The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Beauty and Rap Music: The Necessity To Use The Whole

By: Jared Jeter

Christians often seek to “engage” their surrounding culture through the arts. Some do this for the sake of evangelism, others so they can have “Christian” versions of things they enjoy. Still others seek to reflect God’s glory in the art they produce. None of these are inherently bad goals. Christians should produce art to reflect God’s glory, to enjoy the art itself, and to utilize for evangelism. Since “Christian” art should intentionally reflect God’s glory, Christians must do art well. Christian music has long been marvelous at this, as the music of men like Bach and Handel evidences. Recent Christian music, however, has often failed. In order to reach the people of the culture, many Christian musicians have sought to divorce the medium from the message in favor of taking popular music and inserting Christian lyrics. The medium and the message often do not mix, leaving the music fragmented and incoherent, thus not fully reflective of God’s glory. One alleged example of this is Christian hip-hop, but it is a mistake to completely write it off. Hip-hop as a whole (lyrically and musically) can be a God-honoring art form.
Scripture warrants “speaking the language” of the people in one’s surrounding culture. This should not be done in a vulgar way. For instance, Christians should not attempt to use profanity for the sake of reaching those who use profanity, nor should Christians speak of women in degrading ways to reach those who do. When done correctly, however, one can see speaking the culture’s language as analogous to Pentecost, when the early church proclaimed the Gospel in the tongues of the nations. In the same way, Christians should be able to use the concepts and mediums of the nations in appropriate ways in order to reveal the glory of God, just as Paul used the concept of the unknown God and quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28 in order to reach the men of Athens. That said, musical mediums carry implicit messages in their sound. Thus, simply replicating the music of any given culture and throwing Jesus into it will not do, since it fails to intentionally reflect the nature and glory of God in its sound. One must not mistake the need for cultural relevance as a call to subjective beauty.
If Christians want to do music well, it must reflect God’s nature, since God is the one who ordered and shaped the world. God is by nature a God of beauty, thus Christians should make beautiful music. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Because God’s nature is beautiful, He is the standard of beauty, just as He is the standard of truth. Furthermore, Psalm 29:2 and Psalm 96:9 both speak of worshiping the Lord in the “beauty of holiness” (NKJV). Beauty is objective,and the ultimate standard of beauty is God’s glory. Thus, if Christians are to make music that reflects God, regardless of the form, it must be beautiful. So what is beauty?
Thomas Reid argues that beauty is objective, but that it also affects the one who hears, observes, or contemplates it with certain feelings. A piece of art must in itself express the qualities of beauty and move its observer to experience the thing it expresses.[1] Jonathan Edwards gets at what the qualities of beauty are when he talks about mixturesof rays of light and that they are beautiful because they are complex, yet harmonious.[2] For Edwards, beauty essentially begins with harmonizing complexity. One of the main evidences for this is that the nature of God is beautiful, and His nature is Trinitarian – three and yet one – complex and yet harmonious. Within this concept of harmonizing complexity in the context of music that has lyrics, the sound of the music must harmonize with the content of the lyrics. There is room for variety here, but the key element is fit-ness. It is not fitting to communicate the gentleness of God with screaming death metal, as the harshness of the music does not harmonize with the sweetness of the content. In the same way, it is not fitting to communicate the wrath of God with a feel-good pop song, as the content and sound are not harmonious. Since God is a God of order, this unfit-ness does not reflect His nature. Thus, if one can make music that brings harmony out of complexity and in which the sound and the message cohere (fit-ness), one can make beautiful music.
