Archive for the ‘Ordinate Affection’ Category

Invitation to the (Devotional) Classics – 1

May 24, 2013

Who knows how many volumes have been written by Christians through the centuries? Spurgeon’s works alone are 63 volumes, which are equivalent to the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Unlike Spurgeon’s works, not every Christian’s writings have been preserved, or been worth preserving.

Wesley said we ought to be people of one book, but students of many. With Scripture being our Book of books, we’d do well to learn from those Christian writings that have seemed to rise to the top, and withstand the winnowing of time. These ‘devotional classics’ span time, denomination or tradition, and genre, for lack of a better term. They come from Ante-Nicene, Nicene, post-Nicene periods, from the Middle Ages, and from Reformation, Enlightenment, Awakening and modern periods. They were written in Africa, Asia, Europe and America. Their authors are early bishops, martyrs, monks, scholastics, reformers, separatists, mystics, puritans, pastors, and missionaries. They are from the Eastern and Western church, reformers who were in the Roman Catholic church, reformers who came out, and reformers who remained in. They are Anglican, Congregationalist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist. And they write sermons, poems, confessions, prayers, autobiographies, letters, and general treatments of the Christian life. I’d like to begin doing a brief description and review of some of these classics, with some choice excerpts from each.

What is the value of reading these dusty treasures? I can think of two reasons.

First, the value of reading some of the best devotional works is of inestimable spiritual value. A.W. Tozer wrote, “After the Bible the next most valuable book for the Christian is a good hymnal. Let any young Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone and he will become a fine theologian. Then let him read a balanced diet of the Puritans and the Christian mystics. The results will be more wonderful than he could have dreamed.”

Second, to be truly helpful to our generation, we should live with these past saints. Much of modern Christianity has made a host of the non-culture we call secularism, and to the degree that it has become identified with this non-culture, it has become a non-religion, simply an eclectic set of parochial pieties, idiosyncratic moralisms, prejudices and assumptions. Reading these classics is a way of hearing what generations other than our own have said. T.S. Eliot pointed out in Tradition and the Individual Talent that to enter into the stream of historical understanding is to begin to know more than the thoughts of your own generation. “This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.” You only understand your times, and can speak to them effectively, or dare I say it, with relevance, if you have viewed your own generation from the perspective of other generations. You will only know what is distinctive (for good or ill) about your generation if you have regularly inhabited a world that transcends your particular time and place. Failing this, you are just an echo-chamber for the thoughts of our day, and if they be in error, you are a repeater-station for widely accepted error.

Someone might be understandably skeptical about the notion of orthopathy, or right loves. But let him vigorously work his way through these classics, and he will find a similarity of sentiment across the ages that seems to fit very well with the idea of orthopathy, and in many cases, makes the pieties of our age seem foreign. Don’t take my word for it. Live with Christians from other ages, and then decide whose piety is the odd one out.

A few words about this mixed multitude. The list we’ll be working through includes people from doctrinal traditions quite different from our own. We sit at their feet not because we want to embrace all their errors, nor because we seek to re-make them in our image (or vice-versa). A bee can find nectar in the weed as well as in the flower, said the holiness preacher Joseph H. Smith.

Finally, reading these works will mean some spiritual effort, which I heartily encourage. Again, Tozer: “To enjoy a great religious work requires a degree of consecration to God and detachment from the world that few modern Christians have experienced. The early Christian Fathers, the mystics, the Puritans, are not hard to understand, but they inhabit the highlands where the air is crisp and rarefied and none but the God-enamored can come.”

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Why We Need The Worship Wars

April 26, 2013

Unless you believe in orthopathy as essential to Christianity, the worship wars are much ado about nothing. They represent the dying thrashes of hide-bound traditionalists, raging against the waning popularity of those songs most familiar to them. They represent the immature clamour of people who do not understand the Romans 14 principle, and want to elevate their preferences to the level of orthodoxy.

If you believe, as I do,  in the very notion of orthopathy, then the worship wars are a natural, and indeed, essential part of church life. While no Spirit-filled Christian delights in conflict, no Spirit-filled Christian doubts that some conflict is inevitable and necessary. Consider how important doctrinal conflict has been.

We should be very thankful for the heretics and their heresies. Without them, we would not know all the ways that Christian orthodoxy can be denied and twisted. Before the heretics come along, orthodoxy is assumed, without clear definition. Through the heresies of Gnosticism, Ebionism, Apollonarianism, Eutychianism, Nestorianism, Arianism, and Sabellianism, the church hammered out orthodox Christology and trinitarianism. The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds represent responses to heresies, and defining points for orthodoxy. The creeds represent points of definition. After the definition, deviations represent heterodoxy. A certain amount of vagueness or imprecision is expected before the point of definition that becomes intolerable after the point of definition.

