Month: March 2010

Spot the difference

A brief moment of self-disclosure. A while back, I had a decent collection of Christian artists in my iTunes library, most of which were worship/praise songs–i.e. nearly all of the Passion albums, a fair amount of Vineyard songs, and a smattering of others from similar contexts. A few years later, I made the (tough) decision to delete all of these, and I did this for a number of reasons–ones that I will not get into right now. As a way of supplementing this loss, I added more particular Christian artists to the mix, ones that were not necessarily worship/praise related–i.e. Third Day, Jars of Clay, David Crowder (who might be an exception in some cases), Derek Webb, Rich Mullins, Casting Crowns, Grits (yes, I admit it), etc.

I now have just over 1600 tracks in my iTunes library.  In comparison to a friend of mine (Jake C.), that number is just getting started. Every now and again, I will shuffle the entire list and then just hit play as I carry on about my work. Given that there are over 1600 tracks and that it would take more than 13 days to listen to the entire library, I’m pretty much guaranteed two things: 1) I have no need to worry about repeating songs, and 2) I might hear something I haven’t heard in a long time. Recently, the second of these two occurred and I was quite surprised because it was a song (one from the worship/praise genre) I thought I deleted long ago.

The song was, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” by Delirious. It took me until the chorus of the song to realise what was playing. (I tend to have music playing as “white noise” while I work). So I started the song over to make sure I was hearing it right, and sure enough I was. At first I laughed because I thought it was deleted, but it clearly was not, and also because it brought back memories that have been long since forgotten. I then decided to listen to the song all the way through, mostly for nostalgia sake. As I did, I realised why I thought I deleted it, which is also mostly why I deleted all the others. Here’s the reason and I’m sorry for the crassness: it was annoyingly repetitive and had very little substance or meaning. Here are the lyrics (taken from this site):

Over the mountains and the sea,
Your river runs with love for me,
and I will open up my heart
and let the Healer set me free.
I’m happy to be in the truth,
and I will daily lift my hands:
for I will always sing of when
Your love came down. [Yeah!]

I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever. [Repeat]

Oh, I feel like dancing -
it’s foolishness I know;
but, when the world has seen the light,
they will dance with joy,
like we’re dancing now.

What the lyrics don’t tell you is that the chorus of “I could sing of Your love forever” is repeated after the final verse ad infinitum (or, until the desired affect is achieved in a worship service). Three things about these lyrics should be apparent–at least they are to me. First, singing that you could sing of God’s love forever is not the same thing as forever singing of God’s love; it’s merely repeating that you can do it. Second, and connected with the first, sheer repetition of something is a poor substitute for meaningful content. (That, and the repetition just gets old after the 100th time through). Third, and this is more of a question: isn’t the point of worship/praise to glorify God and not to describe meagre sentimentalities and modes of personal expression? Worship/praise is about God and what God has done, not how we feel about it. Or, put another way: worship/praise is about surrendering to God and doing the things that God would have us to do regardless of how we feel about it. This song would suggest the opposite.

Now, for the sake of contrast, consider the words (and content) to an old hymn:

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love

Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King

Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee;
Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold

Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise;
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasures store;
Take myself and I will be
Every, only, all for Thee

The difference(s): it’s primarily about God, it’s about full submission to God regardless of the cost; it’s about surrendering to God’s will and desires, again regardless of the cost; it speaks of theology lived out for the sake of God’s glory; and, more importantly (at least for me), it doesn’t have meaningless, incantation-like repetition. A large majority of modern worship/praise songs (though, certainly not all of them) are not any of these things; they tend to be about the individual and how the individual feels. That’s not what worship/praise is about.  The hymns of old, especially those from Martin Luther and Charles Wesley, are enormous windows through which we can see what it means to worship/praise God.

You (conveniently) forgot another option, Mr Baur

I have a (quasi-)monthly routine that makes sense to very few people.  For the majority of my working hours each month, I focus solely on my thesis research. At the end of this period the paper is submitted and then critiqued by my supervisors. During the interim between submission and critique, I will focus my time on something completely different, although it still requires research and writing. Often this means wrestling with thoughts and ideas that emerged during the thesis writing. Other times it means exploring something I consider to be quite difficult or controversial. Occasionally it means compiling notes and arguments for courses I will hopefully teach once I finish this program. This month has been an odd mixture of all these options. However, today I have been working on course notes for the Thessalonian Correspondence.

‘But wait a minute, Carl: one of the tags in this post is “Pastoral Epistles”; what does that have to do with notes for the Thessalonian Correspondence?’ Honestly: nothing; but researching criticisms against the latter from the always entertaining FC Baur led me to see something interesting about the former.  For those unaware, Baur is one of the leading minds behind New Testament criticism and the history of Christianity, and much of what he put into motion can still be seen at work today in modern criticism. Nearly axiomatic of Baur’s work is his divisions for the Pauline corpus, where he sees four undisputed letters (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Galatians), six dubious letters (Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Philemon), and three forgeries (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). If you want to see his arguments for these categories, check out volume 1 then volume 2 of his massive work on Paul. The impetus for this post comes from his arguments in 1.245-47.

