Graeme Goldsworthy on God’s Attributes

God has been revealing himself within the whole process of biblical history. His character is not presented as a series of abstract ideas, such as holiness, omnipotence, righteousness and so on. Rather, God reveals himself in the midst of his deeds that he himself interprets by his Word. From his activity as creator, judge, covenant-maker and redeemer, we learn the meaning of words like, holy, almighty and righteousness as they apply to God.

(Graeme Goldworthy, According to Plan, 189)

It may seem to be cutting things a little to fine, but the distinction is an important one. God is not defined by his attributes. God defines his attributes.

Perhaps one of the reasons “God is love” is so often misused is because many people wish to define “God” by their (mis)understanding of “love.” God’s word, and God’s actions described and demonstrated in his word, define the true meaning of love.

John Calvin: The Church has been as long as time

…we must understand, that at no period since the world began has the Lord been without his Church, nor ever shall be till the final consummation of all things. For although, at the very outset, the whole human race was vitiated and corrupted by the sin of Adam, yet of this kind of polluted mass he always sanctifies some vessels to honor, that no age may be left without experience of his mercy.

Institutes, 4.1.17

John Calvin on The Motive of Many a Church hopper

Still, however even the good are sometimes affected by this inconsiderate zeal for righteousness, though we shall find that this excessive moroseness is more the result of pride and a false idea of sanctity, than genuine sanctity itself, and true zeal for it. Accordingly, those who are the most forward, and as it were, leaders in producing revolt from the Church, have, for the most part, no other motive than to display their own superiority by despising all other men.

(Institutes, 4.1.16)

Why Praise and Worship Music Isn’t

Belinda Luscombe wrote an informative for Time magazine concerning Christian song-writer Chris Tomlin.[1] The November 19th, 2006 article alludes to the nature, sound and purpose of Tomlin’s music, and in so doing reveals the principal short-coming of Praise and Worship music.

According to the main licensing agency for Christian music (CCLI), Chris Tomlin “is the most often sung contemporary artist in U.S. congregations every week… that might make Tomlin the most often sung artist anywhere.” CCLI marketing manager Paul Herman says, “He has really captured the heart of the church.”

Since Chris Tomlin obviously has a tremendous role in shaping the worship of the contemporary church, he has a tremendous role in shaping how contemporary Christians conceive of God and proper worship of Him. As such, his music (and Praise and Worship music as a whole) certainly deserves evaluation and biblical critique.[2]

So what is his music like? “Tomlin’s How Great Is Our God … currently the second most popular modern chorus in U.S. churches…is not particularly profound–the title pretty much sums it up–but it’s heartfelt, short and set to a stirring soft-rock melody that sticks in the mind like white to rice. That’s Tomlin’s gift: immediacy.”

The secular evaluation of Tomlin’s music, or at least his most popular piece, is that it is simple and memorable, with a soft-rock sound. Tomlin himself states, “I try to think, ‘How do I craft this song in a way that the person who’s tone-deaf and can’t clap on two and four can sing it?’ I hope that when someone hears a CD of mine, they pick up their guitar and say, ‘O.K., I can do that.’” To this, Luscombe responds, “Which is not the way people react to, say, Handel’s Messiah.” This off-the-cuff comparison to Messiah deserves some pondering.

There is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to write accessible music– music that can be easily sung or played. It would be improper to criticize Tomlin or other Praise and Worship musicians for having this desire. While Messiah is more complex than anything Tomlin has written, complexity alone does not make Messiah better. As Christians, we are to strive for things that are “excellent, virtuous, lovely, pure, and praiseworthy” (Phil. 1:10; 4:8). The characteristics of simplicity and complexity can certainly contribute to the goodness of certain music, but by themselves they are not determinative of goodness.

One danger in comparing the complexity of Messiah with the simplicity of Tomlin is failing to take into consideration the intended performers of the music. Messiah was written for choral use, not congregational. As such, it is not an extremely difficult piece. We sang several selections from it every year in (public!) high school choir. Tomlin writes for congregational use, not choral. Since he intends the congregation to perform his music, it would be foolish of him to attempt to mimic the choral aspects of Messiah. Regular attenders of a church with a choir should be able to recognize this distinction. The choir sings a different type of song than the congregation. This does not make one or the other superior, or inferior. Rather, each group sings songs appropriate for them.

What separates Tomlin, and Praise and Worship music, from Handel’s Messiah, is not complexity, but sound and purpose. After describing the nature of Tomlin’s music as simple and memorable, the author describes the sound of Tomlin’s music as “soft-rock” and “pop-sounding.” With this, two questions come to mind: why would one choose to write music with such a sound for the worship of God and is such a sound appropriate for worship of God?

