Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bible Study Resource

For those who might be interested, I recently published a review of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. You can read it here.

Amusing Ourselves to Death Discussion 6

Chapter 9: Reach Out and Elect Someone
1.      In this chapter, Postman says that “the fundamental metaphor for political discourse is the television commercial” (126). He wants “to show how it has devastated political discourse." What does he use as his baseline for evaluating not just political discourse but also science and liberal democracy (127)? Or to ask the question from a different angle, what does he see as the source of good political discourse?

2.      Why does the answer to #1 matter?

3.      Aristotle identified three pisteis, or forms of persuasion, in any speech situation: the presentation of the trustworthy character of the speaker, the logical argument set out, and the emotional effect created by the speaker (On Rhetoric, 1.2). Since I assume Postman would accept Aristotle as an authority on these matters, does Postman adequately account for all three means of persuasion?

4.      Postman makes the astute observation that “the television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products” (128). Later he says that great commercials “provide a slogan, a symbol or a focus that creates for viewers a comprehensive and compelling image of themselves” (135). Is it not true that political leaders have always functioned as visible embodiments of the polis (the city or community)? If so, what is bad about the way commercials structure political discourse?

5.      Augustine said that a community is formed by common agreement on the objects of our love. What do our commercials, as well as our political discourse, tell us about the state of our community? What loves hold us together?

6.      What would a good model of political discourse in America look like? Could commercials have any appropriate function in that kind of discourse?

7.      Postman charges that television is “a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment” (141). Is entertainment necessarily simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical, and noncontextual? If something is simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical, and noncontextual, can it even be “information,” much less entertainment? Would it be better to say that television presents a series of dramas or stories? How does this help us in understanding how to critically evaluate television and its effect upon our political discourse?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving, Keeping, Sending

As we read Jesus' prayer for his disciples in John 17, we find that they are caught up into the very work of God. It is an incredible privilege to do the works of God based upon his work for us, and we will learn more of this by listening to Jesus' prayer this Lord's Day.

Praise the Savior (#17)
Rejoice, Believer, in the Lord (#627)
A Sovereign Protector I Have (#615)
How Good Is the God We Adore (#738)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 17; Psalm 114
New Testament: Romans 10:14-21

From Manifestation to Consecration: Knowing God in His Saving Works - John 17:6-19

Thursday, November 24, 2011

It Is Good to Give Thanks

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name,
O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.

For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

Psalm 92:1-4 (ESV)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Week of Remembrance

Every year, during the week of the Thanksgiving holiday, my family and I have a week of remembrance. I want my children to know the mighty acts of God "so that they should set their hope in God" (Psa 78:7). Here is our plan for this year's week of remembrance.

Monday - remembering the mighty acts of God in creation and redemption

Tuesday - remembering the mighty acts of God in our family's history. We particularly like to recount how the Lord saved our children's grandparents and all the blessings which flow to us today because of it.

Wednesday - remembering the mighty acts of God in our family's history (continued)

Thursday - Thanksgiving Day

Friday - remembering the mighty acts of God in 2011

I hope you will have a wonderful time in your homes this week telling the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done (Psa 78:4)!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Living in the Dark Ages of Sound

Enlightenment thinkers made up the label "Dark Ages" to dismiss the European era of Christendom as backwards, superstitious, and unintelligent. The reality is that moderns believe just as many, if not more, cunningly devised fables, and our ignorance can be seen and heard in the cultural artifacts we produce. More dreadfully, our ignorance can be seen and heard in the worship we offer to God.

Two blog posts I read this morning brought this to my attention again, and I commend them both for your consideration. In the first, David de Bruyn considers Richard Weaver's statement, "Unformed expression is ever tending toward ignorance." Without good form in our music, prayers, and preaching, we slouch toward darkness. He concludes:

Beware the people who insist you choose between form and freedom. Good form is freedom. Good form enables freedom. Good form frees us to express ordinate affection. (Read it all here.)

The second post is by Peter Leithart, entitled "How the Church Lost Her Soundscape."  He observes, "Musically, evangelicals are all charismatics now." So he asks, "What ideas, standards, and forces shape liturgical music? And, what does the church’s musical culture say about the church and its future?"

