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(16 posts)

Indulge Me in a Rant

Friday··2007·09·07 · 9 Comments
We will return with our regularly scheduled edification after this brief rant: I recently had a conversation that went something like this: Local insipid, soulless, Christian radio station: Give your praise to the Lord / Come on everybody / stand up and sing one more / hallelujah / Give your praise to the Lord / I could never tell ya [sic] / just how much good that it’s / gonna [sic] do ya [sic] . . . Me: Man, that is one annoying, stupid song. Annoying person singing along: What’s wrong with this song? Me: Where shall I start? OK, first, the melody, if you can call it that. It sounds like it was written by an asthmatic who can only sing two measures before stopping to gasp for air. But that’s not the worst of it. The words are horrible. APSA: So, you’re against praising the Lord, now? Me: Not at all, but if you’re praising the Lord because of how much good it’s going to do you, you’re not really praising the Lord. You’re practicing self-help therapy. APSA: You’re so picky. Me: [Sigh . . .] I can’t stand it. Discernment is out. Ignorant enthusiasm is in. According to a scientific study I am about to make up, 92.7% of American Evangelicals don’t know Paul of Tarsus from Paul McCartney. They don’t know Simon Barjonah from Paul Simon. They think John Bunyan needed a podiatrist, and that Polycarp & Spurgeon are fish. If Christian radio is a fair representation of Evangelicalism at large—and, according to the study cited above, it is—then Evangelicalism is a dead movement, utterly bankrupt theologically and intellectually brain-dead. If there was a convention for truly artistically gifted CCM performers, all the participants could ride in one car. If all the Christian broadcasters who are able to distinguish John MacArthur from Joyce Meyer had a party, they couldn’t get up a Bridge game. If all the Christian publishers who know the difference between John Owen and John Eldredge went to the gym, they couldn’t field a basketball team*. If . . . [Sigh . . .] * I suppose “field” is the wrong word here. If all the bloggers who know anything about sports had a party, I wouldn’t be invited.

Christmas Music

Wednesday··2007·11·21 · 10 Comments
I was what “the best Christmas albums ever” are, and particularly, which Messiah production, and why? So these are my recommendations. I haven’t listened to many different Messiah productions, but of those I have, I like this one best. Why? I just do. I’m not aficionado enough to go into all the nuances of nuance—“Well, it has a robust bouquet and tantalizes the palate with hints of elderberry and currants”—I just like it best. I’m in need of some new Christmas music myself. These are probably not “the best Christmas albums ever,” but here are some of my favorites: Christopher Parkening & Kathleen Battle, Angels’ Glory. I believe the sopranos in Heaven’s choir sound like Kathleen Battle, and Christopher Parkening’s guitar rivals any angel’s harp. Maybe I exaggerate. Or maybe not. Dallas Brass, Christmas Brass. I’m sure there are other Christmas brass albums equal to or better than this (like this one by the Westminster Brass, for example), but I’ve got this one, and I like it. Joni Eareckson Tada, John MacArthur, Robert & Bobbie Wolgemuth, O Come, All Ye Faithful. This is one of four hymn albums done with The Master’s College Choral. Each comes with a hardcover book of historical sketches and meditations on the hymns it contains. Joni Eareckson Tada & Bobbie Wolgemuth, Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart. Similar to the previous album, this is one of four, also accompanied by a hardcover book. These are some of the best children’s productions I’ve heard. Charlotte Church, Dream a Dream. I like this one in spite of the Ave Maria. California Guitar Trio, Christmas Album. This one is fun for anyone who likes the guitar. It includes a couple of stupid songs, but since it’s all instrumental (nobody sings) they’re still enjoyable. Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song. He’s Nat King Cole. Need I say More? This man sang. Not like what commonly passes for singing in pop music today. No moaning, groaning, whining, growling, yelling, screaming, . . . Just clear singing with the beautiful voice God gave him. And enunciation! He obviously believed vowels and consonants had fixed phonetic values. So do I, because they do. However, to prove I’m not completely rigid in my standards, I also like: Stan Boreson & Doug Setterberg, Yust Go Nuts at Christmas. If you weren’t raised among early twentieth-century second and third-generation Scandinavian-Americans as I was, you probably can’t appreciate this one. You’ll probably just think it’s stupid. Well, actually, it is stupid. Here’s a sample. Do you have any recommendations for me?

