Paul’s Positive Religious Affections

Someone recently asked me for an abstract of my dissertation, Paul’s Positive Religious Affections, and I realized I’d never written one up. Here goes.

Six times in the NT the Spirit of the Lord led Paul to tell his readers to imitate him (2 Thess 3:7; 1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 2 Tim 1:13), and two times to praise his readers for doing so (1 Thess 1:6; 2 Tim 3:10; cf. 1 Thess 2:14). His emotional life, insofar as the NT reveals it, is a significant but overlooked portion of his divinely inspired example. Paul’s “religious affections,” revealed through narratives and epistles, are needful for Christian obedience today.

In order to properly understand Paul’s emotional life, readers must understand the Bible’s theological anthropology. This dissertation canvasses major Western views of the will, with special attention to intellectualism and voluntarism, landing on an Augustinian voluntarism—one refracted through the views of John Frame and, especially, Jonathan Edwards.

In order to properly understand Paul’s emotional life, readers must also clear away some especially persistent errors of “theological lexicography,” the freighting of Greek and Hebrew words with a theology that they do not and cannot bear. The ἀγάπη word group in particular is said to indicate “a rational choice to do what is best for someone else regardless of how one feels.” The ἐλπίς word group, likewise, is said to indicate a “confident expectation” and not a feeling. The Greek words for gratitude (εὐχαριστία) and joy (χαρά) often receive a similar treatment, one which strips emotion out of their meaning.

An epilogue offers applications for exegesis, preaching, and counseling.

I Looked for a Musician to Stand in the Gap

I’m the music director at my church, my wife is one of our pianists. We and another pianist, a very dedicated and skillful lady, recently attended a Majesty Music Conference in order to gain instruction and, frankly, inspiration for a church music program (our own!) we felt was flagging. It’s my fault entirely, of course, that this was the case. But we all needed help. We were not disappointed.

I came away proud of my alma mater, because almost every person teaching sessions was a graduate of BJU. I have heard Warren Cook and his wife Jean perform and conduct music on countless occasions, but I’d never heard them speak or teach. They were nothing short of stupendous. I was in awe, learned 4.3 tons, and could not stop laughing. I’m so grateful for their gifts and training and experience—and their willingness to share it with a small group whose (very reasonable) registration fees must hardly have covered the workshop leaders’ expenses. Somehow I doubt they were in it for the money. The others who presented did very well, too. The Majesty staff served my church faithfully with the gifts the Lord has given them. Five weeks on, after our church’s first ever choir “performance,” I’m so grateful.

I got tips on leading congregational singing, using group vocal techniques for choirs and ensembles, and planning out various aspects of church music ministry. My wife and our other pianist got tips on modulation, sight-reading, and children’s ministry. The three of us spent all our free time together playing through new music and talking about how to revamp our music ministry. It was very stimulating and encouraging. I learned that three shots in three arms is worth six shots in one.

Now to my point in this post.

A Question

On the second and final day of the conference, in the very last session, we had a Q&A with the workshop leaders as panelists. They provided more wisdom and inspiration: they appeared to be a nearly inexhaustible well. Until I asked what I might call a stumper:

Who in this generation is writing to defend and promote the generally conservative worship tradition of Majesty, the Wilds, and similar institutions?

The panelists all looked at one another. After a bit, someone came up with the name of a practitioner, not a writer. Someone from the audience shouted out a name I did and do know: my friend Scott Aniol. That was it. Two names. One whose writing just hasn’t made it onto my radar and another who, if I may speak a little too frankly, writes better for leaders than for church people. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful for you, Scott. But I think you’d agree that we need more voices with different gifts for reaching different audiences.

A Gauntlet

I’m throwing down a gauntlet and writing an uncharacteristically personal plea: church musicians my age who have inherited the worship traditions I’ve inherited, I ask you, please write! I’m not asking you to write to tell me that everything in our tradition is good. (I’m hoping, however, that you won’t tell me it’s all bad!) I feel as if my crowd of Christians is losing its “right” to have its musical tradition, given that people my age have done almost nothing publicly to defend it, promote it, and apply it to our changing cultural realities.

I remember asking my seminary profs on a panel many years ago—custodians of the same overall conservative tradition—something like this: “If we expect Kazakh churches to use musical styles appropriate to their Kazakh cultural situation, and Botswanan churches to use musical styles appropriate to their Botswana cultural situation, where should Americans look in our culture for appropriate musical styles for worship?” I love my profs, and they’re all 14.3 times smarter than I, and I don’t know what they’d say today, but I was underwhelmed by the non-response I received. And these are people I’ve never stumped before or since.

