30 June 2006

The Christian and Music (3): On the Beauty of Coffee Tables

This Picture Has Been Removed.

So far, we have dealt with one of the two objections raised against the understanding that no thing is morally unaffiliated. The first objection, when laid out logically would read something like this:

Major Premise: Every non-ideal thing is a morally evil thing.

Minor Premise: Every impersonal thing is a non-ideal thing [due to the fall].

Conclusion: Therefore, every impersonal thing is a morally evil thing.

If the premises are true, the conclusion is logical enough. However, all we needed to do to refute the conclusion is take a closer look at the major premise. Is it true that unless something is in its ideal state, it is morally evil? I illustrated that the major premise is false and thereby avoided the conclusion.

The second question will be even more complex: Given the moral affiliation of all things, how does one distinguish between good things and bad things? I want get to an answer, and I count myself as one who learns while he writes and writes while he learns, so here’s what I got.

I need to start by making the right connection between beauty and morality. Because we are talking about impersonal things still, not about the words of a song, but about the notes and arrangement, I am going to use my coffee table as an example of an impersonal thing. Why? Well, because it was at hand while I was typing about it.

My coffee table is part of the universe that declares God’s glory. It is part of what makes not worshipping God reprehensible and inexcusable behavior. It is made up of molecules of wood and glass which would be astounding to observe. The spatial geometry involved (or assumed) in its construction is thoroughly fascinating. Its wood grain pattern (though commonplace) could be admired for days. Yet it suffers under the curse. It’s falling apart (despite my efforts to maintain it). It was scratched and marred by the previous owners and by us as well. It has seen better days.

As we have said, this non-ideal situation does not necessarily mean that my coffee table is morally evil. But here’s what it does mean: I would be perverse, even morally wrong, to love those things about my coffee table which are not ideal as if they were. As I said in the first post on this topic, it is always morally wrong to love as beautiful that which is ugly in God’s eyes.

Where in the world do I get an idea like that?

Good question. I should be very careful about saying something is “always morally wrong.” I could only conclude that from an absolute authority like, for starters, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things” (Phil 4:8).

Here’s where we can park our analogies and get back to the discussion at hand. I think this is where the discussion of music must start. It must start with the conclusion that only excellent (that is, excellent from God's perspective) should be admired. Music is, by definition, an orderly arrangement of sounds. To the extent that it reflects God’s glory as part of God’s universe, we should love and appreciate it. However, to the extent that it does not match with God’s ideal for what human music should be, shall we say, to the extent that it is not beautiful, we should withhold our appreciation.

So at the very least we can conclude, music is not an “anything goes” thing for the Christian. An objective standard of beauty exists, and God expects honest evaluation and appraisal of our music according to that standard. “Should I enjoy this music?” is a legitimate question to ask, and sometimes the answer may be negative.

28 June 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Pervasive Theocentricity

Yup, janitors too.One of the hallmarks of Reformed Christianity is that it is religion for all of life. The civilized world thinks of religious piety as one (optional) aspect of good character, which in turn is one aspect of a good well-rounded person. The theology of the Reformation turns that world upside down. It makes robust biblical piety the foundation for all other parts of life. The professor and the mechanic, the scientist and the bus-driver, the painter and the kindergarten teacher only do their job well if they do it for the glory of God and in the name of Christ. It’s this pervasive theocentricity which I am trying to integrate into my discussion of music. It’s this religion for all of life which drives the following statements on Creation in the Confession.

CHAPTER IV.
Of Creation.
I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.
II. After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness after his own image, having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it; and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being left to the liberty of their own will, which was subject unto change. Besides this law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; which while they kept were happy in their communion with God, and had dominion over the creatures.

26 June 2006

The Christian and Music (2): Everything Sin? I don't think so.

This guy thinks that everything's sin.Ok. I’m finally getting back to the discussion from two weeks ago that I started about the Christian and music. I’ll summarize the comment section for any newcomers. Two basic questions arose, and I have summarized them this way:

(1) If we are to agree that no thing is morally unaffiliated, how are we to determine what is evil and what is good?

(2) Assuming the morality of all things and the universal reach of the curse of the fall, how are we to avoid the conclusion that every thing is actually immoral?

I will take the second question first because the question of determining what is good and what is bad is dependent on the assumption that some things may actually be good.

Avoiding the conclusion to which Tim Barker alludes is important for a number of reasons. I have a vested interest in showing that all impersonal things are not intrinsically evil.

(1) Theologically, if all impersonal things are intrinsically evil, then it would be impossible for Paul to say that “since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). If creation is utterly evil, it cannot show forth God’s glory in a way that renders humans defenseless before his bar of judgment.

(2) Christologically, if all impersonal things are intrinsically evil, then the unfertilized egg of Mary was evil in her womb. The implications for the sinlessness of Christ are lethal.

