What’s Up With All the Roaring?

African Lion Roaring Animal Model

Maybe it’s just me, but every so often, it seems like a particular word or phrase becomes “trendy” in contemporary Christian worship music. For instance, 10-15 years ago, it was variations on the phrase “wings like eagles”(see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples of chart topping songs that came out between about 2001 and 2008). Don’t get me wrong… most of those are great songs that I’ve sung and led many times, and there’s nothing wrong with the phrase “wings like eagles”. It’s a biblical phrase, and we should sing it! But by 2008 I was pretty much ready for a break from feeling like I sang it all the time.

Today, I’m getting the same vibe from the words “roar” and “roaring.” It’s everywhere right now! Is it a biblical word? Absolutely.

So I get it… there’s a lot of roaring in the Bible, and there’s nothing at all wrong with using that term in our worship music. But until recently, that wasn’t a word I sang very often. Some notable exceptions being The Lamb is a Lion by Michael Card (1988); Shout to the Lord by Hillsong (1994); Holy Roar by Christy Nockels/Passion (1996); and She Must and Shall Go Free by Derek Webb (2002).

But lately, there’s been a lot more roaring on the radio and in our sanctuaries. It seems the trend began around 2009 with Daniel Bashta’s song Like a Lion:

The song’s popularity really began to take off when David Crowder covered the song during the 2010 Passion Conference (an annual trend-setting event). Two years later, it was covered by the Newsboys, which is the version that hit the radio ad nauseum, especially after the movie God’s Not Dead came out.

In 2012, Hillsong carried the growing “roaring” trend to the other end of the world with their song Glorious Ruins:

Once Hillsong and Passion have both used a phrase with great success, you can bet it starts working its way into more and more new songs! Sure enough, Chris Tomlin began roaring that same year with White Flag (though he also had a preliminary roar back in 2006 with Let God Arise). By 2014, Tomlin was all in with The Roar:

Here’s who else got in on the action in recent years:

I Am Yours, Lauren Daigle (2014)

Praise the King, Corey Voss (2014)

O Praise the Name, Hillsong (2015)

Jesus, Chris Tomlin (2016); see also All Yours from the same album

Lion and the Lamb, Bethel/Leeland (2016); also covered by Big Daddy Weave

What a Beautiful Name, Hillsong (2016); some lesser known roaring songs also by Hillsong: End of Days (2013); Love on the Line (2015); Prince of Peace (2015)

None of this is criticism, by the way, just observation. Again, most of these are good songs (and the blame doesn’t lie with the word “roar” in the ones that aren’t). And since I’m not a song writer, I’m not really in a position to criticize anyway. But as a lover of language and variety, I do sort of hope we’ll be coming out of this “roaring” phase soon…

Book Review: Reflections on the Psalms

015676248x“Reflections on the Psalms” by C.S. Lewis

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 9: A Commentary on a Book of the Bible

Okay, so using this as a “commentary” might be cheating a bit, as it’s not expositional like pretty much every other commentary I’ve ever read. But considering Psalms is a unique genre in Scripture, I thought a different genre of commentary might be appropriate. When factoring in that I wanted a commentary on Psalms (our pastor is preaching from that Book right now), and that this is one of the few books by C.S. Lewis I hadn’t yet read, this seemed an ideal choice!

The book itself was both wonderful and bewildering. As always in Lewis’ writings, I found myself challenged and edified by his words. I particularly enjoyed his insistence on reading the psalms as poetry, rather than attempting to interpret them in the same way one might read other genres.

I also appreciated—for the most part—his “amateurish” commentary. The fact that he was approaching the psalms with genuine questions and an insatiable desire to learn was quite refreshing. Too often I find myself reading the Bible academically, and so Lewis’ book has aided me in approaching the psalms with a renewed sense of wonder. For that alone, the book was worth every penny!

