Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Mission, Dingaan, Worship, the Whole Person, and Resurrection

When I was in high school, my English teacher (God bless her) decided that we had to join that great South African tradition of studying only the most depressing films and books available. So we watched The Mission. The basic premise is that two Jesuit priests (Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro) establish a successful mission among a tribe of Paraguayan Indians, but then the Portuguese decide that they want their land and come to wipe the Indians out. Irons decides to die with them (being a committed pacifist), but De Niro (a former military man and slave trader) decides to fight to protect them. They both die, along with all their converts.

The tragic thing is that this story has been played out countless times, throughout the history of the church. It's not just a story. It's our story.

My little town is named after a Voortrekker who was murdered (essentially while lighting the proverbial peace-pipe) by the then Zulu king, Dingaan (if you've ever watched Pocahontas, Disney may have helped you acquire the necessary empathy to not judge the king too harshly. After all... he was right about what the Europeans would do in the end). The town also has a large German community (mostly the descendants of missionaries), and one of the oldest buildings in the town is a Swedish mission. The point is that everywhere that Cecil Rhodes, Hernan Cortez, Lord Mountbatten (and all the other colonial nutcases) went, the Lamb was also sure to go (if you'll allow me a little nursery rhyme reference).

One might say that it's a huge testament to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit that any of the colonized nations could receive the gospel through the thick layer of hypocrisy it came packaged in. On the other hand, one might say that the brand of good news that was purveyed to them did exactly what the European authorities hope it would. It produced a large, pliable (think of the Paraguayan Indians marching to their slaughter while singing hymns and carrying crosses) workforce, indebted to their European masters for rescuing them from their sins. It also provided an easy means of spreading the propaganda which maintained the status quo (the pulpit). A key aspect of this gospel-propaganda opiate was a doctrine of "I'll fly away, Oh glory!"
I'll fly away! Oh Glory!
I'll fly away!
When I die, hallelujah, bye and bye
I'll fly away! 
According to Wikipedia, this is one of the most recorded gospel songs in the history of the church:
According to interviews, Brumley came up with the idea for the song while picking cotton on his father's farm in Rock Island, Oklahoma. Brumley says that as he worked he was "humming the old ballad that went like this: 'If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly,' and suddenly it dawned on me that I could use this plot for a gospel-type song." The song Brumley described appears to be "The Prisoner's Song" It was an additional three years later until Brumley worked out the rest of the song, paraphrasing one line from the secular ballad to read, "Like a bird from prison bars has flown" using prison as an analogy for earthly life. Brumley has stated, "When I wrote it, I had no idea that it would become so universally popular."
It's song number 601 in the African American Heritage Hymnal. The theme of how "One glad morning, when this life is over, I'll fly away" is a common one in this hymnal.

The popularity of the nation of the escape of the ghost from the machine makes sense if you're a slave. Or the native of a colonized country. Or an addict at a rehab centre. Or a Paraguayan Indian being lead to the slaughter. 'Cause if we're all going to fly away one day and escape the prison that is an embodied life in a fallen world, to be an eternally comforted soul, seated forever in heavenly places with Christ, then my suffering is only temporary and ultimately meaningless. Then we should all sing along:

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.
Sometimes I'm up, and sometimes I'm down,
(Coming for to carry me home)
But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
(Coming for to carry me home)
The brightest day that I can say,
(Coming for to carry me home)
When Jesus washed my sins away.
(Coming for to carry me home)
If I get there before you do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
I'll cut a hole and pull you through.
(Coming for to carry me home)
If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I'm coming too.
(Coming for to carry me home)

However, if we are not going to fly away as liberated souls, but be raised up as glorified bodies to live in resurrection power in the New Jerusalem, in which our Lord has come to make his dwelling in the (newly perfected) dust among his children, then what happens in the body matters. And we should be singing resurrection songs.

We should be singing with John Mark McMillan:

Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity
On the lips of the found
And gravestones roll
To the rhythm of the sound of you
Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity
On the lips of the found
So separate those doors
And let the son of resurrection in.

Oh let us adore the
Son of Glory drenched in love
Open up your gates before him
Crown Him, stand Him up

We want your blood to flow inside our body
We want your wind inside our lungs
We just wanna' love you
We just wanna' love you 

His albums are full of resurrection themes. But his songs are generally a little inaccessible to the average worshipper. So we sing "I can only imagine" by Casting Crowns instead. After all, it's easier, and it was on the Billboard top 100 charts for 16 weeks. And I don't think John will ever get there. So that's that.

