February 28, 2007

DeGraaf on the Pre-Fall Covenant

Category: Theology :: Permalink

Remember when it was okay for Reformed writers to speak like this?

We are accustomed to speaking of this covenant as the covenant of works. However, we should not take this name to mean that man was expected to earn eternal life as a reward for doing good works, as though eternal life was man’s payment for services rendered.  Because man owes everything he is and has to God, we may never speak of man earning wages paid out by God.  Therefore it might be wiser to speak of the covenant of God’s favor. — S. G. DeGraaf, Promise and Deliverance 1.37.

Today, people seem to get all worked up if you suggest that God’s covenant with Adam wasn’t a meritorious “covenant of works,” in which Adam was required to earn God’s blessing.  Well, some may have been upset by DeGraaf, too.  I don’t know.  But there was a time when Promise and Deliverance was widely read by Reformed people and they didn’t freak out at statements like this one.

It’s good to remember, in the midst of today’s polemics, that things weren’t always this way in the Reformed church.  And by God’s grace, they won’t be this way in the future.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:06 pm | Discuss (7)

Emerging Worship 2

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Last week, I finished Dan Kimball‘s Emerging Worship.  I’m not going to go through the book chapter by chapter and discuss it, but I do want to touch on a few things.

In the third chapter (entitled “Why This is a Dangerous Book to Read”), Kimball warns about treating the “weekend worship gathering” as the most important thing that the church does.  The church, he says, isn’t a place you go or a meeting or Christians who go to a meeting; it’s Jesus’ disciples wherever they are, and especially as they gather throughout the week and as they are involved in mission together all week long.

I appreciate his desire to keep people from thinking that church is just a place you go on the weekend and that being a Christian is simply a matter of going there (or even, as is often the case, a matter of going to “church,” listening to the Christian radio station, reading Christian novels, and having your daily devotions).  I appreciate his emphasis on the church’s mission in the world.

But it seems to me that Kimball is needlessly pitting worship and mission against each other.  Maybe I’m more aware of that because I recently finished rereading Peter Leithart‘s The Kingdom and the Power.  It’s not as if our worship is a break from our work in the world.  On the contrary, our worship is itself mission.

As James Jordan has pointed out in the most recent Rite Reasons (“How to Stop the Killing in Darfur, Part I”), the priests in the Old Covenant were engaged in holy war.  They killed animals that represented sinners, for one thing.  They offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the seventy nations of the world (Gen. 10; Num. 29; Zech. 14:16-21).  But in particular, they sang the Psalms, calling on God to avenge His people, to make the nations know Him, and so forth.

And that’s what we see in Luke 18, when Jesus tells us to pray for vengeance and not lose heart.  It’s what we see in Revelation, as the church worships God and God pours out His vengeance on those who oppress His people.  As Jordan says, “God promises to change the world, to turn the world upsidedown, when His people come into His presence during worship and pray for vengeance.”

It’s not just vengeance, of course.  We’re praying also for the salvation of the world, as the priests offered sacrifices for the nations.  Our worship is largely “common prayer,” and it isn’t a break from our mission in the world.  It is the primary way in which we carry out that mission.  Activism says that we work hard in the world, and that’s where our mission is accomplished, but we take breaks sometimes to rest and worship God.  The Bible teaches us that worship is itself our work, our highest calling, and it is the primary way in which we carry out our work in the world.

If we want our neighbors converted, what’s the primary thing we have to do?  Make friendships?  Get involved in service projects?  Those things are important.  But what’s primary is surely drawing near to God, receiving His gifts (or else how can we work during the week?), praising Him (and when He is lifted up on our praises, our enemies are scattered), and praying to Him to save our neighbors.

None of that leaves room for us to think that if we simply show up in church as spectators, we’ve carried out our calling as Christians.  In fact, there’s no room for spectators in our worship.  Reformed congregations easily fall into the trap that Kimball is warning against, since it often seems as if the minister does everything: there’s a heavy emphasis on the sermon, while the congregation sings and recites a creed but doesn’t itself pray the prayers.  But biblical worship isn’t a spectator sport.

And biblical worship may not be divorced from service in the world around.  What happens in the Lord’s Day service (please, not “weekend worship gathering”) is the most important thing.  It’s more important than your private Bible readings and prayers, more important than your evangelistic or service work in the community, but it isn’t divorced from those things.  Rather, it is the heart of the church’s life, the time when we are served by God so that we can serve Him in return in the liturgy and then, flowing from it, all week long.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:04 pm | Discuss (2)
February 20, 2007

Psalm 9

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible.  The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading.  I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
Upon Muth-Labben.
A Psalm.
By David.

I will thank Yahweh with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders!
I will rejoice and I will exult in you;
I will psalm to your name, Most High!

When my enemies turn back,
They stumble and perish before your face,
For you maintain my right and my cause;
You sit on a throne judging righteously.

You have rebuked the nations; you have destroyed the wicked;
Their name you have blotted out everlastingly and forever.
The enemy — they are finished! Everlasting ruins!
And cities you have uprooted—
The very memory of them has perished.

But Yahweh sits forever;
He has established his throne for the judgment.
And he himself will judge the world in righteousness,
And he will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.

And Yahweh is a stronghold for the oppressed,
A stronghold in times of trouble.
And they will trust in you, those who know your name,
For you have not forsaken those who seek you, Yahweh.

Psalm to Yahweh, who sits in Zion!
Declare among the peoples his deeds,
For the Seeker of Blood remembers them;
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, Yahweh!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
You who lift me up from the gates of death,
That I may tell of all your praise in the gates of Daughter Zion,
That I may rejoice in your salvation.

The nations have sunk down in the pit they made;
In the net they hid their own foot has been caught.
Yahweh has made himself known.
Justice he has done,
By the work of his hands, striking down the wicked man.
Higgaion. Selah.

The wicked will turn — into Sheol,
All nations that forget God,
Because the needy will not everlastingly be forgotten;
Nor will the hope of the afflicted perish forever.

Rise up, Yahweh! Do not let man be strong!
Let the nations be judged before your face!
Appoint a teaching for them, Yahweh,
Let the nations know they are man. Selah.

A few comments about this Psalm:

1.  The phrase muth-labben may mean “death of a son” or “death to a son” or something like that, but we aren’t sure.  For that matter, we don’t know exactly what Higgaion means eitiher.  Let alone Selah.

2.  When the Psalm speaks of Yahweh as “sitting,” the idea is that He is enthroned.  In fact, “Yahweh who sits in Zion” could be translated “Yahweh, the Enthroned of Zion” (which is what Jim Jordan has in his versions of the Psalms).  He is also called the “Seeker of Blood,” because he remembers bloodshed and avenges those whose blood has been shed.

3.  The word translated “man” at the end of the psalm is the same as the name of Seth’s son in Genesis 4: Enosh.  The term enosh generally seems to present man as weak and frail, mortal man.  Here, the idea seems to be that God should not allow these mere men, these mortal, frail, weak men to become strong, that is, to prevail over the righteous.

4.  The word “teaching” at the end may be unexpected.  It’s a guess, I have to admit, following Jordan and sticking to the actual Hebrew text, which has a word which appears to be related to a verb meaning “to instruct, teach.” It’s possible, though, that the Hebrew word may mean “fear.”  Though the verb “to be afraid, fear” is one letter different, spelling in Hebrew is a little bit more flexible than in English.  To put it another way, two words that sound the same often turn out to be related, and so it’s possible that this word is a variant spelling of a word that means “fear.” Of course, the word in exactly this form does appear elsewhere in the Bible where it means “razor,” and so it’s also just possible that this is a metaphor: God’s judgment is seen as a razor being appointed to shave these people. Ain’t translation fun?

[Revised, June 6, 2009.]

Posted by John Barach @ 11:40 pm | Discuss (2)
February 19, 2007

Like Hidden Fire

Category: History,Literature :: Permalink

I’ve read John Buchan’s novel Greenmantle several times.  It’s the second of his Peter Hannay stories and it is set during World War I.  The Germans have teamed up with the Turks and are working to bring about a Holy War in the Islamic world in the hopes that the Muslims will overthrow the British.  Rumors abound about a mysterious figure in the East who is going to lead that Holy War, and Richard Hannay and his friends get caught up in the attempt to stop him.

I enjoyed the novel, but didn’t dream that there was actual history behind it.  Which shows you how little I knew about the history of World War I.  A while back, when I mentioned Greenmantle on this blog, Paul Baxter recommended Peter Hopkirk’s Like Hidden Fire: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire.  It’s the true story behind Greenmantle — and more!

Sure enough, the Germans and the Turks did plot to bring about a Holy War in order to turn the Muslims in Persia, Afghanistan, and India against the British.  Their propaganda even declared that Kaiser Wilhelm had converted to Islam and had made a pilgrimage to Mecca!

Hopkirk traces the development of the plot which looked for quite a while as if it might succeed.  In fact, Buchan had intelligence contacts and may have had inside information.  His friend, Lawrence of Arabia, once commented that “Greenmantle has more than a flavor of truth.”  Buchan’s novel ends with the defeat of Erzerum, but Hopkirk goes further, telling the story of the end of the Holy War as Turkey pushed toward the city of Baku in Transcaucasia.

I’ve heard the complaint that Buchan’s characters often just happen to stumble across plots and clues, making the novels less believable.  On the other hand, if the coincidences and mistakes that Hopkirk records were in fiction, the same charge could be levelled against them.

For instance: Would you believe that in fleeing from capture, Wassmuss (the German “Lawrence of Arabia”), who was trying to get the southern Persians worked up to fight the British, would leave behind his code book?  And that he wouldn’t report it to his superiors?  And that they would end up continuing to use the same code, not knowing that the British could read it?  And that they would send a top secret telegram (the Zimmermann Telegram) to Mexico via lines that ran through Britain?  And that Britain’s Naval Intelligence Director, Sir Reginald Hall, would have been curious about why Wassmuss tried so hard to get his luggage and, though no one else seemed interested in it, would have examined it and discovered the code book?

In fiction, maybe not.  “That’s stretching coincidence,” you might say.  But it happened.  The telegram was sent from the US consulate in Germany to the US state department, where the German consul translated it and then sent it on to Mexico.  But the telegraph lines went via Britain and the British happened to be reading all those telegrams, discovered this one, recognized the code (thanks to Hall), and discovered that the Germans were planning to attack US shipping and were trying to convince Mexico to join in the war in order to reclaim Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  And that, of course, had a lot to do with the States entering World War I (though I remember nothing of this from my high school history class).

Hopkirk writes well and I read the final chapters at a gallop yesterday afternoon, trying to discover what was happening to characters such as Ranald MacDonell, left alone in Baku in the midst of Bolsheviks and anti-Bolsheviks and Muslim-hating Arminians and with Turks approaching, Edward Noel, a real-life “Sandy Arbuthnot,” who was famous for his ability to travel great distances in surprisingly little time and whose escapes and adventures were legendary but who left hardly any records of them (alas!), and Reginald Teague-Jones, who was later (likely falsely!) accused of engineering the slaughter of the twenty-six Baku commissars and who had to change his name and disappear to escape reprisals.

I’ll be reading more of Hopkirk.  And having read this book, I almost want to go back and re-read Greenmantle again!

Posted by John Barach @ 7:08 pm | Discuss (1)

Praising Your Kids

Category: Family :: Permalink

This is a fascinating article about how and especially how not to praise your children.  Lots of important stuff here!  [HT: Mark Horne].

Posted by John Barach @ 3:42 pm | Discuss (0)
February 15, 2007

The Presbyteer

Category: Miscellaneous,Theology :: Permalink

Two good blog entries by The Presbyteer: “I’d Say It Differently Now” and “This Is All I Remember of College Math” (which makes me even more pleased that I didn’t take any math after high school!).

Posted by John Barach @ 4:02 pm | Discuss (0)
February 14, 2007

Emerging Worship 1

Category: Theology - Liturgical,Uncategorized :: Permalink

Today, I started reading Dan Kimball‘s Emerging Worship.  Kimball is one of the major players in the emerging church conversation and so, having spotted this book in the library, I thought I’d give it a quick read to see what Kimball thinks worship ought to be like.

After a meandering foreword by David Crowder (why did he even bother writing it?), Kimball starts by talking about what an “emerging worship service gathering” is.  He makes the point that when many evangelical Christians hear “worship” they think “music.”  When people say, “The worship at my church is great!” they usually mean “The worship band rocks!”

(I’ve sometimes said that the difference between evangelical churches and specifically Reformed churches is that the former say, “What did you think of the music?” and the latter say “What did you think of the sermon?” which is not necessarily better.)

Kimball rightly maintains that worship is broader than just music (p. 2).  Furthermore, he’s right to insist that worship is not all about doing something that makes us feel good (pp. 2-3).  But then he stumbles when he says about a worship service: “It is not about God’s service to us.  It is purely our offering of service and worship to God — offering our lives, offering our prayers, offering our praise, offering our confessions, offering our finances, offering our service to others in the church body” (p. 3).

While I grant that worship is what we do and that it’s okay to apply the term “worship” to the whole of what we do in the service (even though the biblical words translated “to worship” generally mean something like “to bow down”), I’d want to maintain that worship isn’t the whole of the service.  Or, to put it another way, we aren’t the only ones who are doing the serving when we assemble as a church.  In fact, our service is not the primary service.  God serves us first and we serve Him (and each other) in response.

It’s not wrong to come to church wanting to receive something.  All of us come to church needy.  Specifically, as James Jordan has pointed out, we need the three gifts that God gives in the liturgy: glory, knowledge (or wisdom), and life.  While it sounds better to say “We don’t worship to get; we worship to give,” it isn’t accurate.  We have nothing to give until we first get.  We come needy, God supplies our needs, and then we give in response.

All of which is to say that, while I appreciate Kimball’s call for a more holistic understanding of worship — one which goes beyond just the music — I don’t think Kimball goes far enough.  We need an understanding of the service which goes beyond worship, beyond what we do, to what God does for us.

On another note, Kimball’s call for churches to move “away from a preaching-and-singing-a-few-songs worship service model to a multi-sensory approach to worshiping God” (p. 5) suggests to me that much of what he appreciates is a reaction to a rationalistic sort of model (church is a lecture hall with some pre-lecture and post-lecture songs).  It’s a reaction to the approach which emphasizes only the sense of hearing and (primarily) the posture of sitting.

In short, it’s a reaction to the church’s failure to practice a fully-orbed, biblically-based liturgy, a liturgy with various postures (sitting, kneeling, standing) and with lots of congregational involvement (not just in singing but also in the prayers), a liturgy which culminates every week in the Lord’s Supper.  And so, when he presents questions for church leaders to ask about their services, one of them is this: “Did we take the Lord’s Supper together as a church regularly?” (p. 10).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:24 pm | Discuss (8)
February 8, 2007

Psalm 7

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible.  The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading.  I invite feedback on the translation!

A shiggaion.
By David,
Which he sang to Yahweh
Concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.

Yahweh, my God, in you I take refuge;
Save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
Lest he tear my soul like a lion,
Snatching away — and there is no one to deliver.

Yahweh, my God, if I did this:
If there is injustice in my hands,
If I did evil to someone at peace with me,
Or plundered my adversary without cause,
Let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake,
And let him trample to the earth my life,
And cause my glory to dwell in the dust. Selah.

Arise, Yahweh, in your anger!
Rise up against the ragings of my adversaries!
And awake for me since you commanded judgment.
And let the assembly of the peoples surround you,
And over it to the high place return.
Yahweh will judge the peoples.

Judge me, Yahweh, according to my righteousness
And according to my integrity within me.
Let the evil of the wicked come to an end, I pray,
But establish the righteous.
And a tester of hearts and kidneys is the righteous God.
My shield is with God,
The savior of the upright in heart.

God is a righteous judge,
And a God who expresses wrath every day.
If he does not turn, his sword he sharpens;
His bow he bends and makes it ready.
And for him he prepares deadly weapons;
He makes his arrows flame.

Look, he is in labor with trouble;
And he conceives mischief and bears falsehood.
A pit he dug and he scooped it out,
And he fell into the hole he made.
His mischief returns upon his own head
And on his skull his violence comes down.

I will give thanks to Yahweh according to his righteousness,
And I will psalm to the name of Yahweh Most High.

A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) The word in the title, shiggaion, appears also in Habakkuk 3:1. The exact meaning is unknown.

(2) Line 22 says “And a tester of hearts and kidneys is the righteous God.”  The kidneys here have to do with the inward parts, the source of our desires and passions and so forth.  The point is that Yahweh, the righteous God, examines us through and through and sees all our thoughts and motives and plans and desires.

(3) In lines 27 following, it’s not always clear who “he” is.  It’s possible that it’s the wicked man: He doesn’t turn but sharpens his sword, bends his bow, prepares his weapons, and so forth only to have them turn on himself.  He digs a pit and falls into it.

But it’s also possible that it’s only the first line that refers to the wicked: “If he [the wicked] does not turn, then he [God] will sharpen his sword.” Then, later, “he” refers to the wicked again: “He is in labor with trouble,” and so forth.

A third possibility: “He” in lines 27 following refers to God throughout.  If God doesn’t turn from His wrath, He will then prepare deadly weapons to attack the wicked.  In this case, “he” refers to God in lines 30 and then switches to refer to the wicked in line 31: “He is in labor with trouble.”

[Revised, February 27, 2009.]

Posted by John Barach @ 6:48 pm | Discuss (2)
February 1, 2007

Dirt & Anchovies

Category: Family,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

At our Wednesday night Bible studies, I often start with a short story or a brief essay, partly because I like reading to people (well, maybe that’s the main reason, but let’s keep that a secret) but also because I want the members of my congregation to have a sense that what we’re studying in the Bible is tied to the rest of life and because my calling here is not simply to “plant a church” but to build a culture.

I’ve recently been enjoying Brian Doyle’s collection of essays entitled Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies and so, last night, I read to the group this essay, “Eating Dirt,” which begins like this:

I have a small daughter and two smaller sons, twins. They are all three in our minuscule garden at the moment, my sons eating dirt as fast as they can get it off the planet and down their gullets. They are two years old, they were seized with dirt-fever an instant ago, and as admirably direct and forceful young men, quick to act, true sons of the West, they are going to eat some dirt, boy, and you’d better step aside.

Alas, this version of the essay is shorter than the one in the book.  Only traces of these paragraphs appear in that earlier version:

It occurs to me that we all eat dirt.  Fruits and vegetables are dirt transformed by light and water.  Animals are vigorous dirt, having dined on fruit or vegetables or other animals who dine on flora.  Our houses and schools and offices are cupped by dirt and made of wood and stone and brick — former dirt.  Glass is largely melted sand, a kind of clean dirt.  Our clothing used to be dirt.  Paper was trees was dirt.  We shape dirt into pots, plates, mugs, vases.  We breathe dirt suspended in the air, we crunch it between our teeth, on spinach leaves and fresh carrots, we wear it in the lines of our hands and the folds of our faces, we catch it in the linings of our noses and eyes and ears.  Some people are driven by private fires to eat dirt, often during pregnancy — the condition is called pica, from the Latin word for magpie.

In short we swim in an ocean of dirt, yet we hardly ever consider it closely, except to plump it for its treasures, or furrow it for seed, or banish it from our persons, clothes, houses.  We’re suckers for dramatic former dirt — cougars, lilies, bears, redwoods — but don’t often reflect on the basic stuff itself: good old simple regular normal orthodox there-it-sits-under-everthing dirt (p. 92).

And, speaking of Brian Doyle, who knew anchovies were so interesting?

Posted by John Barach @ 11:26 am | Discuss (2)