How do you approach the planning of music for the people of God during the Christmas season? Do you sing hymns and choruses related to the various aspects of the incarnation of the God-man? Do you continue on as any other time of the year? Do you include some focused on Christmas and some that are not? Do you only include those pertinent to the Christmas season? And once you have responded to those questions, what is your reason for your response?

Someone asked me a form of this question. In no specific order, here are a few thoughts I gave in response.

  • Some do not believe the music ought to be any different in December (Advent and Christmas) or April (Easter) than at any other time of the year. Those are a couple of times in the Church Year when key redemptive historical events are remembered and celebrated. There are those who do not believe the Church year ought to be followed. For example, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas.
  • Some will sing a few Christmas songs/hymns, but include other non-Christmas songs as well. There is nothing morally wrong with that. But there is something to singing the songs written for such doctrinal foci celebrated by the church. It brings focus for this period of time. Another thing that could be done is that these songs focusing on key redemptive historical times in the life of Jesus be sung at times other than Christmas or Easter. We don’t just focus on the doctrinal truths of the incarnation or the death and resurrection of Jesus annually. These truths are foundational for all of Christian theology and life.
  • There is something to join in singing this music with the global church, both in time (the church around the world) and through time (the church throughout history).
  • Christians and the gathered church are to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This is a time to engage fully in all three, just like any other time. Though there might be an appropriate focus and emphasis at certain times so that there will not be an equal balance of all three kinds/types of song on any given Sunday or any given month. But over the course of a quarter or semester or half-year, our corporate gathering is marked by all three expressions.
  • It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, so singing the familiar Christmas songs are done without meaning, more ritually than worshipfully. That may be true. But unfamiliarity leaves one ignorant. So which is better? Neither! For the former, we acknowledge that temptation, do want we ought personally so it does not blind, numb, or create callouses and we do the same corporately. For the latter, we must educate, equip and inform.
  • On the one hand, focusing on all aspects of the incarnation in song over against not singing these songs at all is one thing. On the other hand, singing songs about the incarnation either through traditional music and melody or contemporary is another thing. The former I would address. The latter I would not.
  • Once this is acknowledged you enter into the preference realm. As long as the lyrics are biblically and doctrinally solid, the music/melody is almost completely preferential, a personal taste.
  • There is something about teaching/training as we gather corporately. But remember, that setting is to support what is occurring at home. For some who want these traditional hymns to be sung in our corporate gathering because “where and when will my children learn them?,” the primary place this teaching and instruction takes place is in the home. Are they teaching, equipping and singing them at home?
  • The older hymns have many years behind them so the bad ones have been weeded out. This does not mean they are all good, but the number the church has retained is smaller than those written. The issue with choruses is that because they are contemporary time has not had its effect on them yet. However, having said that, there are many contemporary choruses that are rich in theology.
  • If one desire to instruct, teach, equip, and to address/avoid the familiarity, or inform the ignorant, I suggest one compile an Advent/Christmas Hymn/Chorus book of the songs the church will be singing in the next month. You can then provide this to families that they can take home and make the singing a part of their family lives during this time, which will then be supported by the gathered church on Sundays. If it were I, I would also include a brief historical explanation about the song and its significance.

Now back to the questions asked in the opening paragraph: how do you answer the questions and why?

Preaching Difficult Texts

Greg Strand – December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

In your preaching and teaching ministry, what has been the most difficult and challenging text to prepare and preach? Why? What made it difficult?

This was the question asked of John MacArthur, H. B. Charles, Jr. and Al Mohler at The Expositors Summit, a conference on preaching. To set the context for each person’s response, MacArthur and Charles serve as pastors of local churches. They both have the privilege of preaching through the Word of God on a weekly basis. MacArthur has been doing that for 45 years! Mohler serves as the president of a seminary, so his preaching schedule is regular though different from that of a local church pastor.

MacArthur identified three passages of Scripture: Genesis 10 and the table of the nations; Zechariah and going through the text verse-by-verse; 1 John. His reason for the latter is that he found John is so strong, so black and white, that he was tempted to soften John’s harder edges by providing another side from Paul’s writings.

Charles identified Daniel as the most difficult, particularly Daniel 11. At the end of the day, although the details of the text might be difficult to sort out, the clear point is “God wins!” That is the clear and explicit message he made to the congregation.

Mohler pointed to the Psalms. The emotion and suffering of the Psalmist is so intense and corporate. That, however, does not match his own personal or corporate experience. With the global rise of persecution, the Psalms will resonate with believers and many will find the language to lament, to grieve, to be encouraged and to hope.

How would you answer the questions:

  • What has been the most difficult and challenging text to prepare and preach?
  • Why was it difficult and challenging?

Hymns are Mini-Sermons

Greg Strand – December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

The Word of God is central and essential to the Christian and the Church, both individually and corporately. Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Dt. 8:3). Because God and His Word are central and essential to our very being, I often say that we are not primarily herbivores or carnivores. Rather, we are verbivores, i.e. we live or die on the Word of God.