For that matter, we can be thankful for the heresies of transsubstantiation, indulgences, baptismal regeneration, Mary as co-redemptrix, and others, for leading to the Reformation with its five solas. In many ways, our propositional statements of faith, as ornate as they now appear, partly represent a kind of timeline of doctrinal combat.

What has been true in the area of orthodoxy, has also been true in orthopathy. The affective domain of the faith, which is not merely what we have said, but how we have felt, how we have responded to those truths, has had its heresies, and its turning points of definition. If we are orthodox in doctrine, we should expect that we will respond to the truth as other orthodox Christians in history have, not an identical reaction, but an equivalent one for our place and time. And in two thousand years of doctrinal development, there has also been two millennia of affective, aesthetic development.

Steve Miller, in his masterful misrepresentation of liturgical history in The Contemporary Christian Music Debate, enjoys surveying the worship wars of previous centuries, in hopes of persuading us that sooner or later, the critics of CCM will get with the times, as did the critics of Watts’ hymns, or the critics of the organ, or the critics of a liturgy in the vernacular. That these debates existed, we do not doubt. That the modern worship wars are simply the contemporary version of these discussions, we do not dispute. That they represent nothing more than initial alarm to what will become standard orthopathy in one generation, we vehemently dispute.

Certainly there have been overreactions and over-corrections. Certainly, novelties are often regarded with suspicion, and once they become normative, the previous objectors seem amusingly alarmist. But what we often miss is that through the debates over orthopathy such as conflict over polyphony, original (that is, non-psalmic) hymns, or the gospel song, the church was doing in the affective domain precisely what it had done in the doctrinal domain. Doctrinal controversies said, “We speak of Christ like this, and not like that.” Affective controversies said, “We respond to Christ like this, and not like that.” And before the nearly wholesale abandonment of traditional worship forms in favour of entertainment at the end of the 19th century, Christian worship represented an inheritance of hundreds of years of corrections and refinements.

We should not be surprised that there exists in our era contention over proper sensibilities toward God. The truly alarming thing would be if there were none. What is somewhat different in our era is the post-modern mood that despises debate and clear definition. This pseudo-tolerance has long ago compromised the doctrinal integrity of professing Evangelicals. The same worldly mood that abhors necessary conflict and clear definition in doctrinal matters, is even more incensed at the thought of anything similar in the more subjective realm of orthopathy. In some ways, the most problematic people are not the combatants in the worship wars, but those who insist there should be none.

Mind Your Manners – 4 – Irreverent and Culpable

April 12, 2013

 Thus far in this series, we have seen several truths about manners and their relation to worship and worship forms:

  1. All cultures have manners. All cultures recognise the importance of appropriate responses.

  2. The expression of these appropriate responses differs greatly between cultures.

  3. These differences do not relativise the affections of reverence or honour. They demonstrate that meaning comes about in different ways for different cultures.

  4. The meaning on the gesture that represents the affection may have come about through use, through association, or through some stipulation by an authority. Furthermore, the culture may have the response wrong through its own idolatries.

  5. Inhabitants of a culture are responsible to understand the meaning of the gestures, forms, metaphors, and expressions in their culture. They are responsible to do so, because they have the obligation to communicate with God and man, and must do so with the tools they have.

This brings us to our last question. If what we have said is true, there are plenty of people committing acts of profanity and irreverence in the name of God. If an act or gesture does not become reverent simply because I sincerely wish it were so, or claim it is, then plenty of people are performing acts of irreverence and disrespect towards God. However, they would deny this, so how do we account for this?

First, some are ignorant of meaning, but still culpable. With today’s public education system, it is quite possible to insult a teenager without his knowing it. The teen’s small vocabulary or ignorance of metaphors does not change the fact that he has been insulted. Furthermore, if he decides to repeat the insult to a superior, his ignorance does not make him polite. Ignorance of meaning still makes one culpable. Quite a few people were apparently ignorant of the meaning of carrying the Ark on an ox-cart as opposed to the prescribed method, but their ignorance did not absolve them. Some may be enlisting in worship those musical forms that embody irreverence and disorder, without understanding that those forms do so. They are not innocent, for if one can tell others what your CCM does not mean, surely you have to be in a position to say what it does mean.

Second, some are desensitized to meanings, but still culpable. People growing up with R-rated rap are unlikely to detect how sensual Strauss’ waltzes are. The meaning of those waltzes has not changed; but the sensitivity to perceive it has diminished with the flood of the erotic. If you are surrounded by the chaos of rock, eventually the chaos seems normal, and you detect no incongruity in using it for worship. Again, this does not reduce culpability, any more than man’s depravity makes him less culpable to believe the gospel. Perverseness does not make us more innocent, but more guilty.

Third, some are dismissive of meaning, and especially culpable. Some are not interested in even considering the meaning of their cherished idols, lest they have to surrender them. They mock attempts to parse meanings, and hide behind the words preference, style, subjective, and non-issue. Again, they pretend the meaning of their chosen expression is open and relative, except when their music is criticized, at which point they become quite dogmatic that their music does not mean that.

In summary, many are rude to God, with more or less culpability for their irreverence. They deny that they are irreverent, but they will have to give account for their posture towards God. The one who did not know his Master’s will will be beaten with less stripes. The one who did – the one who knew that his Master had called him to test all things and hold fast to what is good – but instead suppressed the truth, was willingly ignorant, and a sluggard regarding discernment, he shall be beaten with many.

Mind Your Manners – 3 – Manners and Meaning

April 5, 2013

What do widely varying manners tell us about ordinate affection? Some reason this way: since some cultures regard eye-contact as respectful, and others regard eye-contact as impudent, these opposite understandings of reverence show the relative and subjective nature of manners. These outward expressions are adiaphora – indifferent, neutral things. The morality lies in the person giving or withholding eye-contact: the person is either seeking to be respectful or not, and this is what gives morality to the action.

No argument that one’s intention to be respectful is a major part of the meaning of the manner in question. But is that all that is needed? If a young Zulu man decides that eye-contact ought to be regarded as respectfulness by his elders, should his sincerity count as reverence in a Zulu culture? However much sincerity the man may have, he still has to grapple with the meaning of eye-contact in his culture at the time.

The fact that one culture regards eye-contact with a superior as rude, and another regards a lack of eye-contact as dishonest evasiveness does not make these gestures amoral or meaningless. It simply means that the meaning of these gestures in different cultures comes about in different ways. Some of it will be stipulative: at some point a particular gesture is simply designated to have a meaning, which the members of the culture will observe. Sometimes meaning comes about through associations and through use: the obscene hand and finger signals are quite different between cultures, but they have come to have a conventional meaning in each culture. In the case of some gestures, something is intrinsic to the meaning of the motion. For example, there is no culture in which bowing or kneeling before someone is a sign of dominance, aggression or suggested superiority.

These various influences shape the meaning of manners, so that their applications can look very different, and even opposite, between cultures. What we cannot miss is what all the cultures hold in common: expressions of reverence, courtesy, and appropriate love. All cultures have manners: and the manners of some cultures have been more influenced by Christian thinking than others. Every culture has its code of gestures, tones, and responses that incarnate its idea of appropriate responses.

This all puts the lie to the idea that in the current melting pot of cultures, any and all responses to God count as reverent, so long as the worshiper feels it is so. Though we are confronted with differing cultures and their manners like never before, these each have meaning. The challenge (and it is a large one) is to understand the meaning of certain tones, gestures, terms of address, surroundings, technologies, musical forms in the culture you worship in. What is their meaning? The meaning may well be in dispute, which should come as no surprise in a world which uses meaninglessness as a cover for its sin. This does not absolve us from the responsibility to find out. If something has obtained a meaning through association or use, what is that meaning? If the meaning is shifting, how is it changing and in what direction? Is it consonant with reverence and respect? If the meaning has come about through its created form, what is that meaning? Among those who believe in meaning, what is the consensus regarding its meaning?

Certainly, the post-mods will want to assign meaning arbitrarily: it means what I want it to mean. But if the Zulu father will not accept the young man’s revision of eye-contact merely because of his sincerity, is it altogether implausible that God may not regard certain actions as reverent, however much we may wish it to be so? Certainly God is omniscient, and not confined to the meaning found in one culture only. He understands and knows the meaning of all things, whether that meaning has come about by use, association or naturally. He knows how meanings change in a given culture. He knows if that meaning is understood by all, most, some, or hardly any in a culture. He understands how sincere a person’s heart is, and He understands how diligent a person has been to understand the meaning of his offered worship. Which brings us to our last question: if a person does not understand the meaning of what he is doing, is he culpable for that action? If he sincerely means something one way, but it means another, which meaning prevails, in God’s eyes? Or to summarise: is it possible to be unintentionally irreverent towards God?

