Monday, January 28, 2013

The Life and Witness of Peter - Larry R. Helyer




In view of Christ’s return, Peter espouses the witness of suffering.

The Life and Witness of Peter
Author: Larry R. Helyer
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com)
Pages: 329

In The Life and Witness of Peter Larry R. Helyer connects the biographical, historical and theological. Readers will see how Peter’s teaching is informed by his life experiences, especially pivotal events like his eyewitness account of Christ’s transfiguration. The latter is prominent in the eschatology of 2 Peter, “In short, the transfiguration was a theophany (cf. Ex 19), an epiphany and a preview of the parousia. Peter’s eyewitness testimony confirms what the prophets foretold: the Lord will come on the clouds and establish his undisputed rule over all peoples. Evil doers are put on notice: a day of reckoning is looming—false teachers beware!” (258).

The author goes on to make a possible connection between the wording of the divine utterance at the transfiguration and God’s summons to Abraham. “Beloved,” “son” and the idea of being well-loved or pleasing are prominent. “A typological link between the binding of Isaac and the transfiguration of Christ is relevant if we remember the placement of this event in Jesus’ ministry. Shortly after coming down from the mountain, Jesus reveals the fate awaiting the Son of man in Jerusalem during the festival of Passover (Mk 9:20-32; Mt 17:22-23; Lk 9:43-45) (259). Humiliation precedes exaltation.” The binding precedes Christ bringing many sons and daughters to glory as alluded to by the author.

“Furthermore, the conclusion of the story of the binding of Isaac promises that Abraham’s offspring would be ‘as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore’ (Gen 22:17-18). So too, at the parousia, the elect are gathered ‘from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other’ (Mt 24:31), and they ‘inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world’ (Mt 25:34). The Abraham cycle concludes with this declaration: ‘Abraham gave all he had to Isaac’ (Gen 25:5). Believers, being ‘participants of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4), are also ‘heirs of the gracious gift of life’ (1 Pet 3:7), indeed, heirs of ‘an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven’ (1 Pet 1:4). In Paul’s words, believers are ‘heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ’ (Rom 8:17). A typological reading of Scripture results in a richly textured theology” (259). Indeed, it does, just as Helyer’s analysis of Peter and his doctrine is rewarding throughout.

Particularly helpful are the asides and commentary on controversial passages. In Peter’s confession of Christ and the subsequent response from his Lord, Helyer identifies the conundrum, “The first question is this: Is Peter himself the rock, or is the rock the confession he makes? In the past, ecclesiastical affiliation virtually dictated one’s response. Roman Catholics affirmed the former and Protestants the latter. This oversimplifies the situation, and today one finds a wider range of nuances. Still, these two options remain the primary contenders.” Can you see in these words a voice of reason? Whether one agrees or not with what follows, this is the kind of perspective I value.

After some analysis, Helyer writes, “Though possible, the interpretation that the rock is Peter’s confession seems forced. Rather, Jesus designates Peter as the one who will exercise authority within the movement” (44).

Before anyone picks up stones, please consider the wisdom in his concluding comments, “Such an interpretation is a far cry from the fully developed Roman Catholic teaching on the origin of the papacy. One is not logically or historically compelled to acknowledge the latter by affirming Peter (and the apostles) as the foundation of the church” (Eph 2:20) (44). Balanced thoughts like these make books like this worth reading. It thrills me to see someone showing where the truth points without accepting distorted ramifications.

Being broadminded does not require having views that are not biblical. Indicative of his generosity in spirit, in a footnote toward the end of the book, the author writes, “I take this opportunity to encourage my fellow evangelicals to read some of Benedict XVI’s books. Three that I have found helpful are Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007); Saint Paul (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009); Credo for Today: What Christians Believe (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2009). May he, like Peter, faithfully ‘tend the flock of God that is in [his] charge’ and ‘win the crown of glory that never fades away’ (1 Pet 5:2, 4)” (283).

This is not a commentary, and yet, it serves as one indirectly, especially in relation to 1 & 2 Peter. One example is the exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-22. Questions arise from the first two verses of the passage: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison” (ESV). Helyer identifies the key questions as:

·         Where did Christ go after having been made alive “in the Spirit (or spirit)”?
·         When did Christ go there?
·         Who are “the spirits in prison”?
·         What was the nature of the proclamation to them? (149)

He then summarizes three leading interpretations before sharing the one he favors accompanied by the merits and deficiencies of each view. In short, the first view sees Christ preaching through Noah to the pre-flood generation. The second advocates Christ preaching in the spiritual realm to the souls of deceased humans, consisting either of those who perished during the flood of Noah’s time, the souls that died before Christ’s incarnation or all souls, who are believed to have a postmortem opportunity to respond to the gospel. The author clearly favors the third view of Christ proclaiming “his victory over the rebellious spirits (fallen angels and/or their demonic offspring) who were imprisoned as a consequence of their sin (Gen 6). This preaching, which was not an invitation to be saved, announced their certain, final judgment and took place during his ascension” (149-150). The preaching occurred between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in the first two options. This is all serves as an example of the careful and informed scholarship that you consistently find.

It would be a mistake, however, to think of this only in terms of the academic. Pastoral applications and insights abound. One in particular, which stems from a verse most often applied to women, is broadened in a beautiful way. “Futhermore, a gentle and quiet spirit is not a gender-specific admonition; it is powerful paradigm for both genders, since it is the path trod by the Suffering Servant who invites each believer to follow in his steps (1 Pet 3:4, 7; cf. 1 Pet 2:23)” (304). This fits wonderfully with what Helyer sees as paramount in Peter’s theology, “The testimony of bearing up in a Christ-like manner when undergoing suffering for his name should never be underestimated” (181-182). 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Archivist 4th Edition: Vintage Vinyl Jesus Music 1965-1980 - Ken Scott



Who knew that the Jesus movement would produce such a wealth of music on vinyl?

Archivist 4th Edition: Vintage Vinyl Jesus Music 1965-1980
Author: Ken Scott
Print on demand at Lulu Marketplace
Pages: 370 

Who knew that the Jesus movement would produce such a wealth of music on vinyl? If you find it hard to believe, order the Archivist by Ken Scott, which looks at approximately 3,200 Jesus music albums. The volume of research alone is enough to excite me to explore this definitive guide.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is essential for the collector of vinyl Jesus music. Maybe you are amazed that such a person exists. You find it hard to imagine why anyone would be interested in this music. This book is evidence that there is far more to this era than just the usual suspects like Larry Norman, Love Song, Andrea Crouch, etc. Sure, it has its share of the inferior and even cheesy, but that’s characteristic of any time. What Ken Scott does is help collectors and listeners separate the wheat from the chaff, even on individual recordings.

He is an excellent guide to a vast variety of music, including releases from the UK and other countries, some of them like treasure waiting to be discovered by those who appreciate quality music. It’s obvious that Scott recognizes it when he hears it. He gets more than a little enthusiastic about the 500 press self-titled 1978 UK release from Caedmon, “The professional standards set by this custom are so astonishing (that) all other Christian folk albums sound anemic by comparison. The production, the arrangements, the playing, the songwriting, the enamoring vocals of lead singer Angela Nayor – everything on this album is A+ throughout.”

Scott is not afraid to be forthright about the shortcomings of a release, but he does so with charity, and even humor. Witness his opening about With Your Love (1979) by Chris Christian, “For anyone who’s ever hummed along to an Air Supply or Christopher Cross tune, the easy pop-rock of Chris Christian just might provoke a similar response. It really annoys me when I catch myself sort of liking this kind of stuff (by the way, that fluttering sound you just heard was my credibility flying out the window.)”

He purposely excluded some releases to avoid being overly critical. Scott views all of the entries, which are descriptions of what you can expect rather than critical reviews, as worth checking out.

Since the movement that produced this output began to wane by the early 1980s, this serves as the cutoff point. If an artist, say DeGarmo & Key, for example, had output beyond this timeframe, it is not included. However, in this case and in many others, some of the most distinctive material came early before the music morphed into the more homogenized contemporary Christian music sound.

The greatest reason to own this may be the new discoveries. Popular and well-known artists are here but there are far more entries about artists and albums that will be unfamiliar to most Christians. Even if you are not a collector, they are fun and educational to read. It is also clear that they represent vintage music that is still worth hearing. Even today, they may still be relevant and remind us of a remarkable move of God.

This covers a segment of history with more depth and insight than any other resource. 

Only You - Karyn Williams




“Only You” puts the focus where it belongs, on Jesus only.

Only You
Artist: Karyn Williams (www.karynwilliams.com)
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 11 tracks/41:42 minutes

The song “Only You” reminds me of the Transfiguration. At the end of a spectacular experience that included a visitation from Moses and Elijah, and God speaking from a cloud that overshadowed them, when the disciples “lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matt. 17:7 ESV). “Only You” puts the focus where it belongs, on Jesus only. It’s like the satisfying end of a story. It’s the peace that follows when God stills the storm. This stripped-down piano-led song breathes the rest that God longs to give us when we cease from our striving. It may be the last track, but it is the crowning achievement on this 11 song debut from the daughter of Orlando Magic Senior Vice President and founder Pat Williams.

The latter’s battle with cancer served as the inspiration for “Rest in the Hope.” Today he is in remission, but the whole episode shook his daughter to the core. When she finally realized that the situation was beyond her control, she took solace in knowing that she and her dad belonged to God.

Along with some of Nashville’s finest, Williams had a hand in writing all but one song. They not only reflect what she went through with her dad, but the leap of faith she took when she left the comfort of all that she had known for Nashville, where she “didn’t know one person in the music industry.” She shed many a tear on the journey, but as she tells it, God not only brought about collaboration with one of the area’s best songwriters, Brian White. He became her husband. Perhaps, it helps her to sing, “Every Good Thing” with a smile on her face and more than a little conviction.

Only You incorporates a wide range of music styles, alternating between pop/rock, adult contemporary, inspirational and a hint of modern country. Although she pulls it off, her foray into elements of dubstep on “Possible,” does not suit her as well as the songs with less production. 

The spotlight is rightly on her voice in the last three tracks that take a-less-is-better approach. “Enough For Me” has a light country vibe that matches well with her voice. I also like what she says about, “This is Freedom.” “I was walking through situations that I had gotten myself into thinking, ‘Man, I’m such an idiot. How did I get here?’ We just beat ourselves up and that does not come from the Lord,” Williams said. Many who may have shared a similar thought will be encouraged to know they are not alone. Williams communicates the freedom and hope that is waiting for those who reach out to God. 

On the more whimsical side, both musically and lyrically, is “Banner,” where Williams asks God to remind her that she is like the moon in His sky, the jewel in His eye. Pounding piano notes put the exclamation on how God’s grace covers our many failures.

Those who know the Williams’ story are aware of the role of adoption in shaping their family. Karyn’s parents had five biological children but adopted 14 others from a variety of countries. “Just May Be” is all about adoption, but presents a wider application in the thought that Christians “may be the only heaven some will ever see.” We can be the answer to a prayer. Williams works with Holt International to further this aspect of her ministry.

There is much in the way of comfort and encouragement to be found as Williams consistently presents God as the answer to our great need.

I Choose Jesus - Moriah Peters




Peters is lighthearted, even joyful, as she sings of life in Christ.

I Choose Jesus
Artist: Moriah Peters (www.moriahpeters.com)
Label: Reunion
Length: 10 tracks/33:44 minutes

I Choose Jesus by Moriah Peters reminds me of my first love. A faith in Christ that is fresh and vital energizes these songs.

It makes me think of the mutual need that Christians of various maturities have for one another. It is good for those who have long been believers to be reminded by their younger counterparts of the simplicity that is in Christ. Obedience will always be essential, and these songs are all about making the right choices. G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” The lead adult contemporary single, “I Choose Jesus,” is Peters affirming her allegiance to Christ despite difficulties.

Where she distinguishes herself is in the notes of whimsy heard on some tracks. One example is “Sing in the Rain,” which is punctuated by lone piano chords that alternately strike like large drops of rain falling on a roof. The mood translates to verse as she begins to sing, “If I could fly like a bird/Singing songs to the world then I would.” Peters is lighthearted, even joyful, as she sings of life in Christ.

That’s not to say there are not a few more somber, challenging moments. “No Shame” is a beautifully understated ballad for the bruised reed, the smoldering wick, for the one who has fallen and feels hopeless.
“Glow” has an otherworldly feel. The opening lines draw attention to a landscape, “So many lights on in this city/The people still walk in the dark.” The challenge in the chorus is: “We have His light, what are we waiting for.”

Nine of the ten tracks are written in part by Peters with help from the likes of Cindy Morgan, Seth Moseley and producer Ed Cash (Chris Tomlin, Steven Curtis Chapman, Kari Jobe). The musicians are some of the finest in the industry.

My personal favorite, “Bloom,” is made even better by a lyric video that highlights the hopeful and encouraging words. It’s a sublime, slightly ethereal combination of verse and sound. If I had to summarize the thought in three words, it would be in phrases like: You are beautiful. Keep the faith. Give God time.

This is a fine debut that calls to mind the first release by an artist that shares some of the same ethnicity (Peters is of Mexican-French heritage), who has gone on to bloom in her own way. I write of Jaci Velasquez, who inspired Peters to become a Christian singer. Until she heard Velasquez, Peters thought she had a “froggy” voice. On the contrary, her sound and style is reminiscent of her inspiration. She is a winsome combination of purity and craft.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

StompTown Revival




A rugged faith that embraces whisper and thunder

StompTown Revival
Artist: StompTown Revival (www.stomptownrevival.com)
Label: Save the City Records
Length: 6 tracks/25:50 minutes

StompTown Revival’s six song debut EP is filled with grace and grit. At turns acoustic with limited percussion, their style of blues and roots rock also has a soulful, southern swagger. The opening “Guide Me Home” starts with simple acoustic-picking that grows in complexity until amplified power chords and bass drum add weight. This is not your father’s folk. Here, the sublime meets with distortion. The lamb and lion lay down together.

The harmonica and slide guitar are right at home. The former adds to the wistfulness of “The Sun Will Find a Way.” The wailing, echoing sound would fit in some Sergio Leone western. It’s like a lonely voice in the desert. And yet, we are treated to the comforting thought, “You roll the clouds away/And Your love is like a glorious day/Though there is pain/Oh the sun, the sun will find away.”

StompTown looks to God for justice; they shout his praises. Whether one considers the greatest judgment or bliss in this life, it is nothing compared to what will be in “Waiting for the Man.” They add exclamation by singing at the top of their lungs. Even so, there is a restful, dreamlike instrumental interlude in the middle. It’s a reprieve before the music comes back with ferocious intensity.

This closes with a remake of the beloved hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The group’s treatment lends new vigor to something so familiar that it could easily sound tired.  

In an age that caters to the lowest common denominator and where words and sounds become homogenized, it’s remarkable to find such a rugged expression of faith that embraces both whisper and thunder.

It reflects the band’s desire to reach non-Christians. This duo, consisting of Seattle native Brandon Bee and Texas native Gabe Martinez, just recently returned from a seven-day mission’s trip to Thailand. The response, which included an invitation to return, and 20 people becoming Christians, was overwhelming.

Some may remember Martinez as the frontman for Circleside, a Christian rock group. Bee was a solo artist credited with producing over 80 projects. The pair met at a 2004 music retreat in Seattle and bonded over their mutual interest in American Blues.

That fondness gives them a unique sound among Christian artists. If you like new expressions of Americana and God-haunted lyrics, check this out! 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection DVD




It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Polar Express in a VeggieTale adaptation.

VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection DVD
Running Time: Approximately 243 minutes plus a 25 Favorite Christmas Songs! CD

It’s a Wonderful Life meets The Polar Express in a VeggieTale adaptation of the former, which borrows from the latter. Since It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favorite movies, this alone makes this worthwhile for me. Others who enjoy the classic should find It’s a Meaningful Life rewarding.

If somehow the aforementioned movies have escaped your notice, this adaptation may have even greater impact as you recognize that God is at work even when hope is lost. This goes beyond the Frank Capra movie by infusing it with biblical truth and values. By making God central to this encouraging story, the producers make this one of my favorite VeggieTales episodes.

If you wonder about the influence of The Polar Express, a special train ride reminiscent of that film plays a central role. Here, the setting is different from the two films, but the characters and plot are similar, though deeper for the reason I mentioned, right down to the closing Steven Curtis Chapman song, “Meant to Be,” which fits perfectly.

This is one of six episodes on this DVD, one being a Christmas Sing-Along Songs!  Children can now drive their parents crazy by singing along to a wide variety of Christmas songs, a number of them not part of the other episodes found here.

Each of the narratives, some which go back to early days, is excellent. Individually, they cover different aspects of Christmas. The Toy that Saved Christmas emphasizes giving over getting. Jesus is The Star of Christmas, regardless of what appears in a pageant. Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving depicts the wasteland of a self-centered life. The Little Drummer Boy highlights the importance of forgiveness.

These are so well-done that I forget they are more for little ones than me, and yet, that is the beauty of VeggieTales. They are enjoyed and appreciated by all ages.

If you need help finding what is true, right and praiseworthy in the season, these stories consistently share wisdom in clear, clever and humorous ways. I dare anyone to watch an episode and not feel a bit more lighthearted and hopeful.

Keening for the Dawn: Advent, Christmastide & Epiphany - Steve Bell




A thoughtful, exquisitely rendered and exceedingly broad Christmas recording

Keening for the Dawn: Advent, Christmastide & Epiphany
Artist: Steve Bell (www.SteveBell.com)
Label: Signpost Music
Time: 11 tracks/44:17 minutes

One joy and reason for thanksgiving is the incredible diversity that God has placed in this world. The variety of Christmas recordings is one example. They can be as different as night and day but be just as rewarding, depending on the preferences and disposition of the listener. This is unique among the Christmas recordings that I have reviewed both past and present.

What makes it so is the scope of Keening for the Dawn by Canadian Steve Bell. “Oracles” opens with a prophetic reflection that sees beyond the birth of Christ to the time when He shall reign. This Second Advent is what believers wait for as described on the following title track. Similarly, the next song, “Fashion for Me,” yearns for an inheritance that is yet future, that “is empty of endless disease/with no one to suffer, hate or appease.” There are songs here that highlight the birth of Christ, but what makes this intriguing are the broad applications.

“Refugee” shatters illusions: “We think of him as safe beneath the steeple/Or cozy in a crib beside the font/But he is with a million displaced people/On the long road of weariness and want.” We get another reality check in a spoken word interlude on “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “We surf the surface of a widescreen world/And find no virtue in the virtual/We shrivel on the edges of a wood/Whose heart we once inhabited in love.”

The rustic music fits well with the varied moods and sentiments. Stringed instruments rule the day. The frequent use of Dobro makes for a rural sound. “Glory” even has a light country vibe that includes harmonica and organ. This song has a simple, elegant harmony vocal on the chorus. 

Electric guitar punctuates the atmosphere of some tracks with an element of danger. For me it conjures up a spooky desert scene in an old western movie. Though light has dawned with Christ’s advent, the world is not a safe place. This is why we keen for a new dawn where God rights all wrongs.

“Peace Be Unto You,” “While Shepherds Watched” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” are classically-inspired. The production reflects the starkness of winter. Bell’s voice adds warmth to crystalline instrumentation.

Some lyrics on this release were written by the British poet Malcolm Guite. He adds spoken-word parts on a couple of tracks. The thoughts, like most of the lyrics, run deep, providing plenty to ponder. Bell has often drawn inspiration from other artists and writers and it serves him well here.

This is Steve Bell’s seventeenth and possibly finest recording. He distinguishes himself as one in whom this season brings out the best. This is thoughtful, artistic and exquisitely rendered. The content is broad enough to be appreciated all year long. This is a wonderful introduction to Bell’s work.

Come to the Waters (Collector's Edition) - Children of the Day

Genuine come-to-Jesus moments make this a classic Come to the Waters (Collector’s Edition) Artist: Children of the Day Label:...