Archive for September, 2008

Thanks again to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.


Sorry for 2 book review posts today, but I wanted to get part 1 of my review on this blog rather than referring you back to my old one.  I promise I’ll never do it again (yes, I am employing the universal promise-negation tactic of crossing my fingers).


I intended to use this part of my review of Waltke’s OT Theology to review his sections on Genesis, but realized how long it would end up being.  (Actually, I’m beginning to realize just how many reviews it will take to work through this book; a change of plans may be in order).  So, I’ll give some thoughts on chapters 7-11, which leads us up through the story of Noah.


His thoughts on the creation narrative were helpful, arguing that Genesis 1 is in fact history, but neither “straightforward history” nor science.  What is most important is what the biblical account teaches us about God as Creator.  “As the Creator of the cosmos, he [God] triumphed in the past, as Creator of history he triumphs in the present, and as Creator of the new heavens and new earth, when the creation theme peaks, he will be triumphant in the future” (p203).


I found his discussion of the “us” in Gen 1:26 to be fascinating.  Against the common Christian interpretation that “us” is referring to the Trinity, or even the less common “self-deliberative plural”, he takes it to refer to the “heavenly court”, that is, angels.  Two points from his argument revolve around the issue of the Hebrew word elohim, which is actually in the plural form.  He argues that in Genesis 3 the word is not used to refer to God, but rather heavenly or divine beings.  He notes that elohim is elsewhere used as “divine beings” rather than “God” (1 Sam 28:13).  Also (not to get to technical), “you will be like elohim, knowing good and evil” (3:5) uses a plural participle rather than a singular modifier (which is what’s used when elohim is referring to God rather than a plural group); the same wording occurs in 3:22.  There’s more to the argument, but suffice to say that I’m intrigued by his suggestion, granting that it may have the best support in context.  The big question I’d ask in response is whether it is said that the angels are also created in God’s image and is it fair to read between the lines and come up with a strong “heavenly court” concept. 


I appreciate that Waltke carried the story of the Garden into Genesis 4, where we see the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin.  Here we see that the situation is worsening as they leave the garden, yet this story “assures us that I AM accompanies Adam and Eve and their family outside the garden (“I AM looked with favor on Abel and his offering,” v. 4) and superintends the giving of the seed of the Serpent and of the woman (“God has granted me another child in place of Abel,” 4:25) (p269).


Waltke follows Warren Gage in noting the parallels between Adam and the creation story and Noah and the “new creation” story.  I never realized how many lexical similarities there are between the two stories; there are enough that it’s hard to argue against the intentionality of the parallels.


There are a couple relatively minor problems, as I see them, with these chapters.  I was a little disappointed not to have a fuller treatment of the theology in the creation story and the flood narrative as compared to the similar stories in ancient Near Eastern literature.  To be sure, he discusses these, but I feel like there’s so much more to mine in this area.  When you compare the non-biblical accounts with the biblical ones, you can grasp the picture of God that the original audience would have been taught in contrast to their pagan neighbors (this is part of the role of exegesis, after all).  On this, I’d recommend Victor Hamilton’s treatment in his Handbook on the Pentateuch. 


On pages 273-275, Waltke discusses the popular Christian position that Satan is a fallen angel.  I remain unconvinced of this (though I’m willing to be).  Surprisingly, while rejecting (correctly, in my opinion) the interpretation of Isaiah 14 that says the Babylonian ruler mentioned there is actually Satan, he argues that the “King of Tyre” in Ezekiel 28 does refer to Satan.  On the grounds of context and genre, I see no reason to read this chapter as anything but what it says it is: a prophecy against the King of Tyre.  After all, it occurs in the middle of a collection of prophecies against various nations and evil rulers (context).  And, it’s poetry- it uses metaphorical and lofty language to make a point (genre). 


In all, these chapters were helpful.  His exegetical treatments of the biblical writings are superb, even if space limitations leave you wanting more (of course, I could solve that problem by purchasing his Genesis Commentary.  Like a good biblical theologian, Waltke tries to draw out how biblical writers use these stories and develop them.  Subsequent reviews will deal with this more, for now it’ll have to suffice to say that I am finding this book a profitable read.

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This review originally appeared at my old blog on 7/24/08Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for the review copy of this book.

Bruce Waltke’s book, An Old Testament Theology is a massive undertaking, not just for the author, but also for the reader. Reading it is a commitment of time and energy, physical (at least when you’re sick like I am right now), mental and spiritual. But it’s a rewarding experience, as you feel like you understand the Old Testament, and God as revealed in the Old Testament, even better.

