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Archive for June, 2009

I’ve been ruminating some more on worship, inspired in part by Carson’s essay that I posted about earlier.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking some more about the popular use of the word “worship” to refer strictly to the act of singing praises to God, either corporately or in private.  While many, if not most, Christians will acknowledge that the word “worship” does not only mean singing, the truth is that in popular usage this is precisely what it means.  If I were to say “we had a great time of worship in small group this week,” it will be assumed I am referring to a time of singing.

If we are to be honest, I think the reason for such a restricted definition is convenience: 1) since it’s the popular meaning for the term it’s easier to continue doing it and 2) phrases like “worship through singing” or “worship through music” can become cumbersome.  Thus, it’s easier to speak of “worship” in terms of singing and music.  We throw out the token “but of course worship is more than singing” every now and then, but we probably don’t really mean it.  The simple fact is that when an evangelical says the word “worship” people think of singing, and not much more than that.

As I think about it some more, I think the danger of using “worship” in such narrow sense outweighs the convenience factor.  For one, you sacrifice biblical accuracy.  Truth be told, most Christians are not that concerned about this point, but why this is so would require more time.  Suffice to say, when we come across Romans 12:1, our definition of worship seems weak and small in scope:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is true worship.  (TNIV)

In the Bible, worship takes into account one’s entire life lived for God.  The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  God’s concern is for the life the Christian lives in its entirety, not the passion with which one sings on Sunday morning.

If one sings with gusto on Sunday morning but does not care for those in need or help build up the body of Christ or proclaim the gospel (and so on), this person is not worshipping.  In fact, this person is no better than those denounced by the prophets for offering their sacrifices while living in a manner that does not reflect God’s character (Hosea 6, Amos 4, Micah 6, and many other places).  The call to worship God is the call to worship Him with your whole life, including but not limited to the time of singing.  Yet we continue to mislead people into thinking they are worshippers because of their act of singing on Sunday mornings.  Singing with passion and fervor is good, and God is worthy of it, but it does not tell the whole story of worship.

Here is where the real danger of the restricted definition of “worship” lies: it is deceptive.  We determine the power and whole-heartedness of one’s worship by the manner in which they sing.  By narrowing the meaning of “worship” we have given people the power to deceive themselves and others into thinking they are truly worshipping God, when in reality they may be doing nothing more than singing with passion.  God is not deceived, nor is He impressed with powerful singing when it is not accompanied by a life lived in the attitude of true worship.

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For those who don’t have the time or energy to work through a D A Carson book, you’llbe happy to know that there are a plethora of articles and essays at the TGC website.  If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d be happy to recommend his essay “Worship under the Word” (opens a pdf file) from the book, Worship by the Book, published in 2002.  As he notes at the beginning of this essay, writing about worship, especially about the theology of worship, is a trying task, largely because there are as many opinions about worship as there are churches, many of which reveal personal preference more than a theological stance.

Even using the term “worship” to speak of music and singing is misleading, since the Bible itself doesn’t restrict that term in such a manner.  Carson weeds through biblical texts and and tries to make sense of it all.  It’s helpful to remember that just because the Bible uses the word “worship,” it doesn’t mean it’s using it in a way that we would.  So, for example, when Jesus is about to give the Great Commission, it says the disciples “worshipped him” (Matthew 28:17).  What does this mean?  Did the fall to their knees or fall prostrate, as the verb proskuneo literally means?  Did they shout in praise?  Did Peter pick up the guitar and lead the disciples in a round of Lord I Lift Your Name on High?

Carson even gives his own definition of “worship” in the most Carsonesque fashion:

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.  This side of the Fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made.  While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered.  Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers.  Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate the consummation.

Have you ever seen a definition so ready-made for a power point slide?

Don’t let the long definition (which Carson even calls “too long and too complex”) throw you off.  He does a great job of breaking it down and making it manageable.  Along the way you’ll learn a ton about what the Bible says regarding worship, and even pick up some insightful comments on contemporary practice.  In a nutshell, it’s the kind of essay every pastor and worship leader should read, as well as anyone interested in the theology and practice of worship.

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Special thanks again to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.  See also Part I, Part II, Part III.

This portion of the review covers Beale’s chapters on Paul’s epistles and Revelation.  As we work through these chapters, keep in mind that Beale’s thesis statement is: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”

Beale takes on Paul’s letters, specifically Romans 1:20-28 and 1 Corinthians 10.  There are no real surprises here; he sees Psalm 106:19-20 and Jeremiah 2:5-11 in the background of the Romans passage, as well as allusions to Genesis 1-3 (important texts for Beale, as we saw in part II of this review).  The language of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, exchanging their glory and becoming vain are all seen in idolatrous contexts of the OT, all of which is also seen in 2 Kings 17:15-16.  The idolater is “punished by means of its own idolatry (p216).  While he argues, fairly persuasively, that these idolatry texts are in the background, how does it fit his thesis statement?  Beale says, “the punishment is that the idol worshipers’ unnatural relationships with others resemble their unnatural relationship with God” (p204).

