Keller: “Sproul Was Driscoll Before Mark Driscoll”

Tim Keller gave a series of lectures on preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary (my alma mater). After the first session, “What Is Good Preaching?” Keller followed up with a Q and A. Someone asked who were Keller’s influences on how to be a good preacher. Along with George Whitefield, Martin Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Dick Lucas and Sinclair Ferguson, Keller mentioned R.C. Sproul, saying he was the “Driscoll before Mark Driscoll.”

I’ll never think of R.C. Sproul (or Mark Driscoll) the same way again.

The Benefits of Christian Meditation

J.I. Packer—

Richard Baxter lived a century after Calvin. He was a chronically sick Puritan, tubercular from his teens and suffering constantly from dyspepsia, kidney stones, headaches, toothaches, swollen limbs, intermittent bleeding at his extremities, and other troubles—all before the days of pain-killing drugs. Yet he was always energetic, outgoing, uncomplaining, and utterly healthy-minded, even though sometimes (and who can wonder?) a trifle short-tempered….

What kept this frail invalid going so single-mindedly and even spectacularly through the years? In The Saints’ Everlasting Rest Baxter tells the secret. From his thirtieth year he practiced a habit that he first formed when he thought he was on his deathbed: for something like half an hour each day he would meditate on the life to come, thereby escalating his sense of the glory that awaited him and reinforcing his motivation to use every ounce of energy and zeal that he found within himself to hasten up the path of worship, service, and holiness toward his goal. This cultivation of hope gave him daily doggedness in hard work for God, despite his debilitating effect of his sick body.

God’s Plans for You, pp. 69-70.

How A Repressive, Dour, Wig-Wearing Puritan Liberated Marilynne Robinson

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Do I Look Like a Liberator of 21st Century Humankind? (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In the latest issue of Humanities, the magazine for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nobel Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson discusses how Jonathan Edwards, that repressive, dour, powder wig-wearing killjoy Puritan, popularly known for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” liberated her.

The essay, titled (brace yourself), “Jonathan Edwards in a New Light: Remembered for Preaching Fire and Brimstone, He Was Actually One of the Great Intellectuals of His Era,” is striking most notably because Robinson is known as an unashamed Calvinist who actually reads, loves, and frequently writes about Calvin, while she’s been relatively silent about Jonathan Edwards. This essay demonstrates she’s more than a one-note, albeit highly literate, Calvinist.

Here’s some excerpts:

I know this sounds improbable on its face. We are told that it is modernity that liberates, and Puritanism, with its famous defense of predestination and its all-devouring work ethic, that we ought to be, and perhaps never are, liberated from. I have always been unperturbed by these criticisms.

And:

Jonathan Edwards provided me with a metaphysics that made the phenomenal world come alive for me again and that seemed to me to undercut every version of determinism, including even predestination, without obliging me to accept an alternative.

Robinson concludes the essay:

Edwards’s vision….taught me to think in terms that finally did some justice to the complexity of things.

Read Robinson’s essay on Jonathan Edwards here.

A Catechesis Manifesto: Five Reasons Why It’s Imperative

The Catechesis Task Force (CTF) of the Anglican Church in North America recently published To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechismwith J.I. Packer serving as the General Editor.

In the catechism’s vision paper, the CTF mentions a “catechesis manifesto” they wrote called “The Time for Catechesis Is Now!”

The manifesto centers around five key points:

  1. People are yearning for a compelling faith;
  2. Bible studies alone aren’t enough;
  3. You can’t have evangelism without catechesis;
  4. The status quo isn’t working, and our churches are dying;
  5. The time has come for families to embrace their God-given catechetical vocation.

The manifesto is currently unpublished, but the Task Force is allowing me to post it on my blog while they work on a final copy.

Read “The Time for Catechesis Is Now!” here.

Interview With Richard Lovelace

Richard Lovelace is best known for writing Dynamics of Spiritual Life and Renewal as a Way of Life. The latter book , a condensed version of the former, is the one book to read to understand Lovelace’s thoughts on how Gospel renewal works in the Christian life. Many well-known pastors and theologians, including Tim Keller, have been profoundly influenced by Lovelace’s writings. Read Renewal as a Way of Life and you’ll understand why.

