Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology - Kevin Giles




Defining the Trinity matters because it is God’s very self.

The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology
Author: Kevin Giles
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 270

In reviewing The Eternal Generation of the Son by Kevin Giles, F. W. Boreham’s end-of-life observation comes to mind, “If I could have my ministry over again, I would talk more about God. Not about God’s works or God’s ways, God’s power or God’s bounty. But about God’s very self—God’s omnipresence, God’s omniscience, God’s omnipotence; God’s unutterable goodness, God’s inef­fable holiness, God’s splendor, God’s glory, God’s love. For if I could make people very sure of God, they would soon hurry to that divine Savior who is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him.” Two phrases in particular are applicable to what Giles has done and what makes this work valuable.

In seeking to answer if Jesus Christ, the son of God, is eternally begotten of the Father, Giles is examining “God’s very self.” Secondly, by examining whether this doctrine is scriptural, Giles is making us more “sure of God.” Throughout this book, God’s person in the Trinity is examined in detail. Regardless of where one might stand on these issues, the book is worth reading for the excellent scrutiny that Giles provides both doctrinally and historically. With regard to the latter, a significant portion of the book traces what the earliest Christians on up to the present believe to be true.

One reason why this matters is that some in our day question and even reject a doctrine that has been viewed as orthodoxy since the time of the early church. In one section, Giles summarizes this accepted teaching: “God is triune for all eternity. In the inner life of God, outside of time, divine threefold self-differentiation takes place in a way that is beyond human understanding or description. Following biblical language, this eternal divine self-differentiation is best designated as the eternal begetting, or generation, of the Son and the procession of the Spirit. God’s self-revelation in the economy (history) as Father, Son and Spirit reveals and confirms what is true apart from history—namely, that God is eternally triune. In other words, his triunity is not constituted by anything that takes place in this world; God himself constitutes his triunity by his own free and eternal decision. This is the view that triumphed and became orthodoxy” (19).

Giles focus is the eternal generation of the Son because it is this teaching rather than the procession of the Spirit that has come under attack.

Is it just a matter of semantics between theologians? I think not. Are there practical implications? Yes, and I will let Giles address this in his own words, “This book is a defense of the historic creedal faith of the church, which reflects the teaching of Scripture that the one God is Father, Son and Spirit. In other words, to deny that the Son is eternally generated by the Father is to undermine the very doctrine of the Trinity, which was developed to safe guard the full divinity of the Son. If the Son is not fully God for all eternity, then our salvation is in jeopardy. Only God can reveal God, only God can save, and only God should be worshipped” (21).

One surprising discovery is to learn of the connection between the idea that the Son is eternally subordinated to the Father (not an orthodox view) and the debate surrounding the subordination of women. Giles writes, “Virtually every evangelical who argues theologically for the Son’s eternal subordination in authority is committed to the permanent subordination of women. It is believed that just as the Father is ‘head over’ the Son, husbands are ‘head over’ their wives in the home and men ‘head over’ women in the church” (226). This subject is covered in a chapter near the end.

Giles grasp of historical and scholarly debate is impressive. He convincingly refutes those who pervert the orthodox view. In doing so, he presents truth about the person of God.

Christians talk frequently about knowing God. It’s puzzling then why there is so little teaching about this subject. How can we rightly and more fully know God apart from understanding His person? This is an excellent guide toward that end, which may even leave readers with a bit of wonder as they consider God’s unfathomable nature. As the apostle Paul exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33 ESV).

Even though our finite minds cannot fully grasp an infinite God, it does not follow that we should not seek to grow in our understanding of Him. It’s beautiful seeing the many facets of the Trinity.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ LIVE! - Rhonda Vincent




Bluegrass and gospel, a marriage made in heaven

Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ LIVE!
Artist: Rhonda Vincent (www.rhondavincent.com)
Label: Upper Management Music (www.uppermanagementmusic.com)
Length: 16 tracks/56:55 minutes

On Sunday Mornin’ Singin’ LIVE! Rhonda Vincent marries bluegrass and gospel like “glove fits hand, as key fits lock, as domino fits domino” (F. W. Boreham). What she has joined, no one can separate. It is a marriage made in heaven for that is often the inspiration. World weary sentiments long for that ultimate repose. Relaxed music that winds like a restful stream through the countryside increases the consolation.

