Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Trichotomous Man or Dichotomous Man?

Now here's a subject of interest for all you theo-geeks: are we a three-part being (body, soul, spirit); or a two-part (soul and spirit used interchangeably to describe the eternal, intangible part of man)?

I was only vaguely aware that there are conflicting views on this philosophical puzzle until earlier this month. While I have been taught that the soul is made up of the mind, will and emotions (while the spirit is the core of one's being, which is enlivened upon regeneration), I confess that I have never given it much thought - until I began studying the theology of biblical counseling. (I was accepted into the Institute for Nouthetic Studies yesterday, by the way.) In preparation for the coursework, I am currently reading John Macarthur and Wayne Mack's "Counseling" and Jay Adams' "The Christian Counselor's Handbook" - neithor one of which are light reading. As it happens, both address the two-part vs. three-part understanding of man in early chapters.

Funky chart - but is it biblical??

In my own book, I had taken the trichotomous position; even maintaining that because one's spirit is regenerated at conversion, if the soul and the spirit were one and the same, the Christian would never again show a proclivity to sin after the new birth. Going back and re-examining that stance in light of Scripture (especially Paul's discussion of the ongoing conflict between the "old man" and the "new man" in Romans,) it doesn't hold up.

Jay Adams traces the trichotomous view of man to Greek philosophy and maintains that it is not biblical . Furthermore, its reemergence in contemporary thought is partly due to Freud's theory of the ego, the super-ego and the id. Uh-oh. He writes:
"Trichotomy is not supported by a superficial appeal to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, where Paul is not distinguishing the parts of man, but simply heaping word upon word to emphasize entirety. Jesus Christ did the same thing when He spoke of loving God with all of one's "heart, soul, mind and strength" (Mark 12:30). The Scriptures use the term soul (pseuche) and spirit (pneuma) interchangeably. Cf. Luke 1:46, 47, where the two are used in parallelism."

John Street goes into an even more detailed explanation:

" The typical bifurcation between the soul and the spirit made by some Christian psychologists cannot be biblically sustained. One Christian psychiatrist offered this explanation: "The soul is the psychological aspect of man, whereas the spirit is spiritual...The mind alone lies in the psychological aspect of man and not the spiritual." Such an artificial distinctions grows from reading psychological meaning into biblical terms. Both "soul" and "spirit" speak of the same intangible aspect of the inner man, the part of man that only God sees. A concordance study of psyche shows that when Scripture uses the term "soul" in relation to man, it refers to that aspect of the innner man in connection with his body. When it uses the term "spirit", it is that aspect of the inner man out of connection with his body. No distinction exists in Scripture between the psychologically oriented and the spiritually oriented man."

Not to be outdone, Ken L. Sarles offers a comprehensive look at the usage of spirit/soul both in Hebrew and Greek (whenever a theologian starts a sentence with "If we go back to the original Greek...", I'm inclined to say, "You win! I'll take your word for it!") From "How to Counsel Biblically":
"The body represents everything material, while the soul represents everything immaterial. In this case, the terms soul and spirit are understood as viewing the immaterial aspect of human nature from different vantage points. That is, the numerical essence of soul and spirit is one. Evidence for dichotomy can be found in Scripture's interchangeable usage of the terms soul (nephesh in the Old Testament and psyche in the New Testament) and spirit (ruah in the Old Testament and pneuma in the New Testament)....In evaluating dichotomy, the strongest defense is the argument from creation. Genesis 2:7 records that man became a living soul. The term is inclusive of everything that has a living, breathing being. It would be more accurate then, to say that man has a spirit, but is a soul. Furthermore, the interchangibility of the terms argues for dichotomy."

There are very well-thought-out defenses of the trichotomous position, too, which seem to make a strong case from Scripture (including this one). However, as interesting as examning the question may be, I personally do not think that it matters too much whether our soul is distinct from our spirit or they are "two sides of the same coin". In fact, I was rather surprised to realize that this is a poiunt of heated dissention among theologians - somewhat on par with the pre-millenial/post-millenial debate! I want to have this spiritual reality straight in my mind for the sake of doctrinal accuracy in my book, but if it were such a crucial matter I'm sure Paul or the Lord Jesus Himself would have spelled it out a bit more precisely.