Monday, 14 July 2014

What is the Biblical View of Man?

What do we mean by 'Biblical'? Most people's concept of something being biblical is simply that it is mentioned in the Bible. But of course, this is stupid. By this definition, we would have to take everything from polygamy and genocide (Genesis and Joshua), to Behemoths and Leviathans (Job) to existential despair and slavery (Ecclesiastes and Philemon) as biblical, and we are back where we began. Because words like 'spirit' and 'soul' are used in the Bible, does that mean that they exist as empirically verifiable and separate entities?

Dennis Bratcher (writing from the perspective of Wesleyan theology) makes some rather bold statements on the subject:
"Finally, however, from the perspective of Scripture itself, the whole di- or tri-chotomous idea is not a very good conceptual category for talking about God’s work with human beings. Even though it was used extensively in the Early Church and has been popularized in some circles today, it is not a category used in Scripture.  That simply says that it is not a category that reflects how the ancient Israelites, or even by and large NT writers, conceptualized human beings. It comes largely from Greek philosophy, which begins with some very basic assumptions about the nature of ultimate reality and therefore addresses conceptual issues that lie outside the range and concern of most biblical thought as well as the biblical message (which is focused on "salvation" issues, not questions of ultimate reality)."
 And again, later:
"The Hebraic view that dominates Scripture does not conceptualize human beings this way. There is only a whole person animated (alive) by the breath of God. They are either alive, and have breath (same word translated as "spirit"), or they are dead and do not have breath. The biblical writers could certainly distinguish between different aspects of humanity, such as the difference between thought and hunger, or between pain and love, but never developed dualistic notions of a person being made up of divisible parts. The person was the whole. Anything less than the whole, was not a person. This extended even to how they conceptualized death. For us, it is a biological fact. For them, anything that diminished life was a form of death. All this says, from the biblical view there cannot be a person without a body. That’s why the biblical conception of afterlife requires a bodily resurrection that has a physical dimension, including scars!"

He points out that the word translated as 'soul' in Hebraic scripture (Nephesh) means many things, but none of them are what the English word means now. None of them are a category of being. None of them signify a distinct part of the whole person. Similarly, the word often translated as 'spirit' (ruach) has nothing to do with the parts of a person. It is used to signify the fact of being alive.

Both of these terms are often employed in two common Hebraic literary or poetic devices: parallelism and synecdoche. Parallelism involves repeating the same idea several times (with slight variation) for emphasis. Synecdoche involves referring to a part of a thing when you are really talking about the whole.
Hebrew has a tendency to describe the whole by referencing parts of the whole. "Strong right arm" is a way to refer to the overall strength or power of a person. "From Dan to Beersheba" is a way to reference the entire land of Israel, from far north to south. "David" is a way to talk about the Israelite monarchy. Second, Hebrew has a tendency to string together two or more complementary images for poetic effect or emphasis. That is, the same idea is repeated with a series of words that mean the same thing. This is especially evident in poetic passages, and is termed parallelism . For example, in Psa 19:1, there are 2 pair of parallel lines in which the words of the paired lines mean essentially the same.

The implication of these features is that a series of words, such as "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might" (Deut 6:4), is not an attempt to describe different aspects or compartments of human beings, but is a way to say "with all of your being," with the whole person. They are not "parts," as in a trichotomous view, but an emphatic way for an element to stand for the whole, and for a series of parallel terms to emphasize a point.
The point is that just because the Bible uses the words 'spirit' and 'soul', this does not mean that saying we have a 'spirit' and 'soul' is biblical.

Another theologian who tackles our subject is Dr Ladd.

The contrast between the Greek and Hebrew views of God and the world is reinforced further by the Old Testament anthropology. Hebrew man is not like the Greek man — a union of soul and body and thus related to two worlds. He is flesh animated by God's breath (ruach), who is thus constituted a living soul (nephesh) (Gen. 2:7; 7:22). Nephesh (soul) is not a part of man; it is man himself viewed as a living creature. Nephesh is life, both of men (Ex. 21:23; Ps. 33:19) and of animals (Prov. 12:10). If nephesh is man as a living creature, it can be used for man himself and indicate man as a person,106 and also become a synonym for "I," "myself."107 By an easy extension, nephesh is man seen in terms of his appetites and desires (EccI. 6:2, 7) or in terms of his emotions or thoughts (Hos. 4:8; Ps. 35:25; Gen. 34:8; Ps. 139:14; Prov. 19:2).