Because of its size and quality, I’ve opted to review and interact with this book over a longer period of time than the normal book review. I’ll actually skip most of what he has to say about methodology, not because it’s unimportant or boring (it is neither of those things), but quite frankly, something has to get cut.

Waltke has divided his book into “blocks” of OT literature: “Primary History”, dealing with the Pentateuch and Historical Narratives, and “Other Writings”, with the Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom Literature falling into this category. Oddly enough, he opts to leave Song of Songs out of his analysis in this book. This strikes me as a bit arbitrary, though I realize that it is not a theologically heavy book. But granting that, doesn’t it say something about who God is, even if indirectly?

For Waltke, the theological center of the OT is the “irruption (breaking-in) of the Kingship of God.” The continuing story of how God (Waltke uniquely refers to God as “I AM” throughout the book) brings His kingdom to earth is the story that drives the Old Testament, and continues right on into the New Testament (“All the previous irruptions of the kingdom of God were but a shadow of its appearing in Jesus Christ”, p145). “To put it another way, the Bible is about God bringing glory upon himself by restoring Paradise after humanity lost it through a loss of faith in God that led to rebellion against his rule” (p144).

I found it refreshing, though, that he doesn’t try to cram all theological statements from each book into this category. “To systematize, however, all the biblical materials to the procrustean bed of this message, would falsify their intention. The proposed center accommodates the whole, but the whole is not systematically structured according to it. A cross-section approach to develop that message through various stages in Israel’s history would not do justice to the rich biblical material” (p144). The idea is that the kingdom of God is the central theme of the OT, but the goal is to show the message of each book, even the parts that don’t fit under this theme perfectly.

Chapter 6, entitled “The Bible’s Center: An Overview”, is worth slowly reading and digesting. Honestly, it’d be great for anyone looking for a relatively short overview of the Old Testament teachings on the kingdom of God (it comprises pages 143-169 of the book). One of the strengths of this chapter is showing how narratives are linked by related concepts. For instance, in the history of Israel, we see how God creates a people, giving them the law, providing them with the land and a king to rule over them. However, Israel rebels, which causes God to punish their sin by forcing them into exile, yet leaves them with the hope of restoration.

We see the same pattern in the Garden of Eden. “God also creates a people (Adam and Eve), gives them a garden as the land to sustain and refresh them, hands down the law not to eat the forbidden fruit, and makes them kings to keep his garden. But they rebel against God and disobey him, and as a result, they are banished from the garden, exiled from their home. Yet in the punishment comes a promise and a hope; a ‘seed of the woman’ will triumph over the Serpent on humanity’s behalf” (p150, all italics are original).

Thus, in the Garden story and in Israel’s history, we see the need for the irruption of God’s kingdom (man’s sin has marred creation, Israel’s sin has left them in exile) and receive a glimpse of how the irruption of God’s kingdom will happen (through the “Seed”, through the King or “son of David”).

So, I’ll be posting thoughts as I go through the book and show how Waltke develops this theme of the irruption of God’s kingdom throughout his book. My intention is that the nature of the posts will vary. Sometimes I’ll simply report what he says that I find particularly helpful or interesting. Other times, I may interact with what he says, perhaps even daring to disagree on occasion. I hope you’ll find learning from Waltke vicariously through me to be a rewarding experience, and may you even be encouraged to purchase the book for yourself.

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One of the first courses I downloaded from biblicaltraining.org was the late Dr. Ron Nash’s foundations lecture, History of Philosophy. The series consists of seven lectures of about 30 minutes each.  The course is very much introductory, and decidely limited in scope.  However, please do not take this as a negative comment. This series is a great appetizer, as it were, for further study on these important topics. To that end, Dr. Nash frequently plugs his book Life’s Ultimate Questions, and the longer, similarly-titled lecture series offered in the “Leadership” section of biblicaltraining.org.

I once heard a preacher joke that philosophers seek to answer all the questions that nobody really asks. To wit: When did you last wonder how you know what you know? For most people, the answer is “never.” However, the philisophical topic of epistemology is very much conerned with this question. Why does this matter? In his first lecture, and in the lectures that follow, Nash fleshes out some of the practical implications of such topics.  Have you ever heard somebody say that they don’t believe in God because there is no way to prove He exists? What is at stake here is fundamentally a question of (drum roll) epistemology: How do we know?  The person demanding proof of God’s existence is also making a statement about their worldview: They believe the only way one can know anything is through proof.  Nash notes that this worldview, however, is self-defeating.  Why?  Because it cannot stand up to its own terms.  Namely, you cannot prove that the only way to know something is by proving it.

I would commend the class to anybody looking to whet their appetite for philosophy, theology and apologetics.  Understanding the basic components of a worldview, and thinking through the resulting implications, can be a powerful witness to unbelievers, and often a much needed corrective to our own views.  Nash is an easy listen, and does well to keep the technical jargon to a minimum, and well-explained when necessary.  At the very, very worst, you’ll be a hit at parties when you squeeze the word “epistemology” into a casual conversation.  And by “hit” I mean “geek.”  Welcome to our world.

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I’d like to venture out of my comfort zone of book geekery for a moment to review a worship album released last year by Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.  Though I love music, I don’t know much about the intricacies; I don’t recognize many of the important things the trained ear will notice (Brian is the trained musician of BBG), nor am I really a great judge of poetical quality, though I’d like to think I know a bit more about that.  My friend A-Rock reviews music for PopMatters, and he uses words like “sublime” or “transcendent”, whereas I’m more prone to use “cool” or “wicked awesome.”  Alas, here we go.


I ventured upon Sojourn’s album, Before the Throne, earlier this year and have joyfully  weaved it into my regular rotation of worship.  The album consists of 10 songs written by Sojourn members, and 1 great hymn, “Before the Throne of God Above”.  While much of modern worship would probably be classified as “pop” musically, this album has a rootsy-folk feel, incorporating other styles such as a little rock (“My Maker and My King”) and a jazzy Norah Jones-esque tune (“I’m Coming Back”). 


There are two things that set this album apart from most of what I’ve heard in recent years.  First, the lyrical quality is very high, and not just the hymn.  “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” is the kind of song that can excite even the most ardent hymnophile, including yours truly.  “I’m Coming Back” and “All I Have Is Yours” are two fabulous tracks, as are “Lead Us Back” and “There Is a Peace.”  You can check out the lyrics on the Before the Throne Page.


Second, I noticed that this album incorporates a number of themes, only to find out later that Sojourn intentionally used a liturgical format for this album (see the comments here).  Thus, it incorporates lament & confession (“Lead Us Back”, which I’ve written about on my previous blog), a communion tune (“All I Have Is Yours”), a benediction (“All Good Gifts”), etc.  You don’t have to be aware of this to enjoy it, but it helped me appreciate all the more how much thought went into this album.  With so many albums these days feeling like a collection of disconnected radio-friendly singles, I feel like this is the kind of album that could benefit a church seeking to have a well-rounded repertoire of worship songs. 


As for critiques, I suppose the one thing I can think of is that a couple of the songs seem like they’d be difficult for congregational singing (“My Maker and My King” and “Evergreen”), though I’ve been wrong about that in the past.


I couldn’t recommend this album highly enough.  The songs “In the Shadow of Your Glorious Cross” and “Lead Us Back” are #s 1 and 2 Most Played on my iTunes, and their version of “Before the Throne of God Above” is my favorite of recent renditions.  And in an age of celebrity worship leaders, who go on tours with laser light shows and smoke machines, I’m excited to see a church taking the time to write songs for their community.  You can download the entire album (11 songs) from iTunes for $9.99, but if you want to try it out, check out their Before the Throne Page and download the 4 songs they offer for free (I noticed that I can’t download them on my wife’s Mac, though that may be due to my technological incompetence).  While you’re there, check out the other albums they have (many more free songs!), as well as their terrific blog.  For anyone who leads worship, either in a church service or in smaller groups, their website will be an excellent resource (hence its inclusion in our “Worship” links to the right).  And for those of us who don’t lead worship, you just might learn something too.

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Despite what Danny may have lead you to believe, I am not reading “Goodnight Moon.”  Perhaps that’s misleading.  I am not reading “Goodnight Moon” exclusively.  I recently picked up the third edition of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith.  Craig is a celebrated Christian apologist, and (insofar as I can tell), the most intelligent person presently on this earth.  I look forward to writing a review for this book, which he describes as a foundational text for his many writings.

While the full book review is pending, I wanted to spend some time interacting with Craig’s introduction in Reasonable Faith.  Of particular interest to me was his claim that apologetics is a vital part of evangelism.  More specifically, he solidly rebukes the dismissive attitude many Christians have towards apologetics because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”  I’ll save Craig’s specific responses to this sentiment for my review, but I did want to offer up a few thoughts of my own on the topic.

