Until I read James Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, Donald Fairbairn’s Life in the Trinity was my favorite book from my time in seminary. I wrote a 10 page review for history. Here I’ve included the introduction and conclusions. Hopefully these will be enough to whet your appetite.
“I suggest that, on one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong” Desiring the Kingdom p. 77.
I so wanted to put that quote on Facebook without any explanation. Of course, that would be confusing and unhelpful, but what a statement.
James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom is the most important book I’ve read in seminary thus far. Smith seeks to change the understanding of humanity from primarily thinking creatures to primarily desiring creatures. This understanding, which I believe to be correct, fundamentally changes how we do church and how we disciple. This explains the quote above – shopping malls, and the stores in them like Victoria’s Secret, do a better job of shaping people than the church typically does. The concept of seeing all of life’s activities as shaping is probably the most important take away from the book. We are not brains on a stick that can be moved solely by receiving information. We are desiring bodies that also think.
This book deserves a better review than this (German is killing me so I’m not going to write one). Therefore, I’ve enlisted the help of my friend Sam Haist. While searching on Google, I came across a review he wrote of this book, which can be found here.
Now that I’m nearing the end of my seminary time I’m transitioning from learning things to learning ways to pass on information to the church. The first step is probably to get people reading their Bibles on a regular basis. Regular Bible reading is essential as our thoughts are constantly being shaped into false molds by our culture and life circumstances. Regular Bible reading keeps the truth before us, and shapes us into God’s mold.
When thinking about a plan I suppose the main considerations are holistic coverage and sustainability. The trick is to not quit at Leviticus and Numbers. Leviticus is actually an important book; it presents a worldview that is very different than ours, which is part of the reason it is so difficult to read. While looking through my ESV Study Bible I noticed that they have a reading plan in the back which is broken into daily reading from several categories – Daily Psalms or Wisdom Literature; Pentateuch or the History of Israel; Chronicles or Prophets; and Gospels or Epistles. I really like this idea. It fits both criteria. Even when coming upon difficult material the reader can persevere as that reading is only part of the daily material. The ESV website lists several reading plans to try – reading plans.
This is a minimum baseline. Letters are meant to be read all at once instead of in one chapter bites. Therefore, it is better to read through faster than these plans advise. However, I think some reading is better than no reading, and therefore these plans are a good starting place to get used to the discipline of regular Bible reading.
In the video below, an advert for Covenant Seminary, Dr. Jay Sklar explains the story of the Bible about as succinctly as possible. Great stuff.
This semester I’m taking Theological German as an independent study. My professor gave me two textbook options – Manton’s Introduction to Theological German and Sparks’ German in Review. I chose Manton’s textbook as Sparks’ textbook was $100+ on Amazon. Thus far I have hated German; enough for me to consider giving up bratwurst (at least until the semester is over). Yesterday I was in despair. I was trying to translate some Catholic writing on Mary from German and wanting to cry. My dilemma was that once the date to drop a class has passed you are stuck in the class – I couldn’t get out of this.
This morning, on a whim, I checked out Sparks’ textbook. It was night and day. I read through most of it in an hour and a half this morning and now have hope. I’m reminded of what my Hebrew professor, Jack Collins, said about learning Hebrew, “Hebrew isn’t hard. There’s lots of three year olds in Israel speaking Hebrew.” The point is most languages aren’t that hard to learn; often it’s the textbooks that let us down. If you are trying to learn a language and are finding it difficult, consider supplementing with a different textbook. You may simply need a different presentation of the material for it to click in your head.
My recommendations for a few languages:
Greek: Combination of Mounce and Baugh
Hebrew: Combination of Weingreen and Pratico
Given the time and headache a good textbook can save you, spending a little extra on a better textbook is worth it in the end.
Volume 1 of Craig Keener’s massive commentary on Acts just arrived at the library. While skimming it, I came across his discussion on tongues. I’ll quote just a bit of it:
Iraenaeus (Her. 5.6.1; Euseb. H.E. 5.7.6) claimed that the gift continued in his day…Tertullian, before he became a Montanist, also argued that tongues continued among the orthodox (Marc. 5.8); Novatian (De Trinitate 2.9) and Ambrose (The Holy Spirit 2.150) spoke of tongues in the present tense, in the very period when John Chrysostom and Augustine thought that the gift had finally died out. (pp. 812-813)
It appears that we have evidence of the continued practice of speaking in tongues from NT times to at least the late fourth century. From a Charismatic-Pentecostal perspective this is very exciting. I am curious when speaking in tongues did die out, if it truly did.