Taking the Bible alone, the main point is this: if you have been re-born, you are a new creation in Christ. The old has gone; the new has come. You are no longer a slave to sin. Your inner man has changed - no matter how you wish to call it. Your spirit thirsts for God and He Who began a good work in you will carry it on to the day of completion. I don't see any indication of a trichotomous man, but nor do I think it's any big woop - certainly not one worth debating much.

If you go back and read the words in red, (not to mention the Epistles), you don't see much hair-splitting philosophical debate - even with the Greek dudes in John 12:19-21 who were eager to talk to Jesus. What we DO see is a lot of common-sense, get-out-there-and-do-it commands, coupled with a call to constant devotion and commitment to inner holiness. This should always be our main concern, first and foremost.

But you've got to admit, the nit-picking theological questions can be great fun to study out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Reformed Evanjellybean Reconsiders Lent

Just had this article published over at Ezine:

As I type these words, the liturgical season of Lent is two days away. Traditionally, this 40-day prelude to Easter Sunday served as a period of intense prayer and fasting for converts to the Christian faith. Over the centuries, both the Byzantine and Roman Churches formalized liturgical calendars, adding ecclesiastical rules and traditions - including mandatory fasting, ritualized worship, and alms-giving.

It should be noted, however, that gloominess and deprivation has never been the true focus of Lent - repentance, growing in holiness, and an appreciation of grace have always been central themes. An Orthodox Vespers hymn proclaims, "Let us begin the Lenten time with delight... let us fast from passions as we fast from food, taking pleasure in the good words of the Spirit...now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the time of repentance."

The Romans 14 Argument

Of course, the Reformed or Baptist rebuttal to such a practice is that, biblically, we are called to live that way all the time. Throughout the entire Bible, we are exhorted to live lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1), be alert and self-controlled (1 Thessalonians 5:6), and to walk in continual repentance ("keep short accounts with God', as my pastor would say). We are to practice self-control and the other fruits of the Spirit all year long, and not just for the six weeks between Mardi Gras and Easter. In no other church will you find the emphasis placed on daily Scripture reading and private devotional prayer (the ubiquitous "quiet time") that we Evangelicals do. In fact, many non-liturgical churches do not hold Good Friday services - the meaning of the Cross is a daily reality in the life of the believer. Furthermore, is not every day considered alike (Romans 14:5)? Therefore, the spirit behind Lent (repentance; reflection on the Cross; spiritual discipline) is one that we should continually live out.

In addition, doesn't mandating spiritual practices negate the whole purpose behind them? Isn't this what the Pharisees were doing? If you force someone to fast or abstain from meat by telling them they are in sin if they "break the rules", haven't you just put them under another type of bondage? Besides, we are free of all dietary restrictions under the New Covenant. And, we Protestants might argue, the personal repentance and corporate solemnity is something we practice each time we observe the Lord's Supper, which is often reduced to an empty ritual in more liturgical settings. We don't need to set just 40 days per year aside in order to "act holy".

In theory, of course, this is true. Notwithstanding these arguments, there is an uncomfortable truth besetting much of modern American Evangelicalism: what used to be known as "discipline" is now derisively termed "legalism".

Christian Liberty is Not a License to Sin, so....

Paul Washer, among others, has discussed our general spiritual laziness at length. As the demographic group that legitimized the wearing of flip-flops to church, we Evangelicals collectively miss the "reverence" mark. In general, so much emphasis has been put on grace over the past two generations that little is spoken about sanctification in the modern Church. In the early 20th century, Deitrich Bonhoffer coined the term "cheap grace" to describe the apathetic lack of conviction among the "how-much-can-I-get-away-with-and-still-get-into-heaven" crowd. Many of us truly desire to live for Christ, and while we may be quite sweet, there's no denying that we've gotten soft. Hence the term "Evan-jellybean" - and no; I did not make that up.