He criticizes the ignorance of contemporary pop music:

Contemporary music arose just as general music education collapsed in our schools. As Ken Myers points out, the church did nothing to fill the gap, apparently content to let advertisers, disk jockeys, the Stones, Steve Jobs, and Madonna provide musical training for Christians, especially young ones. It is no surprise that contemporary worship music takes its cues from commercial pop. No surprise, but surely a concern. Pop music is a relatively new cultural phenomenon with its own set of commercially driven values—accessibility, immediacy, instant gratification, freedom, sex. It has its own, extremely limited, range of musical and emotional possibilities. For all its variety, pop music is dismally monophonic. Transgression is encouraged, so long as it doesn’t get too close to the music. Lady Gaga wears her meat dresses and Rihanna feigns sex on stage, but when the music starts they are both as frothy as Justin Bieber. There can be no Stravinsky of pop music. 

Leithart concludes with this sobering observation:

I can hardly imagine a more worrisome sign of worldliness, or clearer evidence of the church’s identity crisis, than our eager renunciation of our own soundscape and our determination instead to reproduce the world’s.

I hope for a new reformation which will drive out the dark ages of sound we now inhabit.

A Sacrifice of Praise

Would you like to participate in one of the most powerful exhibitions of the Jesus Christ's lordship? It is better than any parade of military muscle, and it is far more effective than any Federal Reserve board meeting. It is when God's people humbly and joyfully gather to declare what he has done to deliver them. Join us this Lord's Day to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving!

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come (#708)
We Plough the Fields and Scatter (#704)
Psalm 95
We Gather Together (#709)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Isaiah 12
New Testament: Romans 15:8-13

A Sacrifice of Praise - Hebrews 13:15

Please remain with us to offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Psa 50:14) immediately after the conclusion of our service. Tell us what God has done for your soul!

Following our time of giving thanks, we will all celebrate together with a thanksgiving feast!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Helping Out the Fountain

...whatever right worship is paid to God profits not Him, but man. For no man would say he did a benefit to a fountain by drinking, or to the light by seeing.

Augustine, The City of God, 10.5 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Undiminished Christianity and Unfailing Love

If you have not done so already, I encourage you to read David de Bruyn's series of articles on conservative Christian churches. His conclusion points us to what is always at the heart of a lively and biblical conservatism - Spiritual love.

Pastor de Bruyn begins:

Conservative Christian churches are not eccentric. They believe they are merely consistent in their understanding and application of Christianity. They believe that the Christianity they have received must be passed  on without diminution. Where they differ from many other Christians is that they believe there is more to Christianity than the gospel and a statement of faith. They believe there is such a thing as Christian worship, and they wish to pass this on. They believe Christianity is a life of love and worship, therefore they believe they must preserve and pass on the whole notion of ordinate affection. They believe Christianity must be applied to a continually changing world, therefore they wish to pass on a concern for meaning. They believe they are simply one link on the chain of Christian history, therefore they wish to honor what is truly Christian from the past.

Consequently, he pleads with his fellow pastors, "Love people, not populism." 

A love for people means supplying them with what they need most and what will help them most: an undiminished Christianity. This will mean teaching them things that they may initially reject, or misunderstand, or fail to grasp. It may mean enduring charges of elitism, Gnosticism, or authoritarianism. Yes, many of our people are populists, and expect us to be too. But as any parent knows, love is not merely meeting the expectations of your children all the time. Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

At HCBC, we long, by the grace of God, to love too much to be populist. 

Read the whole thing.

Eternal Life

What really is 'eternal life'? Why should I want it?

This Lord's Day we will see how Jesus puts on the spread so we can taste it. Join us.

Crown Him with Many Crowns (#52)
Praise Ye Jehovah (#4)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 16; Psalm 23
New Testament: Romans 10:1-13

What Is Eternal Life? - John 17:3

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Only Really Happy and Blessed Life

For of what use is existence to the creature if it cannot know its Maker? How could men be reasonable beings if they had no knowledge of the Word and Reason of the Father, through Whom they had received their being? They would be no better than the beasts, had they no knowledge save of earthly things; and why should God have made them at all, if He had not intended them to know Him? But, in fact, the good God has given them a share in His own Image, that is, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and has made even themselves after the same Image and Likeness. Why? Simply in order that through this gift of God-likeness in themselves they may be able to perceive the Image Absolute, that is the Word Himself, and through Him to apprehend the Father; which knowledge of their Maker is for men the only really happy and blessed life.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation, section 11

