Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Awesome God: CD Review

In December I signed up for the opportunity to receive a free CD in exchange for reviewing it on my blog. The CD was is entitled Awesome God: Worship Songs for Children, put out by Sovereign Grace Ministries. Sovereign Grace Ministries is a Reformed Charismatic group led by Pastor C.J. Mahaney, who served for many years as the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. Mahaney is a regular contributor to the Together for the Gospel blog.

My only previous exposure to anything connected with Sovereign Grace Ministries was reading Joshua Harris' books, I Stopped Dating the Church and Not Even a Hint (now republished as Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is). Harris is Mahaney's successor at Covenant Life church. These are both excellent books. I highly recommend them. Since then, I have come across several songs written by people associated with Sovereign Grace, such as "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, which is an excellent song.

When I first saw the offer of the free CD I was intrigued because my wife and I were expecting our first child. So I listened as a new father considering my own son. (He’s amazing … Did I say that yet??) Is this what I want him to grow up listening to? So I have listened to it, several times. In fact, I have it on now, even as a write (which is, quite distracting).

My initial reaction was "Wow! What in the world is this?" In fact, it took me several sittings to listen to the whole thing. I literally had to force myself to sit down and play the whole thing through, which is one reason it has taken me this long to write this review.

So here are my thoughts:

The lyrics are excellent. These are the kind of lyrics I want my son to grow up learning. They teach the truth about God in a plain, clear way that is easily understood. They are not particularly deep; they are, after all, geared for kids. One of the benefits of music is that the truth of God from Scripture can be encapsulated in easily memorable, concise statements, and for the most part, this fits the bill.

The songs are not great "sing along" songs. One key idea for me in Christian music is "Is this easily singable"? I don't think these songs are. The meter in some of them has some strange twists and turns in it. Just when you come to a place where you are ready to belt out the next phrase, there is a vocal break. I think that is one of the drawbacks of much of contemporary Christian music. It is not easily singable for a group. I think children's music is better if it is easily singable, so that children can sing with the recording with minimal confusion and work. That is, after all, part of the learning process.

The music itself is less than desirable. I believe that the music does not fit well with the themes of the songs. My response to the music was one of tension and agitation. That's not entirely bad in some settings, but it seems to me, in my limited knowledge of child psychology that tension and agitation is not what you want to create in their life. The message this music sends does not seem to me to be conducive to good spiritual, emotional, and musical growth in the life of a child.

While I was in the middle of writing, song #8 came on and I remember my initial response when I heard it the first time: Somebody's angry. Before the words ever registered in my mind, I had an understanding of the song. Unfortunately, the song sent the wrong message. The words begin "Your love will last forever, It's like a mighty river that flows and flows forever." These words are packed with the greatness of God's love that protects us and corrects us, and most of all sent His Son to die for us. But those words don't fit the tone of the music or the tone of the vocals. The vocal quality sounded harsh to me, like someone yelling at their kids. This is, IMO, the worst cut on the disk. The first nine songs seem to have little musical variation. When you get to song #10 (For You Are Holy) there is a distinct and welcome change. It is much calmer song and the disk finishes out this way.

Overall, this is not a recording I would recommend, and to be honest, I was greatly disappointed. I was hoping for something that I could use with my son. I think music plays a huge role in shaping our emotions and intellect. My reflection on this, after listening three or four times is that this shapes it in the wrong direction, especially among young minds that are very impressionable. I think most, if not all of these songs could be greatly beneficial if the musical setting were changed. Perhaps one day, they can be.

But if you get the chance to read those two books mentioned above, please do so. You will greatly benefit. And by all means, find the song "In Christ Alone" and sing it.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Why Don't More Understand This?

And why don't more apply it consistently ...

I regularly read the Missional Baptist Blog. I like to see what's going on out there in other circles. Steve McCoy is a Southern Baptist who is a voice in the SBC calling churches to be missional rather than programmatic. He has a lot of good resources for reading about this issue.

In his blog today, he talks about the convention meeting in Greensboro and the younger leaders meeting that will take place there. Wade Burleson, who has been at the center of the recent IMB flap, will be the speaker. (You can research the IMB issue on your own, if you are interested).

Reading McCoy's blog was stunning to me this morning. He objects to having Burleson speak. Listen to his reasons.
I know he isn't coming to speak on IMB issues. But his presence alone will speak volumes about who "younger leaders" are, and already skeptical SBC'rs (and maybe the less skeptical ones too) will think that by having him speak we are intentionally saying something.

If we ARE intending to say something by having Wade speak, I'm against it. If we AREN'T intending to say something, I think it would be very wise to bring in another speaker instead. I think we should be discussing mission, gospel, theology, and redemptive living. I know it's not up to me to decide. You all can do what you want.

Now perhaps, Steve means less by that than I am reading, but here is what I hear: If we have Wade speak for us, we will be tainted by all the controversy, even if he speaks about something else. Our focus will get lost.

Isn't that a page right from the fundamentalist playbook? When you have a speaker, you are associating yourself with the things that speaker is associated with whether you want to or not. You are sending a message.

Steve isn't willing to send the message that he is sympathetic to Wade's position. In fairness, I don't think Steve is necessarily against it (though perhaps I don't recall everything Steve has said about this). Steve isn't interested in the political machinery of the SBC. In fact, he wants to stay out of it, and that is why he objects to Wade speaking. He knows that if Wade comes, it will overcloud the point of the meeting because the controversy will be the issue.

Two points:

1. The younger fundamentalists who want to abandon the historic position of separating from false teachers and disobedient brothers need to understand the principle. When you associate with someone, you send a message.

2. This principle needs to be applied consistently. The SBC has coddled some who have compromised the gospel. Fortunately, Mohler has demonstrated great leadership in the recent past to right the ship. But even now, Southern Seminary, the flagship of SBC schools, has a School of Evangelism named after one of the greatest gospel compromisers of the twentiety century. Why don't they see the mixed message? The Burleson flap is child's play compared to the Graham tragedy that granted recognition to false teachers and false gospels. Aside from politics, the Burleson flap had little substance. As I understand it, it seems like an intramural debate about what should be required of missionaries. The Graham issue goes to the heart of the gospel. I know that what I have said is strong language, but if we look at history, Graham has been the most visible force in the erasure of the lines between the historic gospel of Christ and the false gospel of Romanism.

My question is this: When will Steve and others stand up and demand a change in this? When will they complain about the mixed message that such an association is sending? The Graham School of Evangelism sends a message that is far more mixed than having Burleson speak. But I will go out on a limb and imagine that Steve doesn't see the inconsistency.

Steve, I like your blog. I read it regularly. I comment occasionally on it. And I think you are dead right about the need for missional churches, though I might apply it differently. I think you hit the nail on the head about the messages we send by having speakers. But I urge you to think about the application of the principle you have delineated here. It is a great principle, solidly rooted in Scripture, and relevant to the modern church and the purity of the gospel. We need to think about the broader implications of it.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Given my newfound preoccupation with babies, and my recent experience with childbirth (of which I had the easy part), missionary Rob Howell’s blog caught my attention, amazed me, and made me chuckle all at the same time. He says,
Yesterday afternoon, the young wife of a new believer gave birth on the rocky path between their mudhut and the clinic. Yep, right there on the path. Thankfully, the baby was healthy so she turned around and went back home. I visited with the family today and she was doing her chores like nothing had happened.
We men are wimps ... and I am okay with that.

If you don’t read Rob’s blog regularly, you should. He is in Tanzania planting churches and training pastors. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This is Cool

Will you indulge me? Of course, it is my blog ...

George Larry Rogier, III (Laran) entered this world this past Sunday morning at 9:22 am. He managed to get here just before church started at 9:30 (which is more than we can say for some people who have been here a lot longer than he has been here. Of course, we will have to see how he does next week.)

He was 6 lbs, 14 oz, and 19 inches long. Mom is great. Baby is great. Grandma and Grandpa are great. Dad is ... well ... giddy.

All you dads who have been here before (and moms) know what I am talking about. It is incredible to see the miracle of new life, and as for this first-time dad, I just can't stop looking at him.

