Why Psalms are not like hymns
I have been reading Michael Lefebvre’s enormously stimulating book Singing the Songs of Jesus [Christian Focus, 2010]. It is full of thought-provoking and perceptive comment on the value of the Psalms and – in his well-argued view – why we ought to sing them as well as read and preach them.
In one chapter (chapter 5) he addresses one reason why we struggle to sing the Psalms, which is that we expect them to function pretty much like our hymns and songs. To do this, he argues, is like trying to hammer a screw into a piece of wood. Hymns and songs tend to be declaratory, giving us conclusive statements, typically of praise and affirmation of the greatness of God. But the Psalms do not function like this.
True, they often end with praise, and the whole Psalter is structured to end with a paean of praise. But the characteristic motion of the heart in the Psalms is not declaration but rather meditation. They force us to engage and feel the conflicting emotions, affections, perplexities and struggles of faith and in so doing, lead us finally to affirmation and praise. So, for example, ‘the Psalms are designed to help people who don’t always feel like praising begin by meditating on the mess the world is in, and only through a full and robust process of meditation, to come out with praise.’ Lefebvre argues that we ought not to jettison this often painful process of meditation and settle for the conclusion in our hymns and songs. So, he says, we need to sing the messiness of the Psalms. It will do us good. I agree.
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Tongue tied. No more.
I've just finished reading a book I really enjoyed. It's not a Christian book – it's a work of fiction, somewhat in the line of 1984, but lighter and more quirkier. It was funny and thought provoking (if you're interested it's called Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde). But here's the thing. Though I loved, and would love others to read it too, I'm a bit embarrassed about talking about it. After all, it's not a Trollope or a Henry James or anything classic. Because it's slightly unusual, I worry that as I try to explain a brief synopsis of the plot, I will get all my ideas twisted round and it will end up sounding like garbage or the least desireable read in the entire Universe. Better, I reason, not to put people off at all, I'll just keep quiet – even though deep down I wish and know that others would read it and share my enthusiasm. It's on Amazon, after all, so maybe people will just read it anyway and enjoy it and then get in contact. Then over a coffee we can talk about it without fear of embarrassment.
Hmm. That response sounds familiar.
This week I tried. I swallowed my pride and scaredy-cat-ness and told some others about the book. After all, they know me, don't they? They know what I'm like. They're not going to stop liking me because they don't like my book! Guess what? They listened. Someone even wrote down the title and said "I might get that." Someone else wanted to know more. Someone else wanted to borrow my copy.
You know where this is going don't you?
The key to a new world: Union with Christ
A few months back I had an email from a former Cornhill student saying that he was doing a talk on 'Union with Christ' and asking me to direct him to resources to help him. So I gave him a crash course in Union with Christ. Happily, (though sadly not in time for the former Cornhill student), Justin Taylor has done a much better crash course here, and I would commend it to all who read the PT blog.
We don't talk much these days about our union with Christ. And yet it is the key to a new world, the key that unlocks so much of the New Testament and what it means to be a Christian. One of the reasons we think so little about it is because in much of our evangelism we have got the direction lop-sided. We tell people that we need to invite Christ into our hearts. Whilst the New Testament does talk about the glorious reality of 'Christ in us' (Colossians 1:27), it seems to talk a great deal more about believers being 'in Christ', which is the New Testament's favourite description of the Christian. In other words, the direction is less getting Christ into me, and more about me getting out of Adam and into Christ. So take Justin's crash course. And delight in and preach our union with Christ!
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Don’t be afraid to preach to the affections
Don’t be afraid to preach the beauty of God
I am reading Tim Chester’s outstandingly helpful and important book on porn (Captured by a Better Vision). I am going to encourage every Cornhill student to buy and read it. Even if it is not a problem for them, it will most certainly be for people they are seeking to encourage and help.
