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Reality of Christian Experience

This is a guest post from John Thornbury, who is currently Pastor of Worship at Bellepoint Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Previously, Bro. John served over 40 years as pastor of Winfield Baptist Church in PA. And, yes, he is the father of Greg.

I appreciated this meditation, and Bro. John was kind enough to let me share it with you.

 

THE HYMN WRITERS

We live in a day when it is increasingly become the vogue to say that the Christian message is a fake and that there is no such thing as a real relationship with God. It has occurred to me that it is very difficult to dispute the reality of a deep love for Jesus — when we read the the testimonies of hymn writers.

I take my stand with the saints (of many different denominations) who experienced rapturous love to Jesus.  Here are some.

Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676 , (Lutheran) “What language can I borrow, to thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end.  O Make me thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for Thee”.

Isaac Watts 1674-1748, (Congregationalist), “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe; Here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘Tis all that I can do”.

John Newton , 1725-1807, (Anglican) “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that  saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see”,

Charles Wesley, 1707-1788 (Methodist), “O for a thousand tongues to sin, my great Redeemer’s praise, The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace!”.

Nicolaus Zinzendorf, 1700-1760, (Moravian) “Jesus Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress. Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed, with joy will I lift up my head.”

Frances Havergal 1836-1879 (Anglican) “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated Lord, to thee.  Take my hands and let them move, At the impulse of Thy love.”

William Featherson (1846-1873) (Methodist) “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know thou art mine, for Thee all the follies of sin, I resign; My gracious redeemer, my savior art Thou. If ever I loved thee, Lord Jesus, ‘tis now.”

Samuel Stennett, 1727-1795 (Baptist). “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned. upon the Savior’s brow. His head with radiant glories crowned, his lips with grace o’erflow. No mortal can with him compare among the sons of men, Fairer is he than all the fair who fill the heavenly train.”

Phillip Bliss, 1838-1876 (Presbyterian) “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah what  a Savior.”

John Peterson, 1921-2006 (non-denominational) “O what a wonderful, wonderful day, day I will never forget, After I’d wandered in darkness away, Jesus my Savior I met, O what a tender compassionate friend, He met the need of my heart; Shadows dispelling, with joy I am telling, He make all the darkness depart.”

Jack Hayford, 1934- (Pentecostal)  “Majesty, worship His majesty unto Jesus be all glory honor and praise; Majesty, kingdom authority, flow from His throne unto His own, His anthem raise. So exalt, lift upon high the name of Jesus, Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus the king”.

Bill Gaither, 1936- (Church of God). “Shackled by a heavy burden, Neath a load of guilt and shame; Then the hand of Jesus touched me, and now I am no longer the same.  He touched me, O he touched me and O the joy that filled my soul.  Something happened and now I know.  He touched me and made me whole.”

How can anyone read such lines and doubt the reality of the Christian experience?

Preaching Defined in the Psalms

A good definition of preaching!
” My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone”

- Psalm 71:15-16

N T Wright’s Urgent Plea for the Psalms

“This book is a personal plea. The psalms, which make up the great hymnbook at the heart of the Bible, have been the daily lifeblood of Christians, and of course the Jewish people, from the earliest times. Yet in many Christian circles today, the Psalms are simply not used. And in many places where they are still used, whether said or sung, they are often reduced to a few verses to be recited as ‘filler’ between other parts of the liturgy or worship services. In the latter case, people often don’t seem to realize what they are singing. In the former case, they don’t seem to realize what they are missing. This book is an attempt to reverse those trends. I see this as an urgent task.”

-         N. T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential, 1.

Richard Hays’ Critique of the Common English Bible Translation

There seems to be a growing discussion amongst Bible scholars about the shortcomings of Bible translations which try too hard to sound contemporary (See for example Bob Gundry’s critique of Tom Wright’s NT translation from 2 years ago).

This week I came across this essay:

Richard Hays, “Lost in Translation: A Reflection on Romans in the Common English Bible,” in The Unrelenting God: God’s Action in Scripture: Essays in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Eerdmans, 2013)

The Common English Bible came out a couple of years ago having been overseen by a more mainline group. In this essay Hays reveals that he and Beverly Gaventa were given the task of writing the first draft of the translation of Romans. However, Hays was particularly disappointed in the translation which was finally published, after being altered by “readability experts.” The rest of his essay is an investigation of what happens when the laudable goal of clarity is reduced to “easy reading” and is not tethered to theological care. There is a warning here for any translation project.

As Hays states, “to turn a magisterial theological reflection such as Romans into an easy-reading text for the average American seventh-grader entails certain modifications, tradeoffs, and sacrifices” (84). I think this is an all too common mistake when the goal is for the “man on the street” to be able to understand the text on his own. As I have argued before, this completely misses the need for the teaching function of the church. There is a basic level of understanding, but we ought to expect any translation of the Bible to have rough edges, difficult portions- precisely because the original has these!- which will require much thought and should drive us to the teachers God has given to the church (Eph 4:11-12).

Hays makes his case with specific examples and pointed, punchy writing.

He states, “The repeated use of contractions and low-intensity everyday diction creates a relaxed conversational tone that lowers the temperature of the discourse.” (85) This is a valuable point because certain texts, like Romans, are not supposed to be breezy. Casual may be the rage in our conversations (as practically all else) today, but that does not mean it is the ideal or that it matches the text we are trying to translate.