One of the most important ways that we corporately hear and respond to the Word of God is through the preached Word (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-25). It has a central place in the gathered people of God. Everything else in the service either flows from or is directed toward the Scriptures. It is a vital means of grace, i.e. a means God ordains to strengthen and build up believers when engaged in and participated by faith.

One of the important ways the body of Christ speaks, learns and responds to God and His truth is through song. The Bible exhorts believers to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16; cf. Eph. 5:19). The Word of Christ (both the teaching about Christ and the teaching of Christ) dwells richly in our lives through “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

The Bible is foundational for all we do, including what forms and shapes the music we sing. The best of the psalms, hymns and spiritual songs we sing today, and throughout history, could be considered a “mini-sermon” that “moves the soul.”

Nicholas T. Batzig refers to hymns as Mini Sermons For the Soul to Sing:

I’ve come to enjoy thinking of the great hymns of the church as “mini sermons for the soul to sing.”

This is one of the main reasons why we should study, cherish and preserve hymn-singing in our churches. It’s not that hymns are inspired by God–as are the songs of Scripture (e.g. the Song of Moses, Deborah, Hannah, the Psalms, Song of Songs, Habakkuk, the Magnificat, etc.)–but, as Sinclair Ferguson has helpfully explained, “When truth gets into a hymnbook it becomes the confident possession of the whole church.

In short, it is the theological and experiential truth, coupled with the poetic form and intentional structure of hymns that makes them mini-sermons for [the] soul to sing.

Three questions to ponder:

  1. What do you do to ensure the Bible is central and essential to your own life and in the life and ministry of the church of Jesus Christ?
  2. How do you ensure the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” are faithful commentaries on or mini-sermons of biblical truth, i.e. how do they support the teaching of the Word of God?
  3. How do you teach, lead and model biblical and theological truth that is expressed in experiential truth, i.e. our response to the mini-sermons for the soul to sing?

The Case for Idolatry: A Parody

Greg Strand – December 17, 2014 Leave a comment

One of the major pressure points in morality today is same-sex marriage. Those who affirm it and claim the Bible teaches it, or at least does not teach against it, engage in progressive, revisionist hermeneutics. The hermeneutical principles embraced follow a general pattern.

At the end of the day, the Scriptures are reinterpreted to affirm contemporary mores, contrary to how they have been understood by the church for thousands of years. Granted, the church could have gotten it wrong in the past, and only now the true meaning is grasped. But in this case, it is not only unlikely, it requires hermeneutical gymnastics to get there.

In reflecting this progressive, revisionist hermeneutic, Andrew Wilson writes a parody (“imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect”) with idolatry as his ploy: The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelical Christians can Worship Idols

This is how Wilson begins:

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.

That’s just who I am.

For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.

I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

Wilson’s brief parody conveys a powerful message about the problems of revisionist hermeneutics as applied to one of the major moral issues of our day. I encourage you to read it.  

 

 

Theology in Community

Greg Strand – December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

The Theology in Community series is edited by Christopher W. Morgan, professor of theology and dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University, and Robert A. Peterson, professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. Crossway publishes this excellent series.

The editors’ desire for this series is spelled out in the preface.

As the series name, Theology in Community, indicates, theology in community aims to promote clear thinking on and godly responses to historic and contemporary theological issues. The series examines issues central to the Christian faith, including traditional topics such as sin, the atonement, the church, and heaven, but also some which are more focused or contemporary, such as suffering and the goodness of God, the glory of God, the deity of Christ, and the kingdom of God. The series strives not only to follow a sound theological method but also to display it.

Chapters addressing the Old and New Testaments on the book’s subject form the heart of each volume. Subsequent chapters synthesize the biblical teaching and link it to historical, philosophical, systematic, and pastoral concerns. Far from being mere collections of essays, the volumes are carefully crafted so that the voices of the various experts combine to proclaim a unified message.

Again, as the name suggests, theology in community also seeks to demonstrate that theology should be done in teams. The teachings of the Bible were forged in real-life situations by leaders in God’s covenant communities. The biblical teachings addressed concerns of real people who needed the truth to guide their lives. Theology was formulated by the church and for the church. This series seeks to recapture that biblical reality. The volumes are written by scholars, from a variety of denominational backgrounds and life experiences with academic credentials and significant expertise across the spectrum of theological disciplines, who collaborate with each other. They write from a high view of Scripture with robust evangelical conviction and in a gracious manner. They are not detached academics but are personally involved in ministry, serving as teachers, pastors, and missionaries. The contributors to these volumes stand in continuity with the historic church, care about the global church, share life together with other believers in local churches, and aim to write for the good of the church to strengthen its leaders, particularly pastors, teachers, missionaries, lay leaders, students, and professors.

Peterson and Morgan have focused on key contemporary theological topics and compiled an excellent team of scholars and churchmen to address these subjects from various perspectives – biblical (Old and New Testaments), theological, historical, philosophical and pastoral. The result is an incredible resource that will serve the church well.

Six volumes have been published in this series, the most recent this past fall. I include all the titles below, along with the contents of the books. You will notice, as well, that with The Kingdom of God and Fallen I have included interviews regarding the books.

Suffering and the Goodness of God (2008).

  1. Christ and the Crocodiles: Suffering and the Goodness of God in Contemporary Perspective (Robert W. Yarbrough)
  2. Suffering and the Goodness of God in the Old Testament (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.)
  3. Eight Kinds of Suffering in the Old Testament (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.)
  4. Suffering and the Goodness of God in the Gospels (Dan G. McCartney)
  5. Suffering in the Teaching of the Apostles (Dan G. McCartney)
  6. Suffering and the Biblical Story (Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson)
  7. The Problem of Evil (John M. Frame)
  8. Suffering and Oppression (William Edgar)
  9. Poems in the Park: My Cancer and God’s Grace (David B. Calhoun)
  10. A Journey in Suffering: Personal Reflections on the Religious Problem of Evil (John S. Feinberg)

The Glory of God (2010).

  1. The Glory of God Present and Past (Stephen J. Nichols)
  2. The Glory of God in the Old Testament (Tremper Longman, III)
  3. The Glory of God in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts, and the General Epistles (Richard R. Melick, Jr.)
  4. The Glory of God in John’s Gospel and Revelation (Andreas J. Köstenberger)
  5. The Glory of God in Paul’s Epistles (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.)
  6. Toward a Theology of the Glory of God (Christopher W. Morgan)
  7. A Pastoral Theology of the Glory of God (Bryan Chapell)
  8. A Missional Theology of the Glory of God (J. Nelson Jennings)

The Deity of Christ (2011).

  1. The Deity of Christ Today (Stephen J. Nichols)
  2. The Deity of Christ and the Old Testament (Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.)
  3. The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels (Stephen J. Wellum)
  4. The Deity of Christ in John’s Gospel (Andreas J. Köstenberger)
  5. The Deity of Christ in the Apostolic Witness (Stephen J. Wellum)
  6. The Deity of Christ in John’s Letters and the Book of Revelation (Andreas J. Köstenberger)
  7. The Deity of Christ in Church History (Gerald Bray)
  8. Toward a Systematic Theology of the Deity of Christ (Robert A. Peterson)
  9. The Deity of Christ and the Cults (Alan W. Gomes)
  10. The Deity of Christ for Missions, World Religions, and Pluralism (J. Nelson Jennings)

The Kingdom of God (2012). Editors Interview. Author Interviews.

  1. The Kingdoms of God: The Kingdom in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Stephen J. Nichols)
  2. The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament: Definitions and Story (Bruce K. Waltke)
  3. The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament: The Covenants (Bruce K. Waltke)
  4. The Kingdom of God in the New Testament: Matthew and Revelation (Robert W. Yarbrough)
  5. The Kingdom of God in the New Testament: Mark through the Epistles (Robert W. Yarbrough)
  6. The Kingdom, Miracles, Satan, and Demons (Clinton E. Arnold)
  7. The Kingdom and the Church (Gregg R. Allison)
  8. The Kingdom and Eschatology (Gerald Bray, Stephen J. Nichols)
  9. The Kingdom Today (Anthony B. Bradley)

Fallen: A Theology of Sin (2013). Editors and Author interviews.

  1. Sin’s Contemporary Significance (D. A. Carson)
  2. Sin in the Law (Paul R. House)
  3. Sin in the Former and Latter Prophets and the Writings (Paul R. House)
  4. Sin in the Gospels, Acts, and Hebrews to Revelation (Robert W. Yarbrough)
  5. Sin in Paul (Douglas J. Moo)
  6. Sin in the Biblical Story (Christopher W. Morgan)
  7. Sin in Historical Theology (Gerald Bray)
  8. A Theology of Sin for Today (John W. Mahony)
  9. Satan, Sin, and Evil (Sydney H. T. Page)
  10. Sin and Temptation (David B. Calhoun)
  11. Repentance That Sings (Bryan Chapell)

Heaven (2014).

  1. Learning about Heaven (Robert A. Peterson)
  2. Heaven in the Old Testament (Raymond C. Ortlund Jr.)
  3. Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (Jonathan T. Pennington)
  4. Heaven in Paul’s Letters (Stephen J. Wellum)
  5. Heaven in the General Epistles (Jon Laansma)
  6. Heaven in John’s Gospel and Revelation (Andreas J. Köstenberger)
  7. Pictures of Heaven (Robert A. Peterson)
  8. The History of Heaven (Gerald Bray)
  9. Angels and Heaven (Stephen F. Noll)
  10. Heaven for Persecuted Saints (Ajith Fernando)
  11. The Hope of Heaven (David B. Calhoun)

The longer I have been in ministry, the longer I have served in the role of pastor-theologian, the more convinced I have become of the necessity of the community for the doing of theology. This does not mean the community determines theology. Rather, the community grounded on and centered in the Scriptures seeks to understand the God-ordained meaning of the God-inspired text of Scripture with the goal of living that truth in that community. This is one reason of many that I like this series.

I commend these excellent works for your study.