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Targeting Trendy- Not Cool

Christian Today recently ran an article titled, “Which kind of church appeals to Millennials? It’s not as trendy and modern as you think.”

I welcome almost anything that says “trendy isn’t as cool as you think.” That said, the article (unintentionally it seems) illustrates the problem with shaping ourselves based on the perceived desires or interests of a target group. If we “hit it right” we’ll just have to change again, soon, when the target group changes. There is an inherent problem with shaping our space, worship or presentation based on the preferences of people who do not come. We should be mindful of potential unnecessary stumbling blocks, but in the end the people of God should just be who they are. Otherwise we end up seeming like the people in high school who change their appearance each week trying to fit in with the “popular kids.” We might pity such kids, but they certainly don’t attract or elicit respect.

Tim Keller on Praying the Psalms

The Desiring God blog recently posted the transcript of an interview with Tim Keller about his new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. I have not yet read the book, but the second question in the interview and Keller’s response captured my attention. I am delighted that Keller is highlighting the value of praying the Psalms. What he describes is similar to my experience over the last several years of working through the Psalms in order to pray them and be shaped by them in praying. Here is an excerpt:

Question 2: Praying the Psalms

Your new book is clear: a profitable prayer life is impossible without solitude, but it’s also impossible without God’s word. You explain a time in your life when you were driven by desperation to pray, and so you opened the Psalms and prayed through them. Explain how you did this and what you learned from this season.

I am glad to talk about that. I came to see that the Psalms are extremely important for prayer. Perhaps that is because I read a book some years ago by Eugene Peterson called Answering God. He makes a strong case that we only pray well if we are immersed in Scripture. We learn our prayer vocabulary the way children learn their vocabulary — that is, by getting immersed in language and then speaking it back. And he said the prayer book of the Bible is the Psalms, and our prayer life would be immeasurably enriched if we were immersed in the Psalms. So that was the first step. I realized I needed to do that, but I didn’t know how.

Then I spent a couple of years studying the Psalms. …

I worked through all 150 Psalms and wrote a small outline and a small description of what I thought the Psalm was basically about, and key verses that I thought were useful for prayer. Using nine-point font, I basically broke out all 150 Psalms on about 20 pages, which I now use in the morning when I pray.

 

Pastors, Believe!

This column by Peter Leithart is a powerful call for pastors to believe in the effectiveness of God’s word, to be reminded of the spiritual realities at work in what they do. Leithart specifically is saying pastors need not entering the realm of politics in order to impact the world. This is true, but don’t miss the deeper point: too often the secular spirit of the age has so stunted our souls that we are tone deaf to the spiritual realities at work around us.

Pastors look for alternatives when they lose confidence in the tools of their trade. How many pastors believe they are stewards of the mysteries of God? Do we act as if our preaching participates by the Spirit in the creating and re-creating eternal Word? Do we believe that the Word is a weapon of the Spirit, as Hebrews says it is? Are we persuaded that the water we pour does wonders, or that a little ritual meal forms the social body of the incarnate Son of God, the assembly of God among the nations? Do we believe that the God with ears to hear is judge of the nations?

We need to ponder anew the true and lasting impact of word and sacrament.

In order to train pastors more effectively along these lines Leithart makes several provocative proposals including, “Don’t let anyone graduate unless he knows the Psalms—all of them.” I am still pondering all that he has said here, and as a Baptist I would tweak some of his water language (let’s not pour but plunge!), but we need to hear and consider this challenge. The Bible is clear that preaching, baptism and communion have real impact. We need to be reminded (perhaps re-enchanted) concerning the work which goes on these acts.

 

Reformation Day 2014

Happy Reformation Day! This is always a day celebrated in the Van Neste household as we acknowledge the blessings that have come down to us because of this great movement: e.g., having the scriptures in our own language, having our own copies of the Bible, understanding that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, enjoying truly corporate worship, understanding the value of all work in God’s sight, and the fact that although I’m an ordained minister I am married!

Rehearsing some of these with my kids this morning, one of them said, “That’s why you love Reformation Day, Dad, because you like being married to Mom!” I heartily said, “Absolutely! That is certainly a great reason!”

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate this past work of God, and plenty of need to continue the work of returning to the Scriptures to bring our lives and practice in conformity with it.

Here are some recent items that further reflect on the Reformation.

Timothy George, has a brief column on Luther and his value to the whole church

Carl Trueman’s lecture on “Martin Luther, the troubled prophet”. Carl has a book titled Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom due out in February.