Mind Your Manners – 2 – The Strange Silence Around the Third Commandment

March 22, 2013

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

This command is universally understood to mean that God’s name is not to be used as a curse-word, or as a mere exclamation. And who would deny that? To use the very name of God to express irritation or surprise, to add verbal oomph to a promise, or to simply use His name as a joke would surely violate this command.

How do we know that? Is there anywhere in the rest of the Law of Moses that explains and applies the Third Commandment? Not explicitly, anyway. Apparently, this command supplies a principle, to which believers were, and are, supposed to supply applications.

What is the principle? Since one’s name represents one’s person and character, the name of God represents more than simply the verbal pronouncement or written letters of God’s names or titles. The name of God represents God’s person. To take His name in vain, is to take His person, character and reputation in vain. “To take in vain” is to treat as light, empty, or worthless. It is to misuse something in a fashion that trivialises its dignity, devalues its import, or profanes its uniqueness. The timeless principle of the Third Commandment seems to be: do not treat God in any way that trivialises, devalues, or profanes Him. Positively: fear God, and give Him the glory due His name (Ps 29:2).

One can easily see how using God’s actual name as a swear-word would profane God. But are there not other lawful applications of this command? What about treating His Supper as common? What about treating His Day like any other day? What about making light of God’s Word in a sermon? What of Sunday School songs that make God into something comical or amusing? What about methods of evangelism that ‘theme’ the gospel after some form of entertainment or leisure? What about worshipping God with forms used for revelry, narcissism and entertainment? Are there forms of speech, song, poetry, prayer, dress that would portray God as lightweight, inconsequential or unimportant? Could a certain kind of behaviour drag God’s reputation through the mud, particularly by those who name Him?

We’re probably only getting started with possible applications. The point is, the Third Commandment, like most of them, gives a command which is timeless, and therefore generalised. “Treat God’s Person With Respect”, might be a paraphrase. This broad principle then needs to be worked into differing ages, cultures, and situations. God gives us the etiquette – treat Me with reverence – and expects us to apply it.

And there’s the rub. We can take God’s relative silence about how to flesh out the Third Commandment two ways. We can assume that the only moral aspect of the Commandment is the timeless principle, while the applications, because they may differ from culture to culture, are amoral. What becomes moral, in this way of thinking, is the desire, or the sincerity with which a person wishes to reverence God. The actual forms, habits, speech, dress and musical forms contain no meaning except insofar as they give a moral agent an opportunity to express his sincere desire to revere God.

The other approach is to see morality extending from the timeless commandment through to the applications, even when these applications are not spelt out by Scripture. The applications are moral insofar as they carry meanings. These meanings can communicate, in a given culture, reverence for God or its opposite. This meaning comes about in several ways, but since it is present in every culture, what is needed to keep the Third Commandment is more than sincerity, but discernment. Every moral agent needs to grow in knowledge, to judge the meaning, in his culture, of his acts, habits, gestures and responses to God. I’d like to defend this second approach in the next posts.

Mind Your Manners: Rude to God

March 15, 2013

Manners are strange and wonderful things. Every culture has them, and yet they often vary widely between cultures. In Western culture, ‘ladies first’ is a way of expressing deference and honour to women, while in some black cultures in South Africa, a man is to enter every space first to demonstrate his protection of those who follow him. Ladies first would be considered cowardice. “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” often rings out in many a home in English-speaking countries, but in several African cultures, eye contact with a superior is considered effrontery and rude. Honour is shown by keeping one’s gaze down. When I lived in Taiwan, I found all my table manners were backwards. Absolutely nothing should be touched with the hands, but loud slurping, chewing and other sounds of mastication and digestion are considered normal and complimentary. Chopsticks alone must be used to pick up food, but a stray ant or bug walking across the table didn’t cause so much as a double-take. In the Afrikaans language, one speaks respectfully by avoiding direct pronouns ‘you’ and your’, so a respectful person will say something like, “Father, will Father be taking Father’s car to the shops, or may I offer Father a lift?” Funerals in the West are observed with silence and dark colours; funerals in Africa have wailers, singing, and a feast. Every culture has its manners, and as far as we can tell, no culture has been without manners. Manners were clearly present in Hebrew culture:

Leviticus 19:32 Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.

Deuteronomy 28:49-50  “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand,  “a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young.