That said, there were quite a few head-scratching moments as well. For all the admiration I have of him as a scholar, and author, and a thinker, there are some major areas in which we simply disagree. A big one is on the approach to Scripture itself. I believe that all Scripture—including the psalms—is “a perfect treasure of divine instruction… totally true and trustworthy”, a conviction held so firmly by Southern Baptists that we place it as the very first point of our convention’s summary of our faith.

Lewis did not share this conviction, though his views on Scripture are far more nuanced than I will get into here; for a charitable reading of Lewis’ hermeneutical approach to the psalms which stresses (unlike theological liberals) his belief the authority of Scripture, check out this essay. I had a difficult time wrestling with Lewis’ description of some of the imprecatory psalms, which contain curses against the enemies of God and His people, as “devilish” or “contemptible.” Yes, they are difficult to read. Yes, they can poignantly reveal our own temptations to anger and hatred (as Lewis points out). But devilish? That’s several steps too far for me.

There are other instances in which Lewis’ view of the psalms as words of men which contain truth rather than the Word of God which is Truth led to questionable interpretations of their meaning. Still, I greatly benefited from his reflections, as I believe most discerning readers will. Pick up a copy here.

Book Review: The Exemplary Husband

51by7g1xbjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_“The Exemplary Husband: A Biblical Perspective” by Stuart Scott

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 5: A Book Targeted at Your Gender

In a crowded market of books targeted at Christian men, a particular book really needs to stand out in some way to be worthy of the time it takes to read it. So what is it that makes this book—written by Dr. Stuart Scott, associate professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former pastor of family ministries and counseling at Grace Community Church (John MacArthur’s church)—deserving of a spot on your bookshelf? There are several good reasons:

Sound Biblical Counsel

This should go without saying, but sadly, it doesn’t. So many books in the “men’s ministry” section of most Christian bookstores seem loosely connected to vague spiritual principles, but otherwise are mostly filled with the advice and wisdom of men. Some of those books can be very helpful—I’ve benefited from quite a few myself—but it is refreshing, and far more useful, to read books saturated with Scripture. Scott grounds every aspect of his manual for biblical husbanding firmly in God’s Word.

It’s a Book That Knows Its Audience

There are books on marriage that I’ve enjoyed more. There are books that have dug much deeper into particular aspects of marriage. At 365 pages, there are certainly books that are quicker reads. But if I were looking to lead the men of a church through an accessible, comprehensive book on how to be a better husband, this would be high on my list. The reality is that there are a great many struggling marriages in our churches today, and I appreciate that Scott assumes nothing about his readers. He correctly asserts that “if a husband does not have a biblical understanding of God, man, relationships, marriage and his role, it will not benefit him much to work at his marriage.” (p. 13)

How many marriages could be saved if the men in our churches could only grow in their biblical knowledge and spiritual maturity? And so the first quarter of the book is essentially an overview of systematic theology, with application drawn at each point of doctrine to the role of a husband. Scott is very careful throughout to communicate with clearly defined terms and repetition of key principles. To experienced readers of books on doctrine and marriage, this may seem tedious at times, but most men don’t fit in this category. We need books like this for our churches, which in the span of a single book study can both raise both the theological acumen and marital fidelity of our men. The available study guide may help with this endeavor.

Resource-Rich Appendices

To be honest, for me the appendices may have been the best part of the book. That’s not to take anything away from the text; but I’m much more likely to pull this book back off my shelf in the future to reference the sections in the back. Of particular interest are some worksheets designed to help facilitate “leadership” meetings (recommended to take place monthly or bi-weekly) in which a husband leads his wife through a discussion assessing the strength and health of their marriage. I’m always on the lookout for tools that I think will help me to better lead my wife, and this looks like one that will fit the bill (we intend to go through it on an upcoming date night).