Random Thoughts

Tuesday··2008·05·20 · 2 Comments
Economist and syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell occasionally titles his columnRandom Thoughts. If you’ve read those columns, please lower your expectations several degrees before continuing. These are just a few things that have crossed my mind in the past week or so. Some are thoughts inspired by conversations, others are just the fruit of a wandering mind. On singing: Rebecca shared a nice hymn on Sunday, complete with a performance of said hymn by Fernando Ortega. She commented that it was “one of the few versions I could find that was not sung in a breathy female voice.” She almost set me off on my own list of irritations with popular singers, but I saved it for you. Rebecca already mentioned breathy (kiss me, baby!) singing. I’ll add: growling, whining, moaning, groaning, panting, yelling, screaming, and any other vocal affectation. Please—sing with the voice God gave you. It might not be a great one, but trust me, it’s better than the one you’re faking. My most hated musical crime is poor enunciation. I’m not referring to the careless kind, although that’s bad enough. I mean the intentional kind, in which the singer pronounces words in ways he never would if he was speaking, because it’s cool. Come on, people. Get Hooked on Phonics. A serious offender on both counts (this is one of those “wandering mind” segments) is Bob Dylan. Some say he can’t sing, but we’ll never know; we’ve never heard him try. I’d call what he does a combination of whining and moaning. And he obviously has no respect for phonics. His fans, if any are reading this, are thinking, “Yeah, but man, can he write. He’s a brilliant lyricist.” Yeah, whatever; I’ve got some poems I wrote when I was in 9th grade and in “love” with a gorgeous 8th grade blonde that might impress you, too. There is no male gender, nor female. Male and female are not genders; they are sexes. Gender is described as masculine or feminine. How do you pronounce evangelical? Most say “ēvangelical”; some say “ĕvangelical.” As I’ve observe who says what, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s those uppity guys with “Dr.” in front of their names who use the latter pronunciation. The rest of us are right, but will never be published. Every time I go out, I see people, including adults, wearing sweats—in public. What is wrong with these people? It really is a sign of societal decay when people are more concerned with being comfortable than presentable. For my part, if I meet you in a public place (not a gym or a jogging path), and you are wearing sweats, I’ll assume you can’t be trusted with serious responsibility. After all, you didn’t even manage to get dressed before leaving the house. No wonder your kid can’t wear his cap straight or pull up his pants. Sometimes I don’t understand my wife. The other day, she told me a story that was supposed to be funny, about a Norwegian who, overcome with emotion, confided in a friend: “I love my wife so much, I almost told her.” What’s funny about that? I thought it was touching.

A Musical Interlude

I listened to Christopher Parkening all day yesterday. I thought I would share a little with you.

Christmas Favorites

Thursday··2008·12·25 · 3 Comments
These are a few of my favorite Christmas hymns. They are lesser known than many others, which may be part of their appeal to me. I am pretty sure I have never sung them in a worship service. Links open videos in popup windows. In the Bleak Midwinter Text: Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894 Music: Gustav Holst, 1874-1934 Tune: Cranham Meter: Irregular In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago. Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshiped the beloved with a kiss. What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can give him: give my heart. Of the Father’s Love Begotten Text: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-405) Music: Plainsong, 13th century Tune: Divinum Mysterium Meter: Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He, Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore! At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done: Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one; All that grows beneath the shining Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore! He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know, That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe, May not henceforth die and perish In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore! O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace, By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race; And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore! This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord; Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word; Now He shines, the long expected, Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore! O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing; Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King! Let no tongue on earth be silent, Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore! Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live, On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive; Who at last in vengeance coming Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore! Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing; Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering: Let their guileless songs re-echo, And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore! Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee, Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be: Honor, glory, and dominion, And eternal victory, evermore and evermore! I Wonder as I Wander Text: Appalachian carol Music: John Jacob Niles Tune: I Wonder as I Wander Meter: Irregular I wonder as I wander out under the sky, How Jesus the Savior did come for to die. For poor orn’ry people like you and like I; I wonder as I wander out under the sky. When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall, With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all. But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall, And the promise of ages it then did recall. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing, A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing, Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing, He surely could have it, for he was the King. Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming Text: German carol, 16th century Music: Geistliche Kirkengesäng, Cologne, 1599; harmonized by Michael Prætorius Tune: Es Ist Ein’ Ros’ Meter: Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung, Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung. It came, a flow’ret bright, amid the cold of winter, When half-spent was the night. Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind; With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior, When half-spent was the night. The shepherds heard the story, proclaimed by angels bright, How Christ, the Lord of glory, was born on earth this night. To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found him, As angel heralds said. This flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness ev’rywhere. True man, yet very God; from sin and death he saves us And lightens ev’ry load. O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe; O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know, Bring us at length, we pray, to the bright courts of heaven And to the endless day. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence on the cor anglais (English horn) and organ, the guitar, and a rather unusual chorale arrangement Tune: Picardy Meter: Let all mortal flesh keep silence, And with fear and trembling stand; Ponder nothing earthly minded, For with blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, Our full homage to demand. King of kings, yet born of Mary, As of old on earth He stood, Lord of lords, in human vesture, In the body and the blood; He will give to all the faithful His own self for heavenly food. Rank on rank the host of heaven Spreads its vanguard on the way, As the Light of light descendeth From the realms of endless day, That the powers of hell may vanish As the darkness clears away. At His feet the six wingèd seraph, Cherubim with sleepless eye, Veil their faces to the presence, As with ceaseless voice they cry: Alleluia, Alleluia Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Pre-Post on Music