He gives a little portion of this chapter to Romans 12:1-2 to show the flip side of his thesis statement.  Here, when someone gives themself to worship God, they are transformed and conformed to His image (see also Romans 8:29).  I actually wish he would have spent more time  here, but I understand this is a book about idolatry.

Beale explores the quotations and allusions to the OT in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.  Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to partake in sacrificing to demons because “I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (v20).  On the phrase “sharers of demons,” Beale states, “the idea in 1 Corinthians 10: 18,20 is that of sharing in or reflecting the nature or attributes of the demons in contrast to those who share in Christ and are identified with him and reflect his spiritual character” (p229).  We see similar uses of “sharer” in 1 Peter 5:1, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Corinthians 13:4, and other places.  This, of course, fits Beale’s thesis very well.  I found his analysis of idolatry in Paul to be quite helpful.

Beale has written extensively on the book of Revelation, including what I have called elsewhere the best commentary on Revelation.  This chapter contains a wealth of insight into the problem of idolatry in Revelation: the “Jezebel” of chapters 2-3, the harlot of chapters 17-18, the Beast of chapter 13, etc.  While he does go into 9:20-21 a bit, I think he probably could have done more here.  Let me explain.

As much as I enjoyed this chapter on Revelation, I didn’t find much support for his thesis: “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.”  Idolatry is prevalent in Revelation, and Beale offers many helpful suggestions throughout his discussion.  But I fail to see where Revelation talks about someone becoming like the idol they revere (with the possible allusion in 9:20-21).  Beale states, “They [the Beast worshippers] have devoted themselves to the beast and so have themselves become beastly, which is part of the consequence of being identified with the name of the beast” (p258).  But where in Revelation are idol worshippers portrayed as beasts?  Beale doesn’t demonstrate this.  To be sure, those who worship the Beast suffer the same fate as the beast, but that is not saying the same thing.  Nor is noting that idol worshippers identifiy themselves with the Beast (they receive “the mark”) saying the same thing as them coming to resemble the Beast.

For instance, in passages in Isaiah and Psalms (115, for example), there is a clear teaching that idol worshippers become like their idols.  Beale demonstrates this clearly back in the earlier chapters of the book.  So, if someone worships an idol of stone which cannot see or hear, they themselves will be unable to see or hear what the Lord is doing and saying.  They take on the characteristics of the idol.

This is different from saying they will someday be destroyed like that idol.  That is what we have in Revelation.  The worshippers of the Beast do not become like the Beast.  The descriptions of the Beast are not applied to those who worship it.  Thus, while I think Beale offers some wonderful insight in this chapter, he does not support his actual thesis statement.

As I look back on this chapter and go back through Revelation, I wonder if one would be better trying to make the case that those who worship the Beast do so because they were already idolaters.  In other words, because they came to resemble the idols they worship (i.e., they cannot see or hear what is really going on), they were unable to spot the deception of the beast.  So, worshipping the Beast is actually a consequence of their idolatry, as well as a continuation of it.  This wouldn’t be hard to demonstrate, since we know that pretty much all pagans in John’s day were idolaters.  John’s call for the church not to participate in idolatry in chapters 2-3 are all that much more important considering they need to be able to discern what is really the driving force behind the Beast.  So, I do think Beale’s thesis can be found in Revelation, just not where he thinks it is.

With all that said, I don’t want to come across as if one can simply discard all that Beale has written here.  On the contrary, I find myself being driven back to the Bible to see what Scripture is saying.  I look forward to reviewing the final chapters of this book soon.

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This month we’re highlighting some D A Carson resources that we think will be helpful to anyone interested in the intersection of biblical studies and the Christian life.  In this post I want to recommend Carson’s sermons; you can find many of them here.  Listening to a Carson sermon will probably be a different experience for most people.  He’s definitely a scholar, and it shows in his preaching.  There is a depth not present in most sermons preached in churches on Sunday mornings.

Yet, his sermons aren’t lectures, nor are they step-by-step guides on how to live a better life.  He digs into a text, but pulls back to show how this text ought to influence our worldview and practical living.  Chances are it will take some listeners a couple Carson sermons to get used to his style.  You might, at first, think it’s like listening to a commentary.  But after some careful listening, you’ll realize that he’s penetrating into the heart of what’s going on in the Bible and today.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I recommend the series he preached last December at Mars Hill Church in Seattle (also know as Mark Driscoll’s church) at an event called A Day with Dr. Don– it’s easier to access the audio or video at this link than the TGC site.  (Irony alert: the event was advertised “A Day with Dr. Don” with the subtitle “It’s All About Jesus.”  I found that funny.)

For instance, in his sermon on John 11 (the raising of Lazarus), you get all sorts of insights: mourning practices in ancient Judaism (historical background), thoughts on the relationship of God’s love and delay (theology), how this chapter fits into the surrounding context (literary context), and so on.  And along the way you just might have your perception of God and His Son broadened.

A couple random things I appreciate about Carson’s sermons:

1)  He’s funny, though sometimes unintentionally.  I always get a kick out of his insistence on pronouncing foreign words with the proper foreign accent.

2)  Since he’s ministered in contexts all around the world, he has valuable insights into how culture and the church fit together.

3)  I thoroughly enjoy his thinly veiled shots at N T Wright.  I say “thinly veiled” because he doesn’t name him, but if you’ve read Wright and Carson’s critiques of him, you’ll definitely pick them up.  It’s not that I dislike Wright, in fact, I’m a fan.  It’s just that I like finding the potshots, almost like a Where’s Waldo? game or something.  For the record: he does give credit to Wright when it’s due, such as Wright’s work on the resurrection.

4)  Most importantly: Carson does an admirable job making Jesus the center of all things.  Sounds like an evangelical cliche?  I can assure you that when he connects different themes of the Bible to Jesus, it isn’t in some cheesy worship tune way.  Christ, and what He has accomplished, stands in the middle of all that God has done and is doing in this world.

So, go check out some of his stuff.  Like I said, I recommend the talks at Mars Hill.  I also recommend his series, Missions as the Triumph of the Lamb, from the missions week at Reformed Theological Seminary in 2004.  The format at the TGC site is a little confusing (and I think the dates are wrong), so I’ll give you them here in the order preached: Revelation 4, Revelation 5, Revelation 21:1-8, Revelation 21:9-22:6, Revelation 12, Revelation 13, Revelation 14.  That’s right- a missions conference preached entirely from Revelation.  No wonder I like this guy so much.

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Thanks once again to Adrianna at IVP for a review copy of this book.  See also Part I, Part II.

We Become What We WorshipI’m picking up this review with Beale’s chapters on the Gospels and Acts.  I’m skipping his chapter on Intertestamental Judaism, not because it wasn’t helpful or interesting, but because this review is ridiculously long already.  Remember, Beale’s thesis is: what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.

Beale’s main text, Isaiah 6, appears clearly in the Gospels, usually quoted along with Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:10-15, Mark 4:12, etc).  It does not, however, seem explicitly connected to idolatry.  Beale admits this is a potential problem for his thesis.  In fact, idolatry doesn’t seem present in the Gospels at all.

Beale, however, appeals to the use of Isaiah 29 in Mark 7:6-13 (and Matthew 15:7-9).  The Isaiah passages use sensory-malfuncation language, which Beale has argued all along is due to idolatry (becoming like what you worship).  In the case of the Gospel passages, however, the worship is not of physical idols but of tradition itself.  Thus, Beale reads this use of Isaiah 29 back into the use of Isaiah 6.  Tradition has become the new idol, particularly of the Pharisees.  “Jesus’ application of Isaiah 6:9-10 and Isaiah 29:13 to his Israelite contemporaries indicated that what had happened in Isaiah’s day was happening again: Israel was being judged for idolatry–committing itself to something besides God” (p176).

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this.  It makes sense, but I still can’t help but think that he is, at points, making connections that are tenuous at best.  Here’s how I see it working in Beale’s scheme: we see the context of idolatry in the use of Isaiah 6 in Mark 4 via the use of Isaiah 29 in Mark 7.  I have to be honest, I find myself scratching my head on this one.  It makes sense, to be sure, but I’m wary of needing multiple steps to come to such a strong conclusion.  It’s not that I think he’s wrong, it’s just that I feel like more work would need to be done here.  I can accept Beale’s statement at the end of the chapter that “adequate interpretation necessitates that the interpreter retrieve unmentioned correspondences between two passages” (p183).  I’m just not sure he’s done so convincingly here.

Beale admits that while idolatry shows up in a number of places in Acts, “the notion of idol worshippers becoming like their idols is difficult to discern in the book” (p200).  It’s interesting that the one place in Acts (28:25-28) that quotes Beale’s central passage of Isaiah 6 is discussed only briefly, since even Beale admits idolatry is not central here.  He does try to show how it might fit, but one wonders if he’s trying too hard to make it all work together.

This chapter does include an extremely helpful discussion on Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, which Beale summarizes, “For Jews to continue to believe that God’s unique revelatory presence was in their physical temple and not in Christ was idolatry–the same as believing that God’s unique presence was in some wooden idol or ancient tree (p195).  He appeals to the references of the golden calf incident and Stephen calling the Jewish leaders “stiff-necked” (see part II of this review for more on that) as evidence of his central thesis that people resemble what they revere.  I found this section illuminating; I’ll probably not read Stephen’s speech quite the same way again.

My plan is to review his chapters on Paul’s epistles and Revelation in Part IV, then Part V will discuss his concluding chapters as well as summarize my final thoughts on the book.

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I mentioned a while back that I’ve been listening to some of Tom Schreiner’s sermons on Revelation, given at Clifton Road Baptist Church (I’m not sure how long the audio will be on the site, so check it out now).  I just finished listening to his sermon from 6/14/09 on Revelation 20, the infamous Millennium passage.  I was intrigued, because I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to a sermon on the Millennium before.

I thought he did a good job.  There’s a lot to tackle in preaching this passage, not least of which is properly respecting other views held by believers but not causing more confusion than necessary by summarizing those positions.  What made it even more interesting is that he changed his view on the Millennium about a month before preaching this sermon.  He jokes about it at the beginning; I appreciated his humility and honesty.

Also of interest to me were the reasons he gave for this change.  He changed from being an Amillennialist to a Premillennialist.  I enjoyed his reasons, though probably because they were incredibly similar to my reasons given in a post about a month ago.  Hmmmm…, who knew Tom Schreiner reads BBG (I’m joking, by the way).  He even jokes about N T Wright on this passage, something I like to do in my teaching.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering how anyone could preach on this passage, go check out Dr Schreiner’s sermon, and some of his others on Revelation while you’re at it.

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“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Whether or not you remember this popular campaign slogan from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid,  17 years later, it would seem that the US economy still ranks in the top 3 stars that share the media limelight (global security and Michelle Obama’s wardrobe appear to be the other two).  Much of the economic news today seems to fall somewhere between “disheartening” and “terrifying.”  Indeed, the words “economic” and “crisis,” once mere friends, are now considering marriage, much to the chagrin of their disapproving parents.

I’m not made of wood, so from time to time I struggle to divorce myself from the sense of impending doom that hangs heavy in the air.  Praise be, God alone is our provider, and my ultimate hope rests in Him.  We’ve heard these sermons, and they make the excellent point that we needn’t worry ourselves to death about money, or even worse, let it take the place of God (e.g., Mt.6:19-34).

Balancing this is the call to be wise stewards with what God has given us, and the very practical matter of deciding how to spend, give and save our money.  God is my provider.  Amen.  Now, what should I do with my paycheck?  The parable of the ten talents surely isn’t talking about money alone, but it’s not not talking about money either.

The problem I’ve encountered as I’ve looked into financial matters is that nobody seems to agree about much of anything, save the fact that the world economy is in big trouble.  (Read a few articles and financial blogs for a week and you’ll see what I mean.)  The whole endeavor seems steeped in opinion and speculation.  One expert will tout their prescience of the economic collapse while failing to mention that they’ve also lost their shirt in the downturn.

The same phenomenon seems evident in the world of dieting.  Atkins diet?  South Beach?  Eat your blood type?  Mediterranean Diet?  Weight Watchers?  Shall I even broach the topic of parenting?  Attachment parenting?  “Ferber-izing?”  Co-sleeping?  Cry it out?  To spank or not to spank?  Experts wage war along these and numerous other lines, and lay people such as myself are left confused, wondering how to sift through the claims and find out what’s actually true or false.  Unless you make a career out of investigating every truth claim, it seems impossible to sort it out.

Enter relativism.  Enter agnosticism.  So many truth claims, such passion behind the arguments, so many “studies” that “show” said argument to be correct, so many testimonials, so little time, know-how, and expertise to sort it out.  What we are able to sort out are some superficial generalizations upon which everybody agrees:  “Don’t spend what you don’t have,” “Exercise and avoid fast food,” “Love your kids and be a vital part of their lives,” etc.  At the limit, we find an expert or two with whom we agree, providing us with a permission slip for our actions:  Spanking is wrong; Dr. Spock says so.

Is religion any different?  “Just believe in something,”  “Don’t kill anybody,” “Be tolerant of other beliefs.”  There can’t be just one way to Heaven; Oprah says so.  Where does that leave us?  I sympathize with the honest agnostic relativist, but are there some differences?  If agnosticism and/or relativism “works” in other areas of life, is it fair to say it “works” for religion?

I would suggest several differences that set the religios project apart from those mentioned above.  First, there is a matter of degree.  Religious claims (at least, those of major world religions) are umbrellas under which all other truth claims fall, and a lens through which they are viewed.   They are meta-claims, as it were.  “Follow this person and lose weight” is a vastly different claim from “Follow this person and inherit eternal life.”  When we weigh a truth claim, the scope and import of that claim ought to factor into our consideration.  For example, if I claim that crushed ice will chill water much faster than cubed ice, I doubt any reader will struggle for long weighing my claim.  The scope is limited to cold beverages, and the importance is minor at best.  If I claim that all perceived reality is an illusion, as the Bhuddist does, the scope and consequences are enormous, and merit more thoughtful, probing consideration.

Second, we must note the predictive nature of so much information.  Study A shows that gold is the safest investment over time.  Study B shows that people who cut their carbohydrate intake by 50% lose an average of 10 pounds a month.  Study C shows that spaking children increases their propensity for violent behavior.  (N.b., all said studies above were pulled out of thin air for illustrative purposes only.)  In every case, we have an (sometimes subjective) analysis and interpretation of data with a tremendous reliance on statistics.  Worse yet, all such studies attempt to predict the future in some way.  Furthermore, all the studies above interact with a wide variety of variables that can drastically affect the predicted outcome.  The differences in analysis, and the affect of unknown or misunderstood variables lead to the sea of differing opinions that litter our bookshelves.  Finally, the truth claims of investment, diet, and child rearing are, to a great extent, empirically verifiable.  Did you get a good return on your investment?  Did you lose weight?  Is your child in prison for aggravated assault?

Religious claims, on the other hand, lack many of the characteristics above.  At their core, religious claims do not predict the future so much as they explain and assign meaning to reality.  “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah,” is not a prediction of the future.  It’s an existential claim.  How would one confirm that Mohammed is God’s prophet?  That all of life is illusory?    That there is a Heaven and Hell?  These claims are arrived at through different means, and must therefore be treated differently.

While there may be empirical evidence to support religious claims (e.g., the observation of a changed life upon accepting Christ), none of us can verify them in the same way we would verify the efficacy of a diet.  Of course there are predictive claims in religion (e.g., if you reject Christ you will suffer eternal torment), but again, these are not empirically verifiable (at least, until it is too late to do anything about it).

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there is a difference between the statement “I don’t know,” and “I can’t know.”  The former is simple ignorance, the latter is agnosticism, and there is an enormous, unsubstantiated leap of faith between the two.  Every student of apologetics has heard the rebuttal to the agnostic:  “How do you know that you can’t know?”  Indeed economists have a difficult time predicting market behavior, but does that mean that market behavior is unknowable?  Even if we grant that market behavior is unknowable on the grounds that it is attempting to predict the future, why should we conclude that other knowledge (i.e., religious knowledge) is unattainable?

In the end, the agnostic must ask him or herself whence their agnosticism.  Is it apathy?  Why wouldn’t we investigate the outrageous claim of the Christian faith that our eternal destiny hinges upon how we respond to Jesus?  Is it simply because we prefer to spend our time in other pursuits that we (erroneously) find more satisfying?  Is it confusion?  Are we trying to fit the round peg of religous claims into the square holes of scientific ones?  Is it laziness?  Weeding through the average religious section in a book store is daunting, after all.  Is it wishful thinking?  If we cover our eyes and ears, we may not have to deal with whatever unpleasantries lurk in religion’s murky waters; pleading ignorance is a “safe,” easy way out.

Despite my strong words above, I do hold a great deal of compassion for those who would claim to be agnostic.  In the information age, we are assaulted on all fronts, and at all times, with truth claims ranging from trivial to terrifying, and monumental to minute.  There is no escaping it, save the fleeting release proffered by so many other vices that vie for our time and money, or the simple bliss of shutting it all out.  I do not minimize for a moment the depth and breadth of the human struggle for truth and meaning in our world.  I pray regularly that God would break my heart for those who are captive to that struggle, and do not yet know the freedom available to them in Christ.  Still, we must note that the rejection of Christianity in favor of agnosticism (or any other world view), is not a matter of knowledge alone.  In actuality, it is resisting the work of the Holy Spirit (c.f., Jn. 15:26; 16:8-11), for which we will have no good excuse.

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