Summary

To be “exemplary” is to be a model for others to follow. Scripture asserts over and over again that marriages exist to point people to Christ, and that Christian men are expected to lead by example. We do this by following the perfect example set by Jesus Christ. If you’re looking for a book to help you and the men of your church to become more like Christ, resulting in stronger marriages that demonstrate the love of God to the world, grab a copy of The Exemplary Husband.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:1

Teaching Sound Theology

keithatpiano

A few weeks ago I bookmarked an article to read, and finally got to it this afternoon. In “Sound Theology: Teaching Your People Through Music”, Bob Smietana interviews Keith Getty about the importance of congregational singing. I hope you’ll take the time to read through the entire article, but I’d like to highlight just a few things here as well.

First of all, there are few men living whom I admire as much as Keith Getty. His insistence on pairing beautiful, singable melodies with doctrinally rich lyrics has made his music an invaluable resource for today’s churches. And his emphasis on the value of teaching our congregations through music is one I share—which is why I had originally launched my other writing project (which I hope to also resurrect soon!), Systematic Hymnology. I deeply value the work of the Gettys, and commend to you all of their albums, particularly the latest: Facing a Task Unfinished.

It starts with the Bible

In Smietana’s interview, note Getty’s observation that the mandate for instructional singing is biblical. He mentions the song of Moses from Exodus 15, also a particular favorite of mine (one of the song studies on my other blog is based on Aaron Keyes’ modern musical adaptation of this biblical text, which we’ve recently begun singing at FBC Powell). Scripture is full of examples of music being used educationally, and of exhortations to sing songs like this.

We have a long way to go

Getty shares an anecdote about Irish hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander, who composed a book of Hymns for Children in the mid-19th century, to help children learn the doctrines of the faith. He laments the extent to which modern evangelical churches have lost our patience with songs which eschew musical novelty in exchange for lyrical depth:

You take these hymns, shortened down to five or six verses, and they’d still be considered “unsingable” in many large, modern evangelical churches, because there are too many words. Yet these songs were written for 8-year-olds.

If we’re going to build a generation of people who think deep thoughts about God, who have rich prayer lives, and who are the culture makers of the next generation, we need to be teaching them songs with theological depth.

Isn’t that sad? I’m grateful to serve in a church which celebrates these type of songs, but am simultaneously convicted that I don’t sing enough songs like this, either in church or at home with my own children.

Sing great songs

This can’t be said too often! The Internet is full of articles lamenting the lack of congregational participation in singing in our churches. Everyone seems to have advice on how to correct the problem: Turn the lights down, turn the lights up, find a more dynamic worship leader, grow your choir larger, etc. Yet it seems to me that Keith Getty’s solution—by far the simplest, cheapest suggested remedy, and one which can be immediately implemented in churches of any size and budget—makes the most sense.

When we evaluate our worship services, we must always ask the question, how did our congregation sing? If the answer is, as it seems so often to be, that they did not sing much or at all, we must then ask ourselves whether the songs we sang were great. There are plenty of good songs out there, but as T. David Gordon writes in Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (my review), there is no reason to settle for merely good songs when there are so many great songs available to us. And so Getty is right: “Great songs sing well. Bad songs do not. So sing great songs.”

Again, please hop over to Lifeway’s “Facts & Trends” blog to read the full interview here. It’s so good! Just makes me that much more exciting for the upcoming release of Getty’s first book, Sing!: Why and How We Should Worship, which you can pre-order here. (I’ve written asking for an advanced reading copy for review… so hopefully you’ll see a review here ahead of its September release!)

Is It Okay to Criticize Pastors?

In the last couple weeks, there have been several stories in the news and in the Christian blogosphere about Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Matthews, NC. He’s certainly no stranger to criticism, for everything from his unorthodox ecclesiology to his association with prominent “Word-Faith” pastors to his 16,000 sq. ft. mega-mansion. For a run-down on the most recent brouhaha—involving the methods used by Elevation Church to engineer mass baptisms—check out this post by Jeff Wright, pastor of Midway Baptist Church here in Cookeville.