I’m working on interviewing Lovelace. In the meantime, here’s the most recent interview with him I can find, conducted by Christian Book in 1999.

An Interview with Author Richard Lovelace

“Revival is an infusion of new spiritual life imparted by the Holy Spirit to existing parts of Christ’s body.”
-Richard Lovelace

Richard F. Lovelace (Th. D., Princeton), professor emeritus of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is the author of Homosexuality and the Church,The American Pietism of Cotton Mather, and Dynamics of Spiritual Life. He has written numerous articles and has recently written Renewal as A Way of life.

The following comments were made by Richard Lovelace in an interview with Christianbook.com on August 26th 1999.

CBD: Could you describe yourself, your background, your hobbies and interests?

Lovelace:  Ok. This is sort of a first!  I am 68 years old.  I am a graduate of Yale College with a BA in philosophy, as well as a Graduate of Westminster Seminary and of Princeton Theological Seminary. I am emeritus professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, a writer, and still teaching.  I am married [and have] three children.

I have a great interest in music. I was a classical DJ for a year on Boston’s WBAQ before we moved, and I would still be doing that if there were a place to.  I am an avid fisherman.  My son has converted me to fly fishing trout!

CBD: Could you describe the overall premise of your book The Dynamics of Spiritual life, as well as your current book Renewal as a Way of Life ?

Lovelace: Certainly.  I would encourage people to read the second book as well, which is can be downloaded on the web at http://www.overit.com/lovelace/lovelacebooks/index.html [Link is broken] I wrote The Dynamics of Spiritual Life, published in 1978, because I wanted to set forth what I call the unified field theory of Christian Spirituality that would make use of insights particularly on the Reformation, the Puritans, the Great Awakening movements, catholic spirituality, and other areas.  It is a very catholic book.  It really endeavors to reach out everywhere to come upon Biblical principles of spirituality. It is a book on what is called spiritual theology or the historical theology of Christian experience. I started out my own Christian life absorbed in a Christian community which was an offshoot tracing back to the Welsh Revival—the overcomer conference in England. The name of the group was Peniel, it’s still in existence, and I am still working in it.  It has devoted itself to the production of pastoral theology, and practical theology of the Christian life. It was there that I got interested in the subject of spiritual awakening, revival, and renewal in the Church.  The Dynamics of Spiritual life book attempts to set forth both a Biblical portrayal of individual spiritual life, but it also attempts to deal with the great movements of spiritual awakening, because in my opinion these things are related. You can pursue individual spiritual growth but inevitably you will come up with the realization that there is a corporate aspect to this. Christians grow as they are immersed in currents of spiritual life that are larger than individual or local congregations for instance.

CBD: Could you give a definition of what you think revival is, and what it would be distinguished by?

Lovelace: As used by all the historians of revivals, it means an infusion of new spiritual life imparted by the Holy Spirit to existing parts of Christ’s body.  In other words, it happens to a church or community that has already been brought into spiritual life in the past in which that life is ebbing or is at a low ebb.  These are also simply communities that are in covenant with God. I would say that God’s covenant embraces over the generations groups of persons moving through history in what are called denominations. So that in the Presbyterian or Baptist churches for example, you have a collection of people whose grandparents were vital Christians, and God is faithful to his covenant and will strike again and again [to ignite revival] in those lines.

In my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church, we were born half-dead in America.  People with a somewhat dead orthodoxy came over and a powerful movement of Revival through the Log Collegemen (people trained in William Tennent’s in New Jersey) carried the message of not just having orthodox beliefs, but also being born again, and having the vital presence of the Holy Spirit. That divided the Presbyterian Church for 17 years, but it also was a powerful movement of multiplying Christians and the church reunited and that was the first great Awakening from about the 1730′s and 1740′s.  There was another powerful movement again in the congregational and Presbyterian Church’s called the Second Great Awakening from about 1795 to roughly 1838. You see splits occur again and again in revival periods. Yet, I don’t see this to be an evidence of revival nor an end goal. This is a very counter theory to the idea that you become more and more revived the more you split. I don’t see that in history although everything that splits is still on the board, still operating.  If you take a great movement such as the Anglican Communion, there are still streams of life pouring into it, especially from Africa.  You could do this with a local congregational history too. If you could go back to a local congregation that started in 1745, which would be in the middle of the First Great Awakening, you would find that it went though periods of decline in renewal.

CBD: In your book you see great prospects for either Christian Revival or anti-Christian movements. How important is Revival in terms of the outcome?

Lovelace : This depends on what is called your eschatology.  Whether you are pre mill, post mill, a mill, or don’t even know what mill is.  But during the 18th and 19th century it didn’t matter what you were, pre-mill or post-mill or a-mill, everybody expected a triumphant increase.  Just think of the Hymn “Jesus Shall Reign from Shore to Shore.”  That is a declaration of war on the powers of darkness. That is according to Psalm 72 that the gospel will spread to the ends of the earth.  Jesus says  “the gospel will be preached in every nation and then will come the end.  Generally, during the 18 th and 19th centuries people believed that there would be increasing degeneracy as the end drew near, ultimately seen in the coming of many Anti-Christs and then the Anti-Christ.  But also, they believed that there would be great outpourings of the Holy Spirit as Joel predicts and simply on the basis of Acts 2; that as Christians pray, they will be equipped and enabled to move out and advance the kingdom. The great historical example of that was the early Church in the first four centuries. They really did not expect that they would conquer the Roman Empire.  God didn’t let on that they were going to do it either.  Nevertheless, it occurred. Christianity became so powerful a force that the people at the top had to change.  We see that happen over and over again in History. We have seen this bring a quiet infusion of life in the Church that has brought about at least nominal Christianity to a lot of places. Right now, we are sitting here looking at I don’t now how much of the planet under the veil of Islam, the Moslems, that’s where I would expect Spiritual Awakening to spread to. If you are going to say that the Gospel is preached to every nation, I would say a powerful lot of Web site, internet, or radio and TV communication would have to take place in the Moslem area. Also there is China, in which one recent figure said that 28,000 Christians are being made there everyday. If you project that for a decade or so, it will mean a very powerful spread of the gospel there.

CBD: What specifically is your eschatology and your current view of the prospects for Revival?

Lovelace: Here is my eschatology basically.  It is a quote from a conference held in 1801.  “The world is coming to either Christ or to Beelzebub, and the parties are arming on both sides.”  In other words, what is seen as a decline in American culture, is just an extremely obnoxious upsurge of the Beelzebub party so to speak, which is much smaller than it appears at times.  What happens in such an upsurge is usually that the people of God began to call out to God in prayer for a revival.  That is what is happening today.  The most exciting things going on today are with David Bryant’s prayer ministry, and other things related to the prayer movements that are bubbling up everywhere on the planet.  There are huge numbers of these that are now interlocked by the Web.  This is also seen in Bill Bright’s movements of fasting and prayer for revival.  The Bryant people are trying to get a praying area called a lighthouse for every one of those nine digit zip codes in America.  This is human methodology, but it reflects a tremendous upsurge in a burden for revival.  I would say where you see this kind of fireplace being built there is going to be a fire.  There already is a fire.

CBD: A current modern day revival is documented in Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. The striking note of his account is the dominant role of prayer in the church ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle.  How is revival linked to the prayer ministry?

Yes, also you have areas of this planet in which simultaneously horrific disasters are occurring, in Africa particularly where the AIDS virus is just ravaging the continent, but also there is every evidence of very, very deep spirituality and growing Christian influence there.  In all of this, one of the things to bear in mind for today is Jonathan Edwards prediction which was that just as the printing press was a catalyst for the Reformation, so new methods of communication and travel  would be used by the Holy Spirit in a great outpouring.

CBD: That’s fascinating!

Lovelace: What we are dealing with today on the Internet is this: it is changing everything.  It is changing business, it is changing the economy, and what happening there is literally a big footrace between the “Beelzebub forces,” and the “Christian forces.”  The question is, how much good stuff can we get out there on the Internet because of course it is accessible all over the planet. Everybody speaks English.  They have to in order to do business.   In addition to this, one can easily translate languages- for example I have this $99 program that translates Swahili web sites!

CBD: In your work you speak of Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.  Among those, where do you see the Church going?