Trueman also has a great recent column titled The Wonder of Luther’s Catechisms where he holds up the value of solid, foundational teaching over the glitzy, hip discussions.

Regent audio has made three Reformation-related lectures available for free to download through the end of the day.

Then, Gerald Bray’s article from several years ago, “Was the Reformation a Tragedy?” is well worth returning to.

Lastly, since last Reformation Day my article on the pastoral impulse of the Reformation has appeared in print.

“Your souls, more precious than thousands of worlds”

How should a pastor think of the members of the church he serves? Too often today church members are thought of as customers or potential workers. This is not the scriptural pattern; nor is it the practice of our forebears.

Just today I came back to “The Glory and Ornament of a True Gospel‐constituted Church” written by Elias Keach in London in 1697. The work has historical significance for various reasons, but his opening words to his church reveal the heart of a pastor and the awareness of one who knows he is a steward who will one day have to give an account (Heb 13:17).

Dearly Beloved,
Your Souls, more precious than thousands of Worlds, being committed to my Care, as an Overseer under the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom ere long I must be accountable, &c. I could do no less in order to the full discharge of my Duty, than let you know your Places, Order and Work in that Church of which you are members, it being part (and that not the least part) of the Counsel of God, which I am in Duty bound to make known unto you according to my Ability.

B B Warfield on Classical Education

 

I am a teacher of Christian theology, and as the principle source book of Christian Theology is a Greek book, and a large part of its literature is written in Latin, I am predisposed to desire that Greek and Latin should have a large place in academic training. I fully recognize, however, that the training given in our academic institutions should not be determined by the needs of any one profession. Its primary object, in my view, in fact is not so much to impart knowledge as to form mind; and it is because I have a clear and, as I believe, well founded conviction that a sound classical training provides the best means at our disposal for a sound mental discipline that I am an earnest advocate of it. Were we for any reason debarred from the use of the classics, I have little question that much the same training which we now obtain from them could be obtained without them. But neither do I have that much doubt that the same training could not be obtained without them without a larger expenditure of both labor and effort. So long as we have the choice in a free field the classical course, in my judgment, should be chosen as supplying the best means as yet known of general mental discipline. What I chiefly value in it is the quality of mind which it produces.

- Benjamin B. Warfield

Tozer on Worship vs. Entertainment

 

“Oh, brother or sister, God calls us to worship, but in many instances we are in entertainment, just running a poor second to the theaters. That is where we are, even in the evangelical churches, and I don’t mind telling you that most of the people we say we are trying to reach will never come to a church to see a lot of amateur actors putting on a home talent show.”

- A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship

(HT: Chris Mathews)

“The Robin and the Sparrow”

“The Robin and the Sparrow”

Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”
Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”

― Elizabeth Cheney

(HT: Justin Wainscott)

Anniversary of William Tyndale’s Death

A week ago we passed the 478th anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale (Oct 6, 1536), strangled and burned for his work of translating the Bible into English and for teaching justification by faith. As we pass this significant anniversary, I commend to you a wonderful, moving lecture by Timothy George on the life and work of Tyndale delivered three years ago at a conference at Union University.

 

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7)

Kipling’s Lament for a Dying Culture

Rudyard Kiping’s poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings,” is a powerful and poignant challenge for our cultural situation today. Kipling wrote the poem in 1919 in response to the cultural despair after World War I when so many began rejecting the moral and religious truths which had undergirded European civilization. We need to hear this poem again in our setting.

Since the poem is almost a hundred years old, we may need some background to properly understand it. Copybooks were books used in schools for handwriting. At the top of the page was a common proverb which the student would copy numerous times. Thus, the “copybook headings” were well known sayings which embodied traditional moral truths. Kipling is saying that people in his day were abandoning these truths in pursuit of materialism and notions of “progress.” However, ignoring truth does not make it go away, and the violation of the laws of natureTurn-of-the-century copybook and basic realities
will lead to destruction.

This is not an explicitly Christian poem, and, of course, morals alone are not sufficient. However, we must assess the poem for what it aims to do. It is useful and important to be reminded that the cultural rejection of morality (sexual purity, honesty, hard work, etc.) will lead to cultural destruction. The fact that the gospel produces such character is one of the many ways it contributes to human flourishing.

 

The Gods of the Copybook Headings 

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.” 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

 

-          Rudyard Kipling

[Here is a helpful discussion of this poem with more explanation of some of its references]