Theology of Worship- Prayer as Worship

“Prayer is the process by which our will is brought in line with God’s will.”

In reference to Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer- “Our patter of conduct becomes God’s pattern of conduct to us.  What kind of God is this?  He forgives us as we forgive our debtors.”

“Prayer changes God.  He is immutable in his essence and character, but He is not a stone.  There are circumstances that when there is repentance, He changes his mind.  (Jonah 3, Exodus 32)”

“There is a great difference between private and public prayers.  Private prayer is often spontaneous.  There is room for speaking to God as if in natural conversation, voicing struggles, concerns, and things like it.  But when prayer is public, on behalf of a congregation, it is not casual.  It is to be poetic and elevated.  It has an appropriate awareness of being in God’s presence on behalf of the people of God.”

“Prayer operates to make our hearts more like God’s.  It is important that in our prayers and thanksgiving that we declare God’s grace in our lives.  It can also be done in the way we address God in our prayers in our opening words of adoration.  It communicates a profound theology and ecclesiology.  We can do it in appealing to God to have mercy according to His lovingkindness.  The moment we say that, we declare theology.”

Theology of Worship- Scripture and Torah

Something that Block said that was particularly noteworthy was about the perception and definition of Torah.  For most people, we read Torah and think law.  ‘Torah’ is a Hebrew word, and Block says that it has unfortunately automatically translated as law.  The LXX (Septuagint) can be blamed for that.  When translating Jewish scriptures into Greek, they used the word ‘nomos’, which is the common word for ‘law’.  And we have carried that over and now think of the Torah as simply law.  But that misrepresents the meaning of Torah.

Block would say that this has created a sense that much of the Pentateuch is useless today.  We elevate the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, and the rest of the law has been dismissed and deemed unimportant or outdated.  This is lived out in our cultural presentation of the Ten Commandments, too.  What does Moses look like when he’s holding a false representation of the ten commandments?  He always has a stern look on his face!  He always looks really mean, ready the thump the law over your heard and condemn you with it.

moses460

But the Moses never saw Torah as a condemnation, but as an exercise of God’s grace.  When they read the law in Nehemiah 8, it should have lead to joy, not weeping.  When Moses is speaking of it in Deuteronomy 6:24, he says it existed for their good always, that he might preserve them alive. When asked what is the meaning of the testimonies and statutes and rules that God has commanded them. Moses replies by recounting God’s exercises of grace towards them. Bringing them out of Egypt, showing signs and wonders against Egypt, bringing them to the Land Promised, and then providing statutes, so that they can fear the Lord.

In Deuteronomy 4 wee see that if they keep the law that they will be wise and have understanding.  People will say “Wow!  They are so wise and understanding!”  They call the statutes and rules righteous and praise God for providing them for the people to follow.  People wouldn’t look at Israel and think, “Wow, it must stink to be them!  Look at all the rules they have to follow.”  No!  They saw the grace that God had upon them in letting them know how to please Him.

Block also points at how people misunderstand the Decalogue.  It is not a national law, but a personal one.  It isn’t meant to be out in front of a courthouse, but kept in the heart of a believer.   It’s not even supposed to be ten ‘commandments’, but should be ten words.  Block also notes that if you don’t include the preface to the Decalogue, “I am the Lord Your God”, it just boils down to moralism.  That’s what Paul was battling in Galatians when he took on the Judaizers.  They saw the law as a way to achieve holiness, not a way to please their God.  These laws/statutes/rules/teachings are to be followed in order to please the Lord.  To make matters worse often times when someone does have a monument, it looks more like a gravestone than art.  What does that subconsciously communicate about the perception of the law?

437px-ten_commandments_monument

Block really made me want to read through Deuteronomy over again.  I don’t know if I’ve ever really wanted to read Deuteronomy specifically.  But I’m looking forward to reading through, searching for evidences of grace and what their perception of the law was.  I looked forward in my reading plan, and I’m not supposed to be there until May!  So I may have to do some editing to my reading plan, here…

Block added that much of it should be read out loud, they are Moses’ final speeches/sermons to his people/sheep.  They are his final words of encouragement to passionately pursue God, not just a recitation of law.  As Block says, its all grace!

Theology of Worship- Scripture Reading in Service

The following quote is from Daniel Block’s syllabus for the Theology of Worship class.  This comes from a section of the role of the reading and proclamation of Scripture in worship.  Block begins with his definition for worship, and its dependency on the role of Scripture:

“If true worship involves reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign, in response to his gracious revelation of Himself, and in accordance with his will, then the integrity and acceptability of one’s worship will  depend directly upon the clarity of the divine revelation and the level of understanding of his will.”

Obviously, most of us would agree with that previous statement.  But then Block nails it home with a plea for Evangelicals to rediscover that in the reading of Scriptures worshippers hear the voice of God.  Block had this to say:

“Despite our creedal statements to the contrary, the relative absence of the Scriptures is one of the marks of contemporary evangelical worship.  At best the Scriptures are read piecemeal and impatiently that we might get on with the sermon.  After all, our interpretation of Scripture is much more important for the congregation that the sacred word of God itself.  At worst, we do not open the Scriptures at all.  In our efforts to be contemporary and relevant advertently or inadvertently we dismiss the reading of the Scriptures as a fossil whose vitality and usefulness has died long ago.  In the process we displace the voice of God with the foolish babbling of mortals, and the possibility of true worship is foreclosed.  And then we wonder why there is such a famine for the word of God in the land (Amos 8:11-14).”

Theology of Worship- Representing Yahweh

This week I have the privilege of taking the winterim class at The Master’s Seminary.  I have gone to the class the last 2 years, and wanted to go to this one even more since it will probably be my last opportunity to do this.  The class is “For the Glory of God: A Biblical Theology of Worship” taught by Daniel Block, professor at Wheaton College and renowned Old Testament commentator.  I’ll be including little snippets of great things that I’ve learned and that have challenged me.  So far I have really enjoyed Block’s pastoral style of teaching.  He doesn’t just info dump or read off a list of references, but really gets to the heart of the matter while approaching the text expositionally.

My first thought is what it means to “take the name of the Lord in vain”.  Conventionally, this has been interpreted and applied as not swearing or using God’s name casually.  Of course, that is part of what this is saying, but that falls short of the whole intended meaning.  In that time, there was a practice of writing the name of God on your hand if you wanted people to know that you were a follower of Yahweh.  You were taking on the name of God for everyone you meet to know.

Taking the name of the Lord in vain would be failing to live up to the name that you were carrying or writing on you.  It was living a life that was contrary to the God you claimed.

We also entered into a discussion of what this means in our prayer lives, and a warning of using God’s name casually or hypocritically in prayer.  So often, I can enter into prayer and not think about the Almighty God I’m speaking to.  Block also spoke of how often people use the name of God as a filler word in prayers, dropping it without thinking.  The thing that got me thinking most was how often I have asked students to pray, only to hear a student treat the prayer lightly and casually.  Sometimes something happens and then giggles break out, and my heart breaks that they take prayer so lightly.

The scariest thing I’ve wondered is if I have placed students in positions to sin.  Have I asked them to do something that they don’t take seriously?  It has definitely caused me to think more seriously, not only about how I pray, but also about who I encourage to lead in public prayers.

“Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan

There is a lot of things that could go into buying a book.  Most of the time, I will see a recommendation of sorts and be compelled to purchase the book.  Sometimes, I am given the book by friends, family, or at conferences.  And sometimes, I’ll be strolling through a book store and see an intriguing book and have to buy it.  That was the case with “Jonathan Edwards and Hell” by Chris Morgan. 

Honestly, most of the purchase had to do with the cover art and thinking it was cool looking.  After that grabbed my attention, I noticed “Jonathan Edwards” and “Hell” on the cover and thought, “That sounds intriguing.”  And the purchase was made.  And is the case with most books I bought, it was placed in a large pile of books that had to wait until after Seminary was over. 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to walk to work.  Leah needed the car, I needed the exercise and didn’t have my bike at home, and I figured it would be a good chance to do some reading.  A light 2 mile walk with a good book is an hour well spent. 

Once I was well into the book, I was quickly disappointed as to the actual content of the book.  The first three chapters are all about annihilationists and their view points, followed by a chapter on the evangelical response.  That makes up Part I of the book.  Part II had to do with Edwards.  The first chapter of Part II was about annihilationism in the 18th century, followed by a chapter on Edwards response.  The closing chapter discusses how to apply Edward’s method to today’s theological climate. 

So, in 140 pages of content in a book entitled “Jonathan Edwards on Hell”, there are 16 pages specifically about Jonathan Edwards on the topic of Hell.