Lovelace: Jonathan Edwards said a work of the Holy Spirit will have a strong renewed interest and emphasis on Jesus Christ. It will renew faithful reading of Scripture.  It will damage the Kingdom of darkness.  It will lead to a rebuilding of strong Orthodox theology, and it will generate love towards God and man.  He later revised those to some degree in his treatise on the Religious Affections. Basically, there was a strong emphasis through Evangelicals on solid Biblical study and orthodox Reformation theology.  Evangelicals have not been so strong on experience.  They tend to be rationalistic at times.

The Wesleyan quadrilateral, which is like a baseball diamond, has Scripture as its home plate.  The first base is tradition.  The second base is reason, and the third base is experience. According to Albert Outler in John Wesley, you had to run around that diamond and keep coming back to Scripture.  So, it starts with Scripture, followed by tradition, which is orthodox theology. Then reason, that is applying things to what we know now, and experience—that’s the impact of the Holy Spirit in your life.  Finally, you come back to Scripture.

Evangelicals are very strong on Scripture, tradition, and reason. Charismatics and Pentecostals have been real strong on experience, to some degree also on Scripture. They have not been at all involved deeply in tradition, and sometimes don’t make enough use of reason. But what I see coming is a balance of all of this.  My hope is that we will not have glossolalic and non-glossolalic communities all absolutely isolated from one another, but that we will have communities in which the nine gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 are displayed. Evangelicals could use some of these, words of knowledge, words of wisdom.  I see more of a vanilla-fudge mixture coming in the future, where you can’t tell the Charismatics from the Evangelicals. You have a lot people in the Roman Catholic Church who can’t tell what they are either, but when they talk you listen.

What I am expecting is a stronger emphasis on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but also a renewed Christology. This is where the battle lines are being drawn in the mainline denominations now.  There are these skirmishes over homosexuality and sexuality in general, but the real skirmish is over the deity and salvific work of Christ, and also over Scripture. All of those things, you are going to see the screen come into better focus if God continues to give us a reviving work.

Incidentally, I wrote an article which so far has not been published, in which I analyze the last forty years and I consider that a low key but real revival has taken place during this time. That has especially proceeded from the work of the likes of Billy Graham, Bill Bright, and Intervarsity for example.  There’s been a lot of proliferation of real Christians during this time.  Christians may currently be partially disarmed or unarmed for Christian warfare, but if they tensed up the society would feel the brunt of this.

CBD :  If Christians were to “tense up”, react, and take their stand, what kind of responses would you suggest should take place?

Lovelace:  Well, historically the Second Awakening was the high water mark of cultural impact of Protestantism.  In that awakening decades of evangelistic growth was the basis of what ever occurred.  Out of that came home and foreign missions as a first level or phase.

¨ The first phase of response is seen in the great missions movement and great number of Evangelicals who fill pulpits in America. This is evident in the Presbyterian movement, which has been colonized with people from Gordon-Conwell and Fuller Seminary.

¨ The second phase is the production of edifying literature, some of which is not so edifying, but Christian writings could totally absorb the New York Times book review all the time.

¨ Thirdly, there is an educational movement.  This is occurring all over the place, especially as it is seen in the homeschooling movement.  This is also evident in the proliferation of lower level Christian schools.  We haven’t yet created major Christian Universities, but I really like what Regent University has done.  We have colonized the Notre Dame department.  This is amazing!  They are all Evangelicals there. If you are going to see this whole society revived the way it was in the first fifty years of the 19th century (1800-1850), you are going to have to have a massive educational revival.  Because if you are going to find one toxic drip that has been dripping into us, it is our school systems.

¨ Fourthly, great solid crusades against moral depravity must take place.  We have had a couple of groups take a whack at this, but they often appear to be the Republican party at prayer, which is not a broad enough base.

¨ The fifth phase would be great crusades for social justice, where a mass of born again Catholics, Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Pentecostals, get mad at some things that are wrong. I have a list of things that are really bad in this country, from campaign finance reform to the gun situation, from our education, to a whole bunch of other stuff. The generation of righteous indignation in the 19th century abolished slavery. .  We are not doing well with this. Probably because our leaders have been told that you can’t manage social reform, you just have to evangelize. Maybe that was right for a while. But when you get enough Christians that are alive and they get mad about something like abortion, or other deformities on the scene. They are probably going to start praying about it and there are going to be changes.