If nephesh is man's life, it can be said to depart at death (Gen. 35:18; I Kings 17:21) or return if a person revives (I Kings 17:22). If the nephesh stands for man himself, it can be said that his nephesh departs to the underworld or sheol at death (Pss. 16:10; 30:3; 94:7). However, the Old Testament does not conceive of disembodied souls existing in the underworld after departing from the body, as do Homer and other early Greek writers.108 The Old Testament does not see souls in sheol, but shades (rephaim), which are a sort of pale replica of man as a living creature.109 These shades are not altogether different from Homer's souls in Hades, and both represent a common conviction of natural theology, namely, that death is not the end of human existence, but that life in its fullness must be bodily life.

So, for Dr Ladd, this is the biblical view of man:

Man is God's creature; creation is the realm of God's constant activity; and God makes himself known and speaks to men in the ebb and flow of history. Man is not a bipartite creature of the divine and human, of soul and body; in his total being he is God's creature and remains a part of creation. Therefore the redemption of man and the redemption of creation belong together. Salvation consists of fellowship with God in the midst of earthly existence and will finally mean the redemption of the whole man together with his environment.

I agree with him and I think I'm happy to move on from this question now. So that's that.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Why Does it Matter? Some Questions in Support of Monochotomy?

These are the possibilities:

  1. Trichotomy: Human beings are composed of three distinct components: body, soul and spirit.
  2. Dichotomy: Human beings are composed of two distinct components: body and soul (here 'spirit' and 'soul' are two aspects of the same non-material component).
  3. Monochotomy: Human beings are composed of one component: a body (here 'soul' and 'spirit' may be thought of as God-given capacities of the body).

For the worship leader, does it matter which view you hold with? Yes, I think it does. Consider these questions (I should confess already that these are my questions and reflect my bias against trichotomy especially).

  • When you are trying to 'listen' to the Holy Spirit, what are you listing with? Are you listening with your spirit (common language in Pentecostal / Charismatic circles)? Or are you listening with your soul (is what you're feeling really the action of God on your emotions or your imagination?) Or are you listening with your body (not necessarily your sense organs, but through your whole body, by emotional response, physical sensations, or even memory recall?) Before you answer, think about what you actually experience in worship.

  • If you're reluctant to say that your experience of the Holy Spirit in worship is in your body, why are you reluctant? Do you believe that there is something inherently untrustworthy about your body? Do you believe your body is less 'spiritual' or more 'fleshly' than your soul? Is this a biblical and logical reluctance?

  • Does it matter what your body does in worship, or does God only 'look at the heart'? Is this a biblical and logical perspective?

  • When David says, "Awake my soul!" Is he talking to a part of himself that he has direct control over, or is he doing something more like John yelling at Garfield? Sort of a hopeful, dutiful (but ultimately pointless) nagging at our less than willing inner-selves. 

  • When we encourage the congregation to respond to the Spirit in worship and praise, what are we actually hoping that they will do, in real, practical terms? Is it something in their bodies, or their souls, or their spirits?

  • When we write music that is beautiful and exciting for worship, or words that are 'moving', what are we hoping to 'move'? Is it the same thing that moves when your team scores a goal, or when the hero of the story gives his life to save his family? Or is it something else?

I believe that we often discount the value of the body (brain-chemistry, et al.) in worship. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It's sacramental (if you like) in that it is through and in our bodies that we bless God in worship and it is through and in our bodies that God blesses us in worship. Our bodies are the only point of contact with God that we have. I think there is nothing more helpful to you, whether you're the worshipper or the worship leader, than to think of yourself in worship as being your body (brain-chemistry, hormones, psychoses, biases, emotional state, et al). It is your body that God graces with the spiritual capacity (whereby we are aware of Him) and it is your body that God graces with the soulful capacity (whereby we attribute meaning to the experience of worship).

I realise that saying we should treat ourselves as monochotomies in worship because its helpful may just be cheap pragmatism rather than biblical theology. It's a start though.

So be your body in worship, and I think that, for now, that's that.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Why Don't Worship Leaders Ask, "What then is Man?"