That isn’t to say it wasn’t an enjoyable and profitable read, but it seemed misleading to say the least.  During my time in seminary I had to read through Robert Peterson’s book “Hell on Trial”, and that covered most of what this book does.  The only thing that this book does differently, is just scratch the surface of Edward’s thoughts on the topic. 

What Morgan does is explain the views in the words of the proponents of such views, and then offers a critique of the strength of the argument.  Morgan offers good insight and has good things to say about how the debate should be discussed.  There are good things about linguistic, exegetical, philosophical, and polemic approaches to the argument, but Morgan appeals to the theological approach Edwards takes. 

The other approaches offer good input, but both sides are still left at an impass.  Here are some helpful notes taken from those sections:

  • One insight that I found interesting is the debate over the word ‘aiwvios’.  That is the word for ‘eternal’.  Some annihilationists would say that there are two senses to the word.  One is quantity, meaning everlasting.  The other is a qualitative sense, meaning a time to come in contrast to the present time.  This view is best propgated by Edward Fudge.  Instead of focusing on everlasting punishment, they focus on the eternal result of the punishment.  The main weakness, as I understand, would be the same word being used in relation to the eternal life granted to believers.
  • The other main point that I liked was how he pointed out that many Annihilationists, including John Stott, find it primarily difficult to believe because of the heinous nature of everlasting torment.  They see it as being a doctrine that does not fit with their defintion of God.  Edwards had this to say:

“It is an unreasonable and unscriptural notion of the mercy of God that He is merciful in such a sense that He cannot bear that penal justice should be executed.  That is to conceive of the mercy of God as a passion to which His nature is so subject that GOd is liable to be moved, affected, and overcome by seeing a creature in misery so that He cannot bear to see justice executed… The Scriptures everywhere represent the mercy of God as free and sovereign, and not that the exercises of it are necessary.”

Edwards saw it as an issue of questioning God’s sovereignty of His creation.  God’s sovereignty is absolute, universal, and unlimited. 

To the objection that everlasting punishment is not suitable for God, Edwards had this to say:

“Since the infinite hatred of sin is suitable to the divine character, then the expressions of that hatred are also suitable to His character… It is suitable that He should execture infinite punishment on it.”

All in all, it was a profitable read, but reader beware that the title may mislead you into thinking the book is about Jonathan Edwards and Hell.

The Wrath of God

This is piggy backing on a previous post on an article that I read by Carolyn Arends in Christianity Today. Carolyn was kind enough to find the post and give a little explanation and defense, and instead of writing a long response in a comment, I thought, hey, it’s my blog. I can just write a new post. You can refer to the link of you’d like to see the original post and Carolyn’s comment.

Let me first say that the topic of God’s wrath isn’t a topic I necessarily like talking about. I don’t get off on being able to stand behind a ‘big, bad wolf’ and stick my tongue out at people who haven’t repented. If anything, its the exact opposite. I still see the sin in my own heart and when I read of the wrath of God, my knees shake, knowing that that is what I deserve. But, thankfully, Christ bore that wrath on my account. I had nothing to do with averting God’s wrath, and I’m fully aware that I deserved it. When I speak of those on which the wrath of God still dwells, I don’t do it casually, but with the knowledge that, there but by the grace of God, stand I.

I would say that the definition of God’s wrath is one of the most important things here. You define God’s wrath as opposition to sin, but I think that is incomplete. God’s wrath is more than his opposition to sin. It is his punishment of that sin which He opposes. I don’t have to fear God’s wrath, but God still disproves of the sin that entertain in my heart. It is more than opposition. I’d like to go through some passages to see how God’s wrath is defined in the Bible.

In John 3:36 we see that the wrath of God is reserved for those that do not believe in the Son of God for eternal life. The wrath of God ‘remains’ on them. This idea of the wrath of God remaining on those that do not repent is seen also in Ephesians 2:3 where it says that unbelievers are ‘children of wrath’. Romans 2:8 says ‘for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury’. In Colossians 3:6, Paul says that the wrath of God is coming on account of the works of the flesh of the old man. We are not to seek those things on the account of the fact that we have been raised with Christ.

From a quick look at these passages, I think it is clear that the wrath of God is something that is reserved for those who are not believers. I don’t think the article reflects the fact that God’s wrath comes down on those who refuse to repent, and is an eternal punishment, not a temporary correction to steer people away from sin and destructive habits. God’s wrath is eternal in nature, not temporal and correcting.

