Book Review

Worship is War

rthymns-of-graceThe “worship wars” are never behind us. They are always with us. Just because your church has settled upon what style of music it is going to use come Sunday does not mean that worship has ceased to be a war for you or your church.

A few weeks ago I finished Rhythms of Grace, a book by Mike Cosper. It is an excellent book that would benefit every pastor (especially those who are primarily responsible for the worship order on Sundays). It speaks to the power of the worship service shaped by the biblical story of the gospel. Here is what he has to say about the “worship wars” in particular.

Whoever dubbed the debate over musical style a “worship war” failed to realize that worship is always a war. The declaration that there is one god, that his name is Jesus, and that he has died, has risen, and will come again is an all-out assault on the saviors extended at every level of culture around us. We’re taught to find a sense of hope in a political party, trusting in our duly elected saviors to make the world right once and for all. We’re taught to find our identity in our friend counts on Twitter and Facebook. We’re taught that a victory at work or good news from a doctor or a bathroom scale will satisfy us. We look longingly into the eyes of other human beings and believe that they can affirm us enough and love us well enough to end our sense of loneliness.

We believe these things because we’ve been taught them again and again. Like the ascending pilgrims of Psalm 121, we’re surround[ed] by clamorous mountains advertising happiness, sex, and power, all available for consumption. Our entertainment in television, film, and literature paints the good life this way, and it grips our heartstrings, calling us away to worship at the feet of these idols.

Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to the lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home. (pg. 103-104)

Just before this Cosper quotes Jean-Jaques von Allmen:

Christian worship is the strongest denial that can be hurled in the face of the world’s claim to provide men with an effective and sufficient justification for their life. There is no more emphatic protest against the pride and the despair of the world than that implied in Church worship.

These are powerful words. Gathering for church with the body of Christ is a private protest against sin, satan, and all the false hopes and dreams this world offers and which vie for our affection. It is a public rebellion against the false gods of our culture that tempt us to believe satisfaction, joy, and deliverance can be found in anything other than God through Christ. Worship is war.

The following are my favorite books on worship. What are yours and why?

  1. Worship by the Book ed. by D. A. Carson
  2. Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation by Allen P. Ross
  3. Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship ed. by Ryken, Thomas, & Duncan
  4. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell
  5. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper
  6. Worship Matters: Leading others to Encounter the Greatness of God by Bob Kauflin

Review: The Intolerance of Tolerance

Every committed follower of Christ will at one time or another find himself engaged in a conversation with someone who holds to a different perspective on matters of doctrine and practice. The nature of the Christian life and witness ensures this. But increasingly in the West Christian ideas, truth claims, and Christians themselves are being publicly and viciously reproached under the guise of tolerance. That such animosity exists comes as no surprise to those who have been Christians for any length of time. And what we are experiencing in America does not hold a candle to the reproach that many followers of Jesus are facing in other parts of the world. But what does catch Christians off guard is the fact that such vitriolic sentiment is spilled in the name of tolerance. Without knowing how or when it seems that “tolerance” has undergone a shift of meaning in the wider culture that has left many followers of Christ unsure of how to proceed. It feels as if someone pulled the carpet out from under us and we are left to wonder at how to handle the massively intolerant criticism against our supposed intolerance. Especially when everyone else seems to walk on eggshells around the views of most other religions and perspectives.

In his new book The Intolerance of Tolerance, D. A. Carson adeptly, thoughtfully, and historically works through the changing face of the definition of tolerance. He examines the older definition of tolerance and the history of how it came to function in the modern world. For those interested in history and how that history has shaped our modern understanding chapter three will surely be worth the price of the book. But this book is not merely a nostalgic longing for the “good ol’e days.” Carson recognizes and points out the errors of that kind of yesteryear. If anything Carson points out how the “good ol’e days” are less golden and more a bit of “potted history” (I love these little Carsonisms).

But what makes this book golden is that rather than getting caught up in the past Carson plunges forward illuminating our present along the way. He pointedly makes his case for the inconsistency of our time giving numerous examples of how tolerance only seems to function in favor of those who are least tolerant. This is true of course as it pertains to the intolerance of Christians and their beliefs. If, as Carson points out early on, that the assertion of the United Nations that “Tolerance…involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism” is more than a little dogmatic and absolute then it is no wonder that Christianity – which is exclusive in it’s truth claims – often finds itself the target of such tolerant intolerance.

But this book is not a complaint about how Christians don’t get a fair shake in the wider culture. This book is about the need for a fresh articulation of what tolerance ought to mean and how it ought to function in a society that is more diverse than any on earth. Toward that end Carson offers ten insights that will help Christians interact with a society whose definition of tolerance assumes that all viewpoints are equally valid – except for the ones that claim to alone be true.

This book is not long (only 175 pages) but it is well worth the price. It is not necessarily an easy book to read but gold is worth the effort it takes to mine it. This is an immensely helpful book that will simultaneously help you better understand the age in which we live as well as how to be a faithful witness in this age.

There are some great reviews of this book:

You can buy the book here.

For Christ and His Kingdom!

Review: The Meaning of Marriage

A few weeks back I ordered Timothy Keller’s (coauthored with his wife Kathy Keller) newest book entitled The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. I have enjoyed Keller’s other books that I have read and so I decided to pick it up. Because of other reading demands I have only just begun to really read the book now and will probably finish it in the next day or two but so far it has not failed to disappoint. This is one of those few books that I think should probably be read by every couple coming to be married. It is also the type of book that I wish I could leave discreetly lying around for some married couples to pick up.

One of the things that makes this book so different from the many other marriage books that litter our shelves and bookstores is that in it Tim speaks with verve and wisdom to some of the modern ideas and complaints against marriage that so many couples seem to grapple with (some more secretively than others). This makes sense since the author is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and has been dealing with these questions and ideas for years (ideas such as “soul mate”, marriage merely as a piece of paper, marriage destroys passion, marriage as self-fulfillment, and many others). The reason I think this is so important, even for longtime Christians, is because I have found that more and more Christian couples are having their minds shaped by popular culture in this area rather than the word of God.  But Keller isn’t content merely to respond to popular ideas like an answer man. He does answer but only so that he can communicate the richness and vividness of the biblical portrait of what marriage should be. And it is a beautiful, soul-rejoicing, truly freeing picture.

But don’t mistake Keller’s book for mere sentimentality. He would not like that one bit. Listen to how he starts his book in chapter one. (more…)

Trailer: Awaiting A Savior

A few days ago I reviewed the new book Awaiting A Savior: The Gospel, The New Creation and the End of Poverty by Aaron Armstrong. It is a powerful book that will help you think through the root causes of poverty and how we can, as Christians, act to help those who are suffering in it. This powerful little book is now available through Amazon.

Here is a trailer for the book.

Awaiting A Savior

Few ideas and causes have captivated the current generation more than that of poverty and social justice. This emphasis upon relieving the oppressed is commendable but not without some concerns. The confusion that exists about what constitutes the root cause of social injustice and poverty to begin with is concerning . And without properly identifying the root cause one cannot properly identify the right response. It is also concerning that the tone and manner used by those leading the way to garner support for social issues resembles more of the guilt and manipulation techniques of an old-school fundamentalist evangelist ripping off the stats of people who are going to hell that very instant (“Breathe in. Breathe out. Ten people just went to hell.” – yes I have heard that) while railing on the audience for not being better witnesses. Many others simply recognize that the goal of ending global poverty or social injustice is unreachable by our efforts and just give up. So what reason is there for poverty? How can we speak of social issues without becoming legalistic? Is it all hopeless anyway? (more…)