Church Planting and Renewal Conference

Back on October 20-21, I had the privilege of participating in the Mid-America Conference on Preaching hosted by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, with the theme of church planting and renewal. All of the recordings and notes from the conference are available here.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A Prayer to Know the Triune God

O Lord our God, we believe in you, Father and Son and Holy Spirit....Directing my attention toward this rule of faith as best I could, as far as you enabled me to, I have sought you and desired to see intellectually what I have believed, and I have argued much and toiled much. O Lord my God, my one hope, listen to me lest out of weariness I should stop wanting to seek you, but let me seek your face always, and with ardor. Do you yourself give me the strength to seek, having caused yourself to be found and having given me the hope of finding you more and more. Before you lies my strength and my weakness; preserve the one, heal the other. Before you lies my knowledge and my ignorance; where you have opened to me, receive me as I come in; where you have shut to me, open to me as I knock. Let me remember you, let me understand you, let me love you. Increase these things in me until you refashion me entirely.

Augustine, The Trinity, 15.51 (translated by Edmund Hill)

A good prayer to pray as we gather tomorrow to consider John 17:1-5.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Deep Grammar

Trinitarianism is the encompassing framework within which all Christian thought takes place and within which Christian confession finds its grounding presuppositions. It is the deep grammar of all the central Christian affirmations.

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 46

God Giving Glory to God

Jesus prayed that his Father would glorify him so that he could glorify the Father. Here is the source of our eternal life.

Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
Amazing Grace (#247)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 15; Psalm 25
New Testament: Romans 9:19-33

God Giving Glory to God - John 17:1-5

Thursday, November 03, 2011

We Say "Amen"

R. C. Sproul has some instructive comments on why we say "Amen" in our corporate worship. He begins,

And all the people said… “Amen!” The “amen corner” has had an important place in the life of the church throughout the ages. However, it is rare to find such a spot among Presbyterians. We are known as God’s frozen chosen for a reason. It has been said that the Methodists like to shout “Fire,” the Baptists like to shout “Water,” and the Presbyterians like to softly say, “Order, order.” Nevertheless, in spite of the idiosyncrasies of various ecclesiastical persuasions, the function of the word amen far transcends denominational usages in the modern era.

Read the whole thing.

Circle of Glory

Do you see the circle of glory revolving among those who are alike? The Son is glorified by the Spirit; the Father is glorified by the Son; again the Son has his glory from the father and the only-begotten thus becomes the glory of the Spirit. For with what shall the Father be glorified but with the true glory of the Son, and with what shall the Son be glorified but with the majesty of the Spirit?

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Spirit (cited by Anatolios, Retrieving Nicaea, 209)

Poetic Power

How can man adequately communicate about God and the depths of spiritual experience? One partial answer is to use poetry, such as the author of Job did.

Robert Alter (The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) is effusive in his praise of the poetic skill of the author of Job.

The Book of Job is, of course, a theological argument, but it is a theological argument conducted in poetry, and careful attention to the role that poetry plays in the argument may put what is said in a somewhat different light from the one in which it is generally viewed. The debate between Job and his three adversarial friends and then God's climactic speech to Job exhibit three purposefully deployed levels of poetry....(6)

The third--and ultimately decisive--level of poetry in the book is manifested when the Lord addresses Job out of the whirlwind....The poet, having given Job such vividly powerful language for the articulation of his outrage and his anguish, now fashions still greater poetry for God....God's thundering challenge to Job is not bullying. Rather, it rousingly introduces a comprehensive overview of the nature of reality that exposes the limits of Job's human perspective....The vehicle of that overview is an order of poetry created to match the grandeur--or perhaps the omniscience--of God. (9-10)

With God's speech as the climax of the book, the Job poet takes a risk that only a supreme artist confident in his genius could do. He had already created for Job the most extraordinarily powerful poetry to express Job's intolerable anguish and his anger against God. Now, when God finally speaks, the poet fashions for Him still greater poetry, which thus becomes the poetic manifestation of God's transcendent power and also an image-for-image response to the death-wish poem that frames Job's entire argument. (158)

Prose isn't enough. It takes poetry to communicate something of the grandeur and power of our God.