Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Music and Light

Somewhere in the "enlightenment" we lost the light. We lost the numinous. We lost beauty and have only the media used, we lost the music and have only notes and rhythms, our poetry the words and structure. Nothing more. We lost joy, and glory, and are left with only apetite. We fall short of the glory of God, and now we don't even bother to make an idol: we just celebrate the short-fall.

Yet there is something in us, some testimony that rebels. Eternity in our hearts. Denying the numinous doesn't remove its existence. Andris Nelsons, CBSO conductor, said, "All of us need music and culture - it's food to the soul." Some great composers, he said, address civilisations, but Tchaikovsky (of this evening's concert) speaks to each of us personally, to our hearts.
I believe we have a physical body and a soul. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, whether or not you believe in God, I think people believe that there is a soul and a body. You need food for your body, you need to eat and exercise to satisfy your physical body, but there is a soul that needs to be satisfied too, and it can be satisfied of course through love, but for me music is the most beautiful form of satisfaction. Even going to a rock concert can do this, I wish I had time to go, but classical music fills me up and makes me happy. [Nelsons in a BBC interview.]
Thus music could so easily become an idol for me - for joy, glory, beauty, harmony; it stirs the soul. But music is not the highest goal or satisfaction. It is but a pale whisper on the outer edges of the reflection of the outskirts of the glory of God's creation. And music is a punishing idol. Nelsons remarked that never very far from a musician is the question, "To be or not to be?" It is an unending, unquenchable search for joy if limited to music. Is this it?

So how do I avoid idolatry when I feel the pull of the numinous in God's creation? Perspective. Looking through the created to glory in the Creator, for one thing. For another, just as I went into this evening's concert, I heard news from one of my CUs who ran a lunchtime event today for non-Christians - far beyond anyone's expectations, two dozen non-Christians came, and engaged with good questions, and asked for more such events. As I left the concert hall, I heard further that several non-Christian friends then also came to the CU meeting later, and one of these students may yet read Mark's gospel with a CU member. Beauty, joy, and truth? The numinous? Light? "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." [John 17.3]

To see Jesus

My Pastor exhorted us on Sunday, when we have a problem and look in the Bible about it, don't look to find ourselves, or our problem: look to see Jesus (and in Him, we will indeed find all solutions). But look to see Jesus; not yourself or your issue. Mike Reeves' triad of talks from the UCCF South West's Transformission day are also helpful on God's Word and the Bible (thanks to Bish for posting them):
1 - The Most Valuable Word - Judges 3
2 - The Christian Word - John 5
3 - The External Word - Psalm 42
I rejoice that God's Word is external to me: that Truth and Salvation lies in Christ, not within.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Out of the Silent Planet

One of my favourite novels is being read on Radio 7 at the moment. C.S.Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet is the second in his space trilogy, and contains a devastating and penetrating apologetic against the fall, and understanding of sin. I wonder if the BBC reading will capture that?

Late correction - Out of the Silent Planet is the first in the trilogy, with Perelandra being the second (entitled 'Voyage to Venus' in America). So I'll have to wait to see if they'll broadcast Perelandra too. In the meantime, if you haven't read the trilogy, do get hold of them.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

'My' identity is Christ

I must 'choose an identity'? Fine then - I will choose the Identity in which I was chosen before the first keys were struck to write the script of blogger, and before the first words were spoken to create this world, or me. I will choose the Identity with which I was identified when He lived, died and rose again 2000 years ago. I will choose this identity because He first chose me. I will choose this Identity not just today, to put aside tomorrow: this Identity has consumed my past and replaced it with His own. How can a dead person blog? You ask me to choose an identity - but it is no longer I who blog: I have died with this Identity, and the blog I now blog I blog by trusting in Him, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Crass? But you asked me to choose an identity. God has identified me with Christ. Nothing more is needful.

