original and amazing ways and creating historical-landmark choral works. Enter Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation, who wrote:

“In the old days, men sang songs of mourning when they were in prison, in order to teach the Gospel, to put away idleness, and to be occupied in a useful way for the time. But those songs and ours do not agree, for ours invite jollity and pride, and theirs lead to mourning and to dwelling longer on God’s Law. A short time later vain tricks began to be employed - discant, contre notes, organum and hoquetus . . . which stimulate vain men more to dancing than to mourning . . . When there are forty or fifty in a choir [sic!], three or four proud lecherous rascals perform the most devout service with flourishes so that no one can hear the words, and all the others are dumb and watch them like fools.”

It’s an extremely long spectrum, but Wycliffe is likely comparing the ornate, melismatic and Latin masses with the simple, popular and God-honoring folk songs of lament for prisoners. Just as Wycliffe believes the Bible should be readable by the common man, so should the Church’s music be sing-able by the common man. This controversial challenge to the Church brought into question the role of high-art music in the Church, and it caused many schisms that many churches still struggle with today.

I would argue that the two most urgent (and common) purposes that music serves in the church are:

  1. edify the church’s congregants with Scriptural Truth through corporative musical participation
  2. celebrate the Beauty and Creator-hood of God through artistic creativity and excellence

It’s the balance of these two purposes in your worship department’s mission statement that has caused splits (e.g. Wycliffe rightfully noticed that some churches were exercising the latter and disregarding the former). It’s not just a schism of the style of church music that we regularly deal with, but the purpose. 

Some only care about #1 and are discarded as artistically anti-intellectual. Others care only about #2, doctrinally dwindle and suffer an embarrassing defeat in a rat race of creativity. Still, others are under the impression that they can successfully edify the laymen and impress the wayward music connoisseur with the same music. (That’s been tried for centuries with little-to-no success). Limiting music to only certain functions within the church can hinder it, and sometimes only schisms can set it free to serve God in multiple ways at once. 

On top of that, failure to realize this schism has entangled the term “Christian music” in countless and unfortunate connotations and caricatures. What does one mean when they say “Christian music” is and how it should be “better”? 

First, are they referring to just the mostly-derivative contemporary music from modern evangelical subculture? Music meant for corporate worship in contemporary services (which is its own genre now)? Hymns of the eighteenth century? Choral works of the middle ages or in current universities? Modern ethnomusicological works?

Second, do they mean “better” by more excellence in instrumental technical skills, vocal tone/pitch and recording quality? Or by more complex, “original” (which is almost impossible today as so few truly original musical innovations are pleasing to tonal ears) and/or unpredictable in their composition? And how is “better” Christian music measured? By record sales, YouTube views, copy reports, congregational (or other) engagement and/or the subjective opinion of a certain lauded musician?

(They warned me studying philosophy of the arts would just make me ask more questions). The truth is that music, and even “Christian music” is more broad, deep and complex of a topic that can’t be talked about with cliches.

How do we, in church music, both foster an environment of Scriptural edification and intimate worship and corporately celebrate God’s beauty through artistic excellence and creativity? It’s a proverbial million-dollar question, but it needs to be asked more often, rather than to be continually brushed with assumptions and cliches. We shouldn't be talking shallowly about style, but deeply about purpose.  

Music is universal, diverse and powerful enough to serve in such a multi-faceted capacity. That’s one of the reasons I love it, studied it and now work full-time ministering with it. But its diversity has also, naturally, caused division.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

"I Don’t Think We Need to Go to Church Every Week," My Son Said

Real and revealing father-son conversation between Trevin Wax and his son. All parents, take note.

We were on our way to church one Sunday, and he said, “Dad, I think I know all the Bible stories now.”
“Really?” I said. “All of them?”
“Just about,” he replied. “And I know all the songs we sing in church too.”

“That should make it easier for you to sing along,” I said.
“I don’t know why we keep going over the same stories and singing the same songs. Don’t they think we’ve got it down by now?”
“I’ve been studying the Bible and singing songs for a long time, Timothy. And I get something new from God’s Word every week.”
By this time, we were getting out of the van and walking towards the worship center. That’s when he said, “I don’t think we need to go to church every week. Why don’t we just wait until there’s something new to learn?”

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Fun: Discount Double Check Meets Da Superfans

As much as I am not a fan of the Green Bay Packers, I've enjoyed quarterback Aaron Rodgers's comic participation in State Farm's new "Discount Double Check" ad series. And now, as a native Chicagoan, I'm in for a real treat. Also participating in this ad series is none other than Saturday Night Live's Ditka-loving, rib/wing-gorging, wise-cracking Chicago Superfans.

Watch Da videos and enjoy Da weekend!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fantasy Football Church Panic

This is for all my fellow football fans and fantasy football players.

"It starts slowly, but across the country a panic has set upon our church pews. Quietly it grows, row by row, aisle by aisle, service by service as one by one, everyone who plays fantasy football resists the temptation to check their games during church. It’s difficult, sitting their quietly while your team racks up points, not knowing how you’re doing."

As a recent owner of a smartphone, I understand. But it can wait. :-)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath

From The Gospel Coalition's Joe Carter: 

Today marks the twelfth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. Here are nine things you should know about what happened in the aftermath of the events on September, 11 2001.

