Is God angry at sin?

Protestant churches—especially evangelical ones—typically sing their theology. In the absence of a formal liturgy hymnody carries the weight of theological formation. Scripture shapes our beliefs about God more in the theory than in reality. The average Christian spends little time exploring how the confessions interpret Scripture. Instead, our sung worship songs shape our beliefs. Their influence comes by virtue of their memorable lyrical quality. It takes less effort to memorize a song (sung regularly) than a catechism that is ignored.

That’s why I was so disturbed by the recent decision of the committee compiling the forthcoming Presbyterian hymnal Glory to God to omit the song, “In Christ Alone.” You can read the story here. If hymnody is sung theology then what does this decision say about the Presbyterian Church (USA)?

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This decision is troublesome for several reasons. First, the committee weighed two ways of conceptualizing what a hymnal is. They asked the question: Is it a collection of diverse hymns reflecting a variety of theological views present in the church? As such, any commitment to a unified theological vision would be downplayed in favor of representation of various views or styles. Their should be no problem including this popular song.

They also asked: is a hymnal a “deliberately selective book” that emphasizes some views and excludes others on the basis of its “educational mission” (I prefer “catechetical mission”) for the church? This requires some degree of theological unanimity.

The prevailing view of the committee was that a hymnal has an educational message, which requires rejecting some theological viewpoints that no longer comport with the view of the church.

This is an important consideration. I agree with the decision of the committee to envision the hymnal as something that is consonant with and advances the theological vision of the church. The problem is that in making this decision the committee has emphatically set aside a theological vision that comports with my own. In the rush to be inclusive the committee has, in actuality, excluded a theological vision that has inspired many Christians over the centuries, not the least of whom is John Calvin.

Read the rest of the article here.

Why bother with Easter?

It’s a loaded title for a blog post, right? Certainly. It does, however, communicate some of the intellectual dissonance I’m experiencing around our contemporary evangelical/presbyterian way of celebrating easter. I’ll cut to the chase–it seems arbitrary to me that we have chosen to not celebrate the Easter (paschal) triduum as it has traditionally been celebrated by the church and have instead elected to allow Maundy Thursday to replace it. We got to church and enter into the drama of the last supper and ensuing betrayal (on Maundy Thursday) and then return to Celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. How evangelical in the most impoverished sense of the word.

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I don’t presume to speak for anyone else when I write this, but I long–deeply long–to order my life around the story of God’s redemptive purpose in the life of Christ and of his church. Why? Not because I think it’s sophisticated. Not because I’m reacting against my low church heritage. Not because I think it’s cool.

I have one reason alone: by myself, and in myself, I am not strong enough to ensure that the kingdom vision of the gospel remains the most formative truth in my life. 

I’m dead serious about this–I can’t do it. I need help and that help must come not simply from friends but from Christian sisters and brothers, and it must come from them in the context of a worshipping community who have chosen to intentionally order their (our) lives around the story of God.

Are we evangelicals really serious about our discipleship, about our formation? Is our view of the church sufficient to produce apprentices who will remain faithful to Christ in a post-Christendom society?

It’s fairly safe to say that so long as our communal worship has about it the feeling and value of a thing added to our lives rather than the reality out of which our life flows then the answer will be no.

The surprising benefits of dumping Facebook

Each year I choose a discipline to add to my life during the season leading up to Easter, known as Lent. For the last several years I have intentionally chosen to dump Facebook–that is, to not log onto the site and interact with people through it. Caveat: I continue to automatically post blog posts to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. I also periodically check to make sure that I am not missing any important messages. This year, I’ve done a pretty good job of steering clear of the vacuum of Facebook and I’ve experienced at least five benefits that have surprised me.

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Each year as I enter Lent I wonder whether it’s really worth giving up Facebook. It seems like there’s very little cost to being on the site. In fact, as the number of people you know who are “on Facebook” increases it can almost seem like there’s more of a cost to giving it up!

All things considered, I’ve made some surprising discoveries about Facebook which have proven beneficial.

  1. Facebook will give you as much time I as you give it…and more. I have about 900 friends on Facebook, which means that once I jump down that rabbit hole I can spend an hour just skimming status updates. 
  2. Facebook can be depressing. People often use Facebook to share their good news–engagements, new jobs, closing a big deal, a hot vacation, or a new car. Get one of these types of status updates in a day: great. Get a couple hundred and you start to think: what the heck is wrong with me? Aggregating stories of others’ affluence, professional competence, or other pieces of good news can actually be depressing. Why? At least in part because you don’t have access to the crap that lies beneath the surface in everyone’s life.
  3. Facebook needs to be managed. Just as in real time, there are people on Facebook who are just plain enervating. Their incessant banter about this topic or that gets on your nerves and drains you of energy. You have options: either “unfriend” them or “hide” their comments. You’ll thank yourself later.
  4. Facebook clutters your mental space and makes concentration harder. Honestly, I have used Facebook in different ways over the years (I’ve been “on Facebook” since 2005). While I was on sabbatical, I used it to connect with friends and to try to replace the community I had lost in stepping back from work relationships and student and faculty friendships. Prior to that, Facebook served two purposes: 1) it was an escape, and it was 2) a resource-gathering tool. Mostly, I’d work on some task I didn’t like (administration) and then as a reward spend some time “recovering” by going to Facebook. Often when there, given that I’m a learner, I’d discover some article, book, story that intrigued me. I’d explore it then or at a later time. This added mental stimulation often meant that I carried unfinished and unrecorded tasks through the day and, frankly, clogged up my mental bandwidth to do more important tasks. This gets back to the management element, it’s important to streamline and limit the information you take in from the internet. Too much information can be as paralyzing as too little.

Once Lent is over, I will return to Facebook with the proviso of placing boundaries on my usage. It’s likely, however, that on Shrove Tuesday 2014 I’ll be putting a status update on my Facebook account saying: “back in Easter!”