I taught a class on evangelism some years ago, and I remeber making the very statement: “You can’t argue someone over to Christ.”  Even a year ago, I was exchanging several e-mails with an atheist, and made a similar statement to him up front:  I’d love to debate with you, but I have no expectation that you’ll become a Christian as a result.  Why did I think this?  Because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”

Recently, I’ve begun to question the wisdom of this statement, and consider its roots.  I fear that too many Christians have uncritically bought into this statement wholesale; my own examples above to wit.  I believe this is a grave mistake, and dismissing apologetics as ineffective is unwise.

Whence the statement “you can’t argue someone over to Christ”?  I believe that it is largely a reaction to those who have engaged in arguments with unbelievers poorly.  Certain Christians have not “spoken the truth in love,” but rather, used apologetic arguments as a means to attack, belittle, or otherwise defeat an unbeliever.  The motivation here (admitted or not) has not been love for the person, or obediance to the Great Commission, but rather one of pride:  ‘winning’ the argument for the sake of winning; ‘winning’ in order to elevate oneself over another.  Moreover, I believe that too many Christians have relied on intellectual argument alone, to the exclusion of relationship, sharing one’s story, prayer, etc.  Let’s not forget the danger of not listening, either.  Francis Shaeffer, my own apologetic hero, remarked that when engaged with an unbeliever he would listen 95% of the time, and in the remaining 5%, try to offer one or two statements of the Truth in response.

How about the Biblical evidence?  Did not Paul reason from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2)?  Were not many added to the Body in resonse to Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-41)?  Ought not we be prepared to give the reason for our hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:14-16)?  Craig looks at this in greater detail in his introduction, and examples abound.

Finally, for those with a penchant for empiricism, I have actual evidence that one can be argued over to Christ:  I was.  At 24, a single sentence in Paul Little’s Know Why You Believe grabbed a hold of me.  A day later, I gave my life to Christ.  God used this book, this series of intellectual arguments, as the hinge point in my conversion.  I praise God that Mr. Little didn’t abandon his book because “you can’t argue someone over to Christ.”

I would therefore propose an amendment to the statement in question:  “You can’t argue someone over to Christ IF

…you do so with a posture of arrogance or self-righteousness.”

…you do so to the peril of relating to that person as a fellow sinner infinitely loved by God.”

…you do so merely to ‘win’ the argument.”

…you talk more than you listen.”

At the end of the day Christians are just blind beggars telling other blind beggars where to get bread.  We should exhaust every facility of our being, including our capacity for reasoned argument, to direct others to the Bread of Life.

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How We Got the Bible

Special thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a copy of this book to review.  You can also check out Chris and others at Koinonia, Zondervan Academic’s new blog.


Every year in my classes, one of the most common questions I get is “how did we get the Bible?”  Most don’t know much about how the Bible was written, copied, and translated through the centuries.  Thankfully, Dr Clinton Arnold has given us a book that covers all of this, and more, entitled How We Got the Bible.


The subtitle is “A Visual Journey,” a most accurate subtitle.  Each “chapter” (never actually called that) takes 2 pages, with a short paragraph on the topic and quite a few great pictures.  The pictures alone make this book worth owning (but maybe I just like pictures).  You’ll find pictures of papyrus used for copying the Bible, pictures of ancient scrolls, fragments, etc.  When you see the pictures of the ancient copies with their holes and tears, you’ll realize just how much trouble it is for scholars to determine what the ancient documents actually say.


Arnold also includes information on how and where the Bible was copied through the centuries- from scribes in monasteries and scriptoriums to the Gutenburg Press.  You get a sense of the battles over translating the Bible- for John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther and even in modern times, such as with the Yali people of Indonesia.  In my mind, after working through these pages you get a little more perspective on the ridiculous “translation wars” of our culture.


I couldn’t find much to argue with in this book.  Sure, there were times you could have wished for more information, but this book isn’t an academic treatise.  Perhaps a recommended reading list would have been helpful for those who wanted to pursue a particular topic further.  On his chart of recent English Bible translations, Arnold categorizes some Bibles as “gender neutral,” a term that I find loaded and misleading to many.  But if that’s the worst thing I can say about this book, then I won’t complain too loudly.


For me, there were two powerful aspects of reading through the book.  First, it continues to amaze me how God’s people painstakingly copied and produced the Scriptures over the centuries.  While you’ll still find some who argue that the Bible we have today is so corrupt that we’ll never know what it originally said, I find it so hard to support such a claim given the evidence.  This book illustrates this truth.