As I’ve seen Jeff’s post and many others like it appear on social media in recent days, there has been one response that seems to insert itself into every comment thread. It goes something like this:

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:18 that we should rejoice whenever the gospel is preached, no matter the motive, so what gives you the right to criticize any Christian pastor?

First of all, let me applaud those who have asked this question. I appreciate arguments made from Scriptural authority, even when I may disagree with someone’s conclusions from that Scripture. But the question for today is, does Philippians 1:18 mean that we are never to call out pastors who we believe to be in error?

Let’s turn to J. Gresham Machen, who addressed this very question in his book Christianity and Liberalism (my review) way back in 1923:

In short, the rival preachers made of the preaching of the gospel a means to the gratification of low personal ambition; it seems to have been about as mean a piece of business as could well be conceived. But Paul was not disturbed. “Whether in pretence, or in truth,” he said, “Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, ye, and will rejoice” (Phil. i. 18). The way in which the preaching was being carried on was wrong, but the message itself was true; and Paul was far more interested in the content of the message than in the manner of its presentation. It is impossible to conceive a finer piece of broad-minded tolerance.

But the tolerance of Paul was not indiscriminate. He displayed no tolerance, for example, in Galatia. There, too, there were rival preachers. But Paul had no tolerance for them. “But though we,” he said, “or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. i. 8). What is the reason for the difference in the apostle’s attitude in the two cases? What is the reason for the broad tolerance in Rome, and the fierce anathemas in Galatia? The answer is perfectly plain. In Rome, Paul was tolerant, because there the content of the message that was being proclaimed by the rival teachers was true; in Galatia he was intolerant, because there the content of the rival message was false. In neither case did personalities have anything to do with Paul’s attitude. (p. 22, emphasis mine)

So whether it’s Furtick or any other pastor, the real question is whether the Jesus he preaches is the real one. If so, then our task is to correct with gentleness whatever errors may be present in his teaching. If not, our task is to warn sheep about the wolf in the fold.

Bottom-Up Leadership

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Ron Paul’s latest book, The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System. Last night I particularly appreciated a passage where Dr. Paul wrote about the process of becoming a good leader:

Successful leadership begins with self-government. It is extended through successful followership. A person learns the basics of leadership by working closely with a competent leader who serves as a model. He gains access to the leader through his willingness to submit to leadership. This is the principle of bottom-up leadership. It begins at the bottom. Then, over a period of time, the follower advances in his level of responsibility. Maybe he attends a meeting on a regular basis; he shows up. This is basic and absolutely necessary to success in life, because a lot of people do not show up. Maybe he gets there early. He helps to set up the chairs. He learns how to make the coffee. He offers himself as a servant to whoever is running the meeting. He becomes useful to somebody else.

The themes of responsibility and servant leadership are recurring ones as Paul outlines his methodology for producing educated citizens who are ready to succeed in whatever course they choose to pursue, and to lead with humility:

So few people are faithful servants that those people inevitably rise in the chain of command, even if there is no official chain of command. So few people are reliable followers that leaders reach out to them, train them, disciple them, and put them in positions of leadership.

The discipleship model of servant leadership is prevalent in the Bible, so it should come as no surprise that Dr. Paul frequently credits his study of Scripture in forming his own style of leadership. Yet another reason to love the good Doctor!  I hope you’ll check out his book. You won’t regret it!

Book Review: A Case for Amillennialism (Expanded Edition)

“A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times” by Kim Riddlebarger

Like many Christians in the last century, I grew up hearing about the secret rapture that would remove the Church just prior to the start of the Great Tribulation. I read the Left Behind books in high school, and felt sure I would be able to recognize the Antichrist as he rose to power in the European Union. I was a Dispensationalist; I didn’t know a Christian could be anything else.

