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When the preface is really good

... it makes the rest of the book seem quite promising.

I decide to read the book Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns.  I think this will be a quick read; I wanted to finish something for a change!

The principle behind this book is that pop culture has affected worship music, specifically, the use of hymns and more traditional kinds of music.  The author, also the writer of Why Johnny Can't Preach, has subtitled this book "How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal."

In the preface of the book, he comments that we make the tools of culture and the tools of the culture make us.  He says more specifically:  "we make songs and song make us."   I thought that was interesting. 

He also points out that pop music is everywhere.  It is played in malls, offices, and waiting rooms.  And most of it is simply pop radio.  We are so surrounded by pop music, that we are losing touch with the older forms of music.  He says:

We are surrounded by nearly ubiquitous pop music - so much so that nothing else really registers in our consciousness as music.  If it is not accompanied by a guitar, if it is not accompanied by the predictable melodies and rhythms of pop culture, it just doesn't seem like music.

I could not help but think of my sons when I read that.  While I fed my children a wide diet of music styles and while they have played both classical, folk, and popular music, they still have a bias to more popular styles.  And what is really ironic, is that my kids don't like pop radio much.  My boys, especially, listen to a lot of indie music, and turn their nose up at pop bands and pop icons.  Still, they hear something like Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller, and they think they're in the Twilight Zone.  My youngest son is preparing for his piano exam (which is today, actually) and he cannot stand the one Baroque piece he is playing.  And I can hear that reality, because he doesn't know how to interpret the piece.  Now, that old standard "The Way You Look Tonight," he's better with, and even that's a stretch. He had help from his teacher with that one.

I'm looking forward to reading more about how this culture quirk has affected our worship music.


Thankful Thursday

I am thankful today for the fact that my son was accepted into the college he wants to attend.

He's going to a bible school that offers a music program, and he had to go to an audition on Monday morning.  He played a song on the piano and sang and played the guitar.  He sang a song he wrote on the advice of his music teacher.  He said the theory exam was harder than he expected.  It has been three years since he took his theory exams, so had forgotten quite a bit of it, but he wasn't too concerned.  It ended up that he got 60% on the theory exam, which he said was good, because he doesn't think he answerered more than 60% of the questions.  A higher mark would have exempted him from the first semester of Rudiments, but I think it's good that he take them again.

Part of the program he's taking, which is a Bachelor of Church music, includes an emphasis on sound recording, which he's quite excited about.  He's pretty happy.


Warfield Wednesday

I was reading from one of B.B. Warfield's volumes this morning, Biblical Doctrines.  The entry I was reading is on predestination.  In the first part, Warfield discusses at length the use of the word "predestination" from a texual perspective, focusing on how it was used in the Old Testament and then in the New Testament.  Then, he goes into a discussion about the way the men of the Old Testament viewed God and the principle of a sovereign God with a divine will and plan.  I liked this part:

Self-sufficiency is the characteristic mark of the wicked, whose doom treads on his heels; while the mark of the righteous is that he lives by his faith (Hab. ii.4).  In the entire self-commitment to God, humble dependence on Him for all blessings, which is the very core of Old Testament religion, no element is more central than the profound conviction embodied in it of the free sovereignty of God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, in the distribution of His mercies.  The whole training of Israel was directed to impressing upon it the great lesson enunciated to Zerubabel, 'Not by might, nor by power, by by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts' (Zech. iv.6) - that all that comes to man in the spiritual sphere, too, is the free gift of Jehovah.

 That is quite a thought:  "self-sufficiency is the characteristic mark of the wicked..."  Have I ever thought in those terms before?


Tall trees and zany pygmies

And so comes to an end my reading of J.I. Packer's A Quest for Godliness.  I have to say this is one of the best books I have ever read.  It will rate right up there with The Holiness of God for books that have influenced me in my faith.  Packer is such a great writer.   The reading was rich but not cumbersome.  I highly recommend it, even if you're not a church history buff.  It will, however, make you see the rich heritage which is ours.

In the final chapter, Packer sets out to return to the beginning and review the picture he has set out to paint.  He begins by describing the Puritans as being like giant Redwoods:  "huge trees that are not handsome in any conventional sense but have very straight, strong, solid trunks."  This chapter summarizes what Packer has talked about in the previous pages.  He asks three questions:

  1. What was a Puritan?
  2. What was outstanding about the Puritans?
  3. How do modern people measure up against the Puritans today?

To that first question, Packer summarizes nicely:

Puritans were Englishmen (some of whom went to America) who embraced whole heartedly a version of Christianity that paraded a partcular blend of biblicist, pietist, churchly and worldly concerns. 

In describing their piety, Packer emphasizes that it was characterized by humility, receptivity, doxology, and energy.  They focused on conviction and conversion, the fight against the world, and fellowship with God and the body of Christ.  They were focused on the finish of the life as well as the course of one's life.

Such was Puritan godliness:  faithful, thoughtful, 'painful' (that meant, for the Puritans, taking pains, working hard), and joyful.

What was outstanding about the Puritans?  Packer points out four things:

  1. They were great thinkers
  2. They were great worshippers
  3. They were great hopers in heaven
  4. They were great warriors

In the context of their hope, I like Packer's comment:

One notable strength of the Puritans, setting them apart from Western Christians today, was the firmness of their grip on the biblical teaching about the hope of heaven.  Basic to their pastor care was their understanding of the Christian's present life as a journey home, and they made much of encouraging God's people to look ahead and feast their hearers on what is to come.

And the last question Packer asks, about where we stand today, is a question he leaves to the reader to answer.  He believes that the work he produced should answer that question quite well.  I do like his comparison at the end:

If my view of the Puritans as wise giants and ourselves as zany pygmies has not yet convinced you, it never will; if it has convinced you, you know already how my third question should be answered.  So I leave the matter there.

Yes, I am convinced.  I think the comparison is apt.  When I think of contrasting the present Christian spiritual climate, I think of the contrast between shallow and deep.  I think of the old addage, "Still waters run deep."  While the Puritans lacked the flash and the glitz many Christians seem to crave today, the depth is there.  And I believe it is a depth that all Christians can pursue.


Improving our praying

This is from the introduction to A Call to Spiritual Reformation, by D.A. Carson:

Have not many of us tried at one point or another to improve our praying and floundered so badly that we are more discouraged than we ever were?  Do you not sense with me, the severity of the problem?  Granted that most of us know some individuals who are remarkable prayer warriors, is it not nevertheless true that by and large we are better at organizing than agonizing?  Better at administering than interceding?  Better at fellowship than fasting?  Better at entertainment than worship?  Better at theological articulation than spiritual adoration?  Better - God help us! - at preaching than at praying?

Fairly convicting, I'd say.  I'm not a preacher, but as a mother, I do my share of "preaching."  Often, when it comes to our children, we would probably do better to pray more and preach less.