Archive | December, 2013

Deep Songs of Christmas: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

It’s that time of year where deep theological songs about Jesus are allowed full access. If we pause and listen we just might allow the music at the mall to take us deep into our Jesus.

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Background

Hark the Herald Angels Sing was written by Charles Wesley. It first appeared in a 1739 collection of hymns. Wesley had desired for the hymn to be accompanied by slow and solemn music. Wesley’s co-laborer, friend and also theological nemesis, George Whitefield, got hold of the hymn and changed some of the lyrics.

A hundred years later the composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. English musician William H. Cummings took Mendelssohn’s cantata and fit it to the old lyrics of Wesley and Whitefield. Cummings’ form of the hymn is the popular one we love and hear today.

Theological Meditations

A great deal of deep theological meditation can happen through the following lyrics. Nearly every major field of systematic theology is covered in the lyrics.

The first stanza reminds us of the excited participation of the angels seeing God and sinners reconciled. We forget so many times that angels are not humans. Jesus did not become an angel to redeem fallen angels, he became a human to redeem humans. Yet angels are singing triumphantly of the world-wide power of the reconciliation started by the arrival of Jesus.

That’s just the first stanza. This is a hymn capable of taking us through many deep theological aspects of Christmas.

Pause. Relax. Please take just a few minutes to slowly read through the following lyrics. Please comment on stanzas that jump out to you reminding you of the glorious depths of Christmas. It will be great to see everyone’s observations in the comments section from this simple Christmas hymn.

Lyrics

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Continue Reading →

Should Christians Play Santa?

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Some people will argue that playing Santa has many negative effects. I would like to respond to some of these objections:

1. Playing Santa takes away from the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Christ.

Kylee, my 13-year-old daughter, when she was 10 years-old asked me, “Daddy, what is your favorite holiday.” I looked at her with the look that says, “Do you even need to ask?” Of course it is Christmas! The Christmas season, I believe, is an act of common grace upon our society that carries with it a mood that blesses both believers and non-believers. Having said that, the beauty for us Christians is that it is a celebration of what we believe to be the most important birth in human history. If Christians lose this focus, I do think that we have compromised. But this compromise is not so much a compromise of truth (as Christians do believe in the birth of Christ whether they focus on it or not), but of joy. Christians can fail to take part in the common grace of the mood Christmas evokes.

Having said that, I don’t think that playing Santa need to take away from the true spirit of Christmas anymore than family gatherings, football, gloriously wrapped presents, and good food. Christmas is ultimately not about families getting together, great food, giving gifts to others (including the poor), taking a break from work, building snow men, putting up Christmas trees, decorating with lights on houses, or any other ancillary aspect that no one complains about. If you take Santa away, then take away all these other traditions.

Sadly, I am sure that there will be some who advocate just this. They are left with only Christ in a manger. “Good,” someone says. “That is how it should be!” The problems with this type of attitude are many. Let me give you two: 1) We are never commanded to celebrate Christ’s birth on any particular day. Our entire lives, every day, are to be one of devotion and celebration of the incarnation. It becomes legalistic when someone says that we must celebrate Christ’s birth this way at this time to be more godly. 2) It takes away from the ancillary common grace of Christmas. To take away family, food, Christmas lights, gifts, Christmas trees, Santa, and the like does nothing but quiet the celebration. These things provide the ambianic grace of God in Christmas.

In the end, there is no reason why playing Santa must take away from the focus on Christ’s birth anymore than going to grandmas for a Christmas feast does.

2. Playing Santa is a lie Continue Reading →

Giveaway: Codex Sinaiticus + Credo Course

To celebrate the brand new Textual Criticism Credo Course in 7 days one person will win a facsimile of one of the most valuable Bibles in the world (just the copy retails for $799). It will probably become the biggest and heaviest book you own.

Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most valuable, beautiful and important Bibles in existence. It is believed to have been commissioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Its heavily corrected text is of outstanding importance for the history of the Bible and the manuscript – the oldest substantial book to survive Antiquity – is of supreme importance for the history of the book.

In addition to winning Codex Sinaiticus one entrant will also win a course from one of the leading scholars in the world on Textual Criticism. This course will give you incredible appreciation for the Bible you are winning. Dr. Wallace will devote more than 30 sessions taking you through the rock-solid reliability of the New Testament. The New Testament is heavily attacked in our culture today. Without the New Testament we don’t have a reliable message about Jesus. This topic is so crucial for every Christian.

There are many ways to enter in the box above. The giveaway ends in just seven days so please tell your friends.

