No carol service – are we missing a trick?

Not according to Phillip Jensen (in ‘Why People are Not Converted at Christmas’):

“Each year thousands of people come to carols services in church buildings, parks, schools and even pubs – but how often do you ever hear of somebody being converted? Instead of it being one of the high points of Christian Christianity it is the high point of Cultural Christianity. But Cultural Christianity seems inured to Christian Christianity.”

Here’s Carl Laferton in a similar vein:

“Put on a good carol service (especially if you have a picturesque church building), and they will come. Put on a Christingle or a nativity service (particularly in the late-afternoon Christmas Eve slot, when every parent in the land needs a break), and they will come. Invite your neighbours and friends to such events, and they may well come—and they will certainly not think it weird to be asked.
And so, lo! The churches of the United Kingdom (especially those with previously mentioned picturesque buildings) did discover that a great multitude didst come and hear the gospel in December, and they felt good, and rested upon their laurels/door wreaths.

And then in January, everything went back to normal. And the ‘long term trends’ of decline in church attendance (which you will find mentioned in the seventh paragraph of the Church of England’s article which headlined with the Christmas attendance figures) continued.”

Two programs I wish I’d known about years ago!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to recommend two invaluable utilities – youtube-dl (a youtube downloader) and ffmpeg (a file converter).

Their functionality can be achieved in other ways, but I have used numerous youtube downloaders and file converters (both for myself and for family members) over the years as they tend to get closed down / taken over by spyware.

These are super fast utilities which run from the command line. I’m running them on a mac but they both have windows versions. As Casey Liss mentions in the posts below, the command line is a bit scary, but these were fairly straightforward to install.

So here are two posts which introduce both and give some tips as to how to use them:

youtube-dl (The documentation is very helpful – I installed it using MacPorts)

ffmpeg

Update: Another useful one is wget, which allows you to download any file you have the url for – it can also be installed via Macports: sudo port install wget

The Rule of Love (book review)

The Rule of Love: How the local church should reflect God’s love and authority
Jonathan Leeman
Crossway, 2018

9781433559631

It’s not unusual to hear people respond to church discipline – experienced either by themselves or someone else – with phrases like ‘That’s not very loving’. ‘That’s very judgemental’. This book is really a response to those sort of objections.
It also has a few chapters on the theology of God’s love – questioning whether it’s completely correct to describe God’s love as ‘unconditional’. He suggests that the view of God’s love held by early church fathers such as Augustine has changed since the Reformation – at least in the writings of some of those who interpret the Reformers.
Having loved Leeman’s book on Church Membership, I thought this was going to be brilliant. I certainly found it helpful, but it wasn’t quite as focussed as I would have liked. There was also quite a bit about race, which might be more necessary in the American context, but seemed a bit irrelevant to the topic. On occasion he pushes congregationalism, which reminds me of a great Driscoll quote (from before he was completely discredited): ‘As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote’.
On the whole though, I found the book helpful, and have lots of quotes saved to return to and work through in the future.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

The 10 Commandments (book review)

The 10 Commandments: what they mean, why they matter, and why we should obey them
Kevin DeYoung
Crossway, 2018

9781433559679

A month or so ago I told my congregation that anything Kevin DeYoung has written is worth reading. Having read his latest book, I wouldn’t say anything different, but I would add an asterisk.
This book is pretty good on nine of the commandments. The application is good, and he gets to Jesus.
The chapter on the fourth commandment is a real let down though. It’s particularly disappointing as he was brought up by parents who had a strict view of the Sabbath, which he’s grateful for, but says that in light of Romans 14 and Colossians 2 he can’t justify that approach exegetically.

Discussing the phrase ‘festivals, new moons and Sabbaths’, he says ‘I don’t know how to make sense of the three items if “Sabbaths” means something other than the seventh day of the weekly Sabbath’. However, as Philip Ross points out in From the Finger of God, ‘on the six other occasions where feasts, new moons, and sabbaths are grouped together in the Old Testament they are always bound up with offerings, suggesting that the term is concerned more with the sacrificial activity of those occasions than with the days themselves’, so they ‘serve as shorthand for the offerings and rituals common to those occasions…all these things were the shadow of which Christ himself was the substance’.

There is also no recognition of the fact that the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, though he does make the strange statement that ‘the fourth commandment is the only one of the ten which the Lord clearly gave to the nation of Israel before they reached Mount Sinai (see Exodus 16)’. Did the nation of Israel look back and think it was ok for Cain to murder Abel, for Ham to dishonour his father, for Abraham to lie and for Potiphar’s wife to try and seduce Joseph? These things were in place since the creation of the world, so such a distinction is unhelpful. In fact, one of the most significant things about Exodus 16 is that Moses didn’t need to explain the concept of or rationale for the Sabbath.

As a result, whereas DeYoung says ‘Strip away the cultural context and the case law, and the main takeaway from the Mosaic Sabbath is that we must rest from our labors and trust in God’, the Puritans would have said ‘Strip away the cultural context and case law and you’re back to the Sabbath there was from the day God rested until the day he gave all that case law – just on a different day now Jesus has risen’. The Sabbath existed before sin and therefore can’t be ceremonial. Strip off the ceremonial aspects, and the moral law remains.

DeYoung also tries to play the Westminster and Continental views of the Sabbath off against each other, stating ‘Even within the Reformed tradition there are different understandings of what it means to observe the Sabbath’, before quoting from both standpoints. However as Richard Gaffin has cautioned, ‘the difference between the Puritan Sabbath and Continental Sunday should not be exaggerated, especially so far as the actual practices of churches in the Reformed tradition are in view…following the Synod of Dort, British-American Presbyterianism and Continental Calvinism became of one mind on what Sunday observance should look like…We may speak here of a Reformed consensus’.

DeYoung here departs from that consensus. He may be thankful that he grew up with his parents’ unswerving commitment to morning and evening worship, but what he says in this chapter will further militate against the same commitment in this generation. For example, he calls his own decision not to do homework on Sundays ‘a bold decision’, rather than obedience to a commandment of God which is binding on all.

American Christianity has taken away the practice of the Sabbath, and then revised their theology accordingly. DeYoung may want to keep the practice, but once the theological backbone is removed, the practice will soon disappear.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

RP resources on the Song of Solomon

I’ve just come across a brief, forgotten commentary on the Song of Solomon by J. G. Vos. It’s contained in The Biblical Expositor: the living theme of the great book (Vol. II), edited by Carl F. Henry and published in 1960 (second edition). Other notable authors in this volume include R. Laird Harris (Psalms), Gleason Archer (Isaiah), E. J. Young (Zephaniah), G. W. Bromiley (Haggai) and Marten Woudstra (Zechariah).

Vos takes the view that: ‘The Song is not an allegory nor a type, though it has often been treated as one or the other. Rather, it is a parable of the divine love which is the background and source of all true human love…It is a remarkable fact that the Sonf of Solomon is nowhere quoted in the New Testament, though it was undoubtedly regarded as inspired, canonical Scripture in the time of Christ. The lack of reference to it in the New Testament is an objection to allegorical interpretations which find many details of Christian doctrine and experience in the Song. While interpreting it literally, we must certainly regard it as also a parable of the divine love which provides salvation for sinners and makes them the bride of Christ. In addition to leading us to a higher view of the beauty, purity and power of the love between man and woman in the sacred bond of marriage, it should stir us up to a higher appreciation of the divine love, and a deeper response of love on our part to the Lord Who first loved us’.

Another 20th century RP resource, this time from Ireland, is Hugh J. Blair’s ‘Preaching from the Song of Solomon’ in Reformed Theological Journal, iii (1987), pp 47-58.
He quotes John Murray as saying: ‘I cannot endorse the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon. I think the vagaries of interpretation given in terms of the allegorical principle indicate that there are no well defined hermeneutical canons to guide us in determining the precise meaning and application if we adopt the allegorical view…However, I also think that in terms of biblical analogy the Song can be used to illustrate the relation of Christ to His church’.
Blair concludes: ‘The conclusion reached by our study is that preaching from the Song of Solomon will apply its message to the relationship of love between a man and a woman, and will go on from that to see that love as an analogy of the love of Christ for His people and theirs for Him’.

Back across the pond again, a 21st century assessment comes in Anthony Selvaggio’s – ‘Listening to the Song of Songs: a survey of the major interpretive issues’ in Reformed Theological Journal, xxiii (2007), pp 56-69. Selvaggio has also written What the Bible teaches about marriage, which is based on the Song.