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Archive for September, 2008

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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Welcome to Boston Bible Geeks!

Welcome to Boston Bible Geeks (or BBG, as we like to call it)!  This is the online home of Brian and Danny, two Boston area guys occasionally referred to as “Bible geeks,” hence, BBG.  This post serves as an introduction and a quick, guided tour of the site.

 

The objective of this site can be found in our mission statement: We are a website devoted to equipping and edifying Christians around the world to understand God’s Word more fully, and thoughtfully apply it to their daily lives and cultural context.  We hope to accomplish this in many different ways: posting on specific Bible passages and their interpretation, reflecting on how we can apply Scripture in our lives and communities, reviewing books that may prove helpful to Christians, discussing hymns and worship songs that we find particularly instructive, commenting on current cultural trends or events, etc.

 

Both Brian and Danny have had blogs in the past, but quite frankly, we found it takes two of us to generate the content of one competent blogger.  We trust this will work in our favor by taking away the pressure to publish frequently at the expense of quality content.  Moreover, we hope to give you our different perspectives on the Bible and church life.  Note also that our goal isn’t simply to put thoughts up on the internet for people to read, but for our readers to interact with God’s Word and what we’ve written in order to enrich all of us.  (In other words, leave comments!)

 

There are a couple distinct features we hope will be helpful to our readers.  First, every month we will select a Resource of the Month (RoTM…no more acronyms, promise), which can be found at the top of the page.  The Resource of the Month may be a website we find helpful, a book that is particularly useful, a sermon series that our readers may enjoy, and so on.  Throughout the month we will interact with that resource in hopes that we can all be edified.  Check out Brian’s first RoTM post here.

 

Second, also at the top of the page, you’ll find a tab entitled “Articles.”  This section consists of something we have written that we feel is worthy of “permanence” that doesn’t come naturally to a regular blog post.  If you read something we’ve written that you feel belongs in the Articles section, please let us know.

 

Third, you’ll notice all sorts of links to the right.  We’ve tried to break these down into easily navigable sections.  Our goal is to include links that are particularly helpful to our readers, not to include everything on the internet that could fit into one of those categories.  If you feel we are missing something, let us know and we’ll check it out.  Please note: including a link on these lists does not mean we necessarily agree with or endorse everything contained therein.  It’s just that we have found them to stimulate thoughtful interaction with the Bible, Church or theology.

 

Finally, you’ll notice that a number of our posts will arise from teaching in our church.  We will do our best to write in a way that those who attend different fellowships can be edified.  But we also don’t apologize for gearing what we write for those in our community.  We are unashamedly pro-local church, and see ourselves as servants to Christ’s body, specifically those with whom we have covenanted to share life.  While there is a temptation in the internet age to replace real, physical community with a virtual one, we do not want this site to encourage such behavior.  This site is meant to complement the Church, not replace it.

 

We hope you find BBG a place where you are encouraged, challenged and taught.  This is a first for us, so we welcome your feedback (just e-mail us: bostonbiblegeeks at gmail).  Thanks for stopping by; we hope you stick around!

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Tim Tennent easily makes my list of the top 5 academic lecturers I’ve ever heard.  I had the pleasure of taking his Introduction to World Missions class in the winter of 2006, and much of his teaching still echoes in my head today.

Dr. Tennent has several classes up on BiblicalTraining.org, some of which are yet to be completed (e.g., missing lectures from Buddhism).  The content here is excellent, with a few limitations intrinsic to the medium:  (1)  The audio quality can be muddled from time to time, and it’s next to impossible to hear any questions from the class.  (2)  Some of these lectures (e.g., Buddhism) appear to have been recorded on tape, as such, there is an obvious point where the engineer had to switch tapes, resulting in some gaps in the lectures.  (3)  You’ll miss out on any visuals that Dr. Tennent provides.  This can be disappointing, since we all know the value of a picture to describe something (e.g., Buddhist iconography)  You’ll have to dig through Wikipedia or the like for visual aids.  (4)  Since there are no handouts, you’ll have to guess on the spelling of certain principles and beliefs, and doubly-so since there are often many variations on tranlisteration of foreign languages.

Please don’t let the shortcomings above scare you away, however.  Any one of these lectures is still immensely informative.  Tennent lectures with all the relevance, clarity and humility that make him one of my all time favorites.  I especially appreciate his ability to keep his lectures from mere academic exercises. He  always grounds his material in practical matters; what you’ll see every day “on the street,” as it were.

All this, and the price of admission is simply your time, which will be well-spent indeed.  Check him out, and send me your thanks later :)

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