Monday, January 25, 2010

Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers - Donald Fairbairn

Sharing in the life of the Trinity

Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers
Author: Donald Fairbairn
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 248

Has the Church made too much of the Trinity? Reading Life in the Trinity by Donald Fairbairn makes me realize that this doctrine is crucial and practical.

What is the heart of Christian life? Fairbairn suggests “part of the answer is that a life reflecting the love Jesus has shown for us lies close to the heart.” He sees “first and foremost, then, Christian life is a process of abiding in Christ, of relying on him, of recognizing and maintaining one’s connection to him in all aspects of life.”

To take it further, and where the real beauty of this book lies, is seeing our relationship with Christ in terms of his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Fairbairn writes, “He (Christ) is offering himself to us as a person, that we might share in his most deeply personal relationship, the relationship he has with God the Father.” Seen in this context, the Christian life is a sharing in the life of the Trinity. This is the scarlet thread that runs through every chapter.

Fairbairn expertly walks readers through Trinitarian theology, which is fascinating, but his most important work is sharing relational and practical implications. He makes it clear that the worth of everyone lies in our being made in the image of God. “Christianity teaches us that our significance does not ultimately lie in what we accomplish or what we do: it lies in the one to whom we belong,” he writes. “Our significance is not something that can be earned; it is something given to us by God.”

He is also a wise guide into the thought of the Church fathers. He makes judicious use of their writings, to inform modern perspectives that can be lacking. He draws most from four Patristic writers: Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo and Cyril of Alexandria. Readers get some of their most fruitful and biblical thoughts.

The only time I felt unsure of Fairbairn was his discussion of John 6 where Jesus enjoins eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Fairbairn sees this as a reference to celebrating the Eucharist. He notes that “the early church saw its regular celebration of the Eucharist as crucial to believers’ continuation in Christian life.” He adds, “To say that the Eucharist is central is to imply that communal worship in general is central to the cultivation of people’s relationship to the Father and the Son.” He closes this section by observing that “in the mind of the early church, cultivating a direct relationship to Christ was not by any means an individual task. It involved the entire community of faith, as well as the devotion of each individual…. Life in the Trinity is life in the church and involves regular participation in the worship and the mysteries Christ has entrusted to the church.”

This is not intended to be a comprehensive book in theology but rather a supplement to the more exhaustive and systematic variety.

Just catching the glimpse this book gives of the Trinity is staggering. It is also mind-boggling to realize that becoming a Christian makes us part of this triune fellowship. Being able to better see the Godhead and the beautiful relationship it engenders, makes this a lovely book.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Duets - The Blind Boys of Alabama

The Blind Boys’ commendation

Artist: The Blind Boys of Alabama
Label: Saguaro Road Records
Length: 14 tracks/56:35 minutes

If The Blind Boys of Alabama ever needed commendation, which they don’t, Duets provides it by being a showcase for the wide variety of artists with whom they have collaborated. Also telling are the many songs on this release that come from Grammy-nominated or Grammy-winning albums.

Appropriately, the CD opens with “Take My Hand” by Ben Harper from the Grammy-winning There Will Be a Light (2004). It was through that award that The Blind Boys came to my attention and perhaps the attention of many others.

What is it about The Blind Boys that causes so many artists to want them on their albums? Being in the music business, it must have something to do with their sound, which for me hearkens to the Negro spirituals sung by world-weary voices that knew hardship. It’s an authentic gospel sound that enhances songs that resonate with The Blind Boys.

Two of the most powerful tracks are back to back blues excursions: “I Had Trouble,” by Charlie Musselwhite and “When the Spell is Broken,” by Bonnie Raitt. The latter song features The Blind Boys on a great-sounding refrain toward the end: “Can’t cry if you don’t know how.” Their voices fit well with the blues, but among the wide range of styles that you find are country, black gospel, Americana, reggae and something that sounds a little alternative.

In regards to the latter, I’m thinking of “Jesus” by Lou Reed, one of three previously unreleased recordings. I found this track mesmerizing from the first time that I heard it. Sparse instrumentation and short, simple lyrics given with a vulnerable delivery perfectly complement this song of brokenness. It’s a plea from one who has fallen from grace and now seeks to find their place. This song also caught the attention of the legendary Glen Campbell, who recorded it on Meet Glen Campbell.

On the contemplative and intriguing side is “Secular Praise,” by Timothy B. Schmidt, a member of the Eagles. As he reminisces about his life he adds, “Don’t go to church but I feel the weight.” Could this be the weight of glory that people feel when the catch sight of an Almighty God? It’s not clear who he is referring to when he sings, “Still I hope to shake the hand of fate before I die.”

Another interesting collaboration with someone not as well known is Susan Tedeschi on “Magnificent Sanctuary Band,” a gospel song produced by the well-respected Joe Henry, who produces another song on this recording, “None of Us Are Free,” by Solomon Burke. Tedeschi is known as a blues guitarist and the wife of Derek Trucks, one of two guitarists for The Allman Brothers Band.

I can’t help thinking that The Blind Boys are an obvious bridge between the gospel and the world of music. Their lives and voices are an influence for good. This CD serves as a fascinating introduction to their music, which thankfully has intersected mainstream music in such a rewarding way.

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