Proverbs 30:17 The eye that mocks his father, And scorns obedience to his mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it.

What are these strange things we call manners? To explain them is like explaining a joke. You either get them or you don’t. But on close inspection, they provide much drapery and clothing to our imaginative lives. They distinguish us from mere animals, they demonstrate the transcendence of our lives. Manners turn meals into something more than sustenance, sex into more than mating, clothing into something more than covering, speech into more than sharing information. Through manners we order and arrange our lives, recognising distinctions in age, sex, office, and station in life. Not only do manners provide life with the delight of respect for person, property and occasion, manners actually shape our understanding of oughtness. Certain people ought to be treated in a particular way. Certain occasions ought to be conducted with a kind of decorum. Manners are an elaborate system of value judgements.  “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”(1 Peter 2:17) Man judges the meaning and therefore the value of people, things, and events by clothing them with manners. He will invest life with ceremony, from eating, to queuing, to speaking, to attracting the opposite sex, to passing laws, to holding meetings, and until recently, to waging war.

Why should he do this if he is merely advanced protoplasm? Though many today argue for life without manners, man keeps defaulting back to them. Man believes there is a transcendent order, which filters down into a scale of values: some things or people deserve a certain kind of treatment. Some people and things ought to be respected. Some gestures or habits are offensive. Some things are obscene.

Yet, for all this universality of manners, manners are slippery things. Their differing, and sometimes opposite applications in cultures lead people to regard them as arbitrary. No rule-book, not even Emily Post, can finally define manners. But human life would not be human without them.

Since manners reflect a transcendent order, we would do well to ask, are there manners for dealing with God? Can one be rude to God, indecorous in His presence, disrespectful, or unmannered?
The Bible suggests it is possible to be rude to God. Several Scriptures enjoin ‘manners’ before God, and rebuke the lack thereof:

Malachi 1:6 ” A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’

Exodus 20:7 ” You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Psalm 114:7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the God of Jacob,

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

Ezekiel 23:39 39 “For after they had slain their children for their idols, on the same day they came into My sanctuary to profane it; and indeed thus they have done in the midst of My house.

If there are manners before God, how would we know what they are? Are the applications for these manners spelt out in Scripture? What are we to make of this? Do manners in God’s presence differ from culture to culture? How does this relate to the current worship wars? How do we learn manners before God? How should Christians teach younger Christians their manners before God? We’ll attempt some answers to these questions in this series.

A Catechism on Judgement in Worship

December 14, 2012

How are we to worship God?
We should worship in all of life, but we have been told most explicitly to worship God corporately through the following:
– The reading of Scripture
– The preaching of Scripture
– The singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
– The offering of public prayer
– The observance of the ordinances

How do we know which songs, what kind of music, what kind of sermons, what kind of prayers we should offer God?
We know this through exercising sound judgement.

What is sound judgement?
At the very least, it is the ability to discern between good and evil (Heb 5:14), to approve what is excellent (Phil 1:10), and to be able to to recognise what is true, just, noble, pure, lovely, praiseworthy, commendable, and excellent (Phil 4:8) – and the opposites of these. Judgement can also be thought of as discernment, discrimination, prudence, taste, or more broadly, wisdom.

Why is judgement fundamental to worship?
1) To worship God for His excellence, we must be able to distinguish excellence from inferiority, beauty from ugliness, good from bad. We cannot admire God if we do not know what is admirable. We cannot see the beauty of God if we are poor at recognising beauty.
2) To offer God what is worthy of Him, we must be able to judge the worth of our offerings. God is worth our very best offerings, but if we cannot tell tacky from elegant, we will end up offering him what is profane. We are required to discover what is excellent (Phil 1:10) and use it for God’s glory. Moreover, since God is true, we must never offer God what is false in any way: false in statement, or false in sentiment.
3) To rightly respond to God from the heart,  we must be able to distinguish between affections, and judge what is appropriate for worship. To recognise inordinate joy from ordinate, to distinguish between familiarity and boldness, between joyful exuberance and impudent flippancy, or between shades of joy, fear, or sorrow, requires judgement.
4) To understand how a song, prayer, sermon or other act of worship represents ordinate or inordinate affection, we need good judgement. We must understand the meaning of the prayer, song, music, or sermon and judge its worth for worship.

