Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Think Before You Sing ~ Part II

In Part I while thinking about worship lyrics and theology, we discussed  “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong – you can read Part I here.   I’m reminded of a song popularized years ago by Michael W. Smith, “Above All”. I recall Contemporary Christian artist and now pastor, Steve Camp, commenting about the poor theology in the song, which contained the chorus:

Revelation 7:9-10

Crucified
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all

The song does affirm the substitutionary atonement of Christ. But it tells us that when Christ was on the cross, he thought of us (man) above all. Is that correct? No, Jesus went to the cross out of obedience to his Father, pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  The Son entered into a sacred agreement (the covenant of redemption) with the Father in eternity past. He submitted Himself to the obligations of that covenantal agreement. An obligation was likewise assumed by the Father — to give His Son a reward for doing the work of redemption.  Christ became the heir of His Father’s promises and we are joint heirs with Christ.

We have to be careful when singing contemporary and traditional worship songs containing bad theology. Even the great hymn by Charles Wesley “And Can It Be” has lines that are questionable, indicating that Christ “emptied himself of all but love”.  This is called kenotic Christology and says the Son of God set aside certain divine attributes when He became incarnate. Such is impossible, for then He would not be fully God and could not save us. John Calvin comments, “Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.”

What about Charles Wesley writing that God himself actually died on the cross?

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Verse 2:  ’Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?  

Here’s a good article that addresses this error:  http://www.ligonier.org/blog/it-accurate-say-god-died-cross/

OK, can I just add an addendum…there’s bad theology in lyrics, and then there’s just bad lyrics.  Take for example “Knowing You” by Graham Kendrick:

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best

You’re the best?  Really?  Doesn’t it sound like a beer commercial?  Our worship leader changed those words to “you’re my rest” which is a lot better.

So, yes, the theology in our hymns does matter. Words Matter.  Fortunately, I’ve not had to worry about that at the church that I attend. One faithful servant has picked out the music to correspond with the text being preached for many years now.   She chooses the best of the old and the best of the new, and often chooses songs written by Keith Getty, who desires to revive congregational singing.  Check out his new book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church.

I’d like to encourage all of us (myself included) to learn to sing out of the hymnbook that God has already provided for us.  No, not the Trinity Hymnal.  The Book of Psalms!!  You can’t go wrong with these lyrics.  Crown and Covenant has put out Singable Psalms in pocket size.  You can go to their website, crownandcovenant.com and also psalter.org and find companion resources such as a familiar hymn tune list & library, harmony helps, text search tool, phone apps and recordings.

So in Part III we’ll discuss the question… What is the purpose of worship?

Let me hear your answers!

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Think Before You Sing

Revelation 7:9-10

Back in May, while in Atlanta for business, we visited a large church in our denomination. One of the songs that was sung during the worship service was new to me. I later found out it was “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong.   The song is now being sung in worship services around the world, has become a best-selling song on the iTunes charts, and recently received Dove Award nominations for song of the year and worship song of the year (Dove Awards are the Christian music industry equivalent of the Grammy Awards). It is a song that is memorable musically, and allows Christians to focus on the name of the Lord, but does it contain some questionable theology? And does the theology of the worship songs we sing matter, or are they just intended to impact our emotions?
After the worship service, both my wife and I commented on lyrics from the song that hit both of us the wrong way. Those lyrics from the second verse were:

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down   

My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now . . .
 

These lyrics seem to infer that Jesus (and by implication the Father and Holy Spirit), was somehow lonely and incomplete without mankind. Jesus didn’t want heaven without man so He brought heaven down? But that is not the case at all of course. The Trinity has been in perfect fellowship, love and unity since before the beginning of time.   And the only time heaven will be brought down is when the new heaven and the new earth is revealed (Revelation 21).
Two pastors and theologians that I greatly admire also share concerns about the song. For example, John MacArthur states “The writer of “What a Beautiful Name” would have us believe that the reason for Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was because He “didn’t want heaven without us.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s not remotely biblical. In fact, it’s doctrinal malpractice by people who should know better.”
And John Piper, in responding to a concerned listener on his “Ask Pastor John” podcast, states “It fits too easily into a theology of a God who created because he was lonely, and then saved people for the same reason. He just can’t be happy without us.”
Jesus taught the most basic principle for worship—“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Zeal of the heart is not sufficient to make our praise pleasing in God’s sight. Praise from the heart is not enough to please the Lord if we are not worshiping the true God, and so we must prize truth alongside ardor when we praise our Creator.   We must emphasize both heartfelt praise of our Creator and worship that is structured according to His Word.”  (From Glorifying God in Worship – Ligonier Ministries)  We should thoughtfully participate in worship every Sunday, and be aware of the words that we are singing to God.