Some people have said that the anti-abortion crusade is the equivalent of the anti-slavery crusade. The evangelicals in England whipped out slavery essentially.
Other issues in need of attention would be the low level of health care in this country. There are so many poor people who don’t have it. That’s an atrocity. What are we going to do? Let all the humanists in Sweden beat us on this?  So, I do see those five phases that we might expect or aim at.

CBD:  What additional thoughts have you contributed to The Dynamics of Spiritual Life in your recent book Renewal as a Way of Life?

Lovelace: The one thing I did do in Renewal, is to develop more a theology of renewal based on the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Christ. I tried to make it kingdom centered prayer and renewal.  Recently, I was out in Holland Michigan, the land of what is sometimes called “frozen chosen,” and I discovered that they weren’t all frozen. There were people translating Abraham Kuyper and Herman Baavinck.  I read some Kuyper and I was amazed at the spiritual vitality of Kuyper. It was like reading Andrew Murray or Mrs. Penn Lewis.  There was a real strong sense of spiritual conflict and the Holy Spirit’s operation in history.  Kuyper has a very positive attitude towards culture, event the French revolution which is a black beast for him had elements in the revolution which to him reflected elements of the resurrection.  We would not have what we have in the Western world had it not been for Christ’s resurrection.

Kuyper went to Keswick, a great spiritual growth center in England.  He was spiritually hungry and said that got fed there, but there are a couple of places there that are not running on all cylinders.  One of them is that they have become somewhat introverted in their spirituality, and they don’t realize the necessity to conquer in the realm of ideas.  The famous statement that he made was that “there isn’t a square inch of territory in this planet in which Jesus Christ is not Lord now.”  He says that we have got to be able to out think the forces that are broadcasting material inimical to Christ. So, firstly we have to get our minds filled with the spirit, and secondly, Kuyper said, we cannot surrender any areas of our society to the forces of darkness without putting up a fight in prayer.  Kuyper started up a newspaper, a University, a Political part, and he is elected premier of Holland for decades.  It is a case study of what happens when there is a real spirit filled renewal in a local area.  What happens, as Phillip Schaff and Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century said when they came to America.  “This is amazing! There are no established churches, but Christianity in all these denominations, they hand together enough to make Christianity rule the roost.  Back in 1850 we ran the store in this country.  I hope to see at least a movement in that direction in the next century.

CBD: Thank you for sharing these comments with us.

Six Reasons Why “Jesus + Nothing” = Bad Math

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Os Guinness, in his recent book Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Times, takes the popular phrase “Jesus plus nothing” to task:

…such piety is too pious by half. The intended compliment actually dishonors Jesus, and its advocates need to think more deeply.

Guinness provides six reasons why “Jesus plus nothing” is problematic.

  1. Too Simplistic: “A literal interpretation of the maxim is overly simplistic. John Owen, the great seventeenth century theologian of the cross, showed an equally faithful though less wooden interpretation. He quoted the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians: ‘I have determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ But he then added: ‘At least with nothing that could divert my attention from the subject.’
  2. More Than Jesus: “We could not know who Jesus was without going beyond Jesus. For a start, we would not understand Jesus and his life work without the entire Old Testament that preceded him.”
  3. Self-Serving: “The fact is that many who brandish this formula tend to teach only those parts of the teachings of Jesus that fit in with their own ideas. Like the many faulty ‘Jesuses’ of Protestant liberalism, their teaching is merely a reflection of their own prejudices.”
  4. Effect on Seekers: “Genuine seekers who are not simplistic and are searching for adequate answers will often conclude that those who have no interest in wider questions will have no answers to the meaning of life. They therefore walk away from the childishness of the Christian faith.”
  5. Beyond Jesus: “It was Jesus who was concerned with far more than just himself, so to be faithful to him is to scrap the slogan, however well meaning….’worldliness’ and its opposite, ‘otherworldliness,’ are the two extremes that Christians are called to avoid, and the challenge is to follow him in the more faithful and far more demanding position in between. Far from being faithful, as we shall see, this creative engagement with the world is a key source of the power of the gospel in the church and of Christians in the world.”
  6. Jesus Minus Something: “‘Jesus plus nothing’ usually ends in holding to a form of Christian faith that is ‘Jesus minus something.’ More often it represents a faith with an inadequate grasp of truth or too little theology and thought, or a faith that is ‘all Jesus’ and no God the Father and no proper place for the Holy Spirit. With some who espouse this maxim, it has become a significant source of syncretism and unfaithfulness in the wider church.”