Of course, I have more pictures ... anyone want to see?
The good thing about digital cameras is that the film is cheap and I have 25 more gigabytes on my harddrive.

How much better can life get?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

On the Benefits of Projection for Corporate Worship

About three years ago, we began to incorporate the use of a video projector for our congregational singing (which is the only kind we have). In the last twenty years, projection began to be popularized by some churches that were viewed as compromised and weak. As a result, many fundamentalists decried the use of projection as a compromise. Thankfully, in recent years, it seems that we are beginning to think more critically about issues. The fact that “they do it” no longer rules it out.

So let me offer publicly my reasons for using projection.

1. It increases the number of songs that we can sing.

Using only one hymnbook is tremendously limiting. There are many excellent, theologically sound hymns, songs, and choruses that are not found in the hymnal that is in our pew. In fact, many of the songs in our hymnal are songs that are not fit for corporate worship. The use of projection has enable us to teach our people sound theology through a wide range of music.

2. It raises people eyes, and therefore their voices.

For many people, singing is a fearsome task if they are not in the shower or alone in their car. In public, if they sing at all, they sing very quietly. If they have a hymnbook in their hands, they sing straight into the fold of the hymnbook and essentially mutes their voice so very few others can hear.

By projecting the words on a screen, people are automatically looking up and singing up. Their voices, previously buried in the hymnbook, are now more projected to those around them. The ironic thing is that most don’t recognize it. They sing the same as they did before; they are simply better able to be heard.

As an added benefit, this has a snowball affect. If you are not comfortable singing (like most people) you think you are the only one singing (because you cannot hear anyone else), you will sing softer so you do not stick out. If you hear the voices of those around you, you will begin to sing out more with more energy and more engagement. In turn, those around will hear and begin to sing out more. Obviously this is affected by many things, such as familiarity, newness to church, etc. But I think the general rule stands.

3. It improves the flow of the service.

When you use hymnbooks, the only way to transition is to announce a new page number, wait for the flutter of turning pages, the leaning over to look on someone else’s book because one person did not catch the page number, etc. It becomes a great distraction to the point of worship.

With projection, you can move seamlessly without ever losing the train of thought of worship. You can incorporate the public reading of Scripture in between songs to tie two songs together.

4. It enables corporate reading of Scripture between songs.

Most churches today have very little corporate reading of Scripture. Occasionally they have public reading where one person reads. For several years, we have had public reading of Scripture, usually the text of the morning message.

Recently, we have begun to incorporate weekly corporate readings from various passages of Scripture. We sometimes begin the service this way, sometimes we do it in between songs, and sometimes we do it both. We have varied the format and length. For instance, if we have a selection of ten verses, we have had an individual read the first part, and the body read the second part aloud. We have had just an individual do it while projecting the verses. We have had the congregation do the whole reading. It has provided a great benefit for us to set the stage for the songs we are singing.

Other benefits could be offered, but I will stop with these today. I encourage you to give it some thought. Personally, I would hate to go back to “the old way.” I love looking up when I sing, and looking out from the platform and seeing the faces of people who are singing. I love the increased volume of singing. I love the added repertoire. I love the corporate reading of Scripture. I love the flow of the service.

There are some people who would rather use the hymnbooks because of eyesight (we need a new projector and screen), or because of personal preference. I have no problem with that. If the song is in our hymnbook, the page number is clearly seen both in the bulletin and on the screen so they can find it and sing to their heart’s delight.

We don’t have as many people singing parts, but that is fine with me. Hopefully one day we will have a worship team of singers that can sing the parts to be heard and help others to sing. But until then, I have found the benefits well worth the drawbacks. And the early church did not use hymnbooks anyway, so I am just trying to be like them. (Hey, it's a joke, people ...)

Give me your perspectives. Have you tried it? Why or why not? What do you like or dislike about hymnals or projection.

Hymnals vs. Projection

Kenneth Gangel has an article entitled “The Value of the Hymnal” in the most recent issue of Voice, the “independent church journal” published by the IFCA. The title caught my attention since we are living in a day of changing technology even in the church, and since I am interested in how modern technology can be used by the church without compromising the mission. A great many churches have begun to use video projection for the words of the songs, and Gangel is writing in opposition to that giving six reasons. His plea is “Give back my hymnal.”