The debate between dichotomists, trichotomists and those theologians who hold one of various kinds of 'unity' views of man is an old one and is not likely to be resolved any time soon. The most likely reasons for the difficulty of coming to agreement are (as far as I can tell):
  1. Like many of our favourite topics to fight about, although man's nature is discussed throughout scripture, the exact nature of the composition of man is not described clearly anywhere in the Bible. This situation generally leads to a sort of theological cold war in which Christians in each camp hide behind high walls of systematised theology, minding their own business, but keeping a close eye on their neighbours, ready at any moment to drop their 'proof-text' bombs over the metaphorical wall. Like The Butter Battle Book by Seuss.
  2. This theology seems to be very connected. By this I mean that, if you hold one view above another, you will be compelled (we are warned by finger-wagging self-styled experts) to commit yourself to all the theology that follows from it. For example, Dr Yates (in his essay for the journal Evangelical Quarterly, The Origin of the Soul: New Light on an Old Question, 1989) seems to argue that if you hold with a unity view of man, you are committing yourself to materialism and unwittingly denying the possibility of resurrection from the dead (ye gads!) 
  3. Not Christians in general, but certainly more conservative evangelicals, have been wary of consulting evidence from science to fill in the gaps left by unclear scripture, especially regarding anthropology and psychology. This may be due to the way Ultra-Darwinists like Dennet or Dawkins (neither of whom seem to understand modern biology much, and religion at all) use arguments ostensibly 'from' anthropology to attack the faith. Of course it may not be their fault at all. It may be the fault of experiences with the Intelligent Design lobbyists, who love to threated Evangelicals with hell if they don't believe their 'science'. Or perhaps it's just because Christians have been lazy.
Regarding the first problem, I can only say that while we may have to concede with Augustine (On the Soul and its Origin) that no single doctrine of the soul or its origin can be proved by scripture, this does not mean that Scripture has nothing to say on the subject. We should at least take a gander.

Regarding the second problem, I can only say that it is specifically because this theology is so connected to other important doctrines (for my purposes, especially the theology and practice of worship and liturgy) that we should study it closely. It is my feeling that a lot of the reasons given for why we cannot hold a particular view are completely stupid (for want of a more charitable word).

Regarding the third problem, I can only say that we need to get over ourselves and grow up.

In conclusion, I can't find any good reason why worship leaders don't ask, "What then is man?" So I guess I'll have to do it.

So that's that.

PS: If you have no idea what I'm talking about, these diagrams should help:



Saturday, 28 June 2014

Broad Strokes

These are the major ideas / topics / questions that I will be pondering here:
  • The unity view of man versus the dichotomy and trichotomy views and how they affect worship theology and practice.
  • How important are emotions in worship? How important are physical sensations and stimuli? How important is our rational capacity?
  • If these are important to worship, should a worship leader plan liturgy that facilitates these aspects of the self in worship? Isn't this manipulative? On the other hand, isn't not doing so robbing us of more meaningful, God-blessing worship?
  • The idea of 'free-flowing', 'non-liturgical' worship. Is it a myth that we fool ourselves with, or is it an art that few of us ever learn?
  • More importantly, is said 'free-flowing', 'non-liturgical' worship (if it exists) actually better than planned liturgical worship? In what ways? Is it actually more prophetic? Is it more in keeping with human nature? Is it more pleasing to God because it is 'less rehearsed' and 'more honest'?
  • What should we make of the (apparently) modern evangelical term: "worship experiences". Is there such a thing, or are we creating humanist 'religious experiences' designed to tickle mankind's stimuli-response nature instead of facilitating communion with God? Maybe this isn't either/or at all?
  • What about the dangers of (and perhaps the need for) 'seeker-friendly' church services? Should a worship leader make worship easier for 'seekers' by eliminating possibly threatening language or practice from the liturgy, or not?

I'm sure there will be others that come to me. But for now, that's that.

What's the Point?

I guess that the best place to start is to say why I am writing this blog. There are really two reasons:

  1. I need a place where I can start writing down my thoughts and questions in a clear and coherent way as I work through the large body of reading that I have gotten together to prepare me for writing a master's thesis in theology. I really need to write about all the things that are bopping around in my head so that I can narrow and refine my research topic and thesis statement.
  2. More importantly, I love the internet for the way it connects people from very different walks of life. Evangelical liturgical theology (if there is such an animal) seems rather sparse. Writings by worship leaders in evangelical circles on the subject of worship tend to focus almost exclusively on what 'works' and what is 'biblical', rather than on the theology of worship per se. I have found that theologians from Reformed, Anglican and Roman Catholic backgrounds have had more to say than my Evangelical contemporaries. I am hoping to be proved both wrong and right by all the fantastic minds that (hopefully and rather miraculously) stumble onto this blog and broaden my understanding of worship theology.
So that's that.