An Insecurity

As I’ve checked around with youngish pastoral-type men my age who have experienced the same formational influences I have, my sense is that many feel the same way I do: they are uncomfortable with heavily contemporary, performance-oriented, pop-music-styled music in church; they are comfortable, more or less, with the worship tradition they’ve inherited. We have a basic sense that “don’t be conformed to the world” ought to apply to worship music, and this is bad (not to mention hokey). But they don’t buy all the reasons traditionally given for maintaining our conservative traditions. Rock-music-wilts-plants just isn’t persuasive anymore, if it ever was. Guilt-by-association doesn’t work, either, because that sword cuts both ways: the internet makes the weirdnesses and sins of classic hymn writers just as easy to discover as the doctrinal problems of Hillsong.

As a friend of mine wrote to me recently,

I’m decidedly conservative in my music styles, especially for worship, but aside from [the] “don’t-worship-like-the-world” argument, none of the others have really been convincing in the long term. I really wonder how much of my position is merely tradition and preference, and I have a certain sympathy for people who no longer hold to the same standards. If I’m not convinced with the standard arguments, how can I expect them to be?

But very few theologians in my circles who are my generation or younger, and very few musicians, are stepping into the gaping hole of contemporary argument. There’s a traditionalist United Methodist (?) musician on Patheos whose every post on music is greater than the total output (minus Scott Aniol’s blog) of my generation of BJU graduates. Or at least it seems that way. An undefended tradition is a tradition left to rot. It appears to be something we’re insecure about. And it becomes, I’ll say this again, a tradition we have little or no right to hold. Even when I’ve written a few posts on worship music using my own socio-linguistic angle—such as two posts on pop and two on rap—I’ve felt like I was a lone voice speaking on a topic others with the proper training ought to be speaking to; I felt like I had little authority to speak but had to risk it because of the silence of my more musically knowledgeable friends. Thankfully, my blog is so obscure that I didn’t stir up any hornets.

Even without the right to speak, I feel compelled by Rom 12:2 not to bring rock, pop, rap, country, and jazz styles into church. That’s sufficient for me for now: the argument from worldliness has always felt intuitive to me, starting at least in fifth grade in 1990, when I argued about this very issue in my Christian school with skeptical classmates. But I can see how easy it will be for my own church teens and my own kids to join the skepticism, now that contemporary musical styles are part of the assumed background of our American cultural life—as objectionable as peanut butter.

Theologians do need to form a significant portion of any discussions like those I propose; they will bring careful thinking about culture and careful exegesis of NT passages on church music. But musicians are the only ones who have the specific domain knowledge necessary to make credible arguments for pastors and people in the pew.

A Call

I worked hard over many years to popularize—to make accessible to laypeople—the most important new arguments against KJV-Onlyism. I found rhetorical strategies and concepts like “false friends” with which to package up those ideas to help them go farther. I went to considerable effort to write it all up and get it published and promoted. I hope I was able to do all this while maintaining a gentle graciousness toward my brothers who are KJV-Only (initial reactions to the book increase my hope). Plus, my book is short, and it contains jokes my wife found funny. T. David Gordon has done something similar—and his book is short, too—for the church music of upper-middle-class Presbyterians (and indeed he has much to teach my very similar worship tradition); who will do this for the church music of middle-class, conservative Baptistic “us”?

If no one stands in the gap, we will be overrun; and it may be what we deserve. Ironically, it may be the Anglicans and the Protestant mainline who keep alive the beautiful hymns and styles of the Western church music tradition. My impression is that (sweeping generalization alert) some of the KJV-Only folks out to my right are letting revivalistic music with a Southern twang and a nationalist tinge overtake what was once more robust Western church music. I think that’s unfortunate, but the best I can say is 1) that that music feels low-brow (and that nationalism doesn’t belong in church). And 2) it seems to me to be violating the principle I found in Andy Crouch’s work, namely that we are called by the Creation Mandate to cultivate the tradition we’ve inherited. I still see rock and pop and rap as lowest-common-denominator styles, illegitimate children of the Western tradition, “technologically massaged tool[s] for the delivery of pleasing or cathartic emotions” (Crouch, Culture Making, 60).

But people who know better than I do need to duke this one out. So, you music people, please write. I’d even welcome hearing from people nurtured in my tradition who, I sense, don’t quite share my feelings about what worship music ought to sound like. This debate needs to come out of private conversation and into the harsh light and cut-and-thrust of the (Christian) public square: we need books and articles and lectures and whole blogs and Facebook live chats and explainer videos from our educated and gifted musicians. My “side,” which I’m not even sure how to describe, needs to be gracious and assiduous, or (one more time for the road) we deserve to lose.

I fear it’s too late; I fear that we are losing and have lost important institutions that once conserved the Western church music tradition in its specifically English form. But we can’t waste time worrying about what is lost. The time to write is now. A one, and a two, and a NOW.