Monday··2009·03·30 · 2 Comments
I had a conversation with a legalist on music last week. It didn’t go very well. I’m really not very good at verbal communication. I do much better in writing (which should give you some idea of just how bad I am in person), so I thought I would put my thoughts on subject in writing. I rattled off a post on the subject last night for posting this morning, but it seems to have disappeared during the night. I’ll try to reconstruct it sometime this week. In the mean time, since my practice of listening to secular music is what sparked the controversy, I’ll leave you with some food for thought from Paul Simon. Leaves That Are Green I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song I’m twenty-two now but I won’t be for long Time hurries on And the leaves that are green turn to brown And they wither with the wind And they crumble in your hand Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl I held her close, but she faded in the night Like a poem I meant to write And the leaves that are green turn to brown And they wither with the wind And they crumble in your hand I threw a pebble in a brook And watched the ripples run away And they never made a sound And the leaves that are green turn to brown And they wither with the wind And they crumble in your hand Hello hello hello hello Good-bye good-bye good-bye good-bye That’s all there is And the leaves that are green turn to brown

Music and Legalism

Friday··2009·04·03 · 4 Comments
This Monday, I promised a post on music and legalism. This is it. I listen to quite an eclectic variety of music. This caused offense to a certain legalist I know, and so, since I’m better in writing than in person, and since I can write without being rudely interrupted, you are now the recipients of this post. My favorite music, which I’m convinced is nearest thing on earth to what will be played in heaven, is from the late baroque period. Handel and Bach will no doubt head up celestial music department. If you disagree, well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re going to feel awfully silly when (or should I say if?) you get there and learn the truth. But that’s only a narrow slice of my listening range. A look at my mp3 library yields the following names: Bach Bartók Beethoven Brahms Chopin Copland Debussy Grieg Handel Liszt Mendelssohn Monteverdi Morricone Mozart Pérotin Puccini Rachmaninoff Ravel Rodrigo Schütz Schubert Schumann Sibelius Tchaikovsky Verdi Villa-Lobos Vivaldi Andrea Bocelli California guitar Trio Charlotte Church Christopher Parkening Earl Klugh Enrico Caruso Jake Shimabukuro John Williams José Carreras Josh Groban Mario Lanza Milva Plácido Domingo Sissel Kyrkjebø Yo-Yo Ma Aretha Franklin B. B. King Bill Withers Count Basie Dean Martin Harry Connick, Jr. Louis Armstrong Lyle Lovett Mills Brothers Nat King Cole Percy Heath Perry Como Ray Charles Sam Cooke Tony Bennett Wynton Marsalis Chet Atkins Dillards Dwight Yoakam Gene Autry George Jones Gordon Lightfoot Hank Snow Hank Williams Jimmie Dale Gilmore Jimmie Rodgers Jimmy Buffet Johnny Cash Lynn Anderson Marty Robbins Randy Travis Roy Clark Slim Whitman Tennessee Ernie Ford America Bachman-Turner Overdrive Beach Boys Beatles Boston Carly Simon Deep Purple Dire Straits Doobie Brothers Don McLean Dr Hook Edgar Winter Eagles Elvis Presley Eric Burdon Fabulous Thunderbirds George Thorogood Huey Lewis J Geils Band Jimmy Buffet Joe Walsh José Feliciano Neil Young Simon & Garfunkel Steve Miller Band Stevie Ray Vaughan Stray Cats Three Dog Night ZZ Top That’s just a partial listing of the classical and pop sections, without going into the religious end. You will notice I don’t say Christian (or sacred) music, but religious. That is because I object to the separation of the sacred and secular. All things are under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and no exceptions; but only redeemed souls are Christian. Things and activities are not Christian. Under the umbrella of the lordship of Christ exist both the secular and religious. Both exist for the glory of God. Here is where the legalist said, “There is no way secular music glorifies God,” to which I am inclined to answer that everything and everyone glorifies God, but not necessarily in a positive way. But I know what he means. He is thinking that only specifically religious expressions can glorify God in a positive way. For the person who is determined that this is true, it’s nearly impossible to convince them otherwise; so I’m not going to try. I’m just going to proceed as though, as any reasonable person knows, it is not. After all, if we are going to forbid secular music, are we also going to forbid all other forms of secular media? What about movies? I don’t know how many times I could stand watching Fireproof Should our wall hangings be limited to Thomas Kinkade and the like? God help us! But that is where this thinking leads us. What I am going to do is answer this question: Are there any limitations on what we should listen to? Yes, absolutely, and before I’m finished, you might think I’m the legalist. My legalist friend was annoyed at my secular listening habits, but what really caused his apoplexy was my “double standard”: I hold religious music to a different standard than secular music. I hold this double standard for both lyrics and music. What follows will be an attempt to explain my basis for judging these things. It is not my intention to lay out any rules, but only to offer for your consideration my attempts at being a discerning listener. I am going to deal first with lyrical content, and then with musical composition. Next Monday . . .
. . . a few scenes from next weeks program: The Cathedrals Marty RobbinsIn other news, after a weeks absence, Ive returned to posting On the Web links.