      —Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Dark the Timespp. 53-55

Singing the Psalms: A Beginner’s Guide

If the idea of singing the Psalms for corporate worship is a daunting or outdated proposition, here’s some practical help.

Dr. John Witvliet

I asked Dr. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship and author of The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: A Brief Introduction and Guide to Resources, to give the worship leader with little to no prior experience in leading the church singing the Psalms, some practical and easily accessible starting points. The following is our mostly unedited correspondence.

Dr. Witvliet, why should we care about singing the Psalms in corporate worship in the 21st century?

JW: First, because the Psalms are a divinely-inspired school of prayer. Then also realize that they offer a point of contact with nearly every human experience: from desolation to gratitude, loneliness to community, anger to joy.

Is it okay if churches don’t sing the Psalms in corporate worship? Isn’t reading them aloud, even responsively, adequate?

JW: Centuries of church history across cultures offer us dozens of fascinating models for how to use Psalms. Have them read by a leader, and echoed by the congregation. Read them back and forth by two parts of the congregation. Punctuate your reading of a Psalm with a simple musical refrain. Rework them to fit well-known tunes. We have the joy of discerning which modes will help congregations in particular culture contexts access the meaning and wisdom and sheer beauty of these texts.

What are the benefits of singing Psalms in Christian worship? Conversely, what are the detriments?

JW: Singing the Psalms helps them sink deeply into our bones. A detriment could be that we can be tempted to sing musical settings that treat them sentimentally, but that’s not really an argument for not singing them.

Is it possible that many evangelical churches in the west have used the Psalms in Christian worship, but perhaps didn’t know it? Can you think of some contemporary songs that are essentially a particular Psalm?

JW: Hundreds of contemporary songs are inspired by particular Psalm verses. Many fewer are settings of an entire Psalm—which is too bad because often the power of a given Psalm comes through the Psalm as a whole. However, it’s wonderful to see a variety of songwriters returning to the ancient tradition of grappling with larger portions of Psalm texts.

Suppose you’re sitting down with a young worship leader who grew up on a steady diet of contemporary worship songs (i.e. Hillsong, Matt Redman, etc.), but is open to explore incorporating Psalms in corporate worship. Where should he begin? 

JW: Savor the many new Psalm settings being written by contemporary artists. You can start by typing any given Psalm into YouTube. When I typed Psalm 42 this morning, I not only ran across a classical setting by Mendelssohn, an Anglican chant, and vigorous singing of a Genevan Psalm by a Dutch men’s choir, I also discovered a variety of contemporary settings by people like the Robbie Seay Band and a variety of other contemporary artists.

Younger churches, especially church plants, no longer have physical/paper hymnals, so using a physical/paper Psalter seems unrealistic. Does the church need to spend a lot of money to begin using the Psalter? 

JW: You could start by having a leader read a Psalm line by line, have the congregation echo it back, imitating leader’s tone of voice. No extra costs there!

Can a church that isn’t musically trained still use the Psalter?

JW: Absolutely. Start simple. Another approach is to use a simple refrain that is already well-loved, and to sing it after each section of a Psalm reading.

Isn’t using a Psalter culturally regressive?

JW: The Psalms are always out ahead of us—showing us expressions that form, guide, shape our growth in faith. That’s why Bono, David Crowder, and so many other perceptive contemporary artists love them.

Can a church be contemporary, young, “missional,” etc. and use the Psalter?

JW: Yes, perceptive use of the Psalms is one of most missional acts of worship I know. The Psalms create a missional “point of contact” with culture—demonstrating how the whole range of human experience is found in the Bible. And the Psalms also offer a kind of “worldview medicine,” changing how we perceive God in the world.

Any go-to resources. i.e. books, websites, blogs, you especially commend?

JW: We are working at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to promote thoughtful, honest, missional Psalm-singing. Our publication Psalms for All Seasons features musical settings of all 150 Psalms. Our website includes a Psalm showcase, with several dozen resources. But they are only a start. I think that YouTube can be fascinating resource, if we have the patience to make discerning choices.

Any final words/parting shots?

JW: There are certainly Psalms that need to be treated with great care, the Psalms of protest—just like other challenging texts found throughout scripture. But rather than avoid these texts, I have found that throughout history, God has provided wise and thoughtful interpreters to help understand these texts. Never rush to use a vexingly difficult Psalm without studying this wisdom. Expect the Spirit to teach you a lot through the loving struggle with what God may be saying to the church through texts like these.

Thanks again to Dr. Witvliet for his time and desire to better help us think through singing the Psalms in corporate worship. Find out more about Dr. Witvliet’s work with the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship here.

The New City Catechism: A Birthday Celebration

Not every birthday is cause for raucous celebration.

But today’s an exception.

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On October 14, 2012, The Gospel Coalition, in partnership with Redeemer Presbyterian Churchannounced the New City Catechism (hereafter NCC), a church-wide teaching tool primarily covering The Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. Created by Tim Keller and Sam Shammas, the NCC met a few predictable minor quibbles (e.g., “Why are they messing with the old catechisms?” “The sacraments don’t receive enough attention!” “Only 52 questions?” “There they go with their ‘city = better’ schtick again,” etc.) But on the whole the NCC was widely welcomed as a timely tool in the catechetical arsenal.

If the idea of tackling the esteemed Heidelberg or Westminster catechisms are daunting (for my money, the best edition is this for the former and this for the latter, and for family devotions this set is indispensable), then the NCC is for you. It’s the gateway drug of catechisms. And I mean that as a compliment.

It’s difficult to measure a catechism’s immediate impact, and it will likely take a generation to ascertain lasting effects on individuals, families and churches. But two years since its release, it seems like the NCC is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

I contacted Collin Hansen, TGC’s editorial director, and asked for some internet stats for the NCC. Here’s the lowdown:

  • On an average day, around 500 people visit the New City Catechism website.
  • The iPad app has been downloaded over 30,000 times.

I’m no web metrics guru, but I’d call those decent numbers, especially for something containing the word “catechism,” a word that sounds stodgy, archaic and quasi-Roman Catholic, striking fear and triggering spontaneous nervous ticks for the uninitiated.

But fear no more.

Here’s where to begin with the NCC:

  • Tim Keller’s introduction, where he clearly and simply explains catechism, offering a convincing polemic for the NCC.
  • The iPad app (free). TGC’s web team is nearing a fix for the iOS 8 bug, so stay tuned.
  • Droid user? This app’s for you. (Also free)
  • Luddite? Download the PDF here.
  • My personal favorite? This tabletop version…

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…and it’s available here for a paltry $6.00. It’s a beauty.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church and The Gospel Coalition deserve hearty thanks for producing such a deceptively simple yet essential 21st century teaching tool covering the basics of the Christian faith. And although it’s not groundbreaking, if it helps create a catechetical revolution (as I think it is), J.I. Packer would be glad. So would Calvin, Luther, and a host of other notable committed catechists.

So happy 2nd birthday, New City Catechism! You’re looking pretty stout for a toddler. And to think you’ve only got 449 years to go till you reach big brother Heidelberg’s age.

May God grant you—and your older siblings—bigger and better birthdays to come.

“Flash Mobs Maul Catholic Mass”? Here’s Why (and a Prediction)

The New York Times curiously reports that “Mass mobs are spreading around the nation and taking church leaders by surprise.”

o-MASS-MOB-570Reading the article, the primary motivation behind these Mass mobs—usually occurring in severely declining churches—isn’t the spiritual content or ritual of the Catholic Mass. Rather, fueled primarily by social media, the mobs’ motivation appears to be driven by three things:

  1. Sheer nostalgia for the past;
  2. Reconnecting with familial religious roots;
  3. Appreciation and preservation of old church architecture.

Only time will tell what lasting effects, if any, these Mass mobs will have on the Roman Catholic landscape, and if it will eventually spill over into declining liberal mainline Protestant churches. I predict it will, but these mobs won’t substantially deter the churches’ steady decline. (And if they’re called “Mass mobs” for Roman Catholics, what will they be called for the mainline Protestant churches, hemorrhaging for very different reasons? Let the naming begin!)

Read about the strange Mass mob phenomenon here.