Luscombe uncovers the purpose for his style by writing, “Tomlin is the chief American practitioner of the pop-sounding ‘praise and worship’ music that has replaced traditional hymns in congregations looking for a younger crowd. ‘We’ve been closing the gap between what you would hear in church and on a rock radio station’ says Matt Lundgren, worship leader at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill. ‘Artists like Chris Tomlin help bridge the gap more and more.’”

The purpose of “Praise and Worship” music is to get the church closer to the type of music the world enjoys. Consider again the quote regarding the purpose of such music– “[to close] the gap between what you would hear in church and on a rock radio station.” Praise and Worship music is written and used because it sounds like the music on a secular rock and roll station: please note that this is not my evaluation, it is their own evaluation. The purpose of this music is to blur the line between what one would hear at church and what one would hear on secular radio. This is the reason that Handel’s music is “good” in the biblical sense of the term, and Tomlin’s music is not.

With his music, Handel meant to bring heaven to earth. With his music, Tomlin means to bring rock to the church. After composing the music for the “Hallelujah Chorus” in Messiah, Handel stated, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God himself.”[3] Those who write and perform Praise and Worship music on the other hand, apparently state, “I hope this sounds enough like the current Billboard top-40 that people like it.”

Here we are facing one of the questions of the age. What determines acceptability in worship? Popularity? Chris Tomlin “is the most often sung contemporary artist in U.S. congregations every week.” Pragmatism? “Tomlin is the chief American practitioner of the pop-sounding ‘praise and worship’ music that has replaced traditional hymns in congregations looking for a younger crowd.” Tomlin is unquestionably popular, and churches which use Praise and Worship music seem to attract large crowds with ease. Popularity and pragmatism, however, do not determine what kind of worship God delights in: His Word is the sole guide.

It is entirely possible to demonstrate that Praise and Worship is aesthetically inferior to Handel (or Bach, Mendellsohn, Haydn –and a host of other “classical” composers who wrote music for church use), but one does not need to do this since the purveyors of Praise Worship music have already admitted to a more grievous sin than just writing trite music.

God’s Word admonishes us to not be conformed to the world (Rom 12:1), and to not love the world (1 John 2:15). When used in this way, “the world” refers to all those elements of secular life that characterize mankind’s rebellion against God and desire for self-satisfaction. One does not have to listen to a secular rock and roll station very long to discover that the music it plays definitely qualifies as belonging to “the world.” The music you hear on secular radio stations is sinful because it is the music of life apart from God. It is the music of rebellion and sexual gratification that glorifies man in all of his fallen-ness. Yet this is the music that Praise and Worship musicians want to “bridge the gap” to. This is what we are supposed to think when we hear it: “Hey that sounds like something I heard on the radio the other day.” How can music meant to sound like a rock and roll station be called, “worship” when God calls it “worldly”?

Such music touches the emotions, often in a profound way: it is meant to. If Praise and Worship did not create fuzzy feelings, it would not be so popular. Perhaps you think, “It’s not that bad. After all, it only sounds like the ‘soft’ stuff.” Is our God the kind of god that is sung to as a woman being seduced by a man? Is God adored in Scripture with soft caresses and tender kisses? Is eroticism acceptable worship? Praise and Worship stirs the emotions– but which emotions; and are those emotions properly worshipful of God? Oh if only our emotions could be touched by James 4:4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

God is not glorified by his enemies. And He is neither praised nor worshiped by the vast majority of Praise and Worship music.

[1],9171,1561156,00.html (Unless noted otherwise, all quotes in this Music Notes from this source.)

[2] (1 Cor. 2:15; Phil. 1:9-11; 1 Thess. 5:21; Heb. 5:14; 1 John 4:1).

[3]R.W.S. Mendl, The Divine Quest in Music, (London: Rockliff Publishing, 1957), 63.

Authority: The most important thing Graeme Goldsworthy has ever written?

Graeme Goldsworthy is not a name that is well-known by those in the pews, nor even by those in the pulpits. He is better known by those who train the men in the pulpits. He is influential in the renaissance, resurgence, continuation of the field of biblical theology. He emphasizes seeing the Bible as one story and seeing Christ as the point of that story. Which, if you want to be biblical about studying the Bible, is not too bad of an emphasis to have.

I have had his introduction to biblical theology, According to Plan, sitting on my shelf for a couple years. At a recent conference I picked up his successive works, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, and Christ-Centered Biblical Theology. Now having four books by the man I thought it might be a good time to get started actually reading them.

So far, the journey has been rewarding. In the third chapter of According to Plan, Goldsworthy offers up a couple paragraphs that I wish every Christian would grapple with:

 Presuppositions, then, are the assumptions we make in order to be able to hold some fact to be true. We cannot go on indefinitely saying, “I know this is true because…” In the end we must come to that which we accept as the final authority. By definition a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting. Only God is such an authority. [Emphasis mine]
The presuppositions we must make in doing biblical theology are those of Christian theism. The alternative to this is to accept the presuppositions of some form of humanism. Either we work on the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts that the Bible is God’s Word, and that it says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it.[1]

If I had the words to express how crucial the above declarations are, I would probably be writing books instead of reading them. The issue of authority is the spring from which a thousand streams flow.