My Musical Double Standard

Monday··2009·04·06 · 7 Comments
This is the conclusion to a post began last Friday. I suggest you read that first, if you haven’t already, as this will make even less sense if you don’t than it will if you do. As I concluded, or rather, didn’t conclude, last week, I have a double standard when judging music. I have one standard for secular music, and one for religious, or sacred, music. This double standard is applied to both music and lyrics. As you read, I ask you to remember my penultimate sentence last time: “It is not my intention to lay out any rules, but only to offer for your consideration my attempts at being a discerning listener.” Lyrics It goes without saying that blasphemous or obscene lyrics have no place in a Christian’s music library. It goes without saying because such things are repulsive to those who love God. Christians don’t need to be told that, because it just comes naturally. But that’s as much law as I’m willing to state on lyrics in general. But here comes my double standard. Religious lyrics must be true and reverent. Theology must be accurate. If you’re going to sing about God, get it right. Secular music can be less precise. It can even be silly. In fact, a lot of the secular music I listen to is silly. But I will not tolerate silliness in singing about or to God. Tangent 1: Until someone can make good sense of Days of Elijah, I won’t sing it. Until I actually “hear the brush of angel’s wings,” I won’t say I do. And if the words “yes lord yes lord yes yes lord yes lord yes lord yes yes lord yes lord yes lord yes yes lord amen” ever cross my lips, I hope someone has the good sense to put me away where I can’t hurt myself. Music I don’t believe music is neutral. I think those who insist it is are being obtuse, and I’d like to come to their house and lullaby their children to sleep with a few numbers by John Phillip Sousa. Music arouses an emotional response. A lullaby produces a different reaction than a military march. Do we really need this explained to us? If we acknowledge that different types of music arouse different emotions, we must also acknowledge that some music will arouse bad emotions. Can we really believe that heavy metal, punk, and emo (or who-knows-what is the newest fad of the angst-filled) have no connection to the messed up minds of those who listen to them? Of course they do. But as you saw in the partial play list previously presented , I don’t come from the Bill Gothard school of Piano Onlyism. And I don’t want to make a list of good vs. bad music, not even if I could do so infallibly. Some of these things are obvious, some less obvious, but each of us have to discern them for ourselves, and humbly remember our own fallibility. Music should fit the lyrics. Some music is happy, some is sad. Some is sober, some frivolous. The accompaniment for a joyful song like Wonderful Grace of Jesus would not be appropriate for a somber hymn such as O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. That would be absurd in the extreme, and irreverent. An inappropriate tune can be as bad as silly lyrics. It can destroy the message of the song. Now we come again to my double standard. With secular music, sometimes the inappropriateness of the tune adds to the entertainment value. This is, of course, entirely subjective, and reflects my weird sense of humor. I think it’s hilarious to hear Marty Robbins singing Knee-deep in the Blues. The happy tune and smiling face (on video) juxtaposed onto the lyrics, “My life just don’t seem worth livin’, and it’s been this way for years,” just cracks me up. In general, melody should match lyrics. Even in secular music, it makes no sense otherwise. But an