For much more wonderful stuff on the reality of being identified with Christ, united with Him, found in Him, such that, "The determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ's past," see Union with Christ, by Michael Horton. I was in Philippians at the weekend with Aston CU, and this beat doesn't let up throughout the letter: in Christ, in the Lord, in Christ, in the Lord,... And thus such a key antidote to our natural inclination to look inside ourselves for salvation. Our passion, our worship, our evangelism, our ability, our Quiet Times, our church, our faith: worthless. Worthless for righteousness within ourselves. That I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness which comes by law but that which is by faith in Christ Jesus, the righteousness from God that depends on faith...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Choose an identity

On the back of this post, I couldn't help noticing that every time I go to comment on someone's blog, blogger tells me to "Choose an identity." Thus blogger, in one 3-word sentence, summarises our culture. There are many identities you may have: choose one for now. No wonder people take issue with the idea of one true God and one mediator between God and us - the one Man Jesus. Wake up, choose a shampoo from the shelf, choose an outfit from the wardrobe, choose an identity from the drawer, choose a god from the sky, and off we go.

Belief in an age of skepticism

Tim Keller in action addressing students in Berkeley, America, on responses to the religious problem, including Q&A:

[HT: Ant]

Friday, 14 November 2008

A Journey Worth Taking

If anyone's looking for a book that engages with our search for purpose, while being robustly God-centred, Christ-enjoying, and down-to-earth, Charles Drew has answered that search in A Journey Worth Taking - Finding Your Purpose in This World.

Drew first briefly and very helpfully addresses the questions of calling - what it is and Who is calling, before chapters in sections using Biblical Theology to guide the reader through the application of those great categories of Creation ("A Quest with a built-in purpose"), Fall ("Something wrong with every step"), Redemption ("Help along the way") and Consummation ("The View from the Top"). In every chapter within those sections he unpacks the Scriptural truth, helps us to identify with it with good interaction with literature, film and music, as well as life-stories from his church in Manhattan, and provides questions for reflection and discussion. Thoroughly in the reformed school, he doesn't shirk from a juicy Calvin quote when appropriate, but in his easy-to-read style of engagement this wouldn't cause anyone unfamiliar with such to stumble!

Now, the inevitable comparison with Purpose-driven (TM) Life, etc: where Warren sets his own agenda, filled with out-of-context one-line quotations from his many Bible translations of choice, each time chosen only to contain purpose, Drew's whole structure is driven by Biblical Theology, and each chapter unpacks the truth of a passage of Scripture quoted at the start of that chapter. This produces something much more Biblical than a badly-done word study will ever do, and something a lot more over-archingly God-centred than you do by starting a book which is all about you, by saying, "This is all about God." All the merits of Warren are to be found here in greater richness, with none of the demerits.
In brief, a very helpful book for what it says: finding your purpose in this world. Anyone could read it, especially as he takes a first short chapter to address what type of universe we live in - closed or open? - to introduce the idea of God as relates to purpose. From then on though, the hardened sceptic would be better to turn to Keller's A Reason For God before they'd be up for engaging with this. And after all, Keller then highly recommends Drew!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Quote of the day: to be or not to be

"A Baptist, two Reformed people and a Lutheran..." walk into the White Horse Inn.
"...and we're sitting here talking about what we hold in common. This represents a spectrum which you never would have seen represented in the same room 200-300 years ago. I think that's actually a really good thing, that we're able to talk about the gospel and what we hold in common, and not just talk about it but to share it with people so they can hear: at its best, Evangelicalism has been like that. The people at the table knew that they were Baptists or Presbyterians or Lutherans or Episcopalians. The problem as I see it today is, there are no confessional Presbyterians, confessional Lutherans, confessional Anglicans who either want to be at the table or who are invited to be at the table. Everything has become generic and Evangelicalism has become its own denomination."

"And it's been defined by something other than theology. That's at the heart of it and that's why it's fading. It's always been defined - there was a time when it was far more robust."
I thought I should be clearer on how I am and am not Evangelical, from the previous post - just as our churches and so on should be clearer. And the men at White Horse Inn happened to mention it in today's podcast - above. The Problem is not so much Evangelicalism - that is good. The problem is when evangelicalism becomes all, and not just a partnership between those who know what they and their churches hold to more than the minimal theological ties of Evangelicalism.

Friday, 7 November 2008

A cross-killed rant

I'm fed up with Evangelicalism. That's the cultural / theological trend sort.