Survey for Foundations Baptist Fellowship Talk

I have been asked to address the Annual Fellowship of the Foundations Baptist Fellowship International in June, 2018, in Troy, Michigan, on this topic: “The Legitimate Concerns of the Next Generation (An Objective Analysis).”

Now, every Christian worships within some tradition or other, even if some don’t like to admit it because it threatens their claim to be the only true tradition! The tradition I was handed in God’s providence has often been one such tradition, but I don’t think it has to be: independent Baptist fundamentalism. To be clear, because that tradition has split over the KJV, I’m in the 25% (?) of that tradition that values education* and is decidedly not KJV-Only.

No one wants to take the title “fundamentalist” in public (good thing this blog is so obscure), and I’m not unaware that the title is both fraught and fought over—and despised by almost everybody. I’m all too aware that the label lumps me in with sectarians and other people I’m not proud of, and puts an artificial gap between me and other believers whose books and blogs I actually read. Please find me a label that avoids all these faults and still lets me love the people who nurtured me and carry on what’s valuable in our tradition, and I’ll happily take it, and probably already do. (There is, yes, the added problem that the label is associated with Muslim terrorism—and that’s why I helped [a little] move my “denomination” toward a new moniker, the Foundations Baptist Fellowship.)

But as I’ve explained before, I can’t deny the good I got out of this tradition. And I not infrequently hear evangelicals lamenting that they lack the very things my tradition has given me (here’s another example). I’d like to see a revitalization of my tradition, and that requires some shoptalk for those of us who have been shaped by it. Other readers are welcome to listen in, but I’d ask that only those who know what I’m talking about already and fit the intended demographic would take the survey I’m about to describe.

I’m running the informal survey below because I want to represent the “The Legitimate Concerns of the Next Generation.” I’ve been asked to do so—which speaks well of the previous generation(s). So this survey is meant for people who have been shaped by American Protestant Christian fundamentalism and still find themselves either within or not too far from that tradition. But I make no attempt to be scientific; I won’t be presenting stats (the last effort to do this ten-plus years ago was, in my judgment, a failure when it tried to do that but was still valuable for other reasons). I’m just trying to listen. I am asking that no one submit an anonymous survey—for your sake: I find it is not healthy. But I promise I will not use your name in any article or presentation without your permission. Please feel free to be honest, but I encourage you to aim for persuasion, not venting. Write with an audience of older (non-KJV-Only) FBFI members in mind. Write in a gracious and godly way calculated to influence them and appeal to them, because you may.

2018 Survey

*To say we value education more than our KJV-Only brothers is not an insult; it is an empirical observation of the credentials of their Bible college faculty vs. ours, and I’ve done the study to back it up. Contact me privately if you’re interested in seeing the stats.

Take That, Arrogant American English Speakers

This was utterly, absolutely fascinating. I laughed out loud with joy to hear these residents of Mumbai defend their English and criticize ours (see especially starting around 1:10). Why did I find this so funny/interesting?

Because it overturns American expectations in an extremely healthy way, linguistically speaking. The truth is, even though Americans now know we’re not supposed to say it out loud, we tend to regard Indian English (and Kenyan English and Singaporean English, if we ever encounter them) as “sounding funny.” Whereas Brits and Aussies (and Canadians and Scots and the Welsh and Irish) use English accents that sound familiar through our exposure to British TV, and whereas they use accents to which we feel they have a right; Indians are (we tend to suppose) all speaking English “wrong” because (we tend to suppose) they speak it as a second language. Indeed, the way the real-life young Indians in this video talk is just a beat off from what we would say. (I still found it all perfectly intelligible, but I noticed that the captioner silently “corrected” it to fit American norms.)

  • One young woman pronounces basically as a four-syllable word rather than a three-syllable word (1:55 or so).
  • Another man, when asked whether he knew that Americans make fun of his accent, said, “After I went to United State I thought they spoke wrong English, so I make fun of their English, so it doesn’t make any difference to me.” (Yes! Loved that guy! See at 1:59.)
  • Another young man, after opining that American English speakers “look like they are spitting,” said, “Sorry, not offensive.” He elided “to be” (or “I don’t wish to be”) in a way I don’t think American English speakers would, and it sounded purposeful and not mistaken. (See 2:12ish.)

“I think our accent is better,” said that same young man. “I think they need to learn English from us,” said the next young man interviewed. (See 2:18ff.) That’s when I laughed out loud with pleasure. Because these young people were so entertainingly articulating what I’ve been saying now for so long, but what I had to learn the hard way—by putting my foot in my mouth in front of a Kenyan and later a Singaporean: Why is what we say “right” and what they say “wrong” if, as several of them point out, they can understand each other just fine? Do we own English just because we’ve had it longer? Indeed, basically is spelled like a four-syllable word—why isn’t it pronounced that way in the U.S.? If India were the ruling power of the world, if Bollywood dominated global entertainment, if Indian English authors were the most translated of all writers, Americans would see things differently. I predict you’d see Indian usages cropping up inside our borders: Indian catchphrases, Indian pronunciations. We just can’t imagine our linguistic world in any other way than it is now, but we should. It’s a healthy exercise.

Now, the people interviewed in this video are not all linguistic saints. The one man in the turban said he finds French-accented and Russian-accented English funny. But then I’m not sure anyone learns either of those Englishes as his or her first language, and as this video makes clear, many Indian youth are now taught Indian-inflected English before learning their “proper” native tongues.

I have not read deeply in sociolinguistics. I’m sure I’m missing opportunities to use the jargon of that field to explain what I’m witnessing. I just know I find it all delightful. Language is so fun; people around the world all take it so personally, as well they should. Give it some time, and we’ll see what impact that powerful subcontinent over there with its billion-plus inhabitants, 12.6% of which speak English, will do to our shared tongue. I can’t wait to find out. But if you think your English is “right” and theirs is “wrong,” watch this video. And take that.

Alastair Roberts on Fundamentalism, the Graham-Pence Rule, and Purity as Avoidance

I’m becoming an Alastair Roberts fanboy. I can’t wait for his Crossway book on a theology of gender—except that the guy can write 4,000 intellectually rich and biblically sound words a minute, and I actually want to get through the book so I’m hoping the editors can help him reign in the page count just a bit. The guy is ca-ra-zy prolific, like no one I’ve ever seen, including Alan Jacobs. And his British accent increases his apparent intelligence by about 10%, much as going on TV adds ten pounds.

I’m sure Roberts is fallen and finite, but I can’t help but feel he’s been raised up for such a time as this—our big, bad gender this that’s going on right now.

And inside a huge and super helpful analysis of the Graham-Pence-but-not-Tish-Harrison-Warren rule, he made a little comment that I couldn’t help noticing (HT: the proprietor of exegesisandtheology.com):

The pride many Christians have in rejecting the legalism of fundamentalism’s excessive boundaries often does not seem to be manifested in greater holiness of life, a more intense hunger for righteousness, wiser behaviour, and deeper virtue, but in more thoroughly rationalized dabbling in the dirtiness of the world. Even many Christians who are earnestly pursuing holiness can far more easily be overcome by sin in a society where the boundaries that once protected us from temptations or from acting upon them are so lowered.

Reading Christians of past ages, one is often struck by their strong sense of a need for renunciation of anything that would hinder or trip them up in their pursuit of holiness. Their strong rules around entertainment or interaction between the sexes seem so excessive to us today—surely purity is not avoidance! Yet it is hard not to wonder whether this is simply because we have such a high tolerance for sin, provided that it is perceived to occur among consensual adults and to be a tolerable cost incurred by our increased enjoyment of autonomy. Likewise, we seem to have little sense of our weakness and corruption: we all have a fifth column within our hearts.

If my own fundamentalist tradition has erred, it’s in being uncertain of or forgetful of the T in TULIP, in talking as if the fifth columnists aren’t inside the walls, as if all serious threats are external.

Let me offer, though, two Bible verses that fit Roberts’ read and don’t fit the way the cool kids talk:

Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue. (2 Pet 1:5 ESV)

In other words, the life of Christian virtue requires effort.

And now, speaking of Graham and Pence,

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
and do not walk in the way of the evil. (Proverbs 4:14 ESV)

In other words, there are plenty of times when you literally, physically just don’t go there, wherever there is, because of that fifth column inside you. You don’t make provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. You consider yourself, lest you also be tempted, even while you’re in the midst of trying to restore a sinning brother.

Now one more Bible passage—because we’ve got to hold these truths together with Col 2:

“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:21–23 ESV)

It is the strength of the fundamentalist tradition to have a titanium backbone about stuff we won’t do, no matter the looks we get (and I’ve gotten looks). It is the weakness of that tradition to allow our traditional abstinences to become petty, to harden into arrogant shells that keep us from seeing the way times have changed, or the places other Christians are in their spiritual maturity, or the fact that our hearts don’t always keep up with our rules. But if, as I’m coming more and more to believe, every legitimate Christian tradition/group exists to give its gifts to Christ’s body, let’s magnify our office (humbly): you who have been influenced as I have by Protestant Christian fundamentalism, continue to quietly be willing to aim hard at holiness. Don’t let the worst and most painful kind of mockery, the kind that comes from other Christians, dissuade you from that calling to be always in pursuit of purity. Purity is more than avoidance, but not less.