I was struck yesterday by the following quotation, from a Christian who has struggled with porn:
Modern conservative evangelicalism fuels sex addiction because it has come to focus on the externals of religion, not the affections. By externals I mean such things as confessions, dogmas, personal priorities, church growth strategies, church attendance, training courses, evangelism, Bible study groups and son on: things that are visible in a believer’s life. By affections, I mean those things that cannot be heard or seen directly – fears, loves, joys, delights, hates, anxieties: the currents that swirl in the waters of a believer’s heart; the hidden desires that lie deep beneath our decisions… If we are going to help people struggling with sex addiction, we need to recognise that the manger in which their sin is cradled is not the intellect, but the heart, the seat of their desires. They therefore need something more than mere information: they need to be wooed by the true and pure lover that their heart secretly seeks. (pp74-6)
I suspect this speaker’s portrayal of conservative evangelicalism may be a bit jaded and one-sided, but I also suspect there is something important in what he says, and that it applies much more widely than just to sex addiction. One of the traditional markers of real evangelicalism is a concern with the heart rather than externals (as John Stott expounded in his magisterial older work Christ the Controversialist chapters 5 & 6). If we have drifted into emphasising externals (perhaps as an over-reaction to charismatic excess and error?), let us return to a healthy focus on the heart in our preaching.
One related problem I have noticed at Cornhill is that we tend to think of “application” rather narrowly, in terms of what I ought to do in response to the word of God. We must not forget that to be moved to wonder and adoration at the sheer beauty of God and of the gospel of the Lord Jesus is a deeply valid “application”.
Tim Chester is speaking on issues of the heart, with particular reference to pornography at the Spring Younger Ministers Conference. There are one or two places remaining. Also, look out for a future EMA on this important subject.
How attentive hearers assist loving preachers
Why do we find it easier to preach to eager hearers? We know from 2 Timothy 4:3,4 that often people will not endure healthy teaching. And it’s very hard to go on giving healthy teaching when people don’t want to hear it. But why is it hard? Is it just that we love the praise of men and we hope that their attentive listening during the preaching will translate into praise for us after the sermon? That would indeed be an ungodly motive. But that is not the only possible reason. In his wonderful little Treatise On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, Augustine says this:
A sense of weariness is … induced upon the speaker when he has a hearer who remains unmoved, either in that he is actually not stirred by any feeling, or in that he does not indicate by any motion of the body that he understands or that he is pleased with what is said. Not that it is a becoming disposition in us to be greedy of the praises of men, but that the things which we minister are of God; and the more we love those to whom we discourse, the more desirous are we that they should be pleased with the matters which are held forth for their salvation: so that if we do not succeed in this, we are pained, and we are weakened, and become broken-spirited in the midst of our course, as if we were wasting our efforts to no purpose.
We want our hearers to be instructed and moved by the gospel truths we preach, partly because we love them. We should pray that this motivation of love will sweep away the ungodly motive of wanting their praise.
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The King James Bible (2)
it is interesting to see the rules the translators of the King James Version were set. Here they are. Not all were followed particularly faithfully. Of particular interest is the political slant of rules such as number 3.
The Rules to be observed in the Translation of the Bible.
1. THE ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the original will permit.
2. The Names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used.
3. The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.
4. When a Word hath divers Significations; that to be kept which hath been most commonly used by the most of the Ancient Fathers, being agreeable to the Propriety of the Place, and the Analogy of the Faith.
5. The Divisions of the Chapters to be altered, either not at all, or as little as may be, if Necessity so require.
6. No Marginal Notes at all to be affixed, but only for the Explanation of the Hebrew or Greek Words, which cannot, without some circumlocution, so briefly and fitly be express’d in the Text.
7. Such Quotations of Places to marginally set down as shall serve for the fit Reference of one Scripture to another.
8. Every particular Man of each Company, to take the same Chapter, or Chapters, and having translated or amended them severally by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their Parts what shall stand.
9. As any one Company hath dispatched any one Book in this manner they shall send it to the rest, to be consider’d of seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this Point.
10. If any Company, upon the Review of the Book so sent, doubt or differ upon any Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place, to send them Word thereof; note the Place and withal send the Reasons, to which if they consent not, the Difference to be compounded at the General Meeting, which is to be of the chief Persons of each Company, at the end of the Work.
11. When any Place of special Obscurity is doubted of, Letters to be directed, by Authority, to send to any Learned Man in the Land, for his Judgement of such a Place.
12. Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his Clergy, admonishing them of this Translation in hand; and to move and charge as many as being skilful in the Tongues; and having taken Pains in that kind, to send his particular Observations to the Company, either at Westminster, Cambridge or Oxford.