The form that hip-hop/rap[3] music takes allows for a massive volume of words, typically put in some type of rhyme scheme. This can actually become quite complex and dense because of how many words flow through the song in such a short period of time. Lyrically, this allows Christians to inject some powerful concepts into rap that many other genres do not formally allow. One can speak about and explain deep theological concepts from election, regeneration, justification, and sanctification to amillenialism to the hypostatic union and the nature of the Trinity. In few other mediums could one drop the name of a heresy like “modalistic monarchianism” and make it flow well in a song, much less explain it alongside other heresies and defend the orthodox view all in a little over four minutes.[4] This utility makes rap an effective teaching tool, even with a simple, generic beat, since it can be helpful for memorizing theological concepts and terms. One example of this is Shai Linne’s “Atonement Q&A,” in which Linne answers questions like, “Who is God?” “What’s the Bible about?” “What’s sin?” and “What’s the remedy [for sin]?” in a succinct, yet accurate and theologically weighty manner, while also taking biblical and theological terms such as repentance, justification, imputation, regeneration, reconciliation, expiation, etc. and defining them accurately. The beat and meter allow for easy memorization and a basic understanding of these weighty matters. Another example is Benjamin the Esquire’s album entitled Lyrical Catechism in which he takes questions from the Westminster Catechisms and explains the answer through the song’s course. Alongside these examples, the genre can be a good medium to discuss technical theology or even to carry a compelling exhortation, as Lecrae’s song “Don’t Waste Your Life,” based on John Piper’s book, demonstrates. There is no question that rap can lyrically glorify God in a way which someother genres simply do not have the capacity. For hip-hop to be an art form that glorifies God as a whole instead of simply a teaching or exhortative tool, however, the music must be fitting and beautiful.
The nature of hip-hop music makes it ripe for the harmonization of complexity. When creating and producing a beat, an artist has the capacity to insert layers upon layers of sounds. With the amount of instrumentation one can put in these layers, an artist has the potential to be a master composer without the need for musicians. Most rap artists make beats with the use of a keyboard and other tools that can generate a plethora of sounds, from a classical violin to a snare drum. Shai Linne’s orchestral intro to his song “The Holiness of God” and Mr. Del’s use of gothic chant in “More Than a Conqueror” demonstrate the sheer range of sounds one can utilize. Furthermore, if one has the ability to play instruments or to record others, he can incorporate live instruments into the recording. A striking example of this is Beautiful Eulogy’s self-titled track. The group made a music video of themselves recording the vocals and live instruments over the beat with all the computer-generated sounds already finished, in which one of them even plucks the strings of a classical piano.[5] Another example is the 1999 song “Street Symphony” by secular R&B/hip-hop artist Monica, which uses multiple classical stringed instruments. While it is rare for artists to put this much effort into a beat, the potential for harmonizing complexity is markedly present.
The second question of beauty is whether or not the sound of the medium fits the message. Because rap music is typically overbearing and driving, it seems an unlikely candidate to fit with the Christian message, but it can quite well. One must remember that beauty is not necessarily “nice” and serene. God, who is ultimate beauty, while gracious, merciful, and loving, is also holy, omnipotent, and wrathful. In light of this, rap lends itself to communicating some of the more difficult Christian doctrines, such as God’s absolute sovereignty, total depravity, the weightiness of sin, unconditional election, predestination, and even the indictment of heresy. Rap tends to have powerful and aggressive themes, and one writer has even likened the genre to “psalms of imprecation.”[6] If these doctrines seem to be robustly Calvinistic, this is no mistake. In the same way that hip-hop culture is aggressive and overbearing, it is also deterministic in a hopeless, Psalm 88 sense. This allows Christians to introduce the hope of Psalm 89 while still utilizing the same themes as secular rap, as Moore elaborates:

The life experiences of hip-hop's leading artists have taught many of them that the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" theme of Western culture . . . is a myth. Their willingness to say this honestly, without fear, resonates with listeners. In this sense, hip-hop is as anti-Pelagian—as skeptical of inherent human goodness—as Augustine was. It just lacks Augustine's corresponding teaching on the sovereignty of grace. So, the new Christian hip-hop isn't introducing themes of depravity; rather it picks up on these themes and carries them to the Cross. In other words, the new Christian hip-hop isn't so much about Calvinizing Christian music as about Christianizing Calvinist music. Rather than deny the violent realities of humanity, they use Reformed categories of penal substitutionary atonement to make sense of it all. Christian hip-hop is Cross-centered in a way that previous Christian attempts to mimic pop culture weren't—and perhaps couldn't be.[7]

Various current Christian hip-hop artists demonstrate this reality. Lecrae’s best-selling album, Gravity, highlights depravity lyrically and the dark sound of songs like “Lord Have Mercy” and “Falling Down” push the theme forward. Tedashii’s “Make War” begins with a sample of John Piper talking about making war on (mortifying) sin and the aggressive beat sounds like an urban war cry. Shai Linne’s “Fal$e Teacher$” calls out the heresy of prosperity gospel teachers and the hard-hitting beat sounds like a crushing indictment. Propaganda’s controversial “Precious Puritans” uses a dissonant cello and harsh sounds to push its message of the dangers of putting men on a pedestal. While hip-hop lends itself to these things, it is in no way limited to the hard doctrines.
Christian hip-hop shows a great potential for diversity. Shai Linne’s album, The Attributes of God, has songs ranging from God’s holiness and justice to His faithfulness and love, and the music emphasizes these themes on any given track. Lecrae’s “Background” and Beautiful Eulogy’s “Anchor” are contemplative of our pride and our need to rely on Christ, and the music is calm and fitting. The potential for harmonizing complexity and fitting multiple facets of the Christian message is assuredly there and already breaking through. There is, however, one area of beauty that rap has potential for but Christians have not yet utilized:movement.
Movement in music like that of Beethoven and Mozart’s classical symphonies exhibits beauty. Some Christian hip-hop artists have expressed movement through full albums, as Flame demonstrates in his back-to-back albums Our World Fallen and Our World Redeemed. Movement in a particular song, however, is absent, as most rap music has a repeating eight or sixteen measures for its entirety. The potential is present though, especially since the speed and volume of words allow for an intense movement in a short three or four minutes. Rap has potential to express themes like creation, fall, and redemption, darkness to light, exile and return, and even sinful bliss to terrifying consequences musically, not just lyrically. This would necessarily take more time, work, and intentionality to accomplish than the repetitive beat, but it would be worthwhile to further express the beauty of God.
Hip-hop has the potential to be a God-honoring art form in its totality. The massive amount of strong lyrical content is the easy part. Harmonizing complexity and fit-ness is harder, but doable, and various Christian rap artists have tapped into this aspect of beauty. The final piece of the puzzle could be movement. Christian rappers need to continue to utilize this form of art to express the truths of Christianity and be intentional about making the music itself beautiful, because the music can do so.

[1]Peter Kivy, “Reid’s Philosophy of Art,” in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid, eds. Terence Cuneo and and René Van Woudenberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 276-286.         
[2]Jonathan Edwards, “Beauty of the World,” in A Jonathan Edwards Reader, eds. John E. Smith, Harry S. Stout, and Kenneth P. Minkema (London: Yale University Press, 2003), 14-15.
[3]Within urban culture, “hip-hop” and “rap” can have different connotations and nuances. For the sake of space and clarity, the terms will be used interchangeably here, indicating simply the genre of music.
[4]Flame, “The Godhead,” on Rewind, Cross Movement Records, Franklin, TN, 2005, CD.
[5]Beautiful Eulogy, “Beautiful Eulogy” (music video), posted July 2, 2012, accessed November 18, 2013,
[6]Russell Moore, “W.W. Jay-Z?” Christianity Today, May 10, 2013, accessed November 18, 2013,

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Three Wizards And A Burning Bush

