Friday, January 16, 2009

Jeep...Need Your Prayers

Well, this week has been on the discouraging side. Our Jeep that we purchased in New Mexico has been having electrical problems since we got it, and we finally were able to get it to a mechanic here in Greenville. Sadly, the news is worse than I expected.

Evidently the thing had been submerged; as a possible explanation, we did a carfax and learned that it had been sold at an auction shortly after Katrina. Anyway, it has so many problems as a result that nearly everything is affected by it. The short version is that it isn't worth fixing. Now that poses quite a few problems for us, and we would like your prayers as we seek to discern how the Lord would have us proceed.

In the first place, we use the Jeep as storage while we are traveling, so if we get rid of it we need to figure out what we are doing with all that stuff. It also means that we will be without a vehicle, until the Lord provides a replacement.

Regardless, God knows and has a better plan for us, even though that isn't readily apparent yet. We will continue to trust His work and do our best to be faithful to the task He has called us to do.

That also brings me to ask for your prayers next week for our trip West. We will strike out to New Mexico, where we will be recording a course for Veritas School of Theology: Introduction to Biblical Counseling. I will also be teaching the second run through my course on Hermeneutics soon as well.

As always, thank you for your prayers to God on our behalf!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Music Without Affectation or Offense

Ask anyone if they can name a hymn, and Amazing Grace will be near the top of the list. It was written by a gloriously saved John Newton. Once a slave trader, God used this man to publish a series of hymns called the Olney Hymns. He began working on it with his friend William Cowper, but it wasn't long before Cowper became unable to continue the project.

Reading the introduction to this hymn book is instructive for those of us who seek to participate in Christian music. In particular, I would like to call attention to the following paragraph:

There is a style and manner suited to the composition of hymns, which may be more successfully, or at least more easily attained by a versifier, than by a poet. They should be Hymns, not Odes, if designed for public worship, and for the use of plain people. Perspicuity, simplicity and ease, should be chiefly attended to; and the imagery and coloring of poetry, if admitted at all, should be indulged very sparingly and with great judgment. The late Dr. Watts, many of whose hymns are admirable patterns in this species of writing, might, as a poet, have a right to say, That it cost him some labor to restrain his fire, and to accommodate himself to the capacities of common readers. But it would not become me to make such a declaration. It behoved me to do my best. But though I would not offend readers of taste by a wilful coarseness, and negligence, I do not write professedly for them. If the LORD whom I serve, has been pleased to favor me with that mediocrity of talent, which may qualify me for usefulness to the weak and the poor of his flock, without quite disgusting persons of superior discernment, I have reason to be satisfied.

I love how, in comparing himself to Isaac Watts, he speaks of limiting the poetic elements so that the hymn communicates to "plain" people. The first task for the hymn writer, according to Newton, is clarity of communication, which requires simplicity and ease of access.

Of course, he isn't suggesting that the banal and crass should be fair game, and this is clear in how he describes his need to do his best and in how he disavows "willful coarseness." In contrast, he describes Watts as needing to temper his poetic gifts in order to produce a text that is good for the whole congregation.

Basically, he hopes not to "offend the readers of taste" but avows that he isn't writing for them. He hopes to write in such a way as to be useful to the congregation as a whole, without intentionally offending those with "superior discernment."

In essence, he is content to communicate the truth clearly, in verse, so that it is transparent to everyone without at the same time offending those who would have higher taste. I appreciate this sentiment greatly, since we hope to communicate clearly, without offending those who are truly gifted musicians and writers. I am a preacher first, and music is helpful in that the clarity of an exposition can often be enhanced by an accompanying song.

Newton understood this, which is why you will find a virtual commentary in song, along with hymns that are marked "before the sermon" and "after the sermon." Newton appreciated the value of music that preaches.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

This Isn't Really New

Most everyone seems to think that what we are doing with Sermons in Song is new or novel, but the truth is that it is not. The idea isn't new with us, and while we can find Biblical examples (like Moses and Jeremiah), there are also several interesting examples of song-writers of the past doing the same thing.

For example, Phillip Doddridge wrote these words that you might know: "O happy day that fixed my choice, On Thee my Savior and my God". It was written in the mid 1700's and was originally titled, "Rejoicing in our Covenant." The text is as follows, but some might wonder where the chorus is. That was added in the mid-1800's and included in the Wesleyan Sacred Harp hymnal.

O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Savior and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.

O happy bond, that seals my vows
To Him Who merits all my love!
Let cheerful anthems fill His house,
While to that sacred shrine I move.

It's done: the great transaction's done!
I am the Lord's and He is mine;
He drew me and I followed on;
Charmed to confess the voice divine.

Now rest, my long divided heart,
Fixed on this blissful center, rest.
Here have I found a nobler part;
Here heavenly pleasures fill my breast.

High heaven, that heard the solemn vow,
That vow renewed shall daily hear,
Till in life's latest hour I bow
And bless in death a bond so dear.

It was his practice to write a hymn near the end of his sermon preparation, and then he would have it sung at the conclusion of the sermon. As I have been studying the history of hymns, it is striking how frequently examples of this practice have cropped up. In the future, I plan on highlighting some sermons-in-song examples from time to time, so stay tuned.