What other hymns or worship songs would you call out that have questionable theology?   I’ll have a few more for you in Part II of “Think Before You Sing”.  And while you’re waiting for those, mull over this question for me: What is the purpose of worship?  Stay tuned for Part III !!!


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My Review of ALL SAINTS

All Saints, rated PG
***

All Saints is one of the best faith-based films I’ve seen. Based on a true story, it is an inspirational film that is well-directed, written and acted.
The film is directed by Steve Gomer and written by Steve Armour. It tells the story of the All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, located near Nashville. As a bonus, the movie is filmed at the actual All Saints Church and includes several actual church members portraying themselves.
Golden Globe nominee John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City) turns in a strong performance as the likeable Michael Spurlock. He is a former paper salesman, who is a newly ordained pastor. His first assignment is to shut down All Saints Church, which now has just a few members and a large mortgage. The contents and land will bring a lot of money to the diocese when sold to a big box store.
Gregory Alan Williams stars as Pastor Spurlock’s kind but firm supervisor Bishop Eldon Thompson. He tells him to just do his job of closing down the church and he and his family – wife Aimee (Cara Buono, Stranger Things) and son Atticus (Myles Moore) – can move on to their next assignment in a few months.
Pastor Spurlock is not exactly greeted with open arms by the few remaining church members, particularly cranky Vietnam war veteran Forrest (Barry Corbin, Northern Exposure), who has recently lost his wife. They know why he is there, the inevitable closing down and sale of their church.  In the meantime, Aimee decides to start a choir at the church.
A week before it is to be demolished, several Karen State refugees from war-torn Myanmar (formerly Burma) arrive at the church. Led by Ye Win (Nelson Lee), one of the few who speaks English, the refugees are Anglican believers and farmers.  Pastor Spurlock’s heart goes out to them, but the church is broke and can’t really help them. But one night he believes that God speaks to him about letting the refugees farm the land around the church. The crops would feed the refugees, support them financially and pay the church mortgage. Spurlock will have to convince Bishop Thompson and the church council, who have been counting on the proceeds from the sale of the church property. But is this really God’s will, or the former salesman’s? And if they were to go for it, just how will they do it? The church is strapped financially, and doesn’t have any equipment to plant, plow and water the fields.
John Corbett is excellent in the role of Pastor Spurlock. It was refreshing that he was not portrayed as the perfect man or pastor.  He has good chemistry with fellow Northern Exposure cast member Barry Corbin and Nelson Lee, the self-sacrificing leader of the refugees.
This is the rare faith-based film that is well-made – directing, writing and acting –  that it is based on a true story makes it all the better. It is a story of self-sacrifice, building community and loving your neighbor.  Highly recommended!


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Revival – Third Day (Deluxe Edition)
****

As Third Day looked to celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band, they fulfilled a long-time plan to record a project at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The band (lead vocalist Mac Powell, guitarist Mark Lee and drummer David Carr), recorded with members of their touring band (keyboardist Scotty Wilbanks, mandolin/banjo/guitarist Trevor Morgan and bassist Tim Gibson). For this “back to their roots” album, the band reunited with producer Monroe Jones, who had worked with Third Day on six previous albums. Jones invited percussionist Ken Lewis to join the sessions and recruited Vance Powell to engineer the album.
The album has an almost “live” feel to it. The songs are simple lyrically, with about half of the songs being written before the band went into the studio and the other half just ideas that principal songwriter Mac Powell had.
On this album, Third Day brings it all together. Mac Powell has one of the best voices in music. Here the musical backing is worthy of his strong baritone, with strong guitars, drums, Hammond organ, horns, backing vocals, and crystal-clear production. Throw in some harmonica, tambourine, finger snaps and hand claps and this is truly a gem. It’s a multi-genre album – combining rock, southern rock, blues, soul, worship and gospel. I loved it from start to finish, and it’s my top album of the year thus far.
Here are a few brief comments on each song:

Revival – This was the first single released from the album and it is instantly likeable. It features a great vocal from Powell, plus piano, horns and backing vocals. It’s just a great overall song. Key lyric: God is gonna move and there ain’t no doubt.   

Gonna Be There With Me – This joyful song finds Powell singing over piano, guitar, backing vocals, steel guitar and horns. It features brief piano and guitar solos.  Key lyric: Lord, it’s always good to know that You’re gonna be there with me.  Continue reading


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MY REVIEW OF The Glass Castle 

The Glass Castle, rated PG-13
*** 

The Glass Castle is a well-acted film based on a popular book that tells the story of a daughter’s life-long relationship with her troubled father.
This film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), who also writes the screenplay with Andrew Lanham, and is based on Jeannette Walls’ best-selling 2005 book The Glass Castle: A Memoir. Told from Jeannette’s perspective, this is the true story about her family on the run from the government and bill collectors, and often hiding in small towns and living in poverty.  The book has had a profound impact on readers, with in excess of 6,000 user reviews on Amazon, and as I write this, it is the sixth best-selling book on the Amazon Non-Fiction chart. I recently heard of someone who re-read the book twice in one day before seeing the film.  As I went into the movie, I wondered why a book and film about family dysfunction had resonated so much with people.
The film stars Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) as the adult Jeannette Walls.  Younger versions of Jeannette are portrayed by Chandler Head and Ella Anderson. Jeannette’s siblings are portrayed by Lori (Sara Snook), Brian (Josh Caras) and Maureen (Bridgette Lundy-Paine). Two-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson powerfully portrays Jeannette’s alcoholic father Rex, and two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts stars as Jeannette’s mother Rose Mary. The film’s title refers to the dream house that Rex was always promising to build for his family, with hopes for a better life.   
The film is told from Jeannette’s perspective, and focuses on her relationship with her father. As the film begins, we see her as a successful New York gossip columnist who is engaged to David (Max Greenfield), a successful financial advisor. The film moves back and forth between her childhood memories of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and her life in New York in 1989. We see her shame and resentment for how she was raised. Much of the blame is given to her father, but her mother was no innocent party to the dysfunction.    Everyone in the film seems to be wounded and broken.
Rex has strong opinions on racism, hypocrisy, capitalism, etc. We see how his alcoholism hurts his children. Rose Mary is a free-spirit, who is consumed with her painting. Rex and Rose Mary care deeply about independence and freedom, and are not very good parents, though in their own way they do love their children. Some pleasant times are depicted. However, they don’t provide the children a formal education, at times the children go days without food, and perhaps their biggest sin is exposing their children to Rex’s mother, their horrid grandmother Erma, played Robin Bartlett.
Harrelson delivers a powerful performance as Rex. He is depicted at times as brilliant, and other times as delusional, deceptive and mean, breaking his promises to his children, in particular Jeannette. He is always searching for the demon out there, but too late realizes that the demon is actually within himself.  Larson is outstanding as the older Jeannette, who as an adult is trying to distance herself from her parents and her upbringing, making a new life in New York City.  Anderson delivers a powerful performance as the young Jeannette, who loves her father, but is disappointed when he can’t overcome his alcoholism and the devastating impact it has on their family.
This is a well-acted film, but not an easy one to watch. If you are looking for a “feel good” film, this is not the one for you. Themes in the film include love, family dysfunction, sexual and other forms of abuse, alcoholism and broken promises. The film includes some violence, adult language, some swear words, abuses of God’s name, and sexuality, though nothing explicit is shown. The film may resonate with those who have also experienced dysfunctional family relationships, in particular women with their fathers, and is a story of children able to “rise above their raising”.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones by Steven J. Lawson. Reformation Trust Publishing. 154 pages. 2016.   
****