If God is the final authority his Word must be given the same respect because it is the expression of his authority, the declaration of his will. Once a person sees what the Bible says, understands what the Bible says, and proceeds to say, “Yeah but…” he demonstrates that the Bible is not his final authority. The attempt to re-define, re-imagine, or re-interpret the plain statements of Scripture, is simply the rebellion of man against the authority of God. When Scripture is seen as out-of-date or unenlightened, it is simply the exaltation of man’s desires over God’s will.

When a church decides that women can be pastors, against the clear teaching of Scripture, there is really no reason to forbid a homosexual from being a pastor either: other than it would just gross some people out.

When the church decides that Adam and Eve were not really the first humans and that sin and death did not really enter creation through their sin in Eden, then there is really no reason to see Jesus as the Christ promised to deliver men from sin and death.

When the church starts parsing out which parts of the Bible to believe and practice, it is only cutting itself to pieces. If you are going to decide which parts to believe, why believe any of it? I can think of quite a few ways I would rather spend my Sundays.

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan (Downers Grove: InterVarstiy Press, 2002), 44.

Marriage Sermon from Ephesians 5:22-33

Delivered at the wedding of my brother August 3, 2012.

Every married person is a preacher. Every husband is a preacher. Every wife is a preacher. This is true because every marriage is a sermon. In Ephesians 5:31-32, the Word of God says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it [marriage] refers to Christ and the church. Marriage is because Christ loves the church. The love of Christ for the church is the permanent reality that every temporary marriage proclaims.

The wife is to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ. Husbands are not perfect as Christ is. At times they will lead poorly, they will make wrong decisions, they will sin. But the wife submits and follows. When the wife is selfish and seeks her own way, she is preaching that this is how the church obeys Christ. When the wife submits when it is convenient, or expedient, she preaches that this is how the church follows Christ. When the wife submits in manipulation seeking an advantage, she proclaims that this is how Christ is worthy to be served. Every wife is a preacher because every marriage is a sermon.

The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. The word of God says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” So the first demonstration of love is sacrifice. Jesus Christ loves His church so he died to save it. The husband cannot give himself in the same way. The husband cannot die for the salvation of his wife, but the husband is to live for the welfare of his wife. At times he will have to sacrifice his wishes, his desires, his plans, for his wife. When the husband acts with disregard for his wife, only seeking his own welfare he is telling the world that this is how Christ loves the church: uncaring for her struggles, weaknesses, or needs.

Christ loves the church in order to cleanse and purify her. The husband must seek the spiritual welfare of his wife. The husband must lead his wife into a life of holiness. The husband is to love his wife sacrificially, purposefully- for holiness, and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church: grace-fully.

When your wife is overly emotional, moody, crying for no reason, and you get impatient with her, you are saying “This is how Christ loves the church: only when she’s got it together.” When the husband gets mad at his wife for not doing the dishes or the laundry, for ruining supper, he is saying, “This is how Christ loves the church: only when she doesn’t do anything wrong.”

You must not be blind to the sins of your wife, nor even her faults, but you must not let them restrain the demonstration of your love for your wife. When the husband loves his wife based on her performance, he is preaching that Christ loves the church in the same way. Christ is not a petty lover. Every husband is a preacher because every marriage is a sermon.

So it is not a matter of whether your marriage shows Christ and his love for the church, it is only a question of how your marriage shows Christ and his love. This is what marriage is. In marriage, God has not only called you to each other. In marriage God has called you to himself. God has called you to be preachers to a lost and broken world. Your message is a simple one: “Here! Here is how Christ loves the church. Here! Here is how the church follows Christ.”

Your marriage will only survive; will only thrive, as it preaches the gospel. You marriage will only preach the gospel as each of you preach the gospel to yourself. Every husband, every wife, must have a growing recognition of their own sinfulness and of God’s righteous holiness. It is only as you see the gulf between you and God as great that you will see the bridge great. That bridge is Christ. The more you know your own sin, the more you know God’s perfect holiness the more you will grow in your love for Christ and his might act of providing satisfaction for both the sin of man and the righteousness of God. As you grow in awe and amazement at what Christ has done for you individually, you will grow in awe and amazement at what God has done for you together. Preach the gospel to yourself at every opportunity. Never stop believing and preaching, “I am a great sinner saved by God’s greater grace.” For it is only in God’s grace that you will find life and living.

Max and Angie, I charge you to preach the gospel by your marriage. Angie, show to all who see how the church obeys and follows Jesus. Max, show to all who will see how Jesus loves and provides for his church.