To put it bluntly, we Evangelicals (even of the more Reformed variety) are not notoriously good at self-discipline, perhaps because we've had verses like Romans 14:17, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Galatians 5:1a drummed into us ever since we first walked the aisle in an alter call. But we tend to downplay the second half of verses like the one just cited: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1; emphasis mine). Repeatedly, Paul states that the believer is not to be "mastered" by anything, but is to live a life of self-control. This is a theme that comes up again and again when counseling Christians struggling with addictions.

Produce Fruit in Keeping With Repentance - Matt. 3:8 (...and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit)

So what does this have to do with Lent? For starters, we humans are creatures of habit. Developing, or "putting on" God-honoring practices is something that we develop by repetitive, deliberate practice (Ephesians 4:22). It makes sense to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ (which presupposes obedience to Him) both individually and corporately with the rest of the Body (Hebrews 10:24-25). I assume that Lenten observances took hold partly because, in the early European Church, most Christians were illiterate and therefore small group Bible studies were out of the question. Believers who had limited access to the logos, the Word of God, did not have much to go on in terms of 'personal conviction' (another of our favorite terms). Necessity probably dictated a standardized, corporate means of practicing the spiritual disciplines. (Subsistence agriculture may have also played a practical role). While the ordinance of Lent is not biblical, the principle certainly is.

Making it Personal....

Okay, I have the 5 Solas down and I dig Spurgeon. So why would a dyed-in-the-wool, Calvinist-leaning Baptist like myself be considering the potential spiritual benefits of Lent this year? To answer that question, let me quote the (very Reformed) Jerry Bridges in "Respectable Sins":

"What is self-control? It is a governance or prudent control of one's desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful.....Biblical self-control is not a product of one's own natural will-power. Biblical self-control...covers every area of life and requires an unceasing conflict with the passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls (see 1 Peter 2:11). This self-control is dependent on the influence and enablement of the Holy Spirit. It requires continual exposure of our minds to the words of God and continual prayer for the Holy Spirit to give us both the desire and power to exercise self-control."

Discipline in Time Management

Bridges touches above on two disciplines that are necessary to cultivate self-control: prayer and Bible reading. These are usually, to some degree, disciplines lacking in the Christian's life (including mine). Developing a commitment to one's devotional life obviously need not happen during Lent. However, reflection and prayer is the whole purpose behind the tradition, so the discipline of time management seems a logical area to surrender to God during this period. If you have gotten lax in your prayer life, you will regress spiritually. There are only two possible directions in the Christian life: forward, or backward. Especially if you are involved in ministry, all the activity has to flow out of your private life before the Throne.

Being undisciplined with my time has a direct impact on my spiritual life. When I am not at work or involved in the immediate needs of childcare, I am much more likely to write, read Christian blogs, listen to podcasts or even just hang out on Facebook than I am to read the Bible these days. I'm not proud of that, but it's true. Add ministry and an upcoming certificate course in biblical counseling into the mix, and without a dynamic prayer life I will be dead in the water (not to mention wide open for spiritual attack). Squeezing intermittent prayer in around frenzied activity will leave anyone defeated and sucked dry. If there's a season tailor-made for repentance and discipline, why not take advantage of it? I am planning to get back into a daily schedule of study, prayer, and limit "screen sucking" time in favor of more productive endeavors - such as keeping the house clean!

Mastering our Appetites

Elsewhere in the chapter, Bridges shows how a lack of discipline in one area of life weakens resolve in others (he uses the example of constantly indulging his craving for ice cream), and so ultimately all areas in which we have a weakness are spiritual issues. He writes:

"I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on those who enjoy ice cream or soda pop, or even those who go to Starbucks every day for their favorite coffee drink. What I am addressing is our lack of self-control - a tendency to indulge our desires so that they control us, instead of our controlling those desires."

Years ago, I listened to a very articulate and godly Orthodox priest explain to his congregation one of the purposes of Lent in this area. Although I certainly would have some theological differences with him, he did make a good point: we modern people have become so accustomed to excess in all things, that gluttony has become the norm. He was not speaking exclusively about our eating habits, although that is certainly a big part of our "consumerist culture". If we think this over-indulgence doesn't affect our spiritual lives, we are kidding ourselves. Lent is a period where we can voluntarily strip away that excess, and cling to what is truly life-sustaining. The rigidity of the fast (a practice upheld in Scripture - see John Piper's "A Hunger for God" for a discussion of fasting), is symbolic of the believer's absolute dependence and yearning for God and His will.

I was reminded of that sermon yesterday, after a weekend of indulgence....a restaurant meal to celebrate a birthday, followed by pizza and cake at my daughter's "real" party; the requisite chocolate of Valentine's Day, capped off by copious leftovers from the church missions bake sale....while thousands starve in Haiti. Eating is, of course, morally neutral - but how much overeating is permissible before a lack of self-control becomes evident? As one who counsels eating disordered women (and a former bulimic myself), I realize this is a sensitive topic, and I wish to tread carefully. Jack Hughes states in his excellent 5-part series, "When Eating Becomes Sin":

"Nevertheless, because the Bible addresses eating, indulgence, self control, self discipline, gluttony, and other related sins, we need to be able to address this topic without fearing men."

Most of us, if we are honest, could use a bit of restraint in our eating habits - if only for the sake of becoming more self-controlled and disciplined people "not enslaved by all kinds of lusts and pleasures" (Titus 3:3). While self-denial for its own sake is not the purpose of Lent, Jesus' comments in Matthew 6 make it evident that fasting is a normative part of the Christian life. Lent just brings it into the collective consciousness, and what is a private discipline may be done corporately - or individually. The most important thing to remember about fasting, no matter how one chooses to fast, is that the heart attitude is what's most important. Fasting without praying is simply dieting. There is no inherent merit in forgoing food, and the purpose is never to see how long you can actually go without eating. Fasting means seeking a deeper repentance and stronger fellowship with your Savior that takes precedence over food or other activities (see John 4:34). It is not a mark of uber-spirituality.

The weeks before Resurrection Sunday can be whatever one makes of them - a journey of growth and reflection; increased adoration and appreciation of Christ's redeeming love; and a specific season to pray more regularly and practice the other spiritual disciplines. For some, it will inevitably mean a list of "do's and don'ts"; rule upon rule, an arbitrary month-plus of waiting until the Marshmallow Peeps come out in the stores and they can eat chocolate again without the slightest twinge of guilt. Observing Lent is not mandatory, but it's as good a time as any to get back to the basics in our walk with the Lord.

Personally, this Evanjellybean wants to be able to say with Paul, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,"(1 Corinthians 2:2), and to that end I intend to turn away from apathy and get back into the habit of pursuing God with a passion...as I did in my early years as a Christian. Nope, I won't morph into a vegan this month, and since I don't drink or watch TV, the cliché things to "give up" are no longer options. Instead, I plan to spend more time with God, and cultivate greater discipline in 1) how I spend my time (less Internet; more Bible study); 2) my eating habits (can a person really live without junk for 6 weeks? We're about to find out); and 3) a daily commitment to prayer - which is an incredible privilege, and not a burdensome chore. Of course, there is grace when we fail, and God's power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9); but we have the promise that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). What is the reward?

Friendship with Himself.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Also see Lent: Joy in the Midst of Sacrifice over at Sojourns with Jesus.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Please Bring Me More of These Readings!"

Well, that doesn't happen every day.

At least not to me, anyway.

This morning, I went to interpret for one of my regular patients in Boston - we'll call her "Mrs. P". I've written about her before; we had a conversation about the injustice of suffering last November, and how Christ suffered the greatest injustice of all when He bore our sin.