13. The directors in each Company, to be the Deans of Westminster and Chester for that Place; and the King’s Professors in the Hebrew or Greek in either University.
KJV colour (i.e. trivia)
If you're planning a talk on the King James Version or an evangelistic event like the one that Andy outlined yesterday, then it can be useful to have some trivia up your sleeve to lighten the load or illustrate things or just provide a little colour. Here are my top KJV trivia moments from David Daniell's The Bible in English.
- The 'Authorized Version' as it is sometimes known (AV) is not authorized at all. In fact, the only two English Bible versions to have this official title were the Great Bible from the time of King Henry and the Bishops Bible from the time of Queen Elizabeth. It's a title that was first used in the 19th Century (1824, according to the OED) as a way to give credibility to the KJV translation.
- The King (James I of England, James VI of Scotland) had nothing to do with the translation, as it sometimes apocryphally reported. He was a notable scholar in himself (he translated a metrical version of thirty of the psalms), but aside from 'keeping an eye' on the project, the translation was not his, just dedicated to him – hence its name.
- For some unknown reason, every Bible quote in the preface to the new KJV was taken from the Geneva Bible, not the KJV. Scholars have no idea why this is – the best guess is that the Geneva Bible was so ingrained in the public consciousness that no one noticed!
- Not all the language is archaic (though some, as Daniell explains, is deliberately so). The translators were not afraid to introduce relatively new words, such as 'contentment' and even to invent completely new words. The KJV is the first place the word 'amazement' (1 Peter 3.6) is ever used in print.
- Because of its age, some of the language can be a bit, well, earthy. Most of us would blush to read out the word that is used where modern translators would use the word urinate…I'll leave you to find the references, if you must.
- The KJV is essentially a revision of Tyndale shaped by other contemporary translations. Computer analysis has shown that 83% of the New Testament text and 76% of the Old Testament text is Tyndale's. That is remarkable given that Tyndale was a lone worker, essentially an outlaw, working over 100 years before the King James translators and with many, many fewer resources at his command.
Evangelistic ideas and celebrating the King James Version
Guest post from Andy Hambleton, Associate Minister at Duke Street Church Richmond
In order to tie in with the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the bible being published, we are planning to put on a series of events throughout 2011 which will aim to get people in our community thinking about and discussing the bible.
Currently, we are planning to hold three separate events, all coming from a slightly different angle. The first event will be from a historical perspective, at which a speaker will explain the story of the events leading up to the King James Version being authorised and published. The second event will be from a literary viewpoint, looking at the impact that the KJV has had upon the English language and English literature. There is an annual Literature Festival in Richmond, and so it is our hope that that this event can be included in the festivities. Finally, the third event will be a bit more hands on, as we plan to have an evening of readings and reflections from the King James Version. The aim with each of these three events is to get the bible into people’s hands, minds and conversations throughout this year and beyond.
Richmond itself is an area replete with active historical and arts societies, and so we see these types of events as a good way to engage with our community in a way which resonates with people’s interests, whilst at the same time offering an opportunity to look into the message of the scriptures.
Encouragement in tough pastorates
Here’s the last of my posts prompted by re-reading William Still’s The Work of the Pastor, at least for the moment. Writing to encourage a man in a possibly lonely and small pastorate, he writes,
Your quiet persistence – this charge, or parish, or living is not a mere stepping-stone to a better appointment: God has caused you to become pastor to some souls here who are as valuable to Him as any in the world – your quiet persistence will be a sign that you believe God has a purpose of grace for this people, and that this purpose of grace will be promoted, not by gimmicks, or stunts, or new ideas, but by the Word of God released in preaching by prayer. (my italics)
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Not strictly to do with preaching….but I came across this and found it interesting. This is a picture of a magic lantern being used to project hymn words in 1879 in Boston, USA. There's nothing new.
And my analysis, for what it's worth:
AGAINST: can't read ahead, words are often projected poorly so sentences are cut mid way, projectionist just can't keep up.
FOR: makes an incredible difference to singing and, with people looking up, makes singing congregational again.
As they say on Channel 4: you decide!
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