occasional departure from the rule can be harmless and fun. Now my double standard gets serious. Some musical forms which may be good for secular music are inappropriate for sacred music. Some forms are just too entertainment-oriented. They cannot be taken seriously. I’m not going to name what they might be. That would take us down a side-road that I don’t care to travel just now. I would rather just suggest the principle to you and let you think it through on your own. If I did make a list, it would include some genres of which I’m unsure. For example, I tend to think Jazz is generally not fitted for sacred music. I’m convinced that some sub-genres of Jazz are definitely wrong for it. On the other hand, Louis Armstrong singing Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego seems just perfect. So I’m not claiming to have developed an exact science, nor do I even want to. Tangent 2: I don’t believe all music that is acceptable in general is appropriate for a worship service. I wouldn’t invite the late Satchmo to play “Shadrach” on Sunday morning. But that’s another subject. The “Rules” I’ve made two rules for myself: First, enjoy the music. God has given talent to believers and unbelievers alike. The display of those talents brings glory to him, and so should bring joy to me. Second, don’t listen promiscuously. I rarely just turn on the radio and listen to whatever plays. That includes “Christian” radio. Maybe especially “Christian” radio. In the age of the mp3, it’s easier than ever to exercise control over our listening. When I buy a CD, I load only the tracks I want onto my hard drive, and forget the rest. When I download music, I seldom buy complete albums. There are many artists in my library who are only represented by one, two, or a handful of tracks. I think we can all agree on those two rules. How we each apply them to our own practice will vary, and we ought to be humble and charitable toward one another. And that is that. I don’t think I dare say much more without risking becoming the legalist who inspired me to write on this topic in the first place.

The Worst of Christmas

I don’t know, but this abomination by Bob Dylan could be the worst Christmas performance of all time: Worst or not, I don’t think it’s the most annoying. That distinction goes to Paul McCartney. If I was Jack Bauer, and I wanted to beat some intel out of the Fat Man, I’d stick him in a room and play this repeatedly: I know I’d crack by about the third time through. By the fifth, I’d sell out anyone. And it’s no more charming performed by puppets. McCartney apparently built upon his previous experience of annoying Christmas songs with the Beatles: It’s enough to make my inner curmudgeon mumble, “Humbug!”

Just be thankful it’s not Feliz Navidad

Is it too early to start playing Christmas music? I played a little yesterday. I just wanted to be the first to post that this year. If you’ve looked for an original Looney Tunes animation of this song—and who hasn’t?—you know it can’t be found. That’s because it was never a Looney tunes bit. That’s right, it’s a fraud. According to one source, it was “recorded by North Carolina disc jockey Denny Brownlee. When he was threatened by Warner Brothers with a lawsuit, the song was re-released and attributed to ‘Seymour Swine and the Squealers.’” I figured as much. Everyone knows that stutterers don’t stutter when they sing.

On the Third Day of Christmas

Tuesday··2011·12·27 · 1 Comments
Today I finally learned what the Twelve Days of Christmas are. In case you care, they begin with Christmas Day, and end with Epiphany on January 5th. And, as you know, they have their own song.

Things That Amuse Me at Christmas

Because you want it . . .