Baur begins by noting the schematisation of canonical writings as offered by the church historian, Eusebius. (Why Baur didn’t use the one offered by Origen is certainly intriguing, but no matter). Essentially, Baur lifts the two categories of Eusebius–i.e. homologoumena (agreed upon) and antilegomena (not agreed upon, or contradictory to the norm)–and applies them to his divisions of Paul’s letters. For Baur, a chief test for authenticity (i.e. homologoumena) is unquestioned acceptance throughout history. The letters of Paul which pass this test are (conveniently) the ones mentioned in the ‘undisputed’ category above. By-passing the middle category of ‘dubious,’ Baur reveals his basic reasons for rejecting the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus)–all of which hang on one historical point: their exclusion from the Marcionite Canon.*

The Marcionite Canon is one of the first (if not the first) collection of New Testament writings, and this collection is believed to emerge from Marcion of Pontus c. 140 CE. Naturally, seeing that this canon is ostensibly the first collection of biblical writings, and because it contains other Pauline texts; certain questions and solutions must be considered for those writings not appearing in this particular canon. As Baur points out, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are three samples of texts not found in Marcion’s canon,** which prompts the question, ‘Why not?,’ to wit Baur provides three options or, solutions (see 1.247):

  1. the Pastoral Epistles were not written until after Marcion formed his canon, thus he would be justifiably ignorant of them
  2. the Pastoral Epistles were written prior to Marcion’s collection, but he was unaware of their existence, which suggests that they did not circulate as Pauline letters (otherwise, Marcion would know about them)***
  3. the Pastoral Epistles were written prior to Marcion’s collection, and Marcion did know them, but he considered them to be not from the hand of Paul, thus they were excluded from the Pauline corpus

However, there is a fourth option to consider that Baur conveniently overlooks: Marcion excluded the Pastoral Epistles from his canon not simply because he thought them to be from a hand other than Paul’s but because they theologically disagree with his own theological reading of Paul. After all, Marcion not only excluded the whole of the Old Testament for theological reasons but he also had no qualms about removing key passages from the undisputed letters of Paul for the same reason–i.e. they were in opposition to his theology. Moreover, Marcion’s decision to reject the Pastorals on theological grounds was not without precedent; Basilides and Tatian appear to have laid the foundation for this type of rejection. It would therefore seem that Marcion’s critique of Paul’s letters is not necessarily based on whether not Paul wrote them; instead, it appears to be based on theological ideas espoused within letters ostensibly written by Paul.

Baur’s conclusions about the Pastoral in general and their theological relationship to Marcion in particular reveal important clues for why he might have overlooked this fourth option. Baur maintains that the theology of the Pastorals is aimed directly at Marcionite gnosticism (1.249; cf. 2.100). This conclusion also necessarily rules out options 2 and 3, thus leaving option 1 as the only one that is viable. For Baur, based on his argument, the Pastorals have to be composed after Marcion and the establishment of Marcionite gnosticism. Naturally, a theological system needs time to develop and become problematic before a rebuttal to it can be given. Conveniently, this provides a composition period that accords well with Baur’s predetermined view that the Pastorals are not authentic Pauline letters (i.e. they are written later). If, however, Baur considered the possibility of the fourth option then his line of argument would not have been so easily and (quasi-)uncritically given. Moreover, Baur also overlooks the fact that the same early witnesses that attest to the authenticity of the undisputed letters are the same ones (and a few others) who attest to the authenticity of the Pastorals–a test of veracity that Baur stated to be crucial for these sorts of analyses.

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* I should say that Baur has other reasons for rejecting the Pastoral Epistles, which can be found in volume 2, pages 98-105. My concern in this post is what he says in volume 1, page 247.
** Admittedly, the Marcionite Canon only contains 10 of the 13 letters attributed to Paul.
*** The troubles with this line of argument should be obvious.

Quote to ponder

You pity the blind man who has never seen the light of day, the deaf man who has never heard the harmonies of nature, the mute who has never found a voice for his soul, and yet, under the specious pretext of decency, you will not pity that blindness of heart, deafness of soul and dumbness of conscience which turn the brains of poor, desperate [people] and prevent them, despite themselves, from seeing goodness, hearing the Lord and speaking the pure language of love and religion.

- Alexandre Dumas (fils), La Dame aux Camélias, 16

Umm, well, okay

My wife stumbled across something today that we both found disturbingly humorous.  On the website for a local pharmacy, which I will leave unnamed to protect the guilty, there is a category known as ‘Embarrassing’ (see below).  Naturally, the examples included in the category would be rather embarrassing in normal conversations.  But what really stuck us about this page was the very term used.  It was funny at first, but then it just became troublesome.  While political correctness tries not to step on the sensitivities of people and make them feel awkward, calling rather personal problems ‘embarrassing’ seems to be an insensitive choice of term and one that would only fuel the awkwardness.

For the record*

To the female University student at Tesco, digging into the back of your athletic trousers to scratch your butt while looking for food:  that’s just nasty.  Learn some basic manners and act your age; I expect that sort of behaviour from 5-year-olds (and even that’s pushing it).

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* Warning: I’m having an off-day today (i.e. massive head-ache), and I’m having an uncontrollable urge to be brutally honest.