The power is in the gospel truths that populate these songs. They hearken to another era, a simpler time when people found greater comfort in anthems of faith. It might seem overly sentimental to moderns or postmoderns but that misses the timeless messages and the simple beauty.

There is joy here. Acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, upright bass and more combine for happy sounds for heaven bound pilgrims. It’s nothing but stringed instruments and voices without a trace of percussion. Recording this live in Vincent’s hometown of Greentop, MO at the Greentop Methodist Church adds to the pristine quality. Dignified applause and occasional brief stage banter breakup the songs.

Lovers of bluegrass will find every pace and style. “I Feel Closer to Heaven Everyday” is the rousing opening that gives each instrument a brief chance to make an introduction. Homely wisdom meets with biblical stories on slow and fast tempos. Further variation is added by a couple of a cappella numbers and beautiful interpretations of two hymns, “Just As I Am” and the closing “Old Rugged Cross.” The latter were the only familiar songs. The “Old Rugged Cross” includes brief audience participation where the instruments are momentarily silenced, so that all one hears our voices being lifted to God.

A sublime moment comes when Vincent sings, “God every day I fall short of your glory. Please help me to be more like him.” It’s a monument to a foundational truth.

Occasionally, Vincent’s voice is a little overpowering, but it serves to show that it is a strong instrument. The musicianship is stellar. According to the label’s promotional information, Vincent and her band, The Rage, are the most awarded group in Bluegrass Music, with over 80.

Play this on Sunday morning or at any time and feel a little closer to heaven.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

VeggieTales: The League of Incredible Vegetables (A Lesson in Handling Fear) DVD




When I feel afraid …

VeggieTales: The League of Incredible Vegetables (A Lesson in Handling Fear) DVD
Length: Approximately 50 minutes plus bonus content

Imagine a weapon that feeds on fear. It reveals your greatest fright, and then uses it to immobilize you. It gains power through dread and then literally freezes its victims. When the villain in the latest VeggieTales episode steals the so-called “feardar,” The League of Incredible Vegetables is called into action to save Bumblyburg.

This portrayal of how fear works shows the cleverness that is a hallmark of VeggieTales. Weighty subjects become not only understandable but filled with subtle insights and humor. It’s what makes VeggieTales appealing to more than just little ones.

Junior Asparagus aka Ricochet longs for a supersuit, so that he will never feel afraid, not realizing that everyone feels afraid at times. He soon realizes that to trust in a supersuit, which has limited value and is subject to failure, is a huge mistake. The story smartly references David when he prepared to face the giant, Goliath. Israel’s king offered David the best armor available, but David had no use for it. He faced Goliath with something greater: trust in God. This VeggieTales story highlights that only God never fails and is bigger than any problem that we face.

Despite his timidity, I appreciate the vulnerability of Junior Asparagus. He falls flat by letting fear loom large and misplacing his trust, but he learns the lesson of this story. In Psalm 56:3, David says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” In the end, Ricochet is triumphant, not because of an absence of fear, but because he has learned to place his confidence in God.

In addition to the “Supper Hero,” a brand new Silly Song, this release contains The League of Incredible Vegetables Music Video performed by the Newsboys, which also serves as the theme song. It’s on par with the excellence that is characteristic of the Newsboys and fits the story.

Blockbuster superhero movies like The Avengers get loads of attention, but I wonder if they can compete with the take-away value of a simple lesson like this. This DVD clearly answers the question, “What can I do when I feel afraid?”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Christ-Centered Biblical Theology - Graeme Goldsworthy




A personal word or a unified message summed-up in Christ?

Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles
Author: Graeme Goldsworthy
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpacademic.com)
Pages: 251

What excites me about Christ-Centered Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy is the effort to show how the diverse parts of biblical revelation relate. As Goldsworthy writes, “Some acknowledge that the Bible is a unity and that the heart of it is the gospel of Christ. But they have never been shown, or have tried to work out for themselves, the way the various parts of the Bible fit together. Reading the Bible then easily becomes the search for today’s personal word from God, which is often far from what the text, within its context, is really saying” (29). Later Goldsworthy makes an assertion that is foundational to his thinking, “The unity of the Bible is of such a kind that every text has some discoverable relationship to every other text” (195). In a footnote, he adds that by text he is referring to a meaningful literary unit, not just a few words or a single verse. 

As inspiring as it is to experience the Scriptures coming alive in a personal way, it is even more thrilling to see how the vast vistas of biblical revelation fit together. I greatly appreciate his desire to find the links between the Old and New Testaments, without reading Christ into every passage, “The Christian meaning and application of an Old Testament text emerges as we show the links the canon allows us to make between any text and Christ” (224).

In the search for unity, it is important to avoid two common problematic approaches, “The one simply assumes a unity that allows the Christian to read the Old Testament as if it were originally written especially for us and directed immediately to us as Christians. This encourages moralizing and legalism through an overemphasis on an exemplary view of the characters and events in the narrative, and through a more direct application of the Law. The other avoids this direct application but has little to offer in its place” (193).

Later on, the author further warns against a rush to application, “The practical application of any text in Old or New Testament should never be divorced from the relationship of that text to Christ. Avoid the lemming dash over the cliff of direct applications. Of course we want people to be edified by ‘all Scripture’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but we want to get it right. The sufficiency of Christ stretches to his sufficiency as the fulfilling center of the whole canon of Scripture” (225).

Goldsworthy’s method is derived from his former teacher, Donald Robinson, an Australian New Testament scholar. In the attempt to study the Bible in its own terms, Robinson identified seven main issues. Those issues form the basis for the following summary, “We enunciated a biblical ‘typology’ using the three stages in the out working of God’s promise to Abraham, that is, (a) the historical experience of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham through the exodus to the kingdom of David’s son in the land of inheritance, (b) the projection of this fulfillment into the future of the day of the Lord, by the prophets, during the period of decline, fall, exile and return, and (c) the true fulfillment in Christ and the Spirit in Jesus’ incarnation, death, resurrection, exaltation and in his parousia as judge and saviour in a new heaven and new earth” (22-23).

Goldsworthy defines it more succinctly as “the three main stages of revelation: biblical history from creation, and especially from Abraham, to Solomon; the eschatology of the writing prophets; and the fulfillment of all things in Christ” (25). From this point of view, the high point in the Old Testament is reached “in David’s Jerusalem as the focal point of the land of inheritance, in Solomon as David’s heir, and in the temple representing the presence of God to dwell among and bless his people” (25). A period of decline follows Solomon’s apostasy “with the prophetic promises that the Day of the Lord will come and bring ultimate blessing and judgment” (25). Finally, hope is restored in the person of Jesus, who is the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

Goldsworthy masterfully defends, contrasts and expands on his thesis. This is an excellent contribution on a highly significant subject, but those outside academic circles, who need this understanding as much as anyone, may get bogged-down by some of the technical aspects. This is not the kind of book to read haphazardly. It works best with sustained concentration.

Throughout much of the book Goldsworthy is laying a foundation. As a wise master builder, he is careful to make it sound so that others can build on it. Suddenly, upon reaching the more practical section at the end, I felt as though any preceding tediousness was worth it all. It is fascinating and instructive to read short sections on Israel and the Church, which rightly maintains the distinction between the two entities, and the various types of baptism.

Having noted the warnings against application, I would have enjoyed seeing more of how Goldsworthy’s method applies to various themes and passage in Scripture. It is there at the end, and to some extent along the way, but I wanted him to make the conclusions more readable and obvious. Nevertheless, I plan to keep this book for future reference. The material is so dense that one can easily benefit from repeat readings.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jonathan Rundman




“I got ashes on my forehead, and I’m trying hard to learn”

Jonathan Rundman
Artist: Jonathan Rundman
Label: Salt Lady Records (www.jonathanrundman.com)
Length: 20 tracks/64:09 minutes

Jonathan Rundman does it all on a self-titled compilation. The singer/songwriter plays a variety of instruments but not at the expense of gaining contributions from others. The latter give him more of a band sound.

The styles are amazingly diverse. One moment I hear Tom Petty, the next Relient K, and then a little Dylan. The background vocals on “Librarian” are reminiscent of The Beatles. Rundman, who does most of the vocals, shows a fine attention to detail, which is evident on more than just BGVs.

Simple, uncluttered production makes for a rootsy guitar-driven sound. On the other hand, being lo-fi might lessen the appeal for some, but it complements somewhat of a classic rock sound.

Smart lyrics are subtly informed by the faith of the artist. This is never preachy, and it does not easily fall into the contemporary Christian music category. Many of the songs are reflections on life and relationships without any overtly spiritual content. Songs like “That Man Upstairs” seem metaphorical for a higher reality.

A few songs like, “Carol of the Bells,” (not the Christmas carol) have attitude, as in a punk rock influence. “Ashes” can lay claim to the most rousing, and maybe the best, Ash Wednesday song of all time. No somberness here but humility is not absent, “I got ashes on my forehead, and I’m trying hard to learn/This dust that I have started from is where I shall return/And I will follow out of love for there is nothing I can earn/I got ashes on my forehead, and I’m trying hard to learn.” Propelled by driving guitar, the latter is almost a laugh-out-loud sentiment.

A new and exquisite mix (the original is on Sound Theology) graces “Forgiveness Waltz,” which is stellar, defining forgiveness in sound and sentiment. Led by gentle acoustic guitar and a Wurlitzer, and with every instrument played by Rundman, this is one of several highpoints on this release. “It’s like a dance/It’s like a wheel/Less like math/Less like a deal/More like a heartbreak beginning to heal/We can start over/We know forgiveness” are words that capture the pathos of the subject and communicate peace.

Are you in need of a summer road song? With its driving heartland sound, “581” is the perfect backdrop for a top down or windows open driving experience. This reminds me of John Mellencamp.

“I’ll meet you there at the Narthex.” That last word sent me scrambling to the dictionary. Where else do you find that and “nave” mentioned in the same song? Rundman takes listeners to church, giving a sense of the mystery and majesty of ancient liturgy. It’s decidedly upbeat. Don’t imagine a long line of robed figures with swaying incense. This depicts ordinary people participating in the grandeur of something bigger than themselves.

Once again Rundman defies convention and brings a Christian perspective to the subject of death on the closing “Bright Funeral.” This is not the least bit morbid with a bouncy tune consisting of Wurlitzer and regimented drumming. Those left behind upon his passing are encouraged to celebrate rather than mourn. “Have a bright, bright funeral for me when I die/Not some gloomy dirge parade to tell your goodbye/Have a bright, bright funeral ’cause love don’t stop at death/And the hands of God are reaching out beyond our blood and breath.”

Some tracks are previously unreleased or remixed from their original form, so even if you have one of his prior releases, this is worth having. It’s also a fine introduction for new listeners.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Jason Gray - Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy




Christmas richly imagined through the principal characters

Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy
Artist: Jason Gray
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 13 tracks/44:40 minutes

Even though Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy is Jason Gray’s first Christmas release, he is among those who make music worthy of the season. His storytelling skill highlights God’s enfolding drama as seen in and through key players.

The most striking example is the over-looked innkeeper. Gray portrays him as a businessman, who anticipates Messiah’s coming but is blinded to it by jadedness. He cries for rest but fails to recognize how close it came to him in a babe born not far from his door.

Gray moves from the exuberant opening song to music that occasionally borders on roots rock. This is where he is at his finest, when the production is stripped-down and his singer/songwriter muse flows freely. Thoughtful lines abound like gifts offered for all who have ears to hear.

One surprise is “Ave Maria (A Song for Mary),” unusual for its retro-50s sound and added lyrics that imagine Mary’s early life. The chorus is peculiarly sublime.

It’s easy to think of the virgin birth as the miracle of Christmas, but in Gray’s reckoning of Joseph, forgiveness is the miracle. Joseph carried forgiveness in his heart, while Mary bore embodied forgiveness in her womb.

Who but the shepherds could have their story summarized in a pop/rock style with an anthem-like chorus? I can imagine “Gloria!” being sung by a multitude.

Gray does a brief, traditional take on “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which is gorgeous. He puts his own stamp on two other classics, “O Holy Night,” which has a programmed rhythm track that is a little distracting, and “Joy to the World.” The latter works well, but the best moments come on the many original compositions.

Gray invites listeners to the renewal that comes from seeing the Child of Christmas. He reminds us that the greatest gift we can give to God is ourselves.

His songs are richly imagined in every way, which makes this one of the season’s best releases. This is essential for Jason Gray fans, and those looking for fresh rumination on a timeless story.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Hurt & the Healer - MercyMe




When the hurt and healer collide, glory meets suffering.

The Hurt & the Healer
Artist: MercyMe
Label: Fairtrade Services
Length: 10 tracks/39:19 minutes

MercyMe’s The Hurt & the Healer recognizes the inadequacy of, “Why? / The question that is never far away / The healing doesn’t come from the explained.” These songs point to the comfort and hope found where “glory meets my suffering.”

Getting there is beautifully depicted on the cover. A half-dead lone tree stands in an amber field. The blue sky background rises to a host of celestial lights, a portal into heaven. It’s a thin veil that separates. Even in the death side of becoming conformed to His image, God may be more in control than we realize. As the chorus to the title track puts it, “I’m alive / Even though a part of me has died / You take my heart and breathe it back to life / I’ve fallen into your arms open wide / When the hurt and the healer collide.”

Our failures are more than swallowed-up by the grace of God. The hard driving “You Don’t Care At All” expresses it like this: “All of my yesterdays / All of my past mistakes / You’ve thrown them all away / You don’t care at all.” It is a reversal of Pharoah’s dream as interpreted by Joseph in the book of Genesis. Instead of the years of plenty being swallowed-up by the years of famine; the years of lack, however great, are more than offset by receiving the abundance that comes through Christ’s death on the cross.

It’s a new beginning, characterized by greater depth, which is depicted in the one piano-driven ballad, “The First Time,” which closes the recording.

One of the most interesting songs is “Take the Time,” a duet with Bear Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE. It’s dominated by a bluesy slide guitar until the band cranks it up at the end. I would have appreciated more like this, which is a little outside the norm. “Shallow is the voice of no concern,” Rinehart sings. “Running through the bridges that we burn … You do it to the least of these / You do it to me / You gotta take the time.” It’s too easy to look the other way and not see people.

“Hold On” is a guilty pop pleasure. It may be simple but it is excellent song craft. Why can’t more music today sound this good?

Another favorite for its encouragement and spacey atmospheric background is “Don’t Give up on Me.”

Lead singer Bart Millard is in fine form but he also gets an excellent assist from group background vocals scattered throughout. There are also brief but wild guitar solos that fit perfectly. I like the slightly raw, uncluttered production courtesy of veteran producer Brown Bannister and Dan Muckula.

Need encouragement? Find it here.

The Legacy - Michael Phillips

Passing on a vision of life with God The Legacy (Secrets of the Shetlands, Book 3) Author: Michael Phillips ( www.fatherofthein...