(3) Eschatologically, if all impersonal things are intrinsically evil, then nothing in the universe has any hope of redemption or reconciliation. But the Scriptures are clear that the creation will be redeemed (Rom 8:18–21) and reconciled (Col 1:20).

There are probably other reasons that I am committed against saying that all impersonal things are morally evil, but these particularly important reasons come to mind. So how is it that I avoid this conclusion I so want to avoid? Well, let me argue by analogy with the practices of polygamy in the OT.

The analogy is inevitably flawed in that we are talking about impersonal things and polygamy is an activity of responsible persons. But there are some definite similarities as well, so bear with me. The teachings of Jesus are clear that God’s ideal for marriage is one man and one woman for life (Matt 19:5–6). However there are numerous examples of polygamy in the OT which escape without specific condemnation. In fact, look what God says when he is rebuking David for his sin with Bathsheba, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms” (2 Samuel 12:7-8, emphasis added). Polygamy was regulated, but it was not disallowed. Polygamy is not the ideal, but it was not (at least under the Mosaic code) morally evil in all cases.

Perhaps you see where I am going. The Fall introduced some complexities into the marriage relationship which strayed from the ideal. God administrates these complexities, disallowing some activities which completely destroy the ideal (e.g. homosexuality, adultery, etc.), and simply regulating others (e.g. polygamy). In the same way, the Fall introduced complexities into impersonal things. While Paul may say, on the one hand, that “God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,” he is also clear that the creation is in “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21), that is, it does not meet God’s ideal. But as we have seen that does not mean it is intrinsically evil.

So in my mind saying that there is no such thing as a morally unaffiliated thing does not necessarily lead me to conclude that the fall has rendered all things morally evil.

23 June 2006

Nettleton Slam-dunks It

Nettleton from MonergismoWe went over Asahel Nettleton in class the other day, and I thought this quote was irresistible. He is defending the Reformed (read: Christian) doctrine of depravity against Pelagian Taylorites (e.g. Charles G. Finney).

“There are many who think they see a great inconsistency in the preaching of ministers. ‘Ministers,’ they say, ‘contradict themselves—they say and unsay—they tell us to do, and then tell us we cannot do—they call upon sinners to believe and repent, and then tell them that faith and repentance are the gift of God—they call on them to come to Christ, and then tell them that they cannot come.’

That some do preach in this manner, cannot be denied. I well recollect an instance. A celebrated preacher, in one of his discourses used this language: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ In another discourse, this same preacher said: ‘No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’ Now, what think you, my hearers, of such preaching, and of such a preacher? What would you have said had you been present and heard Him? Would you have charged Him with contradicting himself? This preacher, you will remember, was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ! And, I have no doubt, that many ministers have followed his example, and been guilty of the same self-contradiction, if you call it such” (Bennet Tyler, Nettleton and His Labours, 216-17).

21 June 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Presbyterianism Today

Michael Bates makes some interesting points about PCA/PCUSA:

Nearly all of the Presbyterian Churches in Tulsa are a part of the PCUSA. Christ Presbyterian Church is a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I usually describe it as the Bible-believing Presbyterian denomination (as opposed to the liberal mainline denomination).

While the PCA (which has its General Assembly this week) has its lively theological debates, they are well within the scope of the Westminster Confession, the historic standard of Presbyterian belief. There are 27 overtures on the agenda -- many dealing with presbytery boundaries and committee structure -- but the big theological issue at this year's GA will be whether the Federal Vision / Auburn Avenue / New Perspectives on Paul understanding of covenants and justification are within the bounds of PCA doctrine.

I know a lot of good, devout Christian folk who belong to PCUSA congregations, and there are PCUSA congregations that are, by and large, faithful to the Scriptures. When the northern and southern mainline churches reunited in the early '80s, there was a period in which congregations could withdraw and align with another denomination, without forfeiting their church buildings, which are owned by the denomination, not the individual congregation.

That grace period has long since ended. It would be a huge sacrifice for a congregation to leave the PCUSA, but the level of nonsense seems to grow year after year.



UPDATE: Here is the nonsense in the PCUSA to which he refers:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The divine Trinity — "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" — could also be known as "Mother, Child and Womb" or "Rock, Redeemer, Friend" at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church's national assembly.

20 June 2006

Homework

You guessed it: Pitts' Spot takes a pitstop.My final class for the summer ("Theological Systems in American Church History") has more day-to-day obligations than the other classes, so I am not able to spend as much time blogging as I would like. So this week may be light on content as I finish up.

Next week we'll try to tackle that music problem again and get it all tidied up. I'm sure when we're done everyone will agree on all the details, and there will be no further questions on the matter. Or not.

14 June 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Historical Introduction

My Historical Theology professor included this helpful paragraph in his notes on Puritanism. I thought it was a good, concise way to introduce people to the historical context of the Westminster Standards.

Summoned by English Parliament in 1643 in the midst of civil war against Charles I (1625–1649), the Westminster Assembly met to restructure the Church of England [as well as Northern Ireland and Scotland] along the lines of Presbyterianism. There was overwhelming unanimity on adopting a strong Calvinist theology against Arminian and Roman Catholic errors. The assembly’s confession, completed in December, 1646, is a classic Protestant expression of the Reformed faith and the most influential confession in the English speaking world.(Gerald L. Priest, "Theological Systems in American Church History" [class notes, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, Summer 2006], p. 11.)

In unrelated news: I plan to say more about worship when I figure out what I believe;)

09 June 2006

The Christian and Music (1): No Neutrality

To begin the suicidal discussion of music, I want to make my starting places clear. My underlying assumption through this discussion is that music is not amoral. What I mean is that even when considered without the words, music itself has a moral quality.

Someone might say, “What you are saying is that the individual notes on the page are either morally good or morally bad?” I would answer “Yes, of course.”

Here is my reasoning: On one side, everything in the world is created by the Moral Person who is himself the very definition of moral good. This Moral Person claims that the universe he created speaks (though without words) of his glory. Music is part of God’s creation, and nothing in God’s creation can be said to be morally neutral.

On the other side nothing humans do is devoid of moral quality because we are God’s image-bearers. For instance, everything unregenerate humans do is tainted by their rebellion against God. Unregenerate persons can do nothing which is not an expression of their depravity. In addition, regenerate persons will not be free from the effects of sin throughout their being until they are glorified. Music, at least as we know it, is an expression of human creativity, and nothing from a human’s mind can be said to be morally neutral.

To elaborate briefly on how image-bearing relates to music. I see music as an art; the objective of art, according to the Christian worldview, is to emulate the beauty of the Creator in appropriate creaturely venues. That humans were created with a capacity to appreciate beauty is evident from the account of the fall in Genesis 3. There, the text recounts that before Eve sinned, she “saw that the fruit of the tree was…pleasing to the eye” (Gen 3:6).

So how does this capacity relate to morality? In the end, it is absolutely wrong in every situation to love as beautiful that which is ugly in God’s eyes. God is Beauty, and his affections form the standard by which we should evaluate our own affections. Where is that standard revealed in the Scriptures? It is revealed throughout them, and it emerges as an integral part of the Christian world and life view. It is crystallized in a couple of passages like this one: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Disobedience to this verse is sin out right; it is not morally neutral (Application of this verse—well, we aren’t there yet. Keep in mind that this is only a starting point. Specific musical genres and venues have not been considered at all. The only assertion which has been made is that music cannot be morally neutral because nothing in the universe is morally neutral.)

Sorry Switzerland! No Neutrality here.I will close with a quote from C. S. Lewis, who can sum it all up better than I can. “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” C. S. Lewis, “Christianity and Culture,” in Christian Reflections, p. 33.

07 June 2006

Westminster Wednesday--Of Religious Worship

I am thinking about discussing worship on this blog (in other words, I am contemplating suicide). But before the torture begins, I would like to quote the Westminster Confession from chapter 21 “Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-day.”

I. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the hearth, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

II. Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone: not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and since the Fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.

III. Prayer with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men; and that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Holy Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

IV. Prayer is to be made for things lawful, and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.

V. The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as, also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasion; which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

VI. Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable to, any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or willfully to be neglected or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.

In other news, this day one year ago, I blogged my first post. I think blogging has been more helpful than I had thought it would be.

05 June 2006

Evangelistic Counseling -- Part 2

Photo Sharing
ANGER
Originally uploaded by aard_vark.
So far we touched on two difficulties with making Biblical counseling an outreach of the church. These problems occur at two sides of a spectrum. On one hand, no Biblical counsel can be put into effect by an unbeliever while he is hostile to God because all Biblical obedience is rooted in love for God; so the counseling is useless to him. On the other hand, all Biblical counsel provides an opportunity for the unbeliever to steal truth about God’s creation and illicitly incorporate it into his life, thereby bringing more condemnation upon himself. I have conceded that these are real obstacles in using Biblical counseling as an outreach. However, I think that they can be anticipated and overcome.

The first way to overcome these challenges is by acknowledging that, just like preaching, all Biblical counseling is evangelistic. Why would I say that? I’m glad you asked.

(1) All Biblical counseling is evangelistic because one believer can never be 100% convinced about the spiritual status of another. At any point the counselor may discover that the counselee is unwilling to follow the lordship of Christ and, in Jesus’ own words, “Cannot be my disciple.” The entire book of Hebrews is an example of the demands of discipleship applied to people who profess to be believers. Biblical counseling (and preaching) would do well to follow this author’s example.

(2) All Biblical counseling is evangelistic because the gospel provides the only foundation for real change. The counselee can never forget that without the gospel, he would be hopeless. As we have already said, the sinful mind is hostile to God. Regeneration and definitive sanctification is the only effective starting place for genuine improvement. (Note: “Genuine” here entails accordance with God’s standard for improvement.)

(3) All Biblical counseling is evangelistic because the gospel is the fullest revelation of the standard to which God holds us. The counselor must never allow the counselee to comfort his own conscience if he falls short of all God requires. This standard is revealed at many points of the gospel. But just off the top of my head: (a) Christ, in his active obedience, fulfilled all of the righteous requirements of God for humans. He shows us what God expects in “love and good works.” (b) Similarly, as the second (and perfect) Adam, Christ shows us what humans are supposed to act like.

(4) All Biblical counseling is evangelistic because the gospel is the fullest revelation of the depth of man’s depravity. The counselor must never allow the counselee to think that he is “not all that bad”; he must be clear where the counselee would be were it not for the gospel. This depravity is revealed at many points of the gospel. For instance, (a) Christ, in his passive obedience, reveals the height of God’s standards by displaying what it means to take on himself the penalty for breaking those standards. (b) Similarly, the gospel shows the vast disparity between man’s behavior and God’s requirements by showing just what would happen “if God were one of us.” Namely, we’d kill him (HT: Ken Brown of Community Baptist).

To sum up, in evangelistic counseling, the unbeliever will never be allowed to think that he is able to reach God’s standard. At every point he is reminded that, without Christ, he will never be able to legitimately incorporate God’s wisdom into his life. On the other hand, at every point he is reminded that the counseling is not useless because it presents the only way to genuine improvement.

Northland Bloggers

My wife and I have discovered a large pocket of networked bloggers who have attended Northland Baptist Bible College. We've assembled a list of (almost 90) blogs and compiled them into an aggregator. This is a convenient way of tracking everyone from our alma mater who contributes to the blogosphere. If you have been or are an NBBC student, and you would like your blog listed, email me or leave a comment here. Unfortunately, myspace and xanga bloggers don't work in the group, so you're on your own on those.

I have adapted the disclaimer of Monty's BJU blogger list--DISCLAIMER: the only thing we all have in common is the fact that we go or went to the same Bible college. The comments listed on any of these blogs in no way reflects the official position of Northland Baptist Bible College. In addition, NBBC is not responsible for any content found on these sites. Finally, I am as responsible as NBBC is for the content of these pages. I'm only doing this as a service for NBBC bloggers and have no control whatsoever with regards to their writings. If a site gets too out-of-hand, it will be pulled; otherwise, my responsibility to you ends the moment you click a link.

If you want to have this group as a list on your blog, copy the following code into your template and change these [ ] to those <>.

[script language="javascript" type="text/javascript" src="http://rpc.blogrolling.com/display.php?r=902fdb81b7619c1449fab7775dfdbe9f"][/script]

Northland Bloggers

02 June 2006

Evangelistic Counseling -- Part 1

Recently I had a class discussion about the propriety of using biblical counseling as a method of bringing the unchurched under the sound of the gospel. One participant expressed concern that, if the unregenerate counselee rejected the gospel in the first session, the counselor would be obligated to give biblical counsel to someone who, ultimately, could not enact it. On the other side, he expressed concern that the biblical counselor would aid the unregenerate counselee in becoming merely a “well-adjusted sinner.” In other words, you could quickly get yourself into a lose-lose situation.

These concerns are well-founded. First, because all acceptable human obedience starts with worship and thanks to God (See Rom 1:21, where disobedience is rooted in the lack of this attitude toward God), and because sinners, before regeneration, are hostile to God and cannot please him (Rom 8:7), we must conclude that all the good things they do are still displeasing to God, as Isaiah illustrates, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa 64:6). The unbeliever cannot please God with his actions, and expecting him to do so is useless.

Second, because the unconverted are often inconsistent with their anti-God principles, they could take some of your biblical counsel and put it to use. Unfortunately this activity may only serve to produce further hardness. The ministry of Jesus is full of examples of people who were too self-righteous to find the forgiveness of sins he offered. Of them the Lord says, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41). Sometimes the Deceiver uses even biblically revealed standards as a means to blindness (See 2 Cor 4:4 where “unbelievers” in context refers to those whose eyes are veiled under the old covenant).

So both of these concerns are legitimate. However, I would like to think that they do not damage the idea of an evangelistic counseling ministry beyond repair. I think these concerns could be anticipated and addressed. I also believe that this type of ministry provides a good way to bring unbelievers under the sound of the gospel. But all that’s for Monday.