By: Thomas Booher

An Excerpt from Chapter 3 of Saving Damascas 

Petra looked over his shoulder at the three men. One of them, a heavier set man who was facing Petra, glanced up, smiled, then continued his chummy conversation.
Petra was startled by what he saw. He wasn’t sure how he missed it initially (probably because he was more concerned about his current predicament than his surroundings), but the three men were dressed more neatly, and differently, than anyone he had ever seen in Emerton. While their garb wasn’t extravagant, it was colorful, and appeared to be clean, even brand new.
What’s more, the material seemed to be made of something comfortable, like silk. And the colors, well, it wasn’t the drab grey or brown that virtually everyone else wore. The elderly men all wore cloaks, which was rare due to the general lack of money but not completely unheard of. These cloaks, however, were hoodless. Petra had never seen a hoodless cloak.
The heavyset man that glanced up had a solid, forest green cloak and rather puffy hair, while the man to his left, the shortest and by far the thinnest, had a white cloak with red trimming. The other man, the tallest of the three, wore spectacles and a nearly sky blue cloak with white trimming.           
Petra strained his eyes to make out what the elderly men were wearing, but from their perspective it seemed he was frowning. The heavier set man leaned toward his companions and said something to them. A brief deliberation followed, then suddenly the other men swiveled in their seats to face him. Petra noticed that all three men had the image of a golden bush engulfed yet unscathed by silver fire on the upper left side of their cloaks. 
“Young man, why don’t you join us and the lovely lady and have a drink. It’ll be on us,” the stocky, puffy haired man said with a friendly grin. He had a deep, gravelly voice that seemed to boom when he began to speak, like distant thunder.
“Yes, join us. It would be good to have new company. It’s not every day we get to talk with commoners. I’m generally a teetotaler myself, but I make exceptions when I come here. It’s weakened after all,” said the thin man. He was balding but still had some white hair on top of his head. What was left appeared to be curly. He spoke with a quicker cadence than the other two, expressed with his hands a lot, and got excited easily.
“Come on and have a sit. We don’t bite,” said the tall one with the spectacles. He was balding too and had white-grey hair, but it wasn’t curly. He seemed to tint his words with light sarcasm and sat with his arms crossed in front of him over his cloak as he slumped in his seat. 
Petra looked back at the bar girl for approval. She was looking at the three men alarmed, as if she thought their invite was dangerous, but received no reaction from them.
“I... do as you wish, sir. But mind your manners, these are respectable men, unlike yourself,” she said, glowering at Petra as she spoke the last two words. She walked out of site behind the bar.
Petra was left to himself with the three elderly men gazing at him across the tavern, apparently all part of some organization, eagerly waiting for him to join them. He needed time to think about how he would escape town without getting that beating, and yet there was something intriguing about the men at the table.
“Sounds good to me. Guess I’m in no hurry,” he said to them from across the room. He was in a hurry in truth, but the gentlemen interested him. He walked over, more stiffly than his usual gate, hoping to exude an air of respectability like the girl had said to do, but the walk felt awkward and unnatural.
There were two available seats at the round table -- one next to the thin man, and one next to the empty chair, which would have put him closest to the tall man with the spectacles. Petra was a bit put off by the tall man’s curt words and so elected to sit next to the thin man.
“Welcome!” the thin man said happily, patting Petra on the back once he sat down, as if he had just passed a test and gained membership into their little club. The tall man and thin man shifted in their seats to face the puffy haired man once again, backs angled toward the bar now. 
The thicker man across from Petra freed his arms from beneath his cloak and leaned forward, much like he did before, and with another big smile on his face extended his right hand to Petra. Petra shook the man’s hand, examining his overblown facial features and stylish hair.
“We’re so glad you came to join us lad,” the puffy haired man spoke with sincerity and a deep, powerful voice. “What’s your name, and what brings you to the Cooked Goose at such an early hour?”
“I’m Petra Warfield. Actually I just came to get a drink and do some thinking before work today.”
“Whoa, Warfield you said? That’s a good name, has the sound of a real warrior, wouldn’t you say Mac?” The puffy haired man had a gleam in his eye. He addressed his question to the tall man who was leaning back in his chair, fingers now interlaced across his stomach over his cloak.
“Oh I would think so,” Mac muttered casually. He sat upright now that he was brought into the conversation and continued. “I apologize for not introducing myself before. I’m Macarthur, but these days all the young folk call me Mac.” Mac didn’t offer his hand, and Petra waited for him to say more, but he did not.
“Nice to meet you, er, Mac,” said Petra, unsure if it was appropriate for him to call him by his familiar name. Mac smiled slightly and nodded.
“And you can call me Piper. That’s what everyone calls me; they say it’s because I’m pretty good with the pohtehlo, along with other instruments you blow into,” said the thin man. Petra nearly blurted that his father created the pohtehlo, but thought better of it, remembering what Mott said about his father earlier. He was no longer sure who his father really was. He didn't even know his name. Petra turned in his seat to face Piper and shook his hand too.
“And your name sir?” said Petra, turning to the puffy haired man. He was beginning to feel a bit more comfortable now that he was introduced.
“Ah I meant to give you my name before. The name’s Sproul.”
“Um, Sproul you said?”
“Yeah, Sproul. You know, like the soup?”
“The soup sir?” Petra was more confused.
“Eh, well never mind. Just know that the name’s Sproul.”
Petra sat there trying to think of a "sproul soup," but his attention was quickly diverted to a hand holding steins of ale that came perilously close to his eye from over his shoulder. It was the girl from the bar. She had brought drinks for everyone, holding all five of them in one hand by bringing the handles of each near one another and gripping around them. She skillfully passed the drinks across the table and took the open seat next to Petra.
“And if you must know, my name is Amethyst,” she said as she sat down. Petra thought Amethyst was leaning away from him, and she didn’t look at him when she spoke, as if he were  diseased or smelled bad. He probably did stink.
Petra and Amethyst did most of the drinking, while the three men did most of the talking. At first, they didn’t say anything noteworthy. Piper talked about how it was good to be in town again to see how people were doing, and Mac mentioned that he thought it was unusually cool for the time of year and that he was glad they were spending most of their time indoors. Sproul appeared to be quite jolly, laughing a lot in between swigs. Amethyst seemed uneasy during the conversation, and Petra could tell she was shifting her eyes in his direction every so often.
Petra was brought into the conversation when Piper asked him how living in the village was going.
“Living in the village? Why don’t you know? It’s terrible. The guards limit our freedom, take our food and hard earned money, and make many of us slave away for King Salazar all day. Those who are unfit for heavy labor often don’t find jobs and die of hunger,” Petra found it hard to believe that the men weren’t aware of living conditions. He couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t know, given that Damascas had been under the rule of Sydon and King Salazar for twenty years. Then it struck him.
“You, sirs, aren’t from Damascas are you?” Petra looked at each of the elderly men in turn.
Amethyst broke her prolonged silence with a vexed grunt. “Of course they aren’t from around here. Have you seen anyone wear hoodless cloaks, or have you ever seen that insignia before?” She pointed at Mac’s burning bush symbol on his cloak.
“No, Amethyst, I haven’t,” Petra retorted, agitated by her rudeness. “But I haven’t really seen anyone outside of Damascas before either, have you?”
“Eh, you could say we aren’t from around here I suppose,” Mac interjected before Amethyst could respond with something smart. “We cannot elucidate on the symbol or divulge the exact nature of our work. However, we would like to ask you some questions.”
“They are the same questions we have been asking Amethyst for the last few weeks,” said Piper. Petra looked at Amethyst. He was not sure what he was getting into.
“I don’t know what you are referring to, but I really need to get going. I have work in nearly an hour from now, and I’ve got some important things to tend to before then,” said Petra, pushing his seat back from the table to stand up.
“Ah come now, surely you have time for another ten minutes or so? Just a few questions, and if you aren’t interested when we’re done you don’t have to bother with us old men anymore,” Sproul said in his usual gruff yet good-natured tone.
Petra thought it over and decided ten more minutes at this point couldn’t hurt. Besides, these men and this girl seemed different, a break from the mundane. Curiosity got the better of him and he pulled his chair back up to the table.
The mood at the table shifted. Amethyst seemed to be pleading with her eyes, hoping that the three men wouldn’t say anymore to Petra and let him on his way. But the three men turned serious; even Mac scooted his chair forward and sat up straight.
“Please, no, he won’t like it! I know what he’s like!” said Amethyst, practically begging.
“Hey, what are you talking about girl? I don’t even know you, yet you speak as if you know me?” Petra fumed. His voice was raised, but it mattered not since no one else was in the tavern.
“My sister, remember?” said Amethyst scornfully, and that shut Petra up. He feared if the distinguished men at the table knew of his love for prostitutes they would rebuke him and the conversation would no longer be genial. 
“Is this the boy you were telling us about before?” asked Piper, lowering his chin and shifting his eyes up at Amethyst. He pressed for an honest answer.
“Y-yes, it is,” said Amethyst hesitantly. “You need to be very careful with this guy.” She looked back at Petra disparagingly.
Petra was about to spout off at Amethyst again and ask her what she meant by being careful with him, but Sproul held his hand up, indicating that he wanted Petra to relax and let him speak first.
“Amethyst dear, I appreciate your concern. But I would like you to remember that just a few weeks ago you yourself would have been considered a risk to us, not unlike Petra here.”
Amethyst opened her mouth as if to object, but then appeared to acknowledge the truth of what Sproul had said. She slumped back in her seat, embarrassed and ashamed. Mac patted her on the back and gave her a sympathetic look over his glasses. Then Sproul continued.
“Petra, Amethyst here has recently told us that you weren’t a huge fan of Barah. Is this true?”
Petra scrunched his brow like an angry owl. He wasn’t expecting the conversation to take such a turn, but since he felt Barah was at fault for his current enslavement, he welcomed the opportunity to share his thoughts.
“You got that right. I guess I told Amethyst’s sister something about my religious beliefs at some point, and she couldn’t keep her little mouth shut. It would appear her sister is no better. But yeah, Barah is the cause of our problems as far as I’m concerned. What’s it matter to you?”