The theologically light, pragmatism-driven, technique, programme and fad-obsessed.
The historically unaware, easy-breakaway / new vision! / church / group at the drop of a hat.
The experience-seeking when over and against faithfulness to the gospel entrusted.
The lack of ecclesiology, that celebrates a lack of demoninations with clear confessions of faith (as 'divisive'), and doesn't see a problem with having 5 different independent churches within a few streets of each other, each with a minimal basis of faith.
The celebration of doctrinal minimalism, as if God's truth is unimportant.

I love the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. I love partnership with those who hold to, believe, proclaim and live out that evangel. I am Evangelical in that sense. But in a cultural, theological and trend sense, I am foremost a Protestant. We may mourn the liberalism in some Protestant denominations, but the answer is not Evangelicalism. The answer is the truth of the Gospel, in all its richness proclaimed by the apostles and prophets, church fathers, reformers, puritans: throughout the ages and across the world. It could be called warm-blooded Protestantism - and much as that is ill-defined and open to interpretation, it is better off that way than Evangelicalism. It is better that the 16th century Reformers disagreed on some things, than that they thought theology of word, sacrament and church didn't matter.

Now I try not to rant on this blog, but to relate everything to the gospel. It does no good to simply sound off. So I confess at the cross that where frustration easily leads to self-righteousness, I am not the answer. I believe at the empty tomb that where sadness would lead to despair, I do not doubt that God will be glorified in making a spotless Bride for His Son, and he will not be thwarted either by my sin or our weakness. I proclaim as I look to Jesus' coming again, that by His grace I will not just rant or condemn, but lay down my life in service of all who love His appearing.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide! [Stone, 1866]

Monday, 3 November 2008

A coherent sense of self

On the way home from orchestra rehearsal (Brahms, albeit anachronistically, rocks) I heard on radio3, a recording from a Free Thinking festival in Liverpool. They were discussing privacy and the lack of it in society, and while discussing facebook, and the extent to which we invite 'invasion' of privacy, one panelist suggested that we delight in creating many different versions of ourselves for different contexts: to only have one 'self' would be boring. I thought this horrendous: I do want one self. But that is perhaps because I am happy with this one self.

Not that I have already attained it, but Christ Jesus has laid hold of me to transform me increasingly into His image, to be restored to the glory of God. I don't need to play-act. I don't need to experiment with 1000 faces: I want only one, which is centred on Jesus, growing into the shape of Jesus. When children play-act, it healthily engages their imagination, and helps them grow their own character. But the idea is that in growing maturity they grow increasingly confident in who they are - and grow in grace (albeit common), establishing themselves in honesty and integrity. Have we really so lost the grace of God that we are immaturing, making life a game, in which we play many roles?

The panelist said that we don't want "a coherent sense of self" - it's "an old idea". There used to be a name for people who didn't present 'a coherent sense of self' - at least, "two-faced". So now I am expected to be a different person in my work from at home, at home from in my orchestra, in my orchestra from with friends. People find it quite strange that I would wish these worlds to intrude on each another. But only with the knowledge of the Creator do you have a basis for consistency of self, and of external reality. We are not just compositions of the impressions we give others. There is an objective Observer, a greater Other than those who see but one of our faces, and He made us as coherent 'selves'. But as we have rejected knowing God in whose image we are made, it is no surprise that has given us over to incoherence even in knowing ourselves. As Calvin said, without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Where are you, God?

It seems that Minneapolis is currently experiencing better weather than Birmingham & Beeston, where I was today. But should we not always think as John Piper writes:

Thursday in Minneapolis it was so gorgeous walking home I thought: I should write a post on how astonishing it is that no earthquake swallowed up this city today.

Instead God sent warmth and crystal skies and cool breezes and golden leaves and hanging sea gulls over Elliot Park.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing!

We deserved the 52-story IDS tower to fall, and bridges to collapse, and poisonous gas to kill thousands. But instead God gave us over-the-top foretastes of heaven.

This is why everyone is crying out, Where was God on Thursday! Where were you God! How could you do this? Why did you let this happen?

Everybody is saying that, aren’t they?

As Mark quoted Malachi:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap."

Or as Amos said,
"Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him."

The answer, as always, is Jesus. How could God possibly have not struck us down in Beeston today? How was Birmingham still standing when I returned to it? How could I sit and read The Hobbit to my housemate without the breath choking in my throat under the judgement of God for the ways in which I have despised Him today? We see the answer in the cross of Jesus Christ:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. ...
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.