Second, Arnold does give a couple examples of modern Bible translation in languages that did not have the Bible- the Yali people of Indonesia (first Bible in 2000) and the three languages of the people of Kambari, in Nigeria.  It reminded me of just how far we have to go to get the Word of God into the hands of those who most desperately need it.  I’ve said for some time that the Bible is the best missionary there is, but it’s something we often take for granted.  In honor of this, here are links to 2 organizations highlighted in the book that are working to solve this problem: United Bible Societies and Wycliffe Bible Translators.


It’s quite a feat to produce a book that is informative yet brief and interesting, Dr Arnold has accomplished this.  I highly recommend this book and hope it gains a wide readership. 

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For our Resource of the Month, Brian and I have opted to use biblicaltraining.org and its free access to seminary classes.  One nice aspect for me is the chance to listen to Douglas Stuart’s Old Testament Survey class, which was a favorite at Gordon-Conwell but one class I did not take.  I’ve enjoyed the lectures immensely, which give you a good idea of Stuart’s engaging personality and desire to show the relevance of the Old Testament to the life of the church.

As I was listening to his lecture on the Prophetical Books (lecture #23), he made a point about the dating of the Law and the Prophets that I did not know.  It was (is?) a fairly common assumption within the world of Old Testament liberal scholarship for years that since the prophets do not quote the Law, the Law must have not been written yet.  The thought is that the Law must have been written after the prophets, perhaps with the authors of the Law using the prophets as their guide.  After all, if the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant, wouldn’t they have quoted from the covenant itself in order to make their case?

But Stuart points out that while in our culture lawyers would point to specific laws and quibble over the precise interpretation of the actual wording to make their case, this was not the method used in the time of ancient Israel.  To make his point, he shows that other cultures in Mesopotamia did not quote their laws in court either.  Drawing on Driver and Miles’ study (I don’t know the exact date, but probably written 100 or so years ago), The Babylonian Laws, he notes how, for example, though Hammurabi’s Law Code (which existed before Moses’ Law) was placed in the center of every city, it was not quoted in trials in those very cities.

Thus, the argument that the prophets did not quote the Law in their accusations against Israel loses its foundation.  Stuart goes on to point out that the concept of “legal citation” didn’t really begin until the Roman period.  It is anachronistic (there’s your vocab word for the day) to argue that the prophets would have to refer to the Law if they needed to make their case.  Unfortunately, Stuart claims, there are still some scholars argue using “100-year old data.”

I commend this class to you, I’ve really enjoyed it.  Dr Stuart is an easy professor to listen to, and a true servant of the church.

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A friend of mine at work sent me a link to a review of Guitar Praise.  The subject of the review is a new video game based on the immensely popular “Guitar Hero.”  The reviewer dubs it, “Guitar Hero minus the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.”  In effect, the game will be strikingly similar to the multi-million dollar Guitar Hero series of games, save that the music will be of the “Christian” variety.  Dust off your yellow and black striped leather pants; Stryper is back.

Any thoughtful observer, Christian or not, will note that Guitar Praise is one of a plethora of “Christian-ized” products that are on the market today.  For a few decades now, Christian versions of otherwise secular wares have flooded the marketplace.  The formula for the creation of said wares is apparent in reviewer’s title above:  Take a product (Guitar Hero), clean it up (in our case, subtract the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll), and ship it.

The discussion of Christians borrowing from popular culture is probably as old as Christianity itself.  When our theological pens have spilled their ink, we are still faced with the very practical issue of living within a culture.  Such issues are not uncommon in the NT (e.g., food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8).  Part of the project of how Christians ought to “be in but not of” the world is concerned with adopting (or not adopting) the cultural forms that surround us.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time thinking about such issues is hardly want for literature about the subject.  BBG, still wet behind the ears, already has an article about it; I daresay it will have many more.  As such, I cannot help but rehash much of what is already written on the topic, but I think the occasion of Praise Hero warrants the beating of what some might consider a dead horse:

First, having a Christian flavor of something, be it music or merchandise, does little to differentiate Christians and Christianity from the rest of the world.  There are two sides to this coin:

  1. On the first side, in our choice-saturated consumer culture, Christianity can appear as just another lifestyle choice among many; one more product on the shelf, similarly packaged and priced along side others.
  2. On the second side, Christianity is finding a touch-point with the world around it.  “Hey, you like video games?  We do too!”  Herein is an expression (though perhaps unintended) of the sentiment that Christians are really “normal” people, who enjoy and interact with many of the same things found in the secular world.  I’ve had much success building relationships through interests I’ve shared along these lines.