Then, as I got more serious about studying my Bible, I began to have questions about the events surrounding Christ’s return to which my prior understanding could not provide satisfactory answers. I poured over Dispensational texts: first popular works like Chuck Missler’s Learn the Bible in 24 Hours and then more scholarly works like Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come. While they did have answers to every one of my questions, something about those answers still didn’t sit right with me… though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

It was then that I began to search out eschatological writings from outside the Dispensational viewpoint. At first, I was “tossed by the wind” because I did not ask for Godly wisdom, but relied instead on the wisdom of the authors I was reading. As a result, my “convictions” evolved quickly, from “pre-wrath” to historic premillennial to amillennial, partial preterist, and right back to confused.

Finally, I did what I ought to have done in the first place. I asked the Lord for wisdom, and searched the Scriptures with renewed vigor. The one positive result of my earlier reading was that it had at least served to reveal to me the hermeneutical presuppositions with which Dispensationalists view Scripture. Now free to study the Word without this interpretive lens, my questions gradually began to find their answers. I became more and more convinced that the Biblical authors seemed to be pointing ahead to a single climactic event in which Christ will return, the dead will rise and face judgment, and believers will enter their eternal rest. 

The Bible itself convinced me of the truth of amillennialism.

When I now went to leading amillennialist scholars, their books simply confirmed in my mind what I had already come to believe. And this, after the lengthy auto-biographical prelude, brings us (finally) to Kim Riddlebarger’s book.

Though, as the title suggests, this book builds a case for amillennialism, it is likely not sufficient on its own to fully persuade anyone who is not already an amillennialist to become one. Nor should it. Our theological positions should be built from Scripture itself.

Thankfully, A Case for Amillennialism forces the reader to interact heavily with Scripture. Riddlebarger writes with the expectation that the reader will either be extremely familiar with the relevant biblical texts, or, like me, have a Bible handy for frequent referencing. His goal is to let Scripture speak for itself, rather than reading his eschatology into the text.

The book is helpfully divided into four sections. The first clearly defines the terms used frequently in the book, and gives an overview of the major eschatological views. The second section addresses several biblical and theological concerns topically, contrasting the amillennial position with opposing views. Riddlebarger then goes into a lengthy exposition of four key texts (Daniel’s 70 Weeks, the Olivet Discourse, Romans 11, and Revelation 20:1-10) before a closing section on the signs of the end and some questions Bible students should ask when evaluating millennial options.

Of the many books on the “End Times” I’ve read over the years, this has been the most helpful, and will be the one I am most likely to recommend to others. I found Riddlebarger’s writing to be more accessible than Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future and less intimidating than Sam Storms’ massive Kingdom Come, though each of those is also worthwhile. His clarity and brevity are skills honed as the long-time co-host of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast; he is an excellent communicator.

A Case for Amillennialism is particularly helpful for those like me who come from a Dispensational background, as he spends much more time addressing that interpretation than he does preterism, post-mil, or historical pre-mil. He is gracious toward those with whom he disagrees, but firm in his opposition to their views.

Throughout the book Riddlebarger relies heavily on references to Hoekema’s classic work, though they do disagree at times. Their most notable point of difference is on whether or not there is a distinct future role in redemptive history for ethnic Jews. Hoekema says no (because “all Israel” in Romans 11 refers to the total number of believers rather than to ethnic Israel), but Riddlebarger believes that Paul teaches that there will be a large-scale conversion of Jews to faith in Christ just prior to the Lord’s second coming. On this point I side with Riddlebarger.

The “Expanded Edition” adds a chapter on the Antichrist (with content taken largely from his book The Man of Sin) and a chapter on the signs of the end. If you don’t own a copy, I’d recommend that you purchase the new edition, but there’s probably not enough new material to warrant an upgrade if you already have the earlier version.

Whether you’re a convinced amillennialist, a proponent of another eschatology looking to fairly represent your opponents, or simply someone with questions that need answering, you can’t go wrong reading this book. Buy it here.