Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cross-Centered Quotes

Here are a few quotes to help you reflect upon the cross of Christ during Holy Week:
"Abide hard by the cross and search the mystery of His wounds." (Charles Spurgeon)

"The Spirit does not take his pupils beyond the cross, but ever more deeply into it." (J. Knox Chamblin)

"The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us." (John Stott)

"Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops of blood in agony at Gethsemane, and cry at Golgotha, 'My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken Me?'" (J.C. Ryle)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Liquid Love

Liquid Love

© 2010, M. Justin Wainscott

Jesus' blood is liquid love.

The sweat of Gethsemane,
The wounds of Calvary,
The cup of Communion -

All are liquid love.

Monday, March 29, 2010

NPR on Historic Christian Orthodoxy and "A New Kind of Christianity"

NPR's "Morning Edition" did an interesting story this past Friday on an event hosted by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to discuss Brian McLaren's recent book, A New Kind of Christianity. Professors from SBTS (including the President, Al Mohler) rightly question McLaren's view of Christ crucified. While McLaren still wants to hold on to the labels of Christian and evangelical, it is abundantly clear in this most recent book that he has departed from anything close to what can be considered historic Christian orthodoxy. His view of the cross fails to understand the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the triune nature of the Godhead (among other things). Ironically enough, his "new kind" of Christianity sounds a lot like something we've heard before - it sounds like twentieth century theological liberalism dressed up in postmodern clothes. And in the words of Southern professor, Jim Hamilton, "It is a new kind of Christianity that is no Christianity at all."

On the whole, NPR covers the story with a fair degree of accuracy and balance (though they appear to be sympathetic to McLaren's viewpoint, even calling the Southern professors "angry").

You can both read the story and/or listen to it here.

HT: Church Matters

Friday, March 26, 2010

Reflecting on the Cross

Not All the Blood of Beasts
Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood, than they.

My faith would lay her hand
On that dear head of Thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.

My soul looks back to see
The burdens Thou didst bear
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And hopes her guilt was there.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sin, Salvation, and Substitution

"The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man."

--John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Does God Reveal Himself?

Can we discover truth about God outside of the Bible, or is Scripture the only true source of heavenly knowledge? On this March 7, 2010, edition of the White Horse Inn the hosts outline the distinction between general and special revelation. In the former, God reveals himself through creation, and in the latter he reveals himself in the pages of Scripture and in the person of Christ. Though we can know many things about God by the things he has made, only Scripture reveals his good will toward us in the Gospel.

Click here to listen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Douglas Bond on Poetry in Modern Reformation Magazine

Douglas Bond has an excellent article in the March/April 2010 issue of Modern Reformation magazine on the significance of poetry titled, "The Devil Hates Goose Quills: And Why It Matters to the Church." Unfortunately, it is not available online, so I will share a few of the quotes I appreciated most from the article.
Martin Luther, who said, "The Devil hates goose quills," insisted that in a reformation, "we need poets."

Martin Luther cared deeply about poetry, in the most vital way. But do most Christians today? Most accept the decline of poetry without a wimper, with barely a wafture of good riddance.

The devil likely applauds Christians who shrug indifferently as genuine poetry twitches into the abyss. Yet the Bible contains the finest poetry of the ancient world.

The devil abhors poets like [Martin] Luther and [Isaac] Watts, who used their goose quills to adorn the loveliness of Jesus.

"The highest form of poetry is the hymn," wrote [John Greenleaf] Whittier....

The devil hates goose quills, including ones wielded by able poets who train their pens to the highest use - crafting psalm-like hymns that lift the heart, mind, and imagination from our puny selves and enthrall us with Christ alone.
To read (and hear) some of Douglas Bond's hymns, click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

We Resemble What We Revere

A helpful yet convicting quote from Greg Beale's book, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry -
All humans have been created to be reflecting beings, and they will reflect whatever they are ultimately committed to, whether the true God or some other object in the created order. Thus, to repeat the primary theme of this book, we resemble what we revere, either for ruin or restoration (italics in original).

--G.K. Beale

Friday, March 19, 2010

No Sweeter Name

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
John Newton, 1725-1807

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear;
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
'Tis manna to the the hungry soul,
And to the weary rest.

Dear name! the rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding place;
My never-failing treasury filled
With boundless stores of grace.

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
My Prophet, Priest, and King;
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I'll praise Thee as I ought.

'Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of Thy name
Refresh my soul in death.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Keeping Near the Cross

If you're looking for a good (but brief) book to read in order to meditate on the cross of Christ and prepare you for Holy Week (March 28-April 4), here are a few I would recommend:

  • "The Heart of the Gospel" (Chapter 18) in Knowing God, J.I. Packer
And here are a few books on the same subject that are just a little lengthier:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Clear Understanding of the Gospel

Few summaries of the gospel are as clear and on target as this one from John Newton, written in a letter to a friend:

My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.

--John Newton

Saint Patrick has a helpful overview of the life and ministry of Saint Patrick.

Read it here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Donald T. Williams on "The Power and the Suffering"

Every one of us has known a measure of suffering. The happiest and most successful person knows from experience the meaning of words like loneliness, fear, disappointment, rejection, and failure. If we live long enough, we will add the death of loved ones, betrayal, ill health, and the feeling of uselessness to the list.

Some people suffer bitterly; some pitifully; some grievously; some needlessly; all inevitably. You cannot avoid suffering. You can muddle through it blindly; you can make it worse by rebelling against it futilely; or you can understand it biblically and bear it redemptively. Therefore, we need to learn the joy and privilege of suffering for the gospel.

There is great power in suffering. There is no more irrefutable testimony to the truth of the gospel than the Christian who bears suffering and affliction joyfully, without bitterness, with love. For only God could provide this kind of spiritual reality, and without suffering, it could never be seen.

I pray that God will grant us continued peace and prosperity and protect us from all unnecessary suffering. But I also pray that when he does send us affliction, he will help us accept and understand it biblically, and bear it redemptively.

--Donald T. Williams, from the "Quodlibet" section of Touchstone (March/April 2010)

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Law and Gospel Distinguished

Law and Gospel
Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

The law commands, and makes us know
What duties to our God we owe;
But 'tis the gospel must reveal
Where lies our strength to do His will.

The law discovers guilt and sin,
And shows how vile our hearts have been;
Only the gospel can express
Forgiving love and cleansing grace.

What curses does the law denounce
Against the man that fails but once!
But in the gospel Christ appears,
Pard'ning the guilt of num'rous years.

My soul, no more attempt to draw
Thy life and comfort from the law;
Fly to the hope the gospel gives;
The man that trusts the promise lives.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mark Dever at Union University

For those of you in and around Jackson, Tennessee, Dr. Mark Dever will be preaching in chapel at Union University this Friday (tomorrow) morning at 10:00a.m.

Dever is an extremely gifted expositor of God's Word and a great example of faithful pastoral ministry.

Tim Keller on "Prayer and the Gospel"

One of the most basic things that the gospel does is change prayer from mere petition to fellowship and the praise of his glory. Galatians 4:6-7 teaches us that when we believe the gospel, we not only become God's children legally, but we receive the Spirit in order to experience our sonship. The Spirit leads us to call out passionately to God as our tender and loving Father. The Spirit calls out 'Abba' (4:7). In the very next verse Paul refers to this experience as "knowing God" (4:8). We do not just know and believe that God is holy and loving, but we actually experience contact with his holiness and his love in personal communion with him.

No one had a deeper insight into the gospel and prayer than Jonathan Edwards. Edwards concluded the most essential difference between a Christian and a moralist is that a Christian obeys God out of the sheer delight in who he is. The gospel means that we are not obeying God to get anything but to give him pleasure because we see his worth and beauty. Therefore, the Christian is able to draw power out of contemplation of God. Without the gospel, this is impossible. We can only come and ask for things- petition. Without the gospel, we may conceive of a holy God who is intimidating and who can be approached with petitions if we are very good. Or we may conceive of a God who is mainly loving and regards all positively. To approach the first "God" is fearsome; to approach the second is no big deal. Thus without the gospel, there is no possibility of passion and delight to praise and approach God.

Keep reading Keller's article here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How the Young Are Taught

Sabbath Poems, 2005 (VIII.)
Wendell Berry

I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.

--Taken from Leavings: Poems, Wendell Berry

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Hope Have We, Before Our God?

What Hope Have We, Before Our God?

© 2008, M. Justin Wainscott

What hope have we, before our God,

Knowing our wretched, sinful state?

Perfection is His meas’ring rod,

And all we have is what He hates.

No righteousness to call our own,

Nothing but filthy rags to boast.

But trusting in Christ’s work alone,

He saves us to the uttermost.

Our only hope, we do confess:

Jesus the Christ died in our place.

Now He supplies our righteousness,

Redeeming us from Adam’s race.

Now in our ears the gospel rings,

It’s drowning out our guilt and shame.

And to our hearts the Spirit brings

Pardon for sin in Jesus’ name.

In Christ alone we are justified,

Shielded from wrath by nail-scarred hands.

His cross provides a place to hide,

And a sure hope in which to stand.

This hymn is best sung to the HAMBURG tune ("When I Survey the Wondrous Cross").

Monday, March 8, 2010

Interview with T. David Gordon on Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns

Dr. T. David Gordon was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his forthcoming book, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Re-Wrote the Hymnal (to be published by P&R early this summer), which is a sequel to his excellent book on preaching, Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers, which I blogged on here, here, and here (and highly recommend). Dr. Gordon is Professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Prior to teaching at Grove City College, he taught New Testament for thirteen years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

What led you to write Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, and how is it different from the abundance of books recently published on the subject of music and/or worship styles in the church?

Both books (Why Johnny Can't Preach and Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns) are informed by my study of media ecology; therefore, my perspective on the matter differs from that of non-media-ecologists. In the last 70 years, substantial changes happened to music in American culture:

  • music moved from being participatory to passive (folk music, performed by average people, has all but disappeared, and has been replaced by pop music)
  • music went from being communal to being, largely, individual (began with the Sony Walkman, but music is now heard solitarily)
  • because of the commercial interests, pop music has replaced sacred music, classical music, and folk music. For the vast majority of Americans, the only music that SOUNDS like music is pop music, because they are surrounded by it. It is in the “background” when shopping, putting gas in the car, dining in restaurants, on TV and film. So nothing else registers as music. The consequence is that many churches have effectively abandoned the church’s rich history of hymnody for trifling contemporary stuff.

You talked quite a bit about reading poetry and the importance of verse in Why Johnny Can’t Preach. Do you see a connection between our sparse reading of poetry today and our inability to sing hymns?

There probably is a relationship between not reading poetry and tolerating contemporary worship music. If one reads poetry, one comes to appreciate language that is well-crafted; in the process, one becomes less accepting of language that is poorly crafted. So, most contemporary worship makes me cringe not only musically but also lyrically (not to mention theologically). The commercial forces in our culture want us to be content with pablum, because it is easier to produce pablum than really good stuff. Those commercial forces have pushed us away from demanding disciplines such as reading verse (where there is almost no room for significant commercial profit); and in the process, we as a culture no longer notice inferior art, because we are surrounded by it.

Does the inability to sing hymns seem to be a generational problem (say fifty-somethings and under), or is it more widespread than that?

There’s probably a small generational difference, because some younger people now have never been in a church where many hymns were sung, so they are entirely unfamiliar with them. But many middle-aged people have also been influenced by a culture in which pop music has effectively crowded out all other forms.

Are you encouraged by what seems to be a current trend of returning to both writing and singing theologically rich hymns?

I’m not sure I’ve observed a trend of writing good hymns yet. I’ll be delighted if one emerges, of course; but I don’t believe it will happen. Nor would this solve the problem. The problem is the discarding of older forms. Christianity is not a new religion, and whenever it is “dressed up” in contemporary garb, that itself is problematic; it sends the wrong meta-message. The solution, that is, is not to write BETTER contemporary-sounding music, but to write music that doesn’t SOUND contemporary. E. Margaret Clarkson just died in the last five years or so. She was a Canadian hymnwriter, who wrote many hymns. But none of her hymns SOUND contemporary. If one didn’t know better, one might think some of her hymns were written a century or two ago. To me, THAT is the solution; to jettison contemporaneity itself, as a value inconsistent with the Christian religion. You’ll have to read the book to see if my arguments on this point are persuasive.

Can you give us a glimpse into how the book is arranged or structured?

Here is the Table of Contents:

Introduction: My Pastoral Concerns

Chapter One: Introductory Considerations

Chapter Two: Aesthetic Relativism

Chapter Three: Form and Content

Chapter Four: “Meta-message”

Chapter Five: “Sacred Music”?

Chapter Six: Three Musical Genres

Chapter Seven: Musical Questions

Chapter Eight: Contemporaneity as a Value

Chapter Nine: Song and Prayer

Chapter Ten: The Mind, Sentiment, and Sentimentality

Chapter Eleven: Ritual (Formality and Informality)

Chapter Twelve: Strategic Issues

Chapter Thirteen: Concluding Thoughts

Chapter Fourteen: Teaching Johnny Hymnody

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Lightning and Thunder

Eric Smith posted a great quote yesterday from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' classic work, Preaching and Preachers, which is well worth repeating here. The quote has to do with the distinction between the sermon that has been prepared and the actual preaching of that sermon.

There is the sermon, a sermon which he has prepared; and then there is the "act" of delivering this sermon. Another way of stating it is this. A man came – I think it was actually in Philadelphia – on one occasion to hear the great George Whitefield and asked if he might print his sermons. Whitefield gave this reply: "Well, I have no inherent objection, if you like, but you will never be able to put on the printed page the lightning and thunder." That is the distinction – the sermon, and "the lightning and thunder." To Whitefield this was of very great importance, and it should be of very great importance to all preachers, as I hope to show. You can put the sermon into print, but not the lightning and thunder. That comes into the act of preaching and cannot be put into print. Indeed it almost baffles the descriptive powers of the best reporters.

--Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Celebrating Grace Hymnal

The new Celebrating Grace Hymnal will be released Easter 2010, and there is a premiere scheduled for Monday evening, March 8, at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The goal of this new hymnal is described as follows: "Through this hymnal, congregations and church musicians will sing the songs of different eras and cultures while creating songs of their own. Authors and composers, poets and prophets, musicians and congregations of the faithful will lift their voices together in the great conversation of celebrating grace, singing songs that are always new because they never grow old."

Here are a few reasons why I'm excited about this new hymnal:

  • It is an actual book with words and musical notes printed on the page, which can be held in the hands and shared between spouses or between parents and children. As people of the Book, we must value the printed word (even in a technological age of screens and projected words).

  • Its title reflects the very essence of Christian worship - celebrating grace.

  • It "makes a theological statement of belief and practice even in its organization." It is divided into two sections, reflecting the covenant language of Scripture: (1) I Will Be Your God and (2) You Shall Be My People.

  • It incorporates Scripture readings, responsive readings, and various litanies drawn from the revelation of God's Word that will enhance the corporate involvement of the congregation in worship.

  • It includes information about the Church Year or Christian Calendar (including Advent, Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter). This is something Baptists have long missed out on and could stand to learn more about in order to enrich our worship.

  • Its selection criteria was very encouraging: (1) theological soundness (2) musical quality and (3) congregational sing-ability. If you've tried to sing through some of the recent hymnals, you know that some of the songs aren't easy to sing congregationally; other hymns have texts and tunes that simply do not fit together, and some hymns are just plain bad when it comes to their theology. The selection process for this hymnal was described in this way: "Each hymn and song selected was reviewed both for its musical contributions and its theological soundness. The text of each hymn, along with the arrangement, was carefully considered before being accepted for inclusion. The Editors were committed to providing songs that encouraged congregational singing."

  • It appreciates the rich legacy of English hymnody but also incorporates some of the good, new hymns and songs that churches should be singing (it contains over 600 songs in all).

  • My friend, Ron Boud, served on the Supplemental Music Committee (if you know Dr. Boud, that's reason enough to be excited about it!).
For a list of the hymn titles, click here.

For an interview with Mark Edwards, who served on the Editorial Board of Celebrating Grace Hymnal and serves as the worship resource manager for the project, click here.

For more information about the hymnal, click here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

All Music Becomes Wearisome But That of Heaven

Here is a reminder from "The Prince of Preachers" that Jesus Christ is the only soul-sustaining subject of preaching:
Brethren, there is an abiding fullness of truth in Christ; after you have heard it for fifty years, you see more of its fullness than you did at first. Other truths weary the ear. I will defy any man to hold together a large congregation, year after year, with any other subject but Christ Jesus. He might do it for a time; he might charm the ear with the discoveries of science, or with the beauties of poetry, and his oratory might be of so high an order that he might attract the multitudes who have itching ears, but they would in time turn away and say, “This is no longer to be endured. We know it all.”

All music becomes wearisome but that of heaven; but oh! if the minstrel doth but strike this celestial harp, though he keepeth his fingers always among its golden strings, and be but poor and unskilled upon an instrument so divine, yet the melody of Jesus’ name, and the sweet harmony of all his acts and attributes, will hold his listeners by the ears and thrill their hearts as nought beside can do. The theme of Jesus’ love is inexhaustible, though preachers may have dwelt upon it century after century, a freshness and fullness still remain.
--Charles Spurgeon

HT: The Daily Spurgeon

The Differences Between Law and Gospel

“The law requires works of human achievement; the gospel requires faith in Christ’s achievement. The law makes demands and bids us obey; the gospel brings promises and bids us believe.”

--John Stott, The Message of Galatians

HT: Of First Importance

Monday, March 1, 2010

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Justin Taylor has a great post this morning that points you to a number of resources on the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who departed this life 29 years ago today. Check it out here.

True Wisdom and True Understanding

Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding. --
Job 28:28

The next time you pray for wisdom and for understanding, keep this verse in mind!