Home from the Forest

Wednesday··2013·09·18 · 6 Comments
Monday, I tweeted about going to my first concert in almost thirty years since I went to see Steve Camp (give me a break, the ticket was free) back in nineteen eighty-something. On further recollection, it turns out that wasn’t true. My wife and I, back in the halcyon days of pre-parenthood, saw Michael Card and John Michael Talbot in concert (the latter remembered primarily for its excessive length and tediousness). Those were both more than twenty years ago, so perhaps you can extend a little grace for my befogged memory. So last night, we attended our first concert in more than twenty years, and were kept up past our bedtime, leaving me with somewhat abridged mental capacity this morning. Back in the day, as they say, I got up the next morning somewhat tired. Today, I am bone weary, leaving me with neither desire nor ability to produce anything. Blame Gordon Lightfoot who, judging by his tour schedule, must possess considerably more puissance than I—and that at seventy-five years old. I figure he owes me a blog post. The concert was outstanding, by the way. The first hour was mostly songs I had never or seldom heard before. The second hour opened with Sundown, included several of his bigger hits (including those below), and closed with Canadian Railroad Trilogy. On the way home, I suggested to my wife that we become Gordon Lightfoot groupies and follow him around for the remainder of the tour, but she apparently has different priorities. Go figure women. 1969 1974 2000

When I Was Your Age

Yes, I know any past “golden age” had problems of its own, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look back and say some things were better—Sunday School music, for example. I don’t know what is being taught in your church—or mine, for that matter, not having had small children in Sunday School for several years—but the little I hear, as the sage says, “ain’t like it used to be.” Here is an example of what wise teachers of the past taught to sweet, adorable children like me. That’s how I learned it. Here’s another version. It should be acknowledged that I also learned some lame, stupid stuff like this: Which reminds me of Ralph Hudson’s inexplicable late addition to Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed“ (”At the Cross”): At the cross, at the cross, Where I first saw the light, And the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, And now I am happy all the day!* So we see, stupid is not new. I just hope someone is still teaching the kids something worth singing. * See why I don’t like this chorus, and the children’s song above, here.

An Explanation: Why I Don’t Like “At the Cross”

I should have expected this: I’ve been asked why I don’t like “At the Cross,” a popular version of Isaac Watts’ “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” with a chorus tacked on. In this post, I will answer that question. Let me be clear on this: I love the Watts hymn as he wrote it, but I have three objections to this chorus. I’ll begin with the least before moving on to two important criticisms. I’m not a fan of added choruses and so-called bridges. If you think you can write a better song, then have at it, but show some respect and don’t mess with another author’s work. I’m also not usually in favor of updating the language of old hymns. In most cases, your congregation is smart enough to understand a simple explanation of an archaic word or phrase, and it’s better to do that than risk violating the author by changing his meaning, e.g., “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” does not mean “Here I raise my voice to heaven.” As usual, there are exceptions, Watts’ twelve (by my count) references to “bowels” (by which he usually means “heart” as we figuratively use it) in his Psalms and Hymns being most notable. I suspect a “simple explanation,” in those cases, would be inadequate to still the distaste of one demographic and the snickering of another. Moving on to more serious criticisms, let’s begin by reviewing the offending words: At the cross, at the cross, Where I first saw the light, And the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, And now I am happy all the day! —Not Isaac Watts I’ll begin with the first error that caught my eye, that is, the final line: “And now I am happy all the day!” Is this not ridiculous on its face? How many of you who are believers can say that you are happy all day, every day? More importantly, should you be? Do you not have knowledge and experiences that should make you, as disciples of “a man of sorrows” who was “acquainted with grief,” legitimately unhappy? This line is childishly silly, at best, and grotesquely offensive, at worst. Finally, this chorus confuses the doctrines of conversion and justification. I was justified at the cross. This is a major point of doctrine that separates Reformed (and Lutheran) Christians from every errant and heretical form, and one on which we stake our very hope of eternal salvation. Yet this chorus says nothing at all about justification, describing, instead, conversion. But we know, thanks to Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus in John 3 and Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:14ff, that can’t happen until one has been born again, that is, regenerated. This is clearly biblical, and again, fundamental Reformed orthodoxy. As a Reformed minister, Isaac Watts would have abhorred this chorus, giving us all the more reason to reject it, not only as unbiblical and stupid, but as an offense to the hymn’s author. Addendum: Many will think this trivial, but the medium really does carry its own message. Not to mention the light upbeat tone of the chorus. The hymn is heavy and worthy of serious reflection, the stupid added-on chorus is chipper bubble gum pop.— Machel (@trogdor42) January 8, 2019


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