“We are followers of Barah,” Mac said.
“Figures. Seems you men have found favor with the gods,” Petra replied. He tugged on his rugged tunic to show he was referring to their fine clothing.”
“Now wait a minute, you said earlier that you blame Barah for your rough life. Why do you do that?” asked Mac, ignoring Petra’s suggestion.
“My, you guys really aren’t from here are you? Damascas, the chosen people of Barah. My parents, and most Damascans, worshiped him and worshiped him. According to what I heard from a few loyal old fools, Barah promised to provide for us. Then twenty years ago Barah’s people fall into King Sydon and their god Graybar’s captivity. I gave up on the god game. It’s hard to decide between a god who can’t provide for his people and a god who torments those who aren’t his own. Do you call Sydonian captivity provision? I don’t.” Petra looked among each of the three men, both hands pressed down on the table, his anger swelling as he spoke.
“I can understand your frustration. Believe me Petra, after the invasion the same thoughts entered my mind. But do be careful about calling someone a fool,” said Sproul. He was looking at Petra, yet he wasn’t. His vision seemed to be elsewhere, as if he were reliving some important moment, but he broke his reminiscence almost as quickly as it began.
“Eh... Tell me Petra, have you ever read, or even seen, Barah’s Book?” Sproul asked, having recovered from his momentary nostalgia.
“No, but what does that matter? Everyone says he was supposed to take care of us, and he hasn’t. He’s proven himself untrustworthy, and thus unworthy of my time.”
“Ah ah ah, but that is where you would be mistaken,” chimed in Piper. “You see -- Sproul, Mac, and I, we were... teachers of the Book, if you will, before the invasion. We’ve studied it extensively, and things are not as clear cut as you have been led to believe.” Piper spoke as if he had a big secret that he was dying to tell.
“I don’t follow,” said Petra sternly.
“Let me see if I can help you out,” it was Mac interjecting this time. “What you need to understand is, our God Barah--“
“No no, your god, not mine,” said Petra, not wishing to be associated with a god who broke promises.
“Fine. Our God Barah,” said Mac, clearly exasperated. He glanced around the table to indicate the “our” referred to everyone except Petra. “Our God Barah made a covenant, a promise if you will, with us, the people of Damascas.”
“Wait, wait- you said you weren’t from around here,” said Petra, beginning to doubt the elderly man’s memory and credibility.
Mac blew out a long breath through his teeth, trying to remain patient. He collected himself then began again.
“Petra, friend, you really need to learn to keep your mouth shut until someone is finished speaking, and quit jumping to conclusions. It was you, not I, who said that me and my friends were not from around here. I said you could say that was the case, in a manner of speaking. We were born here, raised here, and worshiped Barah for many years here. He was very good to us before the invasion.”
“Yes before, but what about--”
“Let me finish!” Mac was on the verge of losing his temper. He recomposed himself then continued. “Please, Petra, let me finish speaking. The invasion occurred not because Barah is weak or unfaithful, but because we have been unfaithful to him.” Mac looked at Petra over his spectacles, his lips pressed against one another firmly, causing them to stick out a bit.
Petra had never heard anything like that before. He had always been told, and thus always believed, that Damascans had been faithful to Barah up to the bitter end, just prior to the invasion. However, he had a ready reply.
“Even if that were true, what does that matter? A promise is a promise right? Why does Barah expect us to be at his every whim anyways?”
“Because he made you!” Piper said as if he couldn’t believe such a question could be posed seriously.
“Ah, is that so? Who says Graybar didn’t make us, or some other god?” Petra responded, matching Piper’s incredulity.
“That’s where you need to know Barah’s Book. It says that Barah made Graybar. Graybar rebelled against Barah, wanting to be God, and was cast from Barah’s presence. But there is only one God, and that is Barah,” said Piper.
“What makes you so sure?” asked Petra skeptically. A female voice interrupted.
“I’ve read the book Petra, it’s true. Barah is God, and God alone.” It was Amethyst speaking.
She had remained silent at the table during the rapid exchanges between Petra and the three men, rubbing her arms and twisting her long brown hair nervously as the men spoke, but she could no longer remain silent.
“No, that’s just hearsay. Of course Barah’s Book will make that claim. That doesn’t make it true,” said Petra.
“I believe we can persuade you that it is, with time, Barah willing. We did with Amethyst,” said Sproul confidently, and he proudly smiled at her.
Time. Petra had nearly forgotten about work altogether. He only wanted to stay for ten minutes, but ten minutes had long passed.
“I’m done here. I gave you plenty opportunity to explain Barah to me. I’m not impressed. Have fun in the crazy club with these old men, Amethyst.” Amethyst buried her face in her hands, frustrated with the way things were panning out. 
“I knew this would not go well,” she murmured.
“Petra,” came Sproul’s booming voice without its usual courtesies, halting Petra who was now halfway across the tavern. “Come here tomorrow at seven in the morning. I’ll bring a copy of Barah’s Book and show you why it’s reasonable to trust in him alone.” Petra leaned his head back and rolled his eyes.
“Sorry old man, I don’t expect to be in town tomorrow, and I won’t be coming back. Farewell, wise ones.” Petra left the tavern and headed for the sawpit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour: The Shadow Lamp Day 2