Second, we also have to remember that there are few, if any, “neutral” carriers out there (I’m a broken record,sorry).  Whatever we adopt carries with it certain assumptions or other baggage with it.  As one example, for Guitar Praise, consider the enjoyment one achieves through escaping into a fantasy world where one is “playing” the guitar with great proficiency.  In reality, of course, learning to play the guitar well would require hours of diligent practice; something that is not always fun.  With Guitar Praise, we get the superficial “glory” that would otherwise only be acheived through hours of hard work.  Note also that true musical success comes to most as a mixed bag, full of other unpleansatries which I’m sure the game ignores.  I’m reminded here of EPCOT’s “World Showcase”:  You get the glory of (superficially) traveling around the world with none of the headache (and I’m not just talking about jet lag).

Third, we have to ask, ought Praise Hero (and its ilk) occupy the time and effort of Christians?  There is a slippery slope here.  On one end of the spectrum is the idea that any recreation, or time spent away from healing the sick and reading the Bible is intrinsically “lesser” than any obviously “Christian” activity.   Are not video games an tremendous waste of time?  Moreover, if our raison d’etre is to glorify God, how exactly does this game do that?  Is it not another distraction from our calling?  On the other end of the spectrum is the thought that it’s not intrinsically bad to rest (nay, it’s good; c.f., the Sabbath), and we need to punch out every now and then and relax.  I would only bring to bear two considerations:

  1. What are our time ratios?  What is the “time spent playing video games” to “time spent reading the Bible” ratio?  Does God favor a high one, or a low one?  Additionally, does one get attention to the peril of the other?  What gets a higher priority in our lives?
  2. There are other ways to “punch out and relax.”

Finally, I’m reminded of a quote from Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind that Danny shared with me: “Orthodox Christianity has always had better things to do than simply echo the gifts that the despairing world wants to give to the church, or to borrow hungrily from the world’s constantly changing aspirations.”  Amen, anyone?

I am acutely aware of the fact that this post comes across as largely pejorative.  I am equally aware of the fact that there aren’t easy answers here, and I can understand why some might think Guitar Praise is a great idea (apart from the revenue it will generate).  As is my custom, I would simply urge my Christian readers to think Guitar Praise through, before it is condemned or…well…praised.  We must never forget that when Rome was Christianized in the 4th century, Christianity was also Romanized, and the results weren’t all positive.  So also, when we Christianize a product, idea or medium, we must remember that we too are subject to changes which are all too often ignored.

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Book Review: Worship Matters

Note: this review appeared originally at my old blog on 6/28/08.  You can read Bob Kauflin’s comment here.

Thanks to Denise & Shantay of Crossway for the review copy of this book.

Despite my lack of musical or vocal talent, worship is one topic I’ve always been interested in. I’ve written about it before, and I’ve had plenty of other thoughts that have never made onto the blog of danny (at least not yet). I find myself in a weird position: someone who loves hymns and theologically rich songs, yet I’m actively involved in a charismatic church (and wouldn’t have it any other way). Can’t I have both? Now, there’ll be some who think I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too. Then again, what’s the point in having a cake if I can’t eat it? And in this ridiculous metaphor, which is the cake: theology or charismata? Let’s move on.

Thankfully, Bob Kauflin exists.


Bob Kauflin has been a pastor and worship leader for over 20 years and is the author of the popular worship blog Worship Matters, which is also the name of his new book. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God is a collection of wisdom from a man who has been around. He’s a member of a reformed charismatic group of churches, Sovereign Grace Ministries, now serving as Director of Worship Development. His book covers a wide range of topics related to worship, and despite the relative brevity of each section, he manages to provide helpful insights that show his years of wisdom (I promise, I’m not trying to make him sound old).


Kauflin divides his book up into 4 sections: The Leader, The Task, Healthy Tensions and Right Relationships. The breakdown is fairly natural and allows him to discuss each section with relative ease. While this book is not a biblical overview of worship (he does recommend other resources for that), he has sprinkled throughout the book biblical insights. One aspect of his 4-part division that I appreciate is that it allows him to weave theology into each section, rather than dealing with theology in one section and “more practical” matters in another. Kauflin truly does attempt to have his theology inform all matters of his book.