Someone who is a Christian for forty years and regularly attends Sunday worship will spend roughly 2,500 hours of his or her life in church. This post is about how to think about those services and order them well.
One of my favorite things about Presbyterians is their thoughtfulness about everything they do; I disagree with them in some critical areas, but I appreciate that they take the gospel and the church seriously. I came across a syllabus from the class “History of Hymnody” a friend sent me the other day. Due to my schedule last spring I wasn’t able to take the class, but the syllabus is 127 pages which is the next best thing. Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace taught the class. This guy takes church music seriously! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he had 500 hymnals.
Being charismatic, I haven’t thought as much about the content of songs as I should. Worship order has always been important to me, by this I mean first thanksgiving and praise songs, and then more personal devotional, reverential songs. I also want a good mix of songs; it drives me crazy when the worship team plays the same eight songs over and over for a year. Beside that I’ve just want the songs to be stirring.
One of the first things the professors taught us when we started seminary was to take the content of the music sang seriously. “People will forget your sermons,” they said, “but they will remember the songs.” I think this is excellent advice. In the past I’ve gotten annoyed when the pastors of my church “meddled” with what the worship leaders wanted to play (ok, I’ve had some issues on that score). Now I believe that is one of the elders’ most important jobs related to the Sunday service. You don’t want the congregation singing nonsense or falsehoods just because the songs are popular or catchy.
I know next to nothing about this topic so I can’t say anything worthwhile, but I can point you to some of the books from the syllabus. The principle I’m recommending here is openness to other traditions, receiving what is good from our brothers and sisters in other streams. Speaking as one coming from the fastest growing block of Christianity, Charismatic believers can think we have nothing to learn from other traditions. We need to remember that these guys kept the faith for 1,900 years before we came along.
Here are some of the books Kevin Twit recommended. I’ve looked over these and given brief comments:
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith – The most important book I’ve read in seminary. It makes the case that we are desiring creatures, not primarily thinking creatures. Smith views all of life’s events as liturgical experiences that shape our desires. Then shows how Christians can create shaping experiences ourselves.
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down by Marva Dawn – Plea for more meaningful Christian worship. Twit recommends this first.
Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame – Seeks to present Biblically what worship is and what requirements and freedoms we have in worship. I’m very interested in this one.
Leading In Worship by Terry Johnson (ed.) – how to lead a High Church Reformed service. Interesting because it is so different from what I have experienced. He gives reasons for his recommendations.
“The Worship Sourcebook” by the Calvin Institute Of Worship – an 800 page collection of prayers, calls to worship, confession, etc.
Praying Twice by Brian Wren – A popular level book aimed at pastors and worship leaders about the songs sung during Christian worship times. Covers why singing is important, style, lyric content, change, how hymns do theology and other topics.
Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell – In a nutshell this book is about letting the gospel shape our services, and how each element of the service can do that.
Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin – By the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, this is a guide for worship leaders (meaning song not service leaders) on how to lead worship well.
I discovered James K A Smith this week, and am so excited. First off he has written the best, and most important, book that I’ve read so far in seminary: Desiring the Kingdom (do yourself a favor and get a copy, $13 on Amazon). Then while searching his other stuff found out that he is the author of Thinking in Tongues, which attempts to put forth a Pentecostal worldview. “You mean this guy is charismatic?!? Yay!” A friend of my told me about it, but I hadn’t followed up. It’s next on my list.
Yesterday I read his Letters to a Young Calvinist. I so wish I had had this book when my first church went through the conversion to a New Calvinist church (that’s my interpretation for what happened anyway). Smith writes to a younger man who is discovering Calvin’s soteriology. Smith urges him to be humble, and realize that Calvin’s soteriology is a small slice of Calvin’s thought. If we had had this book maybe the dreaded heresy word would have been used less frequently. Anyway, very helpful book.
Here is a video of Smith addressing briefly what the New Calvinist movement can learn from Pentecostals in the growing world.
I’m reading through Marva Dawn’s Reaching Out without Dumbing Down this afternoon. In a section on praise in the church she quotes Walter Brueggemann from his The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (pp. 51-52):
It is my judgment that this action of the church [overemphasis on upbeat worship to the exclusion of other types of worship] is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to come, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture. Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the large number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about the incoherence that is experienced in the world. At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing “happy songs” in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does.
I thought this was profound. The Bible is a very “real” book; there are more lament Psalms than any other kind. In a world that believes Christianity is less and less relevant, one way to reverse that is to return to Biblical patterns of worship, i.e. lament, petitions, and other songs that deal with the difficulties of the world we live in.