A couple of years ago, I mentioned in passing that I could not make it to one of her appointments. I was leading a women's Bible study on Romans at the time, which I explained to her when she asked what I was teaching - and she told me that she, also, read the Bible although it was difficult to understand. As I happened to have a few Bulgarian Gospel tracts I had translated for just such occasions, I gave her one and said that it should shed some light on the "big picture" of Scripture for her. She eagerly accepted it, and several times since then I've sensed that she was tryoing to get me to talk about God in a round-about way.

This is exactly what happened in November.

Granted, being an aging widow in a foreign country on a fixed income with a slew of chronic health problems, a language barrier, and a daughter with a failing marriage has given Mrs. P. a lot of woes. She doesn't complain, but the heaviness is particularly apparent around the holidays. She is unappreciated by the adult children and grandchildren she used to serve faithfully, and questioned whether God sees. If He does, why is He silent? Is He indifferent to her suffering, or is He punishing her for sme unknown transgression? No, I pointed out; God does not work that way and we have assurance from His Word that ultimately every wrong will be set right. In the meantime, He asks us to be faithful, and look to Christ as our example - the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) Who was innocent, yet bore our punishment. She agreed, and I gave her a Paul Washer sermon in Bulgarian, "The Meaning of the Cross", to take home and read.

Now, if you're familiar with Paul Washer's preaching, you know that he doesn't exactly mess around. He is hard-hitting with the truth, eschewing the deceptive seeker-sensitive nonsense that many have substituted for the Gospel. This (11-page) message was particularly direct and blunt, dealing with the full horror of sin and the cosmic wrath poured out on the Lamb of God. Washer does not shrink from describing hell for the unrepentant who rely on their own works (un)righteousness or directly oppose God.

Admittedly, after giving Mrs. P. the transcript, the possibility that I might have scared her off did cross my mind a time or two. Although she is a believer, she has never had any doctrinal instruction or sat under any teaching - as an adherent to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the only liturgy she is familiar with consists of incomprehensible chanting in Old Slavonic and ecclesiastical rituals. Does she believe in the Triune God and uphold the Nicene Creed? Absolutely. Did she have a saving faith? I honestly don't know, but I believe so - the Holy Spirit has been very much at work in her.

This morning, there was something different about her - it was the first time in years I have seen her that she didn't look depressed or downcast. Last week, she told me how relieved she was to have been approved for $100 per month in food stamps, but that would not account for the light in her eyes this morning. She told me, "That piece you gave me to read - it opened my eyes! It lifted my spirits so much; thank you! Do you have any more like these? I believe...I like to learn this!"

I just so happened to have a Bulgarian John Piper's "Don't Waste Your Life" in my bag, so I gladly gave it to her. I was, in a word, gob-smacked - and very much encouraged to be more bold in sharing the Gospel with my patients. If Paul Washer is lifting somebody's spirits, how much more evidence do we need that the Holy Spirit is at work here? Like Jonathan Edwards and John the Baptist before him, the unregenerate mind will be extremely offended by Washer's radical call to repentance. I told her I was glad she had gotten something out of the sermon and it had not offended her - to which she exclaimed, "How could it offend me? I'm asking you for this information! Please bring me more of these readings!"

Well, wow. Cool beans; it's been a good day. Now I need to find Paul Washer's address so I can write and tell him to keep contending for the faith -- no one knows how God may choose to use his or her work. Through a message he preached, the Gospel reached a lonely immigrant woman in Boston. None of us have any idea how God will use things we've done, said, or written for His glory.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Christ's Endurance of Verbal Abuse and Slander

"Jesus Answering Critics," Artist Unknown.

World Mission Collection (Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary)

The Gospel of John is a treatise on Christology. John emphasizes several essential doctrines of the Christian faith less obvious in the Synoptic Gospels: the deity of Christ; the pre-existence, the Word made incarnate. One additional feature prominent in John's Gospel that stands out to me is the patience and perseverance of our Lord under unrelenting verbal attacks and criticism.