Hays critiques the translation of Rom 16:25-27, where “revelation of the mystery” has become “announcement of the secret”, saying, “The CEB’s language would be more fitting to describe, say, a delayed wedding announcement than to designate the apostolic unveiling of the hidden mystery of God’s eternal design for saving the world.” (85)

Romans 1:22 states “they were made fools”, with God as the implied actor, but the CEB says “they made fools of themselves.” Hays notes, “The translation sounds clever, and it is certainly idiomatic English; unfortunately, it obscures Paul’s theological point.” (86)

In Romans 16:13, “Greet Rufus, the  one chosen/elect in the Lord” becomes “Say hello to Rufus, who is an outstanding believer”!

Hays is clear that he is not simply annoyed with how his draft was handled but concerned about a trend in translations.

 “I am drawing attention to this particular translational decision in order to illustrate how the process of translation entails judgments that are deeply theological in character.” (88)

“In an effort to achieve readability, it has not only sacrificed Paul’s stylistic elegance but also subtly obscured the letter’s theological coherence on key points. It has domesticated Paul’s gospel by muting its apocalyptic notes, dulling its sharp emphasis on the priority of God’s action in Christ to effect the justification of humanity, and reducing its rhetorical grandeur to a casual, plodding discourse.” (101)

 

These are important points to consider.

“Somber Doesn’t Sell”: Our Lack of Lament

I just came across this great quote on the lack of laments in most Christian worship settings.

Except for denominations committed to singing every psalm in chant, paraphrase, or hymn, contemporary hymnists and hymnals prefer to celebrate God as creator and thank God as liberator rather than to lament to the God who listens. … Perhaps this selection also says something about the theological climate in the mainstream churches in recent decades. Put in commercial terms, in the competitive denominational marketplace of the twenty-first century, somber doesn’t sell. We prefer to sin and repent, lament and die in silent privacy [emphasis added].[1]

For more on reclaiming lament in worship see Calvin Seerveld, “Why We Need to Learn to Cry in Church: Reclaiming the Psalms of Lament,”in Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship

 

[1] W. Sibley Towner, “Without Our Aid He Did Us Make”: Singing the Meaning of the Psalms,” in A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller, ed. Brent A. Strawn and Nancy R. Bowen (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 33.

“I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow”

This hymn by John Newton has ministered to me significantly recently so I pass it along.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

 

The Purpose of Biblical Exposition

In his recent volume, Philippians, Colossians, in the Reformation Commentary on Scripture series, Graham Tomlin opens by noting the “remarkable difference in tone and approach,” indeed a different “set of interests” between commentaries of the Reformation era and those of our day. To illustrate this difference he cites from the preface to a commentary on Philippians by Lancelot Ridley, a 16th century commentator who wrote that his aim is that his readers:

Should not perish but live here a life acceptable to God, always in the love and fear of God, by true knowledge of him, which knowledge comes by hearing, reading, studying of God’s word, or by preaching of it, or by reading of some exposition or commentary … wherein God’s word is purely and sincerely opened and declared to God’s glory and to the profit of others. (spelling modernized)

In contrast, Tomlin notes, too often today commentaries are caught up with academic exactitude but miss the heart of the issue.

We would do well to learn from our forebears.

The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary

psalms as christian lamentBruce Waltke, James Houston, and Erika Moore The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary (Eerdmans)

 

One of the way we demonstrate our lack of immersion in the Psalms is our lack of familiarity with lament, our lack of practice in doing it well and in being comfortable with others lamenting. This book is a wonderful help in reclaiming this biblical practice and thus reconnecting with the church through the ages.

The introduction alone is worth reading as Waltke and Houston treat the reality of suffering, our need for lament and the way the Psalms help us in this area. Then the authors selected 10 psalms, provided exegetical study of them and then paired that study with an investigation of how key voices in the history of the church have dealt with each psalm. Church leaders whose treatment of the Psalms are considered here include Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Augustine, Erasmus, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and others. This is a beautiful example of reading the Bible along with the church through the ages.

I am enjoying this book already and am looking forward to spending more time in it.

 

“I’m trusting Daddy”

Timmy and Abigail hike, 1

Today I’ve run some errands with my younger two children (Abigail, 8 yrs old & Timothy, 6 yrs old). Everybody else is gone for the day so it’s just the three of us (which means frozen yogurt for lunch, tree climbing, playing tag and who knows what else). As we left one stop which is tucked in some nice woods, I decided to play up the drive and tie in the Redwall story I’m currently reading to them. I was going to take a different way out so I played up the idea of us going into the unknown and deeper into the forest looking for Badrang the tyrant and Captain Clogg. Abigail suggested a path we saw might lead to Noonvale, the tucked away kingdom of the good guys. This is always fun.

As the story died away and the kids looked out at an area that’s unfamiliar to them, there was some kidding about not knowing where we were. Then, Timothy piped up, “I don’t know where we are, but I’m trusting Daddy. He knows how to get us where we’re going.” That confidence is sweet, but it struck me that there is a deeper truth here. Often in life I don’t know where we’re going; I’m not sure how to answer all the decisions coming my way. I like to be very deliberate about things and often don’t do as well with not knowing the answers. I need to respond like my son, confessing my own ignorance but resting confidently in the knowledge and care of my Father. He knows how to get me where we’re going, and his love and knowledge are unbounded. And he even cares more about me arriving safely than I do.

I enjoy having fun with my children, and, when I listen, I often learn a lot as well.

 

A Prayer from Pascal on Contentment

I have been rebuked and helped recently by this prayer from Pascal.

 

Forgive us Oh Lord, for we do not rest satisfied with the present. 

We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight.  So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours, and do not think of the only one which belongs to us… We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to make light from it to arrange the future… the past and present are our means; the future alone is our end.  So we never live, but we hope to live; and as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

-Pascal