The post also features a short History Channel webisode documentary on the Ground Zero Cross. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gettys' Worship Leadership at TGC2013 Now an Album

Those that attended and enjoyed the leadership in corporate musical worship of Keith and Kristen Getty (the former a co-writer of "In Christ Alone") at The Gospel Coalition National Conference this past April in Orlando should be happy to know that corporate musical worship has become a live worship album.

So, now you can experience the Gettys' recent worship leadership outside of Orlando. More information can be found here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Spirityouall" Bobby McFerrin Album Review

Earlier this summer, I re-posted an article from the Huffington Post about a new album from Bobby McFerrin. He is a vocalist that I have always admired, a talented, vocally-agile musician with a sense of humor (a vocal and non-painted version of the entertaining Blue Man Group), and I was excited to hear about a new album where he proudly explores the Christian faith of his little-known upbringing.

In that way, the album could arguably be in the same vein as Johnny Cash's "My Mother's Hymn Book." Bobby McFerrin has self-dubbed Christian faith, and this album is a musical and spiritual journey to the musical spirituals of his heritage (with a few unfortunate theological divergences on the way), and from the lyrics and explanations in the CD jacket, while the stories are personal and inspirational, he has a few other spiritual landmarks of biblical truth to reach. I don't have the space here to elaborate on that.

The main musical difference is that Cash's album, though without a drumset, still delivers the acoustic drive and the deep, warm and dramatic vocal tone that listeners have come to expect from Johnny Cash's work.

The same can't be said for McFerrin's "Spirityouall." Those hoping to be once again joyfully bombarded by multi-layered vocals, harmonies, melody jumps, and voice percussion in acapella works that show off McFerrin's 8-octave range (e.g. "Don't Worry, Be Happy" and "Drive") will be disappointed. We hear some arpeggios on "Grace" and McFerrin explores the upper ranges on occasion throughout the album, but "Spirityouall" features a full set of folk and jazz instruments as well as background vocals. Their interpretations of the ol' time spirituals do often get creative and are always well-executed, but I (and I imagine others, too) were hoping for McFerrin to showcase his vocal talent more often in this album.

Bobby McFerrin is a deep and talented vocalist and musician. While some may dislike portions or aspects of "Spirityouall," it's my hope that his journey to timeless truth continues and again comes to beautiful musical fruition.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Theology of Tebow and Tebow-mania

I've been writing about Tebow in the past, trying to interpret him as a Christian witness and a professional football player/leader, and I've also been trying to process and analyze his unique fan base. I've never seen wiser (and more convicting) words about Tebow and Tebow-mania than from pastor and NFL-fan Jared Wilson's recent post:

I think we need to make a clear distinction between the reputation of the gospel and our desire to see Christian “celebrities” succeed. When we don’t, we lose our sense of humor. And what makes a better witness for the gospel — being super-serious about a Christian role model or demonstrating that we can have a sense of humor about ourselves? I fear that the Tebow-mania is just another manifestation of the way evangelicals think cultural cache and celebrity influence is vital to the cause of Christ. When I read the Bible, I see the opposite, actually, how God uses the low, the weak, the despised, the cultural cast-offs to further his kingdom. I am not against Christians in the entertainment or athletic spotlights, of course, but I am against the idolization of these people, which I think much of our fandom becomes. To be clear: The cause of Christ is not dependent on Tim Tebow’s success in the NFL.

It’s becoming clear to most sober-minded folks that Tebow’s skill-set is not conducive to being a starting quarterback in the NFL. It says nothing about his character or faith to make this admission. He is, by all indications, a great guy with a great testimony and a great heart. This does not make him a great quarterback. And to be more direct, I have to wonder if anyone close to Tebow is enabled to speak truthfully to him about this matter. When he was cut from the Patriots roster last week, he characteristically went out with his head high and respect on display. On his Twitter, he thanked the Patriots organization for the opportunity, and then he tweeted a few Bible verses, and then he tweeted that his dream is still to be an NFL quarterback. Now, perhaps this dream is realistic. But most people, including people who want it to be realistic, are acknowledging it doesn’t seem realistic at all. He’s had ample opportunities. Here’s my thing: The NFL is full of starting players who played one position in college that is not their position today. This includes college starting quarterbacks who find their place in the NFL as safeties, running backs, tight ends, etc. I just have to ask: At what point is Tebow’s inflexibility about his dream actually a manifestation of pride? At what point does he need to say, “Well, I can’t be a quarterback, but I will play fullback”? I can’t say. Maybe you can’t say. But surely we are close to that day? I don’t know. I just hope he doesn’t ride his stubborn dream into athletic obscurity. He is, I think, talented enough to play in the NFL, but (probably) not as quarterback. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Worshipping God in Second or Third Person?

I've had conversations about this question before when defining musical worship. There are some good thoughts here:

"I recently got a text from a young worship leader friend of mine. Here’s how it went (names omitted):
"Him: 'Just listened to a sermon by Preacher X on worship. The entire thing was KILLER. So great. He gets to the end and says something about how corporate worship lyrics need to be to God, not about God… not sure I agree.'
"Me: 'I don’t agree at all. If he’s right then the angelic host of heaven is doing corporate worship incorrectly. I don’t usually bet against the angels.'” 

What's your take?