While the reader needs to be extremely careful not to read his/her own agenda into any biblical text, one can easily read between the lines into the character of Christ and thus what He expects from His followers. Each time I read John, from the challenge to His authority issued in chapter 3 to the mocking of the Roman soldiers at the crucifixion, I am struck anew at how much unmitigated hatred and slander Jesus endured....all the while still extending the offer to His tormentors: "Come to Me."

Yesterday, while discussing the lingering effects of abuse with a counselee, I was able to pull together a few biblical insights we have on how to bear up under unjust suffering and slander. To answer the question of how a victim's heart is to respond, 1 Peter 2:13-4:19 is an excellent passage. The Bible is filled with additional exhortations on how a Christian is to respond to attacks either from an enemy or fellow believer, and it is unnecessary to enumerate them all here. What I wanted the woman to see, however, is how Jesus is able to empathize and have compassion on victims of all kinds of abuse - including verbal - because He continually took it on the chin during His earthly ministry.

"Jesus, Did You Hear What They Said About You?!?"

The next time you read through John, pay special attention to the reaction of the Jewish establishment and their cronies from chapter 5 (following the healing at the Bethesda pool) right up until the Triumphal Entry in chapter 12. Long before we get to Calvary, Jesus bore the hateful attacks, sneers, and unfounded criticism of the religious establishment. Literally no good deed was left unpunished, and Scripture records at least two other attempts on His life (by stoning; for alleged blasphemy). On the heels of one such attack, Jesus heals a blind beggar - unasked - on His way out of town. The man is subsequently excommunicated from the Synagogue for bearing witness to Christ, and Jesus then goes out of His way to find him.

Think on THAT the next time you're tempted to slide into self-pity!

Chapters 7 and 8 of John primarily compose one verbal barrage after another against the One Who came to save them. Each time I read the account, my jaw drops at the amount of hostility Jesus put up with....including a barely-veiled jibe implying that He was illegitimate (John 8:41b). And how does He respond? Righteously, by calling out the sin and hypocrisy of His critics - but also graciously, by calling them to repentance. Right up until Wednesday of Passion Week, two days before His humiliating execution, we see Jesus in the temple courts - preaching, persuading, imploring those who despised Him to come unto Him.

While we know that Christ was, and is, fully human as well as fully divine, I can't help but wonder if the rejection and attacks hurt His feelings in the same way we would experience emotional pain. The reason this gives me pause is that, usually, when our feelings are hurt, it is a personal slight - not God's honor and glory - that has been wounded. The only time we see Jesus getting angry in the Gospels is when His Father's honor has been compromised. The personal attacks seem to roll of His shoulders, and He is consistently willing, ready and able to overlook the offense and forgive. His continual call to repentance is just that - an invitation to lavish grace and undeserved forgiveness.

What does this have to do with nouthetic counseling? Almost every issue for which a person seeks godly counsel is a result of sin - either one's own, or the effects of another's sin upon the counselee. Many have (accurately) noted that the scars of emotional abuse go much deeper than those of physical abuse...long after the bruises are healed, hateful words and false accusations still ring in our ears. It is not helpful to pretend that this is not the case, but nor do attempts to re-write the past (inner healing; visualization) help the victim. Furthermore, seeing one's self as a "victim" can cause compounded sin - self-pity and sinful reactions. What I have found, along with many others, is that returning to the plain text of the Bible reveals a Savior Who truly knows what it is to suffer even this maddening type of abuse. His patient, principled and loving response (forgiveness; a desire for reconciliation) provides us, His disciples, with the only God-honoring response there is to abuse and slander.

Douglas Bookman writes, "...our besetting temptation is to glorify self: to live life as if we were the center of the universe, as if the enhancement of our reputation were a meritorious pursuit, and as if our contentment were the greatest good of the cosmos. That is why every believer must continually be confronted with the demand that God be honored as God." (Emphasis mine; "Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically", p. 56). Do you see the irony here? Jesus, Who was God in the flesh, did not seek to enhance His own reputation - although He was due ALL honor and glory alone. Yet we are preoccupied with seeking our own glory, and this is the underlying reason unmerited criticism hurts us so much. It all goes back to pride, a sin which (obviously) never marred Christ's character.

Jesus Himself warned us that we are to expect to be torn down:
"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me."(John 15:19-21)

While I am deeply sorry for the harassment and rejection Jesus endured, I am eternally grateful that He did. His response shows the incredible humility and meekness [def: power under control] embodied by our Gentle Shepherd, and knowing the human level on which He can relate increases my trust and love of Him. His assurance in John 10:13-15 that He cares about the sheep is woven throughout all 4 Gospels, and we can be sure that He cares, and understands, when we feel the sting of slander.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Great CD: Hymns Ancient and Modern

Well, now that my 15 minutes of fame are up (the feds picked them up today), I can get back to blogging and studying for the NANC exam. (Just until Thursday, when we have an assault and battery jury trial. Fun times.)

Amid the numerous genres and sub-genres of "Christian music" available today, (including hardcore and the oxymoronic "Christian emo"), my personal favorite style are the theologically-rich hymns of centuries past put to modern musical arrangements.

My taste in CCM has definitely evolved over time. I think the first album I bought as a Christian (now I'm dating myself) was Michael W. Smith's "Go West Young Man". Either that or "Eye 2 Eye". I remember he was sporting a mid-eighties George Michael hairdo at the time, even though it was already the early nineties. (Christians always seem to catch onto secular trends a bit late). I still like Smitty, but primarily for his heartfelt worship songs - hearing him sing "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" frankly doesn't do much for me. But he does have a tremendous passion for God and an amazing voice, so his "Worship" and "Worship Again" CDs are among the most played in my car.

This past year or so, I have been getting to like Chris Tomlin more and more - I first saw him on the "Amazing Grace" video trailer ("Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone"). The bridge Tomlin added to John Newton's anthem changes the tempo a bit, but lends itself well to congregational singing. My two other favorite songs performed by Tomlin are "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (Raise Up the Crown)", originally written by Edward Perronet in 1780, and his rendition of Isaac Watt's "Joy to the World", also from the 18th century.

This CD includes Tomlin's "All Hail the Power" and a number of other famous hymns performed by contemporary artists. An Amazon editorial review explains, "While the modern worship movement has revolutionized Christian music, lead worshippers realized that in their zeal to write cutting-edge church music they forgot the songs that were cutting that "edge" once upon a time." I couldn't agree more. The Passion artists who sing such classics as "All Creatures of Our God and King", "Praise to the Lord the Almighty" give all glory and honer to God, where it belongs, rather than sliding into the man-centric trap of many CCM praise songs.

And they do it to an upbeat tempo, which uses both acoustic and electrical guitars, rather than pipe organs. Come to think of it, our church's praise team does an excellent acoustic "Be Thou My Vision", which would sound nice on a CD like this. So many hymns; so few CDs!

Interestingly, "Hymns Ancient and Modern" also features an interpretation of "Hail Gladdening Light" (Phos Hilaron (Φῶς Ἱλαρόν), which is the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside the Bible (I believe it dates back to the second century, if not before that). One translation of the lyrics is as follows:

O Gladsome Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal Father, Heavenly, Holy, Blessed Jesus Christ! Now that we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening, we praise God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For meet it is at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise. O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world doth glorify Thee.
Now compare that poetry to the following:

We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river

We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river
We're gonna dance in the river

Everybody dance now

And yes; I'm aware Chris Tomlin authored those lyrics. I like him better when he's singing real hymns....just a matter of taste, I guess.

Anyway, if you enjoy contemporary praise and worship music, but just wish it had more of the theological depth and reverence of the older hymns, this is the CD you've been waiting for. It also has a calming, uplifting effect on the spirit when you are stuck in rush-hour traffic jams. Rock on.