Saturday, September 26, 2015

No Longer My Own - Cheri Keaggy

Refined faith makes for a mature perspective

No Longer My Own
Artist: Cheri Keaggy (
Label: Independent
Length: 11 tracks/44 minutes

Cheri Keaggy’s faith has been tested since her Charlie Peacock-produced debut, Child of the Father (1994). That opened with the soaring, worshipful “Make My Life an Altar.” Keaggy opens No Longer My Own with questioning, “What would You have me to write/What would you have me to tell the world/What could I possibly say/How can I possibly change the way things are …” The music jogs along with a sober assessment of the pain and evil in the world.

“Overcome” truly speaks to our time, reminding us that God is here and that nothing escapes his notice. There is no need to fear. This is not a na├»ve view; it’s an honest look informed by the reality of God. It’s this perspective, which you find throughout, that makes this rewarding.

In the next song Keaggy sings, “It was good for me to be afflicted that I might learn your decrees.” This is a line from Psalm 119:71. The lyrics follow the pattern of the psalm by extolling the virtues of Scripture. The shuffling rhythm builds in intensity while Keaggy describes what the Word accomplishes.

Whereas some past efforts could fall into the praise and worship category, this goes deeper with thoughtful musings on a variety of subjects. These songs are not designed for congregational singing and that’s fine because I enjoy the reflections, whether serious or lighthearted.

The most startling is “Be My Sabbath.” “If faith without works is dead, I need to die for a day or a very long weekend.” It’s maximum angst with a gritty sound. It expresses a desire to cease from striving and have God as your source.

This song has the heaviest-sounding guitar work; most tracks are keyboard-driven. My guess is that the majority came into being through the piano. They are mostly mid-tempo songs. I wondered if the guitar playing was her uncle, Phil Keaggy, who makes guest appearances on her releases.

I discovered that he is responsible for the joyful ukulele sounds on “Whatever is True (Phil. 4:8).” It’s the primary instrumentation. In the last stanza she applies the list of attributes from the verse to Christ.

“I Love Your Company” is a beautiful picture of a parent’s love for a child. It made me think of God’s love for His children, how He longs for them to abide. The melody is like a gentle caress.

I hear longing in “Jesus, One and Only.” It’s just Keaggy playing a simple tune on the piano while she intimately expresses her desire for God’s comfort.

This closes with Annie J. Flint’s “He Giveth More Grace,” which leads into part of “I Surrender All.” It includes a uillean pipe, the national bagpipe of Ireland. Some may recognize this hymn from the lines of the first stanza:

                He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
                He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
                To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
                To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

Choices like this are indicative of the maturity found on this release.    

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ancient Christian Texts: Commentary on John (Volume 2) – Cyril of Alexander

Key early text defends the Christian faith

Ancient Christian Texts: Commentary on John (Volume 2) – Cyril of Alexander
Translator and author of introduction: David R. Maxwell
Editor: Joel C. Elowsky
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 394

Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on John challenges me in a way never intended. As the translator notes in his introduction, “Cyril’s literary style is complex and wordy. His sentences are lengthy, full of interlocking clauses, and his vocabulary can be unusual, even idiosyncratic” (xx). I confess to struggling with the drawn-out ideas.

I recognize that at times I was too tired when I sat down to read. In addition, Cyril wrote this to be a reference. Commentaries like this one are not designed for casual reading.

The translator in his introduction provides helpful advice in how readers can enter Cyril’s world of thought, which covers John 8-21. Volume 1 covers the first seven chapters of the gospel. In short, passive reading is not recommended.

One thought that helps me is that Cyril is engaging in “doctrinal explanation” and “he clearly employs the Gospel of John to refute the arguments of the Arians, Jews and pagans” (xvii). He equips his readers to answer their arguments.

He strongly defends the divinity of Christ and is careful to use precise language, “When we say that the Son and the Father are ‘one,’ we do not confuse the individuals who are numerically distinct, like some who say that the Father and the Son are the same person. Rather, we believe that the Father subsists on his own, and the two come together into one identity of substance” (77). He glorifies God by continually defining the members of the Trinity.

A point of view that differs from more recent reference works is just one aspect that makes this and the related volumes valuable. Cyril frequently looks at a passage from more than one angle, which helps to clarify the possible meanings.

One example is the beginning of John 9, where the disciples asked Jesus who sinned, the man born blind or his parents. The answer, of course, is that neither of them sinned. In explaining the passage, Cyril makes reference to an Old Testament passage that refers to God visiting “the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” He then describes the distorted view of some, who thought of God as bearing grudges and being severely wrathful. He suggests what it might mean for God to visit sins upon the third and fourth generations. In the end he justifies his view that the meaning of this passage does not contradict the idea of God being long-suffering and abundant in mercy.

The way Cyril uses Scripture to interpret Scripture and his tendency like others at that time to “interpret a given text in light of the overall sweep of God’s salvation” (xxii) is something to watch and enjoy. The latter differs from the emphasis today of discovering the original intent by looking at surrounding verses and historical context. Cyril does not ignore this; for him it’s step toward the goal of defining how a passage fits into the oikonomia, the technical term used for God’s plan of redemption. He repeatedly uses this word, which shows the centrality of it to his exposition.

This makes 12 volumes in the Ancient Christian Texts series, with five more projected. The related Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, differs in that you have multiple sources in one volume. Here you get a key early text that shaped the thought of Christians.

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