Gangel is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and I believe teaches on writing as well as other topics. If I am not mistaken, a friend of mine took a class on writing for publication from him for a DMin program he was in. I want to interact with the article here to spark some thoughts (or at least to dump mine).

1. Because hymns have taught centuries of Christians theology they are no longer acquiring.

This problem is valid, and is of great concern. Many modern churches are theologically bankrupt. However, it has nothing to do with hymnals. Good theological hymns can be sung from a screen just as well as from a hymnbook. The problem of the lack of theology is a pulpit problem, not a hymnbook problem. If we get our pulpits straightened out, the choice of music will work itself out as well. If we don’t get our pulpits straightened out, then the music will not matter that much anyway.

In fact, we might argue that good theological hymns can be sung better from a screen by simple virtue of the fact that using projection greatly increases the number of songs available to you. I routinely draw from five of six hymnals in preparing our services. Some hymnals overlap to be sure, but each has unique songs that would be missed if we sang only from the hymnal in the pew.

2. The rejection of the hymnal has all but eliminated the singing of parts in church music.

This is a valid concern, but the singing of parts is a relatively modern phenomenon I believe. Singing in parts is beautiful to be sure, but hardly a fundamental of the faith. In my experience in church music (which includes congregational leading, choir directing, organization and administration of a music program, planning services, etc.) I have found that most people don’t read music. Some figure out the spatial relationships on the page (e.g., if the next little round circle is higher on the page than the last one, then I need to sing higher; if it is lower, then I need to sing lower), but they cannot tell the difference between a middle C and G or E of F# or anything else. They have no idea what accidentals mean, nor what to do with them.

Furthermore, a great number of people who can’t read music are able to hear parts and sing that way, and a great number of people can sing parts without a hard copy of the music. The use of a well organized worship ensemble of some sort can enhance the singing of parts and allow those who can’t read music to join in.

I am sympathetic to the idea that musical training and enjoyment can be enhanced by the church. But how do we go about that, and fit it into our biblical mission? Too many good things can detract from the important things.

3. Abandonment of the hymnal makes it more, not less, difficult to clarify the message of evangelicalism.

All I can say is “What??????” His argument here cites Mark Noll about evangelicalism leading people to sing. That’s true, and great. But how is that tied to a hymnal that you can hold in your hands? He doesn’t say and quite honestly, I have no idea. I wish he would expand on this.

Is he talking about the words? The hymnal itself? If you have some insight, feel free to offer it. So far as I know, the message of evangelicalism was clearly preached for the first seventeen or so centuries of the church until the advent of hymnbooks similar to what we know today. So I am not sure what this point is about. It seems dubious to me.

4. Musical tradition, like family tradition, carries a wholesome link to the past.

Gangel engages in a little nostalgia here, which is great. But a good reason to hold on to hymnbooks? While we should be cautious about giving away tradition, hymnbooks is hardly the kind of tradition that makes stronger believers, more equipped to die to self and live in the world outside the church.

Furthermore, the nostalgia we have today is only because we grew up in a generation that did something. At some point, that nostalgia was new, just as the nostalgia of today’s children will be whatever we practice.

I would rather the nostalgia be the content rather than hymnbook.

5. Removing the hymnal increases the profanation and deterioration of beauty and order in the church.

Again, I say, “What?????” He says, “I find a vast diminishing of beauty from the concert of God’s people singing acapella parts in a grand old hymn to the stomping, clapping noise of a modern praise chorus.” This could be true, but how is it tied to a hymnal? (See on parts above.)

6. Because the constant use of contemporary music may well arise from questionable motives.

Absolutely true, but again how is this related to hymnals? Contemporary music can be sung from a hymnal, and traditional hymns can be sung from a screen.

So what is my point? Thanks for asking.

First, I think Gangel has not really hit on pertinent issues with this article. I think he has brought up some points that are worthy of attention, but they do not have anything to do with hymnals per se, with the possible exception of singing parts. It seems to me that the other issues are irrelevant or at best only tangential to the point of hymnbooks vs. projection.

Second, if you are going to use projection (as we do), then use good hymns. Do not abandon theology. If you are going to use hymnbooks, the use good hymns. Do not abandon theology. (This will certainly affect your choice of a hymnbook.)

Third, in argumentation and persuasion, make relevant points (and show how they are relevant). It is entirely possible the there is more to Gangel’s argument than the Voice printed. Perhaps the editing removed some key issues that would have clarified. I am greatly concerned that our communication as believers answer the questions that people are asking. If we argue poorly for our position, we actually harm it.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Check Your Sign

I just passed the library down the street. The sign in front read as follows

It's a noble thought to be sure ... But shouldn't the library, of all places, use correct grammar? Maybe the book on subject-verb agreement is currently checked out.

[Edited in light of Greg's proof-reading. After all, we all need good editors. Maybe the library can find one.]

Friday, March 10, 2006


The following is posted over at SmartChristian.com. (Bold is mine.)

APPARENTLY, there are new and healthy trends among young Fundamentalists. Can someone tell us what those are? I hope to hear from some of you SharperIron folks.

Comments are closed.

I know nothing about the website, but I found this particular entry kind of funny. I have highlighted what seems to be all too often the normal approach to dialogue: "I want to hear from you, but my ears are closed." And on a site using the moniker "smart" nonetheless.

Go figure.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Brief Hiatus

I recently started what was billed as a series of articles on evangelistic strategies in the local church. But then reality interrupted me in a rude way.

You know how you know something is coming but it just doesn’t register with you? That’s me right now. For about eight months or so I have known the little guy would get here around March 22. But last weekend, it hit me … that’s like tomorrow almost.

Due to my almost legendary ability to work under pressure with grace and style (or perhaps just my general lack of awareness of the passage of time), I have been postponing the baby prep. But no longer. So, in lieu of articles on evangelistic strategy, I am finishing the baby’s room.

(Did I say finishing? That is probably way too much of an overstatement.)

So I will return to the articles. They are partly done. But first things first since the little guy can’t sleep on my blog.

No Kidding!!!

This is news? Barry Bonds was on performance enhancing substances? Wow … who’d a thunk it.

This may be perhaps the most un-news since Bill and Monica was confirmed. The only suspense in this story has been the ways in which Bonds will continue to deny the allegations and the way in which Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame will treat Bonds.

Here are the numbers: From his rookie year in 1986 through 1999, Bonds hit forty home runs exactly three times (46 in 93; 42 in 96; 40 in 97). Over that fourteen year period, he averaged just under thirty-two home runs a year.

In the last six years, Bonds has hit forty home runs five times, and played only fourteen games in the sixth season (where he was on pace that would have brought about fifty round trippers).. He has averaged almost forty-four home runs a year, and if you remove the numbers from 2005, Bonds averaged fifty one home runs over five years (2000 to 2004).

Do the math, people. That means that Bonds, in his late thirties, increased his average almost twenty home runs a year. You don't get that from the weight room alone.

Wine may get better with age. Baseball players don’t, especially not to the tune of twenty more home runs a year.

Barring some magnanimous event, Bonds will pass Babe Ruth’s place on the all-time home run list this year and move into second place beyond Hank Aaron. It will be a sad day for baseball when it happens. This is a record that is meaningless now.

If Roger Maris earned and asterisk from breaking the Babe’s single season mark by using an additional eight games, then Barry Bonds should earn a censure for passing the Babe using performance enhancing substances. He should be embarrassed to show his face in a ball park. The Giants should be embarrassed to have him in their uniform. He should be barred from the Hall of Fame and the record book

In a classic sport like baseball, if you are going to hold a record, you should hold it naturally, not by bulking up on steroids. Bonds is a great player, and would have made the Hall on his own merits. He didn't need to dope up. But he did. And it is shameful.

The game has withstood its fair share of problems (gambling, lockouts, dead balls, live balls, sign-stealing, bad commissioners, and the like). But some things should be sacred, and the record book and the history of baseball deserve better than a doped up home run king who would have never come close were it not for cheating.