In the latest edition of the A Long Line of Godly Men Profile series, the author, also the editor of the series and a passionate preacher himself, states that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was perhaps most responsible for leading a return to expository preaching in the 20th century, and was one of the greatest preachers of any century. He preached at Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years, where 2,000 would gather each Lord’s Day, to hear his more than 4,000 sermons delivered during his time there. Those sermons, both in audio and written formats, continue to have great impact today, more than 36 years after his death.
The author looks at the life and preaching of Lloyd-Jones, known as “the Doctor”, a respected physician turned preacher. In a brief biographical sketch (see Iain Murray’s biographical works for a complete look at the Doctor’s life), the author tells us that Lloyd-Jones was born in 1899. He became a distinguished young physician with a promising career before he was born again at age 25. He then changed careers, and began his new calling as a Calvinist Methodist pastor in South Wales. Remembering how he had believed himself to be a Christian when he was not, he would preach as an evangelist. He preached with logic on fire, never telling jokes or stories in his sermons.  He refused to use church growth techniques.
Lloyd-Jones had great influence outside of England. His preaching at Westminster Seminary led to the still influential book Preaching and Preachers.  He founded the Banner of Truth Trust, which still publishes excellent books today. Lloyd-Jones had a passion for revival. He retired from Westminster in 1968 when diagnosed with colon cancer. After that, he edited his sermons into book form and spoke more widely. Continue reading


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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

  • Congratulations to Kurt Warner. Kurt Warner, who was my favorite NFL Player, was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame on August 5. Watch highlights from his induction speech.
  • Vatican Condemns U.S. Catholic Conservatives.Gene Veith writes “An official Vatican publication has condemned Catholic conservatives in America for participating with evangelicals in an “ecumenism of hate.”
  • Are Evangelicals Becoming More Open to Gay Marriage?Denny Burk writes “What we are witnessing in the evangelical movement right now is a winnowing—a parting of ways. It rightly grieves us because no one relishes division or departures from God’s truth. But it is all important that we see what this means. This division is real and necessary for anyone turning away from what the scriptures teach on marriage and sexuality. And all sides would do well not to obscure just how high the stakes really are.”
  • Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s CEO. David Brooks writes “There are many actors in the whole Google/diversity drama, but I’d say the one who’s behaved the worst is CEO, Sundar Pichai.”

Courtesy of World Magazine

 

  • How Do I Overcome My Fear of Evangelism?Watch this three-minute “Honest Answers” video from Timothy K. Beougher. He states “We have to confront that our fear of rejection is really loving the approval of men more than the approval of God.”
  • I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones. Kevin DeYoung writes “I don’t expect those who are strangers to the light to be bothered by the darkness. But for conservative Christians who care about marriage and immorality and decency in so many other areas, it is baffling that Game of Thrones gets a free pass.”
  • Managing Technology. Over half of children think that their parents check their phone too often, with a quarter of parents agreeing they want to look at their devices less. Yet it’s difficult to pry ourselves away from technology, so social media is in large part making us less social. In this eighteen-minute video, Andy Crouch reflects on these issues in his new book, and will help us think through utilizing tech in a way that contributes to relationships.
  • A Generation Passionate for God’s Holiness. In this 2003 message from Passion One Day, John Piper states “Could it be that the 200,000 that I so ache for, long for, pray for, in this generation might rise up for Jesus if their hearts were impassioned by a glimpse of the holiness of God?” Watch the 32-minute message or read the transcript.
  • Your Gifts Are Not for You. In eight-minute video, Trillia Newbell, Blair Linne, and Rosaria Butterfield discuss what you should do if your church doesn’t appreciate your gifts.
  • Humility and Greatness are the Same Thing. Scott Sauls writes “For Henri Nouwen and for us all, greatness is not found in being well liked and respected by others, not in striving to reverse the negative verdicts, not in making a name for ourselves. Instead, greatness is found as we become more boastful about Jesus and more shy about ourselves…and in a life increasingly poured out for Jesus and others.”

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