Isn’t it wrong to judge?
No, judgement is at the very heart of a mature Christian life (Heb 5:14). If you cannot judge good from bad, you will never worship meaningfully, or be protected against profanity. In fact, good judgment is placed side-by-side with a holy and fruitful life (Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:8-11, Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).
Proud judgmentalism is what is forbidden to us, which is the same as ‘thinking evil’ of another, assuming the worst, or claiming to be able to perfectly read motives.

Won’t these judgements be subjective?
Yes, that does not mean they will not be true. Judgements made by subjects can still conform to the good.

Why can’t we just be given a list of approved hymns and songs?
If everyone does nothing more than submit to another’s list, then no one is learning to judge, discriminate and sing with understanding. It is fine for children and beginners to trust the judgements of others, but a maturing conscience is meant to be formed with knowledge and judgement.

Do you have to be a literary or musical critic to worship?
No, because we are all commanded to worship, and that would mean everyone on earth should be a literary critic. We should not be afraid to learn from them, though.

What about just giving simple offerings?
God loves simple offerings. He does not love cheap and tacky offerings. Discernment is learning to tell the difference.

How shall we go about learning judgement?
First, we should commit to living in the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of sound wisdom and discretion. No judgement or discernment will come to irreverent, flippant people. We must determine that we wish to revere God, whatever that might mean.
Second, we should commit ourselves to godliness of life. Discernment comes by reason of use, as we seek to know the difference between good and evil for application to life (Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 5:8-11, Philippians 1:9-11, Colossians 1:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22).
Third, we must embrace the examined life. That is, we must seek a life in which we become thoughtful about the meaning of the various technologies, media, forms, and devices in our lives. We must become thoughtful and contemplative about meaning, if we are to grow in discernment. This is the same as Proverbs’ instructions to pursue knowledge, wisdom and understanding. We are to vigorously pursue an understanding of God, ourselves and the world.
Fourth, we should root ourselves in the genuine Christian tradition, immersing ourselves in it so that it gives us a sense of its discerning judgement by example and exposure.

How can I judge something that I already like or dislike?
First, we should make our prejudices explicit. If we like something, or dislike something, we should own that to be true.
Second, we should ask why we like what we like or dislike what we dislike. If we do not have reasons, we ought to seek them. Understanding why we love something is part of the way to learning what it means, and learning about our own hearts.
Third, we need to compare what we currently like, or dislike, with some standard of what is good, or true, or beautiful. What I like does not become good by virtue of my liking it; rather, I must learn to love what is good. What I dislike may not necessarily be bad; rather, my sinful heart may dislike things that are true. We should not defend our preferences because they are familiar; we should learn to like something because it really is good, and then make the good familiar. Sanctification is all about unlearning some loves, and learning new ones.

Where shall we get this standard?
The standard already exists in God. He is the source and standard of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. In God’s common grace, He has allowed both believers and unbelievers to produce works of imagination that conform, more or less, to God’s view of what is excellent. Therefore, we come to know this standard as we:
1) Consider what has been loved and cherished by God’s people for centuries.
2) Listen to people, who, by God’s common grace, have proven judgement – people who explain the meaning of works of imagination.
3) Compare and contrast different works, considering what they are trying to do, how they do it, and whether or not they achieve it.
4) Write poems, songs, prayers and sermons that are true, good and beautiful for God’s glory.

What shall we do with growing discernment?
We must weed out and reject offerings that trivialize God, humanity or creation. We must choose the good and the true. We must learn to write our own apprehension of God’s glory in poems, songs, prayers and sermons. We must worship God in our generation, in our words. And yet our words and works must also be true, good and beautiful.

Tozer on Worship Music -12

September 21, 2012

(From the Introduction to The Christian Book of Mystical Verse)

This is a book for the worshiper rather than for the student. It has been carefully and lovingly prepared for those God-enamored persons who, while they feel as deeply as the enraptured poet, yet lack the gift that would enable them to express their feelings adequately. Such will sense a kinship with the gifted souls they find on the pages of this book and will join them as they mount on high to pour out their hymns at heaven’s gate.

In making these selections I have largely followed my own bent, though I have been guided somewhat by a few simple rules. First, all sentimental verse was excluded, along with everything homey and maudlin. The only healthy emotions are those aroused by great ideas, and even these must be restrained and purified by the Spirit of God or they will spend themselves in weak and sterile rhymes. Of such there is enough in the religious world; I think none will be found in this book.

Second, while the compiler is not unfamiliar with the judgment of hymnologists and literary critics on the larger body of English religious verse, that judgment has been set aside and another adopted for this book. For this reason some of the standard classics have been omitted because I felt they would not contribute to my purpose. Conversely, certain poems of admittedly inferior literary rank have been included because I felt that they would.

