Hymns Modern and Ancient – A Review

Hymns: Modern and Ancient Hymns Modern & Ancient is a 2011 publication that contains 133 various hymns meant for congregational singing.  This hymnal is a resource for those who want a supplement to an existing hymnal.  Much of the work for this book was done by Fred Coleman, a Baptist pastor, and his wife Ruth.  The songs in this hymnal are meant to be singable and biblical.  There is a regular hardcover version and a spiral bound version for pianists.

Many of the hymns in this book are familiar, including “Alas and Did My Savior Bleed,” “Beneath the Cross,” “Jerusalem the Golden,” “Just As I Am,” and so forth.  Some of the older hymns have newer tunes, which some people may not appreciate.  There are also quite a few new hymns, including the popular, “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”  A quick look at the index shows that the bulk of the new hymns were written by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, Bob Kauflin, Stuart Townend, and Fred Coleman.  I have to admit I’m not at all familiar with these authors/composers, so I can’t comment much on them aside from noting that roughly half the hymns in this book belong to one of the above named authors/composers.  (As a side, D. A. Carson has a few selections in the hymnal as well.)

The music in this hymnal is singable for the most part. Many are written in standard 4/4 or 3/4 time and most of them don’t go higher than E (so we don’t have to strain for the high notes!).  I did notice there were many songs that took up two pages and from time to time I ran across a hymn with those pesky rests in the middle of the song or alternate endings that may throw some people off.  Some of the songs are just words with no score – another thing some singers might not appreciate.

I am disappointed that there’s no Scripture index in the back of the hymnal, but my biggest critique of the hymnal is that there are very few psalms – 6 total if my count is correct.   I do appreciate solid biblical hymns, but I believe psalms should have priority in congregational singing.  So the chief reason I can’t give Hymns Modern and Ancient a five-star review is because it only has a few psalms.

If you’re looking for a hymn resource that contains some solid and singable hymns, you should check this hymnal out.  I’m glad I own it; it is a good resource with edifying hymns.  It might be a big hymnal upgrade for those churches whose primary hymnal is weak and fluffy.  Perhaps we can look forward to future editions of Hymns Modern and Ancient that include more psalms.  At that point I would be more eager to give it a hearty recommendation.

NOTE: I was given a copy of this hymnal by the publishers in exchange for an honest review: Hymns Modern and Ancient (Milwaukee: Heart Publications, 2011). 

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

No Room for Them in the Inn?

The Gospel of Luke (NICNT) When Joseph and his pregnant fiancée Mary came to Bethlehem, did they do so in the middle of the night, trying desperately to find a room in an inn only to have the innkeeper tell them “no vacancy?”  Most likely not.  Joel Green gives a better and more biblical understanding in his commentary on Luke 2:7:

“The narrator apparently pictures Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and staying there for some time before the delivery of Mary’s baby (cf. 2:6, ‘while they were there’), not their inability to locate lodging on the night of their arrival resulting in the birth of the child in a stable.”

“The term Luke employs here for ‘guest room’ is often translated in English as ‘inn.’  However, the same term appears in 22:11 with the meaning ‘guest room,’ and the verbal form occurs in 9:12 and 19:7 with the sense of ‘find lodging’ or ‘be a guest.’  Moreover, in 10:34, where a commercial inn is clearly demanded by the text, Luke draws on different vocabulary.  It is doubtful whether a commercial inn actually existed in Bethlehem, which stood on no major roads.  It may be that Luke has in mind a ‘kahn or caravansary where large groups of travelers found shelter under one roof,’ but this does not help our understanding of Mary’s placing the child in a manger.”

“That ‘guest room’ is the more plausible meaning here is urged by the realization that in peasant homes in the ancient Near East family and animals slept in one enclosed space, with the animals located on a lower level.  Mary and Joseph, then, would have been the guests of family or friends, but their home would have been so overcrowded that the baby was placed in a feeding trough” (p. 128-9).

Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).

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Applying Revelation

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation Dennis Johnson’s commentary on Revelation (Triumph of the Lamb) is one of my favorites because it is scholarly yet readable, detailed yet clear, and expositional yet practical.  In chapter 15 Johnson asks and answers the application question: “What should this book [Revelation] do to us?”  Here are his answers summarized and edited:

1) Revelation helps us see our situation in its true perspective.  We are living between two worlds: the first heaven and earth, which are destined for destruction; and the new creation, to which we already belong as God’s holy city, the bride now being beautified for her Husband.  Jesus’ Revelation to the churches through John is given to help us navigate the paradoxes built into the ‘betweenness’ of our situation.  Revelation is also brutally frank in revealing the call to follow Christ as a call to suffering and even death.  More than this, Jesus shows us that his victory over the enemy has blazed the trail for our victory.

2) Revelation helps us see our enemies in their true colors.  Revelation calls the church, Jesus’ witness, to exercise wise discernment, lest we be taken in by an impressive image that masks an ugly and empty reality.  The enemies include the beