Music and Bach: Rethinking Spirit Led Worship

hands-music-musician-piano

I’ve been wondering about the musical mechanisms we have employed in Christian Evangelical circles. I’m thinking of the two very different modes of musical worship – one which hold’s thoughtful and systematic planning in high regard, and the other which hold’s spontaneity in high regard.

I’m trying to think this through objectively, though of course, as a critical realist, I never reach strict objectivity because I, we, can’t escape our context and the biases and presuppositions that come with them. So then, for me to be “critically realistic,” I must take into account my subjectivities and interpretive lenses that have formed my thinking.

I will say that as a musician involved in leading worship and playing drums, I’ve experienced both: spontaneous and planned.
I’ve heard it said, that strictly planned worship simply does not allow the work of the Spirit; unless there is room for spontaneity. I understand the concern. My question is: what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking? Why is it that Christians in my tradition (not all of them of course, but many), have equated spontaneity with some higher work of the Spirit?

Yesterday, in Christian Though and Culture class @ Regent, we looked at The Enlightenment and its effects on Christendom. The lecture was titled: ‘Lord of Reason: The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative in the Modern Era’. What resulted from this self-explanatory title, was a fundamentalist escape from culture. The Fundamentalist movement, which Mark Noll describes as being “intellectually sterile,” had absolutely nothing valuable to say about or contribute to culture:

“As a result of following a theology that did not provide Christian guidance for the wider intellectual life, there has been, properly speaking, no fundamentalist philosophy, no fundamentalist history of science, no fundamentalist aesthetics, no fundamentalist novels or poetry, no fundamentalist jurisprudence, no fundamentalist literary criticism, and no fundamentalist sociology” (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 137).

Thankfully, prior to the rise of Fundamentalism, there were leaders within the Evangelical movement that were quite different. Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield are those often mentioned, but the one who has stuck out to me, was Johann Sebastian Bach.

I am no expert on this man (or anything really… except maybe eating), but I do believe that those who have equated spontaneous, unplanned songs of worship with a greater move of the Spirit can learn a thing or two from Bach.

He is known for many things, he is known for his incredible ability to have very “rational” and mathematical music. More importantly, he was able to fuse this rationalism with his theology. This may seem normal for us today, but back then, rationalism and mathematics were seen as causes of “the eclipse of the biblical narrative” within society. His music, what I would like to point out, was far from spontaneous. But if something is Spirit empowered music, it’s his. He teaches us that, as James Macmillan has written, “abstract complexity and spiritual joy are not mutually exclusive.” He is sometimes called the “fifth evangelist,” and that for a reason.

Surely, most readers will not understand the latin in his music, but one must ask, what have we done with music?

I’m not trying to speak against spontaneous music, since many believe that in it, there are greater forms of art (which is probably also questionable).

To get back to the question, what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking – the thinking that spontaneous music is more spiritual? Maybe we can’t answer that definitively, but we can at least re-think what really is “Spirit-led” music.

This brings up other questions: God has given us many gifts; Scripture, reason, art, experience, tradition. How are we using them? Is the idea that a spontaneous “letting go and letting God” mentality in music really a means of the Spirit of God being ‘allowed to flow’? Could that be just laziness? Could it be that with all the gifts that God has given us, and if we consider that since our fundamental calling is to be Human, and that as Human, we are called to Cultivate (essentially, to Create Culture), should we not be making the best of what we have with our God-given skills ? Would not these things bring greater glory to God? I think these are important questions that need evaluation.

Here’s one piece Called “Agnus Dei in G minor” – Paul Hofreiter sums this piece up:

“The most intense solo in the entire work is the Agnus Dei in G-minor. This angular music makes strong use of imitation between the alto voice and the violins, creating a bridge between humanity and divinity as Christ offers his body and blood for the salvation of humankind. The jagged and chromatic nature of the music in the aria demonstrates the profound reality that Christ has, indeed, participated in our humanity in all its anguish and death. There is no mistake for Bach in the understanding of the purpose and reason for Christ’s death.”

Also, for more info on this subject check out http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/tas3/musicon.html

Jesus, Culture, and Faith

In a class I’m taking called “theology of culture”, we’re looking at the Christian ethic as it relates to culture. How should a practicing Christian engage with culture?

I can’t go into detail about the course at this moment but the point I would like to make is that this question IS important. If we are to take seriously the call to be “in the world, but not of the world” we MUST not rush to conclusions as to what that may or may not look like. Christian thinkers have, through the centuries, employed varying interpretive lenses in order to live out this calling faithfully. We all have them: interpretive lenses. Those lenses are shaped by our very culture, which intensifies the need to THINK through these issues.

The 5 typologies given by Richard Niebuhr in his “Christ and Culture” are astoundingly important:

Christ Against Culture
Christ the Transformer of Culture
Christ in Paradox with Culture
Christ in Above Culture
Christ of Culture

Again, I can’t go into detailed description for each typology here, but what stood out to me was that each typology is to some degree and in certain contexts, a viable option. No thinking Christian could simply place themselves in strictly one of these categories for every cultural confrontation. Essentially, they are contextual categories. What I mean is, with every confrontation with culture, discernment needs to take place. Maybe on monday I’ll fall under the first typology, but on thursday I’ll fall under the third one.

With that in mind, discernment and wisdom, biblically speaking (and practically), are employable when one is in a state of dependance on God: Faith.

We must believe that God has and will continue to provide us with enough (not all) answers in order for us to discernibly and thoughtfully live according to his will and his glory.

By faith we can trust that God will “fill [us] with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding…in order that [we] may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [we] may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light”

Colossians 1:9-13

BOOK REVIEW: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission – John Dickson

(citations are from the kindle edition)

In John Dickson’s The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, Dickson brings an unexpected approach to rediscovering the biblical grounds for orthodox Christian missions. The reader will find a professionally written composition that includes exegetical data understood in its historical, biblical, and linguistic context, in addition to personal stories of gospel encounters, bringing to life the propositions grounded in scriptural analysis. It is informal and theoretical, yet made remarkably practical. Dickson’s stories remind the reader that doctrines alone cannot bring to life the truth of the gospel, but that true missions must involve an encounter with the reality of Jesus’ Lordship. This is Dickson’s overall argument; that to promote the gospel in a biblical fashion involves every aspect of ones life being rooted in the embracing of ‘the Gospel as revealed in the gospels’ — the ‘here and coming’ kingdom of Jesus being Lord. Thus, for Dickson, the Gospel is more than a set of doctrines but is rather founded on the narrative of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and the key to all of these is that they point to Jesus being Lord and king. This is what is primarily central to the Gospel. In light of this gospel, its promotion is not founded on soteriologically driven themes that prioritize personal salvation (though it may include them), but on the story of Jesus, his kingdom, and its consequences.  Dickson’s ability to stay balanced is an uncommon, yet pleasant approach. He claims that “the gospel message is not a set of theological ideas that can be detached from the events that gave these ideas definitive expression.  Nor is the gospel a simple narrative devoid of theological content” (1872).  Ultimately, an encounter with this gospel inevitably leaves an impact on every aspect of life.  Confronting the matter regarding evangelism training programs, Dickson rightly claims that programs “that focus on the doctrines of sin, atonement and grace without also stressing the need to be gentle, respectful and gracious are incomplete” (2788). Therefore, rightly understanding and receiving the gospel of Jesus being Lord must inescapably result in a graceful lifestyle that simultaneously beautifies and promotes the gospel message.

The climactic chapter that has brought most personal gain for myself would be that of the Gospel. Dickson puts into perspective what the gospel really is, the “Gospel as portrayed by the gospels.” He shares a most enlightening conclusion that to tell the gospel involves “recounting the deeds of the Messiah Jesus” (1685). I have gained a personal sense of urgency coming from the realization that the majority of evangelical circles today have deduced the gospel to four spiritual laws centered on personal salvation. In engaging with the ‘cognitive dissonance theory’ that Dickson makes reference to, I ask: is it not possible that we have modified the gospel to fit our consumerist society? Have we, due to our consumerist mindset, deduced the gospel to matters of personal benefit, and at what expense? When the promotion of God’s glory is central to the gospel then we are disarmed in being consumer driven. Subsequently, the privatization of the gospel experience has perhaps caused us to fail to realize that the gospel has more to do with breaking cultural barriers than we might think. In Dickson’s chapter “Following the ‘Friend of Sinners,’” he briefly points out that Paul criticized Peter for “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” when he separated himself from the Gentiles (Galatians 2:14).  Thus, when we act in line with the truth of the gospel, we are not creating cultural barriers, but like Paul and Jesus, we live “oriented toward the salvation of outsiders,” (715) since “eating with sinners was for Paul exactly what it had been for Jesus: an embodiment of the salvation message itself” (731). One can perhaps make the argument that we have sidelined issues of racial segregation at the aggrandizement of personal salvation. Thus, the gospel has much to do with community; it is not a private salvation but a communal and public one. Citing Rodney Stark as referenced in Dickson’s chapter entitled “Being the Light of the World,” Stark claims that  “a major way in which Christianity served as a revitalization movement within the empire was in offering a coherent culture that was entirely stripped of ethnicity.” It is this new ‘culture’ that resulted from a kingdom-centered gospel, and this is the key to a continuing revitalization: when the message of Christ’s here and coming kingdom is central to the gospel it will empower the Church to truly be the Light of the World (1366).

 

N.T. Wright – Justification

It is unfortunate that most have pigeon-holed N.T. Wright into being a theologian with “liberal tendencies.” Many have categorized him as unbiblical in his “New Perspective” approach that at first glance seems to undermine classical Protestant Theology. “Justification by faith” has become the end all of Protestantism, more specifically for Reformed Theology, and Wright’s approach is not to discard it completely, but to understand in the grand framework of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The implications regarding our definition of justification is enormous, and Wright is simply using the New Perspective as a means to show that Paul’s use of “justification by faith” has way more implications than simply securing ones destination to heaven. Paul’s use of Abraham throughout his epistles, namely Galatians, and Romans, aren’t merely examples or illustrations of faith, but rather provide a framework in which we understand what faith and salvation really is.

The first part of this book is dedicated to a grand introduction, engaging with the “justification” on the basis of history, tradition, and of course the Bible. The second part of the book focuses on the exegesis of Scripture, as he goes through various Pauline epistles, bringing them into light through his exposition framed by the Abrahamic covenant.

Without giving away too many details in this book I will say a few things. Wright defines words like “righteousness” and “justification,” and does so with historical and literal context in mind. These words have familial and communitarian implications and essentially provide a greater Ecclesiology, Christology, and Missiology.  For Wright, the righteousness of God is not explicitly (though perhaps implicitly) a moral virtue, but specifically refers to his covenant faithfulness made with Abraham. This is made clear throughout Wright’s exposition of the book of Romans. Our ‘righteousness’ has to do with our covenant membership and behaviour. The marker then for those who are part of this covenant community is — like abraham — faith, not “works of Torah.” The problem is, that since the late medieval period, the church has ‘de-judaized’ the gospel, and has assumed that the problem with Judaism, and specifically 1st century judaism was legalism; essentially, that Jews from the 1st century were trying to earn their salvation. This is precisely wrong.

The 1st century Jews were quite aware that they were already a part of this covenant family, and the works of the law were a “marker” that intensified their separation from their gentile neighbours. For them, they were “justified by the works of torah” – in other works, they were counted as part of the covenant family and the works of torah was evidence of that fact. There is no such idea that 1st century judaism is attempting to earn salvation, it was already given by God through Abraham.

It was an ethnic elitism that had become problematic for the famous Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Legalism was not the problem. God’s purpose of the Torah was not to intensify some kind of ethnic elitism but to provoke the surrounding nations to become part of the family of God, always intended since God’s covenant with Abraham. They were to be a “light unto the nations,” so that through Abraham, “many nations would be blessed” (Gen. 15). For this reason, Jesus reminds them that they are “a light unto the nations” and a “city set on a hill,” yet unfortunately, they failed miserably.

With this in mind, (and much more if you read the book for yourself), Wright points out that being “justified” by faith, has more implications than merely assuring the believer that he will one day go to heaven. So, if you’re wondering what those implications are, read the book. I highly recommend it.

 

Criticism of A Separate “Rapture”

The following is an excerpt from http://www.theopedia.com/Rapture, Text licensed under CC BY 3.0.

The doctrine of the rapture as an event separate from the general resurrection is a fairly recent doctrinal development within the scope of the Church’s historic body of belief.  Prior to 1830, most of the ‘rapture texts’ were regarded as referring to the General Resurrection. This was especially the case with the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage which was primarily regarded as referring to the resurrection rather than a rapture.

Virtually no prominent theologians held to this theory before Darby‘s influence in the 1840’s.  For example, none of the great reformers, e.g. Luther or Calvin, believed in a “Secret Rapture” theory. Nor did the ancient church fathers such as John ChrysostomJustin MartyrIrenaeus,Hippolytus expressly assert the theory of the pre-tribulation rapture, with the possible exception that The Shepherd of Hermas, 1.4.2 speaks of not going through the Tribulation.

Some Reformed theologians are still favorable of using the term “rapture” but insist on making a very clear distinction between rapture as a synonym for resurrection and what Dispensationalists propose by the term, namely an escape from a yet-future tribulation period. John Stott calls this idea “escapism” in his book Issues Facing Christians Today (2006, 4th ed.). He goes on to write that the Dispensational concept of a “secret rapture”  is one of the most destructive doctrines gripping the Evangelical Church today. According to Stott, it thwarts planning, hinders social involvement, and gives Christians a gloomy outlook for the future.

Other texts used by proponents of a separate rapture, such as Matthew 24:40 – Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left., when taken in context (especially Christ’s statement in Matthew 24:34) are seen by some Preterists as predictions of the Roman catapult bombardment of Jerusalem during the 42 month siege of Jerusalem from late 66-70 AD, not to a rapture. While Dispensationalists claim that the predictions in Matthew 24 are yet-future, centering on a secret-rapture, critics maintain that an exegesis of this passage reveals that this is at best unlikely, if not biblically and historically impossible (cf. The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible by Andrew Corbett).

The Kingdom in Mark: 3 Predictions and 3 Misunderstandings

If you read the Bible, and more specifically if you read the Gospel’s you’ll notice that the disciples of Jesus had a hard time understanding certain things. Mark gives us an interesting picture regarding their complete misunderstanding of the kingdom. Even though to them it had “been given the secrets of the kingdom” (Mark 4:11), Jesus asked them various times, “do you not yet perceive or understand/ are you hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you net hear?” (Mark 8:17-18, cf. 4:13; 7:18; 6:52). What had been given to them was Christ himself, but what they seemed to fail to understand was the implications of the kingdom of God. Their expectations of what was to happen represent the same expectations of all of Israel; that God would eventually send a Messiah who would militaristically and politically take charge of Israel and be in command. For Israel, the comming Messiah meant political power and authority given back to the people of God.

I think Mark chooses many ways to show this, but I want to highlight one. Jesus predicts his death and suffering three times, in 8:31-38, in 9:30-32 and in 10:32-34. Now the interesting thing that Mark does is that he juxtaposes the disciples misunderstanding right next to the predictions. First with the transfiguration, Jesus’ clothes become radiant on the mountain (sounds familiar, think Exodus?), and Elijah and Moses show up, and suddenly Peter says “it is good that we are here.” Of course these words should be seen in light of the next part. In 9:34, after the second prediction of the suffering Messiah (literally right after), it says that “they (disciples) argued about who was the greatest.” And then lastly, following Jesus’ 3rd prediction, James and John have the brilliant request: “grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory” (10:37).

We see more of this happening later on as Judas betrays Jesus for money (14:10-11), Peter denies ever knowing Him (14:66), and none of them eventually stay with Him, but they all “fled” (14:50).

The people of Israel misunderstand the plan of God. They expected to be freed from Roman bondage by sword. In fact, that will explain why Jesus will constantly tell those whom he healed NOT to tell anyone. If the people thought of him as the Messiah, they would quickly begin to riot against Roman rule. Similarly, the disciples, the closest ones, completely misunderstood the meaning of the Kingdom.

Here’s the big idea. Mark is writing to Christians who like us would read the gospels and identified themselves as being disciples. Mark is warning against presuppositions that come from our own pride and smugness, and our own self-assurance. The people of Israel had an expectation that was completely off, so did the disciples. I think what Mark may be saying is that wether or not we may think we are “insiders” we may miss the point of discipleship, equating it with worldly status rather than obedient service.

“Pia Desideria” (Pious Desires) – Philip Jacob Spener

“Every Christian is bound not only to offer himself and what he has, his prayer, thanksgiving, good works, alms, etc., but also industriously to study in the Word of the Lord, with the grace that is given him to teach others, especially those under his own roof, to chastise, exhort, convert and edify them, to observe their life, pray for all, and insofar as possible be concerned about their salvation.” (Pia Disideria, Fortress Press, 1964, p. 94)

Introduction

Philip Jacob Spener’s Pia Desideria was first published in 1675 written as an instructional treatise intended for ministers of the church. Spener was a Lutheran bishop who had originally written a preface for Johann Arndt’s True Christianity.  Within six months, he published Pia Desideria also known as “Pious Desires.” Its purpose was to respond to barren spiritual conditions in the church, of which he described as “slothful,” “a terrible ignorance,” and consequently a “disorderly life” (93).

3 Dimensions

The main theme revealed in the selected excerpt is that of the personal Christian lifestyle. Under the assumption that the readers are themselves Christian who have experienced salvation, Spenner emphasizes the outcome of that salvation has having three main dimensions. Firstly that of the inward dimension; that “every Christian is bound” to “offer himself and what he has.” This of course is closely associated to a preceding dimension that is assumed in the text, that of upward relations with God manifested in salvation. Lastly, and perhaps most emphatically is the outward dimension; the edification of fellow Christians by means of a community centered on good works and the study of Scripture. This is the visible manifestation of the Christian lifestyle seen in three dimensions; upward, inward, and outward.

The Big Idea

The outward dimension of the personal Christian lifestyle is the main emphasis of the document. The author assumes that the reader is a Christian, and “all Christians are made priests by their Savior, are anointed by the Holy Spirit, and are dedicated to perform spiritual-priestly acts” (92). This inward dimension of the Christian life is one of assuming a responsibility,  Spenner ardently claims that “the people must have impressed upon them and must accustom themselves to believing that it is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice” (95). Upon acquiring this responsibility, the Church experiences edification on primarily a personal level, and leading up to a universal level, “more and more would be achieved, and finally the church would be visibly reformed” (95).

Historical Impact

The protestant reformation, though essentially a positive shift in orthodox theology, came with some unfortunate consequences of extremism. Prior to the reformation, there existed an immense fear of sin, purgatory, hell, and ultimately God (perhaps for wrong reasons).  17th century scholastics who sought to systematize doctrine and rational thought, positively emphasized the importance of the Christian mind, breaking down notions of anti-intellectualism. The unfortunate repercussion was an antinomian lifestyle dominating the church. The challenge offered by Spener in Pia Desideria was one that instigated the change from a religion of the head to one of the heart. The dry and lifeless Christianity of the 17th century was now “coming alive” with the help of Spener’s legacy and the many who built upon it.

Thoughts For Young Men

Probably one of the greatest books I’ve read in 2011 was “Thought’s for Young Men” by JC Ryle.

This book, written in the 19th Century was written for young Christian guys aged 14 till 40.

You might be thinking, 19th century?  A little outdated? Actually, its antiquity is what gives it its beauty. The reality that christian men are lacking in the church was a reality not only of this century but of centuries past. This book is one of the most practical and relevant book’s I’ve read on the subject, and it’s one I recommend to every young man who has even an inkling of a desire to serve God. I mean serve God in the general sense, being a Christian, living Christianly.

I was so intrigued by the book that i read it in 3 days, Ryle has a way of communicating that is clear, succinct, to the point, and most importantly; very honest. He has a way of invoking urgency that is well needed for today’s young men.

“What young men will be, in all probability depends on what they are now, and they seem to forget this.”

Get this book. You won’t regret it. You may not be into reading, not many are, but maybe you need to get your hands on the right book, and I recommend this one to start you off.

Laziness is your worst enemy. I don’t want to take up Ryle’s excellence, but to reiterate his words,

“don’t think that you can live with Esau, and then die with Jacob. It is a mockery to deal with God and your souls in such a fashion.  It is an awful mockery to suppose you can give the flower of your strength to the world and the devil, and then put off the King of kings with the scraps and remains of your hearts, the wreck and remnant of your powers.”

Enjoy a gem,