By: Thomas F. Booher

I do hope the final book in The Bright Empires Series takes a step back to what the Bible actually says.

(As a side note, I went through this book and highlighted new words or words I hardly ever use, and nearly every page had something highlighted on account of this alone. That shows you how strong Mr. Lawhead's vocabulary is.) But now back to the main point of this post. 

I've found it very interesting that in The Shadow Lamp we have an apparent contradiction over God's sovereignty. Consider:

1. On p. 351 we see a character praising God for His "All-Wise Providence" in sparing his life when he could have easily drowned in the rapids of a flash flood.

2. On p. 358 Gianni expresses a belief in "the supreme sovereignty of God and His ongoing work to bring His creation to its ultimate fruition in unity with Him."

However, before this, note also that Gianni said:

1. Human beings are literally stardust that were born and lived and died billions of years ago (324).

2. We are thus the reason for the creation's existence (324).

3. The end of creation and man is united and culminates in the "Omega Point," which is "the perfected, harmonious and joyful unity of all Creation in Him for the purpose of engaging in the ongoing creative activity of a redeemed and transformed universe -- forever." (325).

4. For the Creator the past is never lost because it can be reclaimed by weaving it into ultimate goodness so that even disasters of the greatest kind actually are used to achieve the purpose of creation. (325).

5. However, the Creator does not control the future, nor does He direct the interactions that produce the fabric of actuality that we know as reality. (326)

6. He does not because this would negate the purpose that humans were created for. (326).

7. Evidence of the past being able to be changed is found in ley-leaping and manipulating the past within the multiverse (327).

8. The future is not controlled in any way. Why? In the words of Gianni, "to control the future would impose a deterministic outcome on the created order, thereby destroying both the freedom and independence of the freely interacting creatures it is meant to produce and, likewise, negating the very purpose for which the future and even time itself was created!" 327

9. The future therefore exists "to allow the created order to achieve the highest expression of goodness, beauty, and truth, in harmonious and joyful unity with the Creator. And while the Creator intends our free and willing participation in the ongoing realisation of His desires, and aids us in bringing about His purposes, He does not control the results of our participation. We know this because the result the Creator desires -- that is, the active creation of new and higher forms and expressions of goodness, beauty, and truth -- is one of the primary reasons for our existence in the first place."

Point nine is supposed to be that grand moment of realization where all the characters in the story realize they can ruin the multiverse and indeed the Creator's very purpose for existence.

This is silly nonsense, really. You want to know what's impossible? God getting what He wants, in Gianni's world. Why? Because his God isn't actually supreme, isn't actually sovereign at all. Who is? Man. But that of course is what the cosmos is all about. This is a man-centered understanding of all things. God desired to have men create goodness, truth, beauty, but Gianni cannot envision a God that can actually get what He wants. So evil exists because man must have a free will. That's a weak justification for evil.

Well, the God of the Bible gets what He wants, and it is done by a deterministic worldview, yet it does no violence to the will of the creature. Let's consider Lawhead's book. Is Gianni really free? According to Gianni, no, because whether Gianni knows it or not, what he is saying and thinking has been predestined by Lawhead. But imagine if Lawhead could bring his book -- and world -- to life. Would Gianni be free? Yes, in the sense that Gianni would do exactly what he wanted to do. No, in the sense that Gianni could not do other than what he desired, or what was predestined by the creator, Mr. Lawhead.

So it is with the God of the Bible, except He spoke the world into actual existence (something no man can do). He planned the Fall, predestined it, along with everything else, including the damnation of the wicked. Consider Proverbs 16:4, "The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil."

Or consider Romans 9:10-24, which really makes clear Gianni's faulty belief system:
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”[d] 13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”[e]
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”[f] 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Of course, history was made for Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Creation is the expression of the love between God the Father and God the Son, and God subjected the creation to futility so that His Son might be the hero of history and redeem it. The Father has given the Son preeminence over all things, and in fact all creation was made for Christ, not for man, as Colossians 1:15-20 plainly says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
Gianni's god is impotent, weak, inferior, and cannot get what he wants. Our God, the God of the Bible, is all powerful, strong, and gets what He wants, which is glory for Himself. And He gives all the glory of man to His Son, and through union with the Son, we gain glory too. Our God is marvelous, He knows the end from the beginning because He has predestined the first from the last. Yet He does it all through the means of our willing. The truth is, predestination and human choosing are not contradictory. God is able to make His grand glory story, His epic novel, come to life, and we are characters in His story that do both exactly what we want and what He predestined, because they are one in the same.