The first section, The Leader, is divided up in discussions on the heart, mind, hands and life of the worship leader. Here he deals with the worship leader himself before anything else, and doesn’t let them off the hook. You may not be the pastor of the church, but you are responsible before God and your church to take care of your own walk with the Lord, all facets of it. And Kauflin has no room for a division between head and heart (a division that I don’t feel is particularly biblical anyway).

If our doctrine is accurate but our hearts are cold toward God himself, our corporate worship will be true but lifeless. Or if we express fervent love for God but present vague, inaccurate, or incomplete ideas of him to those we’re leading, our worship will be emotional but misleading—and possibly idolatrous. Neither option brings God glory. (32)

He also deals with the issue of skill, offering wisdom in an area often breezed over. Kauflin, an accomplished musician himself, is aware of the tension between needing a certain skill level, but not allowing skill to override the worship. He notes,

Our varied skills should function like the frame around a classic painting. If the frame is too bold or extravagant, we’ll hardly notice the picture it displays. On the other hand, if the frame is cheap, shabby, or married, we’ll wonder why such a masterpiece is surrounded by junk. The right frame complements the picture in all the right ways, directing our eyes to the brilliance of the artist, not to the frame. (38)

The second section, The Task, answers the question: “So what does a worship leader do?” I’ll give you the multi-part answer as it’s broken down in the book so each element will stand out:

A Faithful Worship Leader…
…Magnifies the Greatness of God…
…In Jesus Christ…
…Through the Power of the Holy Spirit…
…Skillfully Combining God’s Word…
…With Music…
…Thereby Motivating the Gathered Church…
…To Proclaim the Gospel…
…To Cherish God’s Presence…
…And to Live for God’s Glory.

Kauflin deals with each portion of the answer as it’s own chapter, with “With Music” taking up two chapters (one on “What Kind?” and one on “Planning Sunday’s Songs”). Again, he manages to weave theology, practical wisdom and advice throughout the chapters rather seamlessly. To give a couple quick highlights:

Not surprising for someone from Sovereign Grace Ministries, I found Kauflin coming back to one point over and over again: Jesus Christ died for our sins. This truth “assures us that our worship is acceptable to God” (p74) and he also notes, “if we help people focus on what God did two thousand years ago rather than twenty minutes ago, they’ll consistently find their hearts ravished by his amazing love” (p75-76).

In regards to God’s presence during worship, he discusses an often presumed aspect of modern worship: we worship to “usher in the presence of God” (not a phrase he uses, but one that I’ve heard more times than I can count). Kauflin, though, brings in the wisdom of D A Carson: “He warns that if we start thinking it’s our worship activities that bring God’s presence near, ‘it will not be long before we think of such worship as being meritorious, or efficacious, or the like’” (p139). I realize that many people when they assume such things are speaking phenomenologically. Suffice it to say, I think using this kind of language can breed more problems than it’s worth.

Ultimately, all this is done for God’s glory. This isn’t mean to be some abstract notion of giving glory to God, but has practical implications. Kauflin quotes Allen Ross, “If worshipers leave a service with no thought of becoming more godly in their lives, then the purpose of worship has not been achieved” (p149).

The third section of the book deals with “Healthy Tensions”, such as God’s transcendence and immanence, planning and allowing room for spontaneity, and whether or not worship is for the church or for unbelievers. I appreciate Kauflin’s desire not to lose balance between each of the “extremes” (though I hesitate to call them that in all cases). But often times in trying to stay balanced, people end up with neither. I don’t think Kauflin ever does that, but I’m not so sure others will be as skilled.

In order to keep these healthy tensions, in my opinion, the worship leader needs to rely on others. So, I think Kauflin’s final section of the book is especially helpful. He deals here with the relationships the worship leader has: the church, the team and the pastor. Here we see two aspects of Sovereign Grace Ministries coming out (and these are good things): a great love for the local church and a great respect for the pastor. The worship leader, though a leader, serves the church and needs to hear from it. The worship leader is also ultimately under the leadership of the pastor and may need to submit when necessary. In fact, Kauflin’s final chapter is written to pastors as some words of advice, perhaps the best being, “A church’s response to God’s greatness and grace rarely rises above the example of its pastor” (p251).

All in all, Kauflin has written a terrific book. He does a great job of blending biblical insight, personal anecdotes and wise advice throughout the book. As for who should read it, I think it’d be a great idea for worship leaders to glean from it. Pastors, too, ought to read it as a reminder of the purpose of worship in the church. And though I am neither, I gained so much from this book. I intend to make use of Kauflin’s insights in my teaching, as many of his points apply to that as well (which shouldn’t surprise us, since worship is a form of teaching). The truth is that any Christian can read this book and come away with something.

I suppose the one thing I wish Kauflin touched on was worship leading in smaller settings. While my church has one worship leader, we have many people who lead worship throughout the week in small groups, prayer meetings, etc. True, all of his points can be transferred over easily enough. But in the NT, especially in 1 Cor 14, Eph 5 and Col 3, we see that singing in church is an activity that all participate in: we bring songs to each other to teach and encourage. On Sunday mornings with 200 people (that’s my church’s size), that’s difficult to do. But it can be done on a smaller scale. But, ultimately, that isn’t the purpose of Kauflin’s book. Maybe he’s a secret reader of the blog of danny and will take up the challenge on his own blog.

This book did make me thankful for the worship leaders we’ve had at my church. I can’t say that I’ve loved all the songs we’ve sung or the style of music we’ve used on every song. But I can say with confidence that our worship leaders aren’t simply looking to create a nice feeling or get everyone hyped up. Our current worship leader often makes it a point to say that we continue worshipping after the songs are down, which reflects his (biblical) understanding of worship.

I hope this book encourages worship leaders and pastors to consider carefully the role of worship in the church. I hope they pick songs with greater care, since, as Kauflin quotes Gordon Fee: “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology” (p101). I hope they remember that worship is not about us “connecting with God” or walking away feeling better about ourselves, though those are good things. Ultimately, worship is about praising God for who He is, as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our lives

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Once upon a time in my teaching, I would conduct an exercise in reading in context; it was a quiz of sorts.  I’d have everyone open up to Galatians 6:1, which in the NIV (almost guaranteed to be the translation of choice amongst the group) reads: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”  Then I’d ask them to define “spiritual” for me. 


Depending on what your Christian background is, you may understand “spiritual” to be any number of things.  Since I come from a charismatic background, I would receive answers something along the lines of: someone who is full of the Spirit, someone who “hears from the Lord,” and so on.  Naturally, these types of answers beg for further clarification, since they can be understood in many different ways, some of which may not be anything close to what Scripture teaches.


The problem, of course, is that we often import our own meanings into the text, assuming that Paul must have meant what we understand a word to mean.  More often than not, this is not a conscious decision- we assume our definition is determined by Scripture.  But the best way to figure out what a word means is in the context.  In this case, it’s not all that hard to understand what Paul means by “spiritual.”


Immediately preceding this verse, Paul contrasts what it looks like to live by the Spirit with living by the “sinful nature” (Gal 5:16-26).  “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious”, Paul says, yet so are the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  How do you know if someone is living by the Spirit?  They exhibit these traits in their lives- not just on their own, but in community as well (after all, most of the evil and good acts in these verses necessitate others). 


So, when Paul says “you who are spiritual” should restore someone who has fallen into sin, he isn’t bringing up a new topic or moving on to a different understanding of what it looks like to live by the Spirit- despite the chapter break.  The spiritual person of Galatians 6:1 is the person who exhibits the fruit of the Spirit given in 5:22-23.  The context defines the word for us, we don’t need to search far to understand Paul’s meaning.


This isn’t everything Paul has to say about living in the Spirit, of course; there’s always 1 Corinthians 12-14, Eph 5:18-21, and others.  But the Galatian readers didn’t have those letters available to pull in different connotations of “spiritual,” their main referent was the letter right in front of them, specifically the words they had just read.


So does this make a difference practically speaking?  I think it can, and I’d invite others to share why they think it might.  I’ll give one reason why I think this can be important, given the charismatic circles I run in.  There can be a tendency amongst charismatics to elevate certain people based on gifting and perceived spiritual awareness.  There can be, though this is not always the case, gradations of spirituality based on these criteria.  Paul, however, is often more practical than we are.  Paul, and other biblical writers, wants hard evidence of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life.  A person ought to be changed completely, including (especially) their behavior, when the Spirit is working in them.  After all, what’s the benefit in “hearing from the Lord” if you’re still a jerk?  Remember- Paul once wrote, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). 


Those who are “qualified” to help restore a fallen brother or sister are not necessarily those who are first deemed “spiritual” by our own criteria.  By Paul’s criteria, those who are in the best position to help a person fight off sin are those who are now living by the Spirit in a way that shows they have defeated the sinful nature. 

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