Trueman on “Tragic Worship”

The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.

 

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power.

Read on at First Things

The Theology of Hobbits

There are relatively few passages in the Lord of the Rings like this with clear theological import. I thought this one was worth noting:

“Come on now! Longbottom Leaf it is. Fill up while I run and see about some food. And then let’s be easy for a bit. Dear me! We Tooks and Brandybucks, we can’t live long on the heights.”

“No,” said Merry. “I can’t. Not yet, at any rate. But at least, Pippin, we can now see them, and honor them. It is best to love first what you are fitted to love, I suppose: you must start somewhere and have some roots, and the soil of the shire is deep. Still there are things deeper and higher; and not a gaffer could tend his garden in what he calls peace but for them, whether he knows about them or not. I am glad that I know about them, a little. But I don’t know why I am talking like this. Where is that leaf? And get my pipe out of my pack, if it isn’t broken.”

What’s interesting here is the idea, common both to Lewis and Tolkien, that worship begins with seeing the familiar in a different light, as gift. What hobbits know is Longbottom Leaf. What they haven’t known is Aragorn, the Gandalf, and the affairs of elves, men, and wizards. To them, these powers are mysterious. Yet, these higher things are precisely the cause of the hobbits little joys and little peace. And Merry has begun to know about them, a little. Can one love God through Longbottom Leaf? I suppose you must start somewhere.

Should We Let Little Jane Do Special Music?

Our church doesn’t have special music. At least not yet. Tim Keller made an interesting point in a recent podcast I listened to. He said something to this effect: you wouldn’t put someone who wasn’t gifted to preach up in the pulpit, why put someone who is not gifted musically on stage? He also made the observation that the lower the skill level of the musician/artist the more narrow the impact their music/art will have. If we all know little Jane we’re more apt to be touched by her terrible solo. While if we don’t know her, we’ll wonder why she’s singing. Same goes for refrigerator art I suppose… He also added that he thinks perhaps professionalism (putting on a show) and colloquialism (letting Jane do the worship) are both extremes to be avoided. His church strives for ‘excellence’ (without using that term) without hiring-out professional musicians who would be performing rather than expressing worship.

Interesting thoughts at least…

Gregg Strawbridge on Music

This is perhaps the best article I’ve ever read responding to the arguments against contemporary ‘Christian’ music. Strawbridge is very balanced and biblical but ruthless with bad argumentation. A version of this paper was presented at ETS.

Music in the Bible and Music on the Radio

Pray for Love

The secret of the early Christians, the early Protestants, Puritans, and Methodists was that they were taught about the love of Christ, and they became filled with a knowledge of it. Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart you need not train him to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the motive; everything is already there. It is a plain lie to suggest that people who regard this knowledge of the love of Christ as the supreme thing are useless, unhealthy mystics. The servants of God who have most adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of all, and they have spent hours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century. God forbid that we should ever make of activity an end in itself. Let us realize that the motive must come first, and that the motive must ever be the love of Christ.

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 253: cited in Love or Die by Alexander Strauch, pg. 35

I bow my knees before the Father…that…he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, … that you…may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth (of Christ’s love), and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. (Eph. 3:14-19)

Woship: What’s the Issue?

Perhaps my favorite part of a football game is when a defender who is totally fooled by a quarterback will come crashing through the line of scrimmage to tackle the running back only to find out he never had the ball. The quarterback had it all along. The defender has put an incredible amount of effort into his goal only to realize he totally missed the point. Those who would pour forth incredible amounts of effort into arguments over musical styles in the worship wars are much like this defender, they miss the point.

The Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 22 which was the greatest commandment of the law. He responded by quoting The Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus’s response to this is significant for two reasons: 1) I think he was making a statement about the Pharisees and 2) I think he was making a statement about the nature of faith, the true core of the Deuteronomic law.

First, Jesus was making a statement about the heart condition of the Pharisees. When one goes through the New Testament record of Jesus’s interaction with the Pharisees, the volume and tone of his harsh words against them are overwhelming. They were the religious crowd of the day. And they would have expected Jesus to be pleased with them. Many of them had large portions (if not all) of the first five books of the Bible memorized. Doctrinally, they would be the “supernaturalists”, the ones who believed in the resurrection and angels. As for practicing what they preached, they kept the law so exactly that they even tithed on their spice rack. Yet, it is clear from Mark 7 what Jesus thought of their ‘religion’: “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;’ ‘ ” Jesus was saying that ‘keeping of the law’ was more than simply doing what it said, or believing what it wanted them to believe. He summarizes toward the end of Mark 7:

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The condition of their hearts was of supreme importance to Christ, that is, what they loved. The Pharisees did many good deeds, but they had little love for God. They may have quoted the Shema twice a day, but they did not heed its words. They loved the recognition of men, but they loved God very little. The Pharisees missed the point.

Second, I think Jesus was making a statement about the nature of Biblical faith. Paul makes a very interesting statement in Romans 10 where he quotes Moses to be speaking of a righteousness that is based on faith. There are debates surrounding the full extent of what Paul was saying with the quote, but the point seems clear, Paul thought Moses was talking about a righteousness by faith. Throughout Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-6, 10:12, 11:13, 30:6 for example) the heart of the matter from Moses is that the nation would “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). My point is that The Shema (Deut 6:4) is not only the center of all the Old Testament law, but it is also at the center of what Jesus meant when he said “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” When Moses said love, he was saying faith (Romans 10:6). When we say faith, we should be thinking love. It is at the center of what it means to be a Christian. And the worship wars miss the point because they center their discussion on style and form rather than on what God is seeking, true worshipers (John 4:24), those who love him with all their heart, soul, and might. The point is, are you a worshipper? Do you love him, or merely act like you do?