Family Devotions from the Theological Dark Web

Tell me you don’t have to go to a fairly somber place to sing this with your wife during morning family worship:

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

11 and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

17 to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

18 and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

20 and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

21 and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;

22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

If you think God is love means he is on the side of history moving toward tolerance, understanding, empathy, and harmony, you may have some explaining to do about those aspects of redemptive history that don’t line up with modern sensibilities (just like if you are a proponent of American exceptionalism you do have to do something with native Americans and slavery). Of course, the problem could be with moderns and our discomfort with sin’s consequences or the way we want our history — whether church or national — free from the presence of sinners and the wages of sin.

God is love but he does not love everyone in the same way. The same goes for Christ, especially in his execution of the office of king:

Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.That is why the Shorter Catechism describes Christ’s kingship but God has enemies.

That is no reason to gloat. How could it be. Christ’s salvation and the reality of the antithesis should nurture humility and reduce outrage. It could even soften #Woke Christians and sober up naive transformationalists.

More reasons to sing the Psalms.

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Praise Militias?

I remember back in the days of the worship wars when the result were still uncertain — maybe 20 years ago. Back then I would hear the people who promoted contemporary worship, complete with praise bands, cites Psalms like 149 for support (which the missus and I read today in family worship — tmi):

Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! (Psalm 149:1-3 ESV)

What was downright jaw dropping to see as we read to the psalm’s conclusion, was the call for weapons in worship in addition to instruments:

Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 149:5-9 ESV)

Funny how the P&W advocates didn’t promote militarized along with contemporary worship.

This may also have some bearing on those who oppose Christians singing the imprecatory psalms. Is it really possible to separate praise from jihad so readily in the Psalms. Think of Psalm 136 (which if read aloud in its entirety almost takes on the cadence of rap):

to him who struck down great kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and killed mighty kings,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and Og, king of Bashan,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
a heritage to Israel his servant,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:17-26 ESV)

I’ve heard that cafeteria Roman Catholicism is a liability. How about cafeteria psalm-singing?

Why Should Episcopalians Have All the Good Chants?

What I am about to write will put me in awkward company since both James Jordan, the godfather of visions federal and David Koyzis, one of many keepers of the Kuyperian flame, have also advocated chanting psalms. But I am not afraid of the genetic fallacy that attributes guilt by association. I have very little sympathy for Jordan’s musings or for Koyzis’ opposition to dualism. But I do agree with them that chanting psalms is a better way to sing them than any available to the modern church.

But I don’t need to go Federal Visionist or neo-Calvinist to find support for chanting. The good and reliable singers of psalms, the Reformed Presbyterians, also include a page in their Book of Psalms for Singing on how to chant. Their reasons for chanting are as straightforward as their tips for singing are helpful. What is more, Reformed Presbyterian arguments don’t dabble in the exotic, trendy, or liturgical. For them, the point is to sing psalms as given in Scripture.

Chanting has several advantages over metrical Psalmody, stemming from the fact that in chanting, the music completely serves the text. The music is not difficult or interesting in itself, but has character and meaning only in conjunction with the words. The meaning of the text is thus more immediate, and the parallel structure of the Hebrew poetry is more apparent. The difficulties of translating ancient non-metrical poems into sensible English rhyme are rendered unnecessary. Chanting encourages the use of entire Psalms rather than selections.

The one advantage that I’d call attention to is that chanting frees modern congregations from having to sing songs that rhyme. My own tastes in poetry are pedestrian, and I like poems that rhyme. I am particularly attached to the limerick and sometimes write them. My main challenge is finding words that rhyme. (Heck, I have enough trouble finding the right word when it doesn’t have to rhyme.) But I see no reason why the songs we sing in worship need to rhyme. And I sometimes see the toll that rhyme schemes take upon the constructions (or their translations) of poets for whom rhyming was unknown.

Adding to the burden of metrical psalms is the tune. Each song has a certain number of beats per line, which means that each turn has a specific meter. Modern hymnals devote one of their many indexes to meters, such as 7.7.7.8, so that you may find all tunes with that meter and sing texts with the same meter to any of the listed tunes.

This means that psalm translators for metrical purposes not only have to find words at the end of lines that rhyme, but must also use translations that have the right number of syllables per line. Which means that a metrical psalm is several steps removed from the genuine article.

Now, of course, the genuine article would be to chant the psalms in Hebrew, but that would prevent worship in a known tongue to anyone in the United States other than obsessive seminary students.

So why not remove the entire rigamarole of awkward translations fitted for conventions of modern poetry and find a good English rendition of the psalms to chant? The music of chants are flexible and, contrary to the RPCNA’s advice, are often beautiful. Four-part chants are down right stunning. And chants aren’t that hard. The conservative Presbyterians with whom I commune sing well any number of complicated tunes. If Episcopalians, a group hardly known for vigorous congregational singing, can chant, why can’t Presbyterians?