I also believe the Bible clearly conveys the fact that wrath comes as a result of sin that is ultimately and primarily an offense of God’s nature. God’s holiness is His transcendent attribute that affects and influences everything that He does. He is lovely and righteous altogether. Sin is anything that fails to live up to God’s holy standard and God’s love. Romans 3:23 is simple and clear. Sin is falling short of God’s glory, not His perfect plan for man.

We can see the fact that sin is primarily a sin against God’s holiness by looking at the cross. Christ was put forward as a propitiation for our sin. He took the wrath of God against our sin. It was not done primarily to create a perfect society or to correct a culture, but to satisfy His righteous demand of holiness.

If we confuse this, we make man the center of everything, and remove God’s glory from that position. I think Wayne Grudem says it well: “Although God’s punishment of sin does serve as a deterrent against further sinning and as a warning to those who observe it, this is not the primary reason why God punishes sin. The primary reason is that God’s righteousness demands it, so that he might be glorified in the universe He has created.” (Italics are the original authors, Systematic Theology, 509)

Here is the second comment that was left. I’m copying it here so it can be referred to as a respond to it:

Will try to keep this as short as possible: meaning will have to leave out a lot of supporting stuff. I’m a retired minister (over 35 years) ((LtCol,Chaplain,USARet.); PhD (psychotherapy). Religion/theology is not a “hobby” with me. And, yes, I’m “born-again”.Now then.
1. Carolyn A. is just about absolutely right.; light years ahead of whoever the author of “Preferences and Principles” is. 2. God is no egomaniac. He lives for his glory , yes, – but we are his glory; or don’t you believe we are his “image”. 3. The worst part of Calvin was separating Jesus from God. (”…has seen me has seen the Father.” ;) The glory of the Almighty Sovereign God may be observed in the little dead lamb (now risen). He’s not the “bad cop”. He’s never bad; and I mean by my- our- standard. We know what “good” is; he taught us. He’s no monster, damning big parts of his “beloved” creation whenever he takes a notion to. 4. He’s my Father. I won’t let you talk about him like that! Does it make you feel pious and powerful to be on the side of the “big guy”- as they say today. There’s a lot more psychology goes into people’s “theology” than a lot of so-called Bible study sometimes. 5. Early Christians understood that if you walk away from God you are separating yourself from Love, Light and Life; in short you have chosen hell. 6. Anybody who tells you he just goes by the Bible is an ignorant parrot; he heard someone else say that! Rather than elaborate for days- as I could- on this subject, I’d better quit. Arends is right; largely because she seems to understand Christ/God and is therefore more human. And isn’t God human? Or is the Incarnation a cruel joke? And, by the way, I’m really more conservative than any one who’s written or commented so far. So, it won’t do to write me off as some kind of “liberal”. Thank you for sharing with us, Carolyn. ( forestphilosopher.blogspot.com)

To Bill Borch, I have a few comments.

No, I don’t believe we are His glory or His image. That is Jesus Christ. We are made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:27). Colossians 1:15, speaking of Christ, says “He is the image of the invisible God”. Hebrews 1:3 says that he is the exact imprint of the nature of God. There is a stark differnce between being created ‘in the image of God’ and being the image of God. I don’t believe that man is God’s glory, but I do believe that God’s glory is evident through the lives of His redeemed, through Christ.

You say I’ve (presumably through Calvin) separated Christ from God. But you have just done that yourself by attributing the nature of Christ in relation to the image of God to the nature of man. I don’t separate Jesus from God, but I see that they have different, complementary roles within the Trinity. The Son wasn’t sent unwillingly by a power hungry God, but embraced the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). I never used the term ‘bad cop’, but I think my list of God’s wrath in relation to those of His creation that have rejected their Creator speaks for itself.

This is not my own idea or my own my leanings on Calvin. This is my impression from what I read in the Word of God. I don’t get my marching orders from Calvin, but from what God has communicated to me through His Word. It doesn’t mean that its easy to accept the doctrine of God’s wrath being reserved for the rebellious Creation, but my preferences don’t matter. It is what God has said, therefore I must accept it and trust that He has a better understanding of His holiness and the insult that sin is to it than I do.

It is true that I may have been taught by men, but I was taught in the Word of God. If you see an area in which I have failed to represent the Word of God accurately, I’d love to talk about that. But until then, here I stand, for I can do no other.