Oh mystery of mysteries, praise be to our God!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

CSFF Blog Tour: The Shadow Lamp

You can purchase The Shadow Lamp here.

By: Thomas F. Booher

I've discussed the exceptional writing of Mr. Lawhead in my review of The Spirit Well, and the general plot for the complicated tale can be found there as well. Though what I have to say below is aggressive, I do want to say up front that this book is well worth reading based on the writing, and if you take the story as a non-Christian piece of fiction, the plot and what I expect the conclusion to be should still be enjoyable. But this book is part of a Christian blog tour and written by one who professes to be a believer. Therefore I must say the following.

I have found the previous book and this one much the same. The culmination of the whole story is becoming clear, however, and I am quite alarmed with the way God is represented. In fact, I am wondering whether this series can rightly be called Christian at all.

I hope that is not the case. In fact I hope Lawhead can stop by and reassure me that he is not proclaiming an impotent God who knows not the future and thus cannot determine it. Worse, I hope he is not putting forth a gospel that is contrary to Scripture and devaluing the cross of Christ.

Now before I get some snarky comments about not knowing the difference between preaching and telling stories, let it be known that I am quite aware that an author can portray something in a story contrary to how he actually believes. Yet if that is what one does, then why would we still call the book Christian? Again, I recognize and agree that taking another's position and playing it out in a story can be an effective tool to show the bankruptcy of such a position. But if I write a book about an atheist professor and in the story he wins converts and the story ends with an approval of atheism (or non-Christianity, or an apostate sect of Christianity), why should I get to say, "Oh, but I don't actually believe that, I am a Christian" as if by virtue of the fact I am a Christian I have written a "Christian" piece of fiction? There would be nothing in the story that would make it Christian at all, and simply because the author is Christian means nothing.

I would also like to know how the CSFF blog tour defines itself and what it's policy is on the books that it reviews. What is the criteria? I say this because in The Shadow Lamp we have what appears to be an aberrant teaching on the sovereignty of God, his knowledge (or lack thereof), and most importantly, the purpose of Creation and what salvation actually is (I will explain why I think this in The Shadow Lamp in the next post, but it should be clear).

I say all this recognizing that there is another book to come in the series. I did some research, however, and it seems that what Lawhead is writing is what he actually believes, and so I do not anticipate any major theological revisions in the story. Consider that Lawhead regards Pelagius as sound and not a heretic despite most church historians regarding Pelagius as one who taught that man had no need of God's grace in order to be saved and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. Pelagius also denied original sin, the teaching that all mankind is born dead in their sins and has inherited the guilt of Adam and Eve from the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Obviously, if man isn't dead in sin, then salvation means something other than salvation from sin, from spiritual death. And if man is capable of saving himself through means of the will, apart from God's grace, then what is the message of the cross? An example par excellence?

I do hope Mr. Lawhead stops by and clears this up for us. I hope that the reason he doesn't see Pelagius as a heretic is because he believes Pelagius did not deny original sin or the need for the grace of God and the atonement in order to be saved from sin. Per the link above, I have some hope that this is the case, for Lawhead has said:

. . . as a result of my researches into various aspects of the Celtic church, I’ve come to the conclusion that Pelagius was not only a member of the Célé Dé, he was certainly far from  the heretic he was made out to be by his enemies.  Moreover, while he was one of the more noteworthy expressions of   the Celtic Christianity of Britain and Ireland, he was not the only one; there were many more. As a product of his homeland and culture, the views of Pelagius were by and large the views of the Celtic church — views which Rome increasingly found irritating for one reason or another. For example, the Celts were all for taking the Good News of salvation to the Barbarians, while Rome considered this anathema.

Even if this is the case, and I certainly hope that it is, it seems that Lawhead is at best advancing some sort of open theism theology with a multiverse twist in The Shadow Lamp (open theism being the doctrine that God Himself does not even know the future, since for God to know the future it would have to already be predestined by Him).

In my next post, I will attempt to show where I see Lawhead doing these things and then offer what I believe Scripture clearly teaches to be God's ultimate purpose in creation as opposed to what Lawhead offers is his story in a final post. After all, as believers, and as those who want to see good Christian fiction writing, getting the basic purpose for history right is of paramount importance. If we don't understand God's grand design, we can't tell a Christian story.

CSFF Blog Tour Participants: