Tomlin’s Gospel

At ponder anew, Jonathan Aigner writes a critique of Chris Tomlin. The criticism is fair, respectful, and thoughtful. I also agree with everything he has to say (which happens pretty frequently). He includes a reader response which argues that Tomlin’s music is justified by the thousands who have heard the gospel through his music.

This made me wonder what sort of gospel one gets from the music of Chris Tomlin. So, I took his most recent album, “Love Ran Red,” and reduced the lyrics to a creedal statement. The purpose of this distillation is to look at what Tomlin believes and whether this would actually count as “the Gospel.”

Here’s my creedal reduction:

I believe in God. To God be glory.

    The heavens worship at His throne,

    He is good, His love endures forever,

    He is the King of Kings and a Mighty Warrior,

    He is our shield and defender and will deliver us,

    His love comes like a flood,

         He fills up my heart and everything I’ve done is covered in grace,

    He came to me when I needed Him.,

    He died on the cross, broke the curse, and set me free,

     There is peace and healing at His table.

I believe in God the Father and His love at Calvary.

I believe in Jesus.

     He loves me. His love is greater than my sin and the grave.

     He is full of grace, power, kindness, wisdom, perfect peace, and righteousness,

     He came for me and I couldn’t run away.

     At the cross I surrender myself to Jesus and my sin is washed white.

I believe that when I worship I stand before the majesty of the throne of God.

I will feast at the table of the Lord.

Is this the gospel? Perhaps it’s better if more learned theologians make that decision. It seems to me that this album, which is based on the Psalms, expresses the Gospel in the language of American evangelicalism, which is what one would expect from an American evangelical. It’s very personal and involves surrendering to Jesus at the cross.

If I were to criticize Tomlin’s lyrics, it would be for his poor use of the English language and for his terrible poetry. I’m not an expert in poetry (I didn’t even realize I liked poetry until I was 29 years old), but even I can tell that this isn’t quality writing. Here are some examples:

The love of Jesus… is greater than all other thrones. 

His power in us, he is strength for the weak.

It’s coming like a flood, I’m dancing in the rain. 

Your love never changes, amazing.

My only hope, my everything. 

He loves me, He loves me, He loves me, He loves me, He is for me.

You alone the sovereign crown of royalty

Through troubled waters he won’t abandon.

The Father’s love at Calvary. My sin erased, my debt He paid. [Yes, the song actually says that. The word He is supposed to refer to Jesus in this song, but Tomlin never actually names the second person of the Trinity.]

There is such a great need for people who are skilled in poetry and theology to write new hymnody (I’m including all worship songs here as hymnody) for the church. May God bless Tomlin’s efforts. All the best to him.

Messiaen responds to his critics

“Those people who reproach me do not know the dogma and know even less about the sacred books…. They expect from me a charming, sweet music, vaguely mystical and above all soporific. As an organist I have been able to note the set texts for the office… Do you think that psalms, for example, speak of sweet and sugary things? A psalm groans, howls, bellows, beseeches, exults, and rejoices in turn.”

My Poor Choir

They didn’t know what was in store for them this year. I decided at the end of the last school year that I was unsatisfied with my ability to get a good choral tone out of school and adult choirs and that working on this aspect of my skill set would be a primary focus for me. To better understand the voice I’ve been taking private voice lessons all school year. I took voice lessons in my undergraduate years, but never took them seriously. At the time, anything that took me away from organ practice was a distraction to be completed in as little time as possible. But now that I’m actually taking this seriously, I’m really enjoying singing.

But my poor choir.

Stand up straight! Breathe! Support! Open your mouth! Sing on the vowels! Listen to each other! I need to hear your consonants!

I have been a lot harder on them this year, this semester especially. I’m asking them to improve their singing skills, which is a difficult task. I’m at my wits end as to how to get a proper [u] vowel out of them. I really hope they don’t quit on me.

But what is the purpose of the church choir anyhow? The norm at this time and place is that the church choir is a group of amateur volunteers. This means, in the vast majority of cases, that the performance level will be nowhere near that of a professional, semi-professional, or collegiate group. Since a good collegiate choir is the lowest level that the public will seek out and pay to hear perform, I think I can assert that people aren’t interested in listening to musical performances by volunteer church choirs. There are some notable exceptions, but these are definitely exceptions rather than the rule.

If the church choir isn’t performing music at an excellent level, then why have one? These four views of the church choir all give the ensemble value apart from musical excellence. There may be more, but I have encountered all of these:

1. Church choir as sacred singing club. 

Singing in a church choir is one of the healthiest things you can possibly do. It lifts up the spirit, exercises the mind, fosters community, allows for depth and understanding in one’s devotional life, and puts the worship of the Triune God onto the lips and into the hearts of choristers.

2, Church choir as song-leader. 

The primary purpose of the choir is to lead the congregation in the songs of the congregation. In this view, the singing of anthems, psalms, and motets is downplayed because these things are less important than leading the hymns.

3. Church choir as adult music education. 

The church choir gives adults the opportunity to learn how to sing. The choir director here is primarily a music educator, raising the level of music literacy in his or her parish. The performance of the choir in worship is similar to a middle school music concert; it’s a chance for those in the choir to share something they’ve learned with those who care about them.

4. Church choir as social club. 

The church choir talks through rehearsals, does not focus on musical excellence, but really wants to spend time together. I once accompanied a choir like this. They were terrible, but they had a great time being terrible together.

Music is an inherently good thing and has value apart from performance.  The quality of the music we present in worship, however, relates to how we view aesthetics, truth, and our God. This is the church musician’s dilemma; the tension between praising God with the best that we can offer and the desire to draw as many as possible into the joy that is making music in Christian community.

I will continue to push my choir to improve, but let’s hope their director doesn’t forget the tremendous meaning and value in the process along the way.

Hey, I have a blog

It’s been three years since I posted anything on this blog almost four years since it was really active. I never got into the habit of writing here after I moved and started a new job. In the past few years I also got a Master’s degree, and when you’re working full time and taking classes part-time you don’t have time for anything else. At least for the next few months I do have some time to write and ideas for posts. Maybe all three of my former readers will come back…

A new approach to musical catechesis

This is a test post for something we’re trying at my church. We’ll post these on our website in the near future, but I want to see how this posts online. This is designed for our Sunday school families. The idea is that you can access the hymn with text and audio online and spend just a few minutes learning a hymn and unpacking the great Christian teaching that goes with it. There will be one hymn uploaded each month and the kids are encouraged to memorize the featured stanza.

The Gifts Christ Freely Gives

Text by Richard C Resch  (used by permission)

Music by Charles J. Dale (public domain)

Stanza 1 –  Listen

The Gifts Christ Freely Gives

He gives to you and me

To be His Church, His Bride, 

His chosen, saved and free!

Saints blessed with these rich gifts

Are children who proclaim

That they were won by Christ

And cling to His strong name.

About

This hymn is about what we call the “means of grace”.  God uses His gifts of Baptism, Absolution, the Word, and the Lord’s supper to give us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Vocabulary

Saints – All believers in Christ

Proclaim – To say something important

Bible Verses

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Matthew 28:19

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:22-23

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life – John 6:68

“Take, eat; this is my body…Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood…” – Matthew 26

Application

Look for these means of grace during Sunday worship.  They will all be there at a communion service (Hint: The Sign of the Cross is a remembrance of our Baptism).

Going Further

Read each stanza of the hymn, then, for stanzas 2,3, and 5 look up the corresponding section in Luther’s Small Catechism and read it together.

 Full Audio and Text Listen

Special Thanks to Richard Resch for permission and to Katie Schuermann for singing.

Stanza 2
The gifts flow from the font

Where He calls us His own;

New life He gives that makes

Us His and His alone.

Here He forgives our sins

With water and His Word;

The triune God Himself

Gives pow’r to call Him Lord.

 

Stanza 3

The gifts of grace and peace

From absolution flow;

The pastor’s words are Christ’s

For us to trust and know.

Forgiveness that we need

Is granted to us there;

The Lord of mercy sends
Us forth in His blest care.

 

Stanza 4

The gifts are there each day

The holy Word is read;

God’s children listen, hear,

Receive, and they are fed.

Christ fills them with Himself,

Blest words that give them life,

Restoring and refreshing

Them for this world’s strife.

 

Stanza 5

The gifts are in the feast,

Gifts far more than we see;

Beneath the bread and wine

Is food from Calvary.

The body and the blood

Remove our ev’ry sin;

We leave His presence in

His peace, renewed again.

 

Stanza 6

All glory to the One

Who lavishes such love;

The triune God in love

Assures our life above.

His means of grace for us

Are gifts He loves to give;

All thanks and praise for His

Great love by which we live!

 

Evening and Morning

In our congregation’s hymnody, we’re trying to make an effort to sing hymns from the Trust and the Hope and Comfort sections in Lutheran Service Book. Last month we learned Paul Gerhardt’s hymn Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me. It’s surprising how many of these hymns are unfamiliar to our congregations, especially when you consider what wonderful hymns these really are. This Sunday, we get to sing Evening and Morning, also by the great Lutheran hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt. It’s a short, simple hymn of faith and trust and uses imagery that can be traced back to the Psalms.

 

Stanza 1:

Evening and morning, 

Sunset and dawning, 

Wealth, peace, and gladness, 

Comfort in sadness:
These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine!

Times without number, 

Awake or in slumber, 

Thine eye observes us, 

From danger preserves us, 

Causing Thy mercy upon us to shine.

 

The footnotes of Lutheran Service Book suggest Psalm 145 as a counterpart for this hymn, and we will start there:

8The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.

[The LORD is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.]
14The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

The Lord, our Father, provides us with all that we need to support this body and life (as we confess in the Small Catechism).  As we see in verse 8 of the Psalm, this is out of God’s mercy and love for us. He not only provides for us, He constantly watches over us to see that no harm befalls us, as Jesus says in Luke 12:

6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

 

Stanza 2:
Father, O hear me, 

Pardon and spare me; 

Calm all my terrors, 

Blot out my errors

That by Thine eyes they may no more be scanned. 

Order my goings, 

Direct all my doings;

As it may please Thee

Retain or release me; 

All I commit to Thy fatherly hand. 

 

We are fragile, sinful, weak, and easily frightened. Gerhardt here directs us to take our fears and worries to our Father.  God does calm our terrors, as we hear in 1 Peter 5:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

He also removes our sins that so that He can no longer see them, as is says in Psalm 103:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

God guides, directs, sustains, and forgives us out of love. There is simply nothing left to worry about concerning this life or the next. The confidence and trust this gives us is expressed in stanza 3.

Ills that still grieve me

Soon are to leave me;

Though billows tower, 

And winds gain power, 

After the storms the fair sun shows its face. 

Joys e’er increasing

And peace never ceasing;

These shall I treasure

And share in full measure

When in His mansions God grants me a place. 

 

Stanza 4:
To God in heaven

All praise be given!

Come, let us offer

And gladly proffer

To the Creator the gifts He doth prize. 

He well receiveth 

A heart that believeth; 

Hymns that adore Him

Are precious before Him

And to His throne like sweet incense arise. 

Our response to God’s gracious goodness to us is to praise Him, to say thank you, to shout the loud “Amen!” He is ready to receive a believing heart, and makes all believers His own children, as it says in John 1:

2But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Our praise does rise as a sweet incense to our God, as we pray in Psalm 141:

2Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,

   and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

What wonderful comfort from another great Gerhardt hymn! Thanks be to God!


Lord Jesus Christ, We Humbly Pray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit that I’ve always thought this hymn was about 300 years older and from a different continent than it actually is. It has such great, straightforward teaching of the Lutheran theology of Holy Communion that I always assumed that it was a German Lutheran reformation hymn when it fact it’s an American hymn written in 1910. In my defense, we do sing it to a German Lutheran tune from 1628. The author, Henry Jacobs was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1844. He attended Gettysburg-Lutheran seminary and later became a dean of the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia.

One of the things I love about the Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper is its simplicity. We simply believe what Jesus says. Our Lord says, “This is my body” and we agree. Perhaps this is part of what it means to have a child-like faith.

Let’s start with the actual words of Jesus, from Matthew 26:

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Now let’s compare this with stanza 1 and stanza 2:

Lord Jesus Christ, we humbly pray

That we may feast on You today;

Beneath these forms of bread and wine

Enrich us with Your grace divine. 

Give us, who share this wondrous food, 

Your body broken and your blood, 

The grateful peace of sins forgiv’n, 

The certain joys of heirs of heav’n. 

Why do we begin the hymn with humility? Because the Lord’s Supper is a meal for sinners in need of forgiveness. We need his pardon, peace, and forgiveness, and these are only given to us by His grace. We use the term “Means of Grace” for the sacraments, because in them God has attached His Word and promise to physical things such as simple bread and wine in order to give His grace and forgiveness to us. Because of the promise, we know that the second stanza is answered with a definite yes from our Lord. This wondrous food is His body and blood, we are forgiven, and we are heirs of heaven. We look forward to the day when we will feast with our Lord in the “Father’s kingdom”.

Stanza 3:

By faith Your Word has made us bold

To seize the gift of love retold;

All that You are we here receive, 

And all we are to You we give. 

What does it mean that we give Him all we are and receive all the He is? We could interpret this to mean that we just want to really give God all of our love and affection and praise during worship. But I think Jacobs is referencing what we call the “great exchange”.  This quote from Luther (from The Freedom of A Christian) helps to flesh out this idea:

Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph. 5:31-32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage – indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage – it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. 

Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his. If he gives her his body and very self, how shall he not give her all that is his? And if he takes the body of the bride, how shall he not take all that is hers? 

In Holy Communion we are united with Christ. He takes our sin, death, and damnation, and we receive His grace, life, and salvation.  We have nothing to give, we only receive His gifts.

Stanza 4:

One bread, one cup, one body, we, 

Rejoicing in our unity, 

Proclaim Your love until You come

To bring Your scattered loved ones home. 

This stanza comes from two places in 1 Corinthians. First, from 1 Corinthians 10:
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

And secondly, from 1 Corinthians 11:

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

We saw in the previous stanza that we are united with Christ. In this stanza, we see that this unity in Christ is also shared with one another, for we are the body of Christ. By participating in his holy sacrament together, we boldly proclaim His death and wait for Him to return and take us to the marriage feast.

 Stanza 5:

Lord Jesus Christ, we humbly pray;

O keep us steadfast till that day

When each will be Your welcomed guest

In heaven’s high and holy feast. 

The idea of the wedding feast is used in a couple of Jesus’ parables as well as the book of Revelation. The meal that we share together in this age is only a taste of the incredible feast that is to come. We pray something similar to stanza 5 in our communion liturgy. It’s the prayer of thanksgiving, and it’s a very dense prayer, but only because it is so full of riches. This is the second part.

Gathered in the name and the remembrance of Jesus, we beg You, O Lord, to forgive, renew, and strengthen us with Your Word and Spirit. Grant us faithfully to eat His body and drink His blood as He bids us do in His own testament. Gather us together, we pray, from the ends of the earth to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. Graciously receive our prayers; deliver and preserve us. To You alone, O Father, be all glory, honor, and worship, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen 

To recap our five short stanzas; we poor sinners come to God’s sacrament of Holy Communion, we give Him our sin and death and receive His life and salvation through His true body and true blood, we are united with Him and with the body of Christ, and we are strengthened to continue, looking forward to the day when all will be united with Christ at His great wedding feast.  Amen.