Finally, on your suggestion that God is human, I’d like for you to defend that belief through the Word of God. The incarnation wasn’t ‘a joke’, but Christ “who, though he as in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Christ took on flesh and lived a life that you and I cannot, paid a debt that you and I cannot pay, so that we can be granted a righteousness that we don’t deserve and could not attain.

God is not human. Humanity is God’s creation. I don’t know what being ‘conservative’ has to do with anything. I find it amusing to be accused of not being conservative enough, as I’m usually accused of the opposite. I’m not really concerned with being conservative. I’d rather be biblical, and that is what I strive to be. If you see an area in which I have misrepresented the Word of God, please let me know. I’d like to continue this discussion, but only on the grounds that it is grounded in a discussion of the Biblical text. Like you, man’s opinions don’t really matter to me. I’d rather focus on the revelation of God.

God’s Love vs. God’s Wrath

I don’t often read through Christianity Today articles, but recently I was perusing the one page columns in the back (full disclosure- they are shorter, easier to read, and usually more interesting). When I was perusing, I ran across a column entitled “The Grace of Wrath” by Carolyn Arends (May, 2005, page 64). The title jumped out at me of being an article with some theology and thought involved, so I gave it a quick read and found an interesting conversation.

Arends’ main point is that we have frequently, and often mistakenly, created a bipolar God. We think of the God who is loving and gathers children in His arms, and then we think of the wrathful God punishing sinners with eternal damnation. Arends says, “I unconsciously developd a theolgy that intermittently had God the Son and God the Father in a good cop, bad cop routine, with the Holy Spirit stepping in as a sympathetic parole officer”. She finds a tension between two different pictures of God that we have developed. We don’t want to make God out to be the big downy soft cuddle bear in the sky (my words, not hers), so we remind ourselves that God is also a God who hates sin and must punish it.

Are those two things contradictory? Can a God of love also be a God of wrath? Arends says that God’s wrath is driven by God’s love. Up to here, I agree with her. God is not a hateful God who finds pleasure in arbitrarily punishing His creation. He’s not sitting in Heaven sending hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, or earthquakes just to mess with people. But what Arends says next I disagree with.

She says, “What if God’s wrath is not a caveat, qualification, or even a counterpoint to his love, but an expression of it? What if God grieves sin less because it offends his sensibilities, and more because he hates the way it distorts our perceptions and separates us from him?” She adds that God’s wrath is “his emphatic ‘NO!’ to anything that leads to our destruction.”

Arends has just managed to make God’s wrath man-centered. In other words, if I understand her correctly, God punishes people to show them that the path they are on is not in the best interest more than punishing sin because it transgresses His nature. God is more concerned with man than Himself. God’s ultimate purpose resides in the preservation of man rather than the preservation of His own glory.

I think Arends fails to distinguish a couple of very important things here. First, what is God’s wrath? God’s wrath is focused and reserved for those that have not repented of their sins. Does God correct those whom He loves? Absolutely. But she fails to distinguish what God’s wrath is here. For believers, they need not fear God’s wrath. Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation for those that are found in Christ. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for sin. But I wouldn’t classify that as being the wrath of God. I think that God allows us to suffer the consequences of sin, corrects and chastens us so that we realize that sin is detrimental to us.

Secondly, God’s wrath is not centered on man, but on the preservation of His own glory. It is God’s fury focused on rebellious sinners. God’s ultimate concern is not with pointing people on the right path, but rather with satisfying His love for His own glory. It sounds awfully self centered and prideful to us, but God must satisfy His own glory because He is worthy of it. To say that the primary function of God’s wrath is man-centered, misses the the point. That can be a secondary reason for God’s wrath, but not the primary.

There is grace in wrath shown to man on this side of eternity, because it is another opportunity for man to repent before the final judgment. But Arends fails to distinguish between God’s eternal wrath and the current punishing of sinners on this side of eternity. God can be providing more opportunities for repentance, but ultimately, it is to satisfy His own glory and His love for His own holiness. For God to be motivated by anything rather than his holiness would be idolatry simply because there is no higher cause or motivation for anything.

This article sounded more like dangerous speculation, rather than the result of an honest and deep study of God’s Word. This picture of God was born out of speculation rather than from His Word. God does correct believers to show us the dangerous nature of sin, but that isn’t God’s wrath, and ultimately, God’s wrath exists to satisfy God’s love for His own holiness. If we get this wrong, we get very close to getting the Gospel wrong. We must keep God in the center.