Third, everything selected for inclusion in this work had to be judged theologically sound. While considerable latitude was allowed, even welcomed, in doctrinal outlook and emphasis, to be accepted every hymn and poem had to meet the test of faithfulness to the Christian Scriptures. Though almost everything here is pure lyric poetry and may easily be sung, yet this book is not intended for use in the public assembly. Had I meant it to be so used a wholly different kind of verse would have been chosen for it and the book would have been another sort of book altogether. Everything here is for use in private devotion. I have had in mind not a congregation but the lone individual. For this reason I would respectfully urge the one who may come into possession of this book not to “read” it as he would read another book. Let him try rather to enter into its mood, to capture and be captured by its spirit. How many pages he gets through in a day is of no importance; what one poem or even one single stanza does to him and for him and in him: that is everything.

Admittedly much pure gold has been left out of this treasury. The chief reason is lack of space. I have tried to keep the book small enough to be portable, that its possessor may carry it with him and so turn any bus or train or airplane into a sanctuary. Certainly not all the gold in the world is in this one volume, but what is here is, I believe, true gold of Ophir. I hope many of my fellow Christians will find it to be so.

—The Christian Book of Mystical Verse

Towards Conservative Christian Churches – 21 – Imagination and Shaping the Affections

August 19, 2011

Many of the pastors I have met are unwitting moderns. I should know, for I am also a pastor, and a recovering modern. That is, I am someone who believed the lies of scientism: that the way to know reality is by fact-collecting, and that humans are capable of being completely objective in their fact-collecting. To put the lie another way, point the microscope, stethoscope, telescope or some other instrument towards the universe, and you will find out a pure, brute fact about what is. If you collect enough of these facts, you might be able to construct a big picture of what is.

Many spiritual leaders apply something similar to Christian discipleship. In their view, if you collect enough theological facts from the Bible you will be able to construct the whole picture. Therefore, their aim in ministry is to discover and then supply people with these facts. All else is peripheral, matters of preference, taste, or, in their words, ‘subjective’ matters. Lucky for their people, they’re ‘objective’, and deal mostly in supplying objective brute theological facts.

As I say, I am recovering from my modernism, for it still infects much of what I do. However, a biblical mindset understands that the Truth precedes the facts, and that even our understanding of Revelation goes through a grid. That is what leads conservative Christian pastors to pay attention to the imagination.

The imagination is that part of us which gives us an intuitive feeling about the nature of immanent reality. It is our grid, our map of reality to which we refer all the ‘facts’ we encounter. It is built over years, and supplied with an aggregate of symbols from our culture(s). Those symbols, as discussed in the last post, supply the sense of proportion and measure toward all things. This is what largely shapes a person’s affections toward God, himself and the world.

The cognitive aspect of the Christian faith cannot be divorced from the affective aspect. Indeed, as we’ve just seen, there is a sense in which they are dependent on one another.  This is the aspect of the Christian faith that does not seem to be given the attention it requires: how the imagination informs how we feel about the truth. It is our ongoing response to the truth.

We can sing of God in funny limericks, or in stately hymns. We can think of the Flood like this, or like this. We can imagine the experience of encountering God like this, or like this. We can compare sin to ‘Stinky Sox’ or to a curse. We can ‘theme’ the Christian life after treasure hunts, race-car driving, detective-sleuthing or cowboys and Indians, or use the biblical imagery supplied by the apostles. We can sing benedictions like this or like this. We can imagine the event of corporate worship (and therefore the setting for it) like this, or like this. We can dress up the faith in games, fun, material rewards, or in the motives Jesus gave. The list could go on. Whatever you decide about these differing visions, there is little doubt that these examples illustrate that Christians can and do have contrasting, even opposing, visions of how one should respond to the truths of God’s Word.

What we must not miss is that in these matters, we might have total agreement on the content (and perhaps meaning) of the theological facts under discussion. However, the form in which we teach them demonstrates how we imagine these truths ought to affect us. This is the difference between the modernist and the Christian: the modernist cannot see how the form of things shapes the sentiment towards the truth, which can ultimately shape the whole view of truth.

All of these matters are, in a sense, pre-cognitive. They provide a sensibility, a sentiment towards the facts under discussion. If the cognitive tells us who God is, the imaginative tells us what He deserves. If the cognitive supplies us with ideas to be known, the imaginative tells us how we ought to respond to those ideas.

And since Christianity is a religion of worshiping an invisible God, we are heavily reliant on these matters of the imagination to teach us a sensibility toward the truth. Therefore, the pastor who wishes to see affections properly shaped in his people must think carefully about such matters as the poetry in the lyrics of our songs, the music used in worship, the religious artwork we use (in our Sunday School material, for example), the themes or motifs adopted in our children’s discipleship, the motives we give for people (young or old) to serve Christ, down to how we design our place for corporate worship. These are not merely decorative, stylistic matters, they provide precisely the kind of analogies we spoke of previously. Form is formative. If our analogies are not serious, it is likely that the sentiment towards the things of God will not be serious. If the analogies provoke narcissism, it is likely that the sentiment towards worship and discipleship will be narcissistic.

Shaping the affections goes beyond providing facts. It goes to considering carefully the form in which ideas are presented. It considers how the entire worldview and sensibility towards the things of God is shaped by the analogies we give the imagination.

Towards Conservative Christian Churches – 20 – More than Cognitive

August 12, 2011

The cultivation of ordinate affection depends on several areas we have already covered in this series. A pastor determined to conserve biblical Christianity will be conserving several areas, each of which affect the others. Bear with me as we tie several elements already discussed to the shaping of the affections.

Since regeneration is essential to ordinate affection, a conservative Christian church preserves and propagates the biblical gospel. Apart from the heart being given an entirely new disposition, it will always love creature more than Creator, and therefore become more warped in its affections.

Since a right understanding of God, ourselves and the world is essential to right loves, a conservative Christian church conserves and teaches a comprehensive biblical and systematic theology. Without a systematic exposition of God’s Word, with practical submission to it, no one will love what God loves and hate what God hates.

Since example and exposure are necessary for the shaping of appropriate loves, the conservative Christian church conserves biblical worship, and understands one of its roles as a ‘catechism of the affections’. Corporate worship, with its forms, order and structure provides a lesson in proportion, decorum and appropriate responses. Corporate worship is the opportunity for adjusting the sensibilities of the worshipers, so that a common sentiment towards God, the world and ourselves is developed. It is not meant to be a venue for competing sensibilities to all find expression in the name of personal taste and Romans 14.

Since sanctification is essentially re-ordering our loves to bring them in line with God’s, the conservative Christian church gives much attention to teaching personal piety, and encouraging discipleship relationships. When Christians observe ordinate love for God, mankind and the created order, it is often caught. Therefore, piety is to be encouraged in the life of the individual and the family. Practical obedience is to be stressed as essential to knowing and loving God.

Since understanding a biblical view of man is crucial to loving God ordinately, the conservative Christian church gives time to teach on the importance of the affections, the nature of the affections, and their application: what ought to be loved and how. A pastor who gives himself to all these things is well on his way to shaping ordinate affection in his hearers.

However, all of the above is not sufficient. The conservative pastor must become aware that the affections are not only shaped by regeneration, sound doctrine, sound worship, true piety and teaching on the affections. My point in the previous post was to illustrate how God shaped the affections of His people, and it was not only through information and obedience. He filled their lives with a large variety of symbols, ceremonies and rituals. These did more than regulate health and civil life in Israel. They dressed up the mere material existence of God’s people with the drapery of symbol, metaphor and analogy. Notice, God did this in addition to the moral imperatives of the Law. God knows that while our hearts can be partly shaped by what our minds know, and by what we choose, the heart’s responses are primarily affective responses, taught by analogy. Affective responses are essentially about proportion: an object deserves a particular kind of love. There is a response to an object or person that is proportionate to what it is in reality. This kind of proportionate response or just sentiment, is not taught cognitively. It is taught through analogy, wherein the analogy provides the sense of proportion. The symbol, if correctly chosen, contains the kind of affections required for the observer to correctly respond to the realities behind the symbol. Seeing an animal die at the altar evoked certain affections commensurate with repentance for sin. Comparing God to a captain of an army called for certain affections proportionate to His nature. Conversely, the high places with their analogies of sexual potency and fertility evoked inordinate affection.

All of this is to say that the pastor who wishes to shape ordinate affection in his people must become aware of how our knowledge of God and ultimate reality is analogical knowledge, and therefore our affections are shaped by the right analogies. Since God cannot be seen, how can we know how to love Him justly and appropriately? When our affective responses are responses to biblical or well-chosen images, analogies, metaphors, symbols, and signs, they will be correctly proportioned. In other words, the conservative Christian pastor must give attention to the imagination, and to form. This we will examine next.