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A Bibliology Grounded in Christology

The center of all theology, of the entirety of the Christian faith, is Christ himself. The Christ-event—in particular his death and resurrection—is the center of time: everything before it leads up to it; everything after it is shaped by it. If Christ were not God in the flesh, he would not have been raised from the dead. And if he were not raised from the dead, none of us would have any hope. My theology grows out from Christ, is based on Christ, and focuses on Christ.

Years ago, I would have naïvely believed that all Christians could give their hearty amens to the previous paragraph. This is no longer the case; perhaps it never was. There are many whose starting point and foundation for Christian theology is bibliology. They begin with the assumption that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I can understand that. Starting one’s doctrinal statement with the Bible gives one assurances that the primary source of theology, the scriptures, is both true and trustworthy. I don’t start there, however. I have come to believe that the incarnation is both more central than inspiration and provides a methodological imperative for historical investigation of the claims of the Bible.

Sometimes the reason why doctrinal statements begin with scripture is because the framers believe that without an inerrant Bible we can’t know anything about Jesus Christ. They often ask the question, “How can we be sure that anything in the Bible is true? How can we be sure that Jesus Christ is who he said he was, or even that he existed, if the Bible is not inerrant?”

Inductive vs. Deductive Approaches to Inerrancy

My response to the above question is twofold. First, before the New Testament was written, how did people come to faith in Christ? To assume that having a complete Bible is necessary before we can know anything about Christ is both anachronistic and counterproductive. Our epistemology has to wrestle with the spread of the gospel before the Gospels were penned. The very fact that it spread so fast—even though the apostles were not always regarded highly—is strong testimony both to the work of the Spirit and to the historical evidence that the eyewitnesses affirmed.

Second, we can know about Christ because the Bible is a historical document. (Even if one has a very low regard for the Bible’s historicity, he or she has to admit that quite a bit of it is historically accurate.) If we demand inerrancy of the Bible before we can believe that any of it is true, what are we to say about other ancient historical documents? We don’t demand that they be inerrant, yet no evangelical would be totally skeptical about all of ancient history. Why put the Bible in a different category before we can believe it at all? As one scholar wisely articulated many years ago, we treat the Bible like any other book to show that it is not like any other book. Continue Reading →

One Sermon People would Remember

From a human perspective a sermon is so subjective. If a person preaches for any length of consecutive weeks it becomes surprising how differently people respond to sermons.

The exact same sermon can be described by people as: Amazing, Convicting, Deep, Light, Boring, Faithful, Questionable, Solid and Weak.

Several times I have used the scene from Walk the Line to explain a sermon. In the biographical movie about Johnny Cash he finally has a shot to impress someone who could get him started in the music industry. Sam Phillips stops Johnny Cash a couple verses into the audition. The following dialogue ensues:

Sam Phillips: You know exactly what I’m telling you. We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just… like… how… you.. sing it.

Johnny Cash: Well, you didn’t let us bring it home.

Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had one time to sing one song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ you felt. Cause I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song that truly saves people. It ain’t got nothin’ to do with believin’ in God, Mr. Cash. It has to do with believin’ in yourself.

Johnny Cash: I got a couple of songs I wrote in the Air Force. You got anything against the Air Force?

Sam Phillips: No.

Johnny Cash: I do.

You can see parts of the scene here:

Please don’t misunderstand my reason for writing this post. It is not to beat up pastors. Satan, sin and the flesh do enough to beat up all of us. Instead, my primary goal is to encourage pastors to preach Jesus with their voice. Don’t preach the sermon of another person. Preach your sermon. Don’t try to emulate your favorite preacher. Don’t try to follow a textbook outline on preaching. Find your Savior. Find your voice. Preach the Word.

One of my living heroes is Chuck Swindoll. It was a privilege to hear him preach every Sunday for more than 6 years while I went through seminary (I’m a slow learner). On many occasions I heard him tell small groups of men about his first pastoral experience. Swindoll has literally preached to millions of people but his first ministry was in the New England area and it was a failure. Swindoll had many “famous” preachers and professors as mentors. Swindoll was one of the first interns of Ray Stedman. Many younger people have probably never heard of Ray Stedman, but he was in some ways the Mark Driscoll, Craig Groeschel, Matt Chandler of a couple generations ago.

Swindoll tells the story that he was basically trying to be like, sound like, and think like his wonderful mentors. He was succeeding in trying to sound like his mentors, but he was failing at actually making any difference for the Kingdom of God.

Swindoll tells the story that he was driving down a highway many decades ago in New England and started to weep. His ministry was a failure. He pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road and continued to weep. Swindoll says Galatians 1:10 came to his mind, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I’ve heard Swindoll explain many times that it was at that precise moment he realized he had to stop trying to be like and sound like someone else and just be himself. He would speak about Jesus and teach the Bible with his voice. He is not Ray Stedman. God does not want another Ray Stedman. The New England ministry failed but Swindoll’s next pastoral position was in California. He became famous there for his authenticity and clear biblical teaching.

The last time my wife and I heard a sermon we both knew was poor I was waiting for the inevitable question, “What did you think of the sermon?” About halfway home with the kids occupied in the backseat she looked at me and asked the question. After pausing for a bit I said, “I don’t think that’s the message he’d preach if he knew he’d die tomorrow. And, I don’t think he has found his voice.

If you are a preacher or can encourage a preacher here are some quick points:

  • Find your voice. If you don’t know what I mean then you haven’t found your voice.
  • Preach Jesus. Every sermon, even on Leviticus 4, is infinitely changed by the reality of the living Jesus.
  • Listen to advice, but not too much. You answer to God. You live only for the applause of our God.
  • Don’t ever preach what hasn’t first affected you. If it hasn’t moved you, it probably won’t move others.
  • Even if you are preaching Leviticus 4, preach it like it’s the last thing people will ever hear from you this side of glory.

Role-Playing for Jesus

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Tim, someone is on the phone with a Bible question.

I looked up from my desk at the Credo House. My brain started to switch into this neutral position trying to be prayerfully ready for the person on the other side of the phone to take the conversation in any of a million different biblical directions.

Hello,” I said waiting for the person to respond.

Yes, I have a Bible question,” the middle-aged man responded.

Ok, well I don’t promise anything but let’s chat,” I said in a way where I was trying to lighten the atmosphere. Sometimes people call and they’re very nervous talking about God or struggling with some issue that they feel ashamed of in their life. With no nervous laughter on the other side of the phone I was interested to hear the Bible question.

In the next thirty seconds I quickly sat up totally surprised at his next few statements. This man had obviously thought through every single word once I gave him the floor. His “question” was not a question, it was a rant. It was very clear he disdained the deity of Christ. This man used a deep voice I typically reserve for my dog when he’s misbehaving. It was interesting hearing the voice directed to me, I feel sorry for my dog.

Nearly every sentence toward me during this initial “question” stage began by him saying, “Now, Tim, tell me how you can possibly believe Jesus is God when…” This guy was not your average run-of-the-mill person with a Bible question. I could tell this guy had enough Greek and Church History to be dangerous. I could also tell he was working off some major talking points that I thought were a bit weak. I waited for his rant to end but I also started praying and pondering the next steps to take. Once there was a bit of silence a dialogue returned to our conversation. My first response slid out of my mouth before I knew I had said it:

Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?” I asked.

Yes, but that’s not important.

Have you called here before?” I asked.

No, I have never called here,” he responded with an impatient tone that I knew was making him frustrated that I hadn’t responded yet to his very detailed question filled with theology, Latin phrases and Church History.

Are you sure? You sound just like a guy that’s called here a couple times over the last few years.” Even though he denied ever calling I’m pretty certain he has called before and I’m even more certain that he takes pleasure in calling churches and ministries and blowing unsuspecting and unprepared Christians out of the water. It was now time to get to the “question.”

Look, I just don’t have time today to fight for the next hour. It sounds like you have your mind made up on Jesus and I’m pretty sure I do too. I think we’ll both hang up thinking we’ve each won the conversation. We are a ministry that cares deeply about truth but we have more important things to do than fight. I think we should simply not have this conversation. I don’t think it’ll be helpful for either of us,” I said.

Look, I’m not going to fight. Can’t you simply have a conversation? Are you so brainwashed that you can’t even talk about how clear it is in Scripture that Jesus is not God?” he replied.

After a couple back-and-forth statements where I was trying to hang-up and he was trying hard to get me to enter into his opening “question” I decided to engage on a very particular line of argument. We had each flexed our muscles enough to let each other know that both of us were decently fluent in the original biblical languages, Latin statements and Church History. Yet, I wanted to engage in a way that I thought would catch him off guard. This guy had clearly had many of these conversations. What could I offer that would be any different?

Ok,” I said, “I won’t hang up and I’ll try to answer your question if you will do one thing first.

What?

Tell me what my 5 best arguments are against your position.

What?
Continue Reading →

Special Podcast: An Interview with Derek Webb

Join Tim Kimberley and JJ Seid as they do a special podcast with Derek Webb. Derek is a singer/songwriter and founder of noisetrade.com. Derek was doing a special concert at the Credo House and sat down with us to discuss among other things a theological view of music.

Theology Unplugged: Video Edition is available for the first time to Credo House Members. You can now listen AND WATCH as Michael, Tim, Sam and JJ dive into issues of theology. Grow in your faith, learn theology, and have a good time. Try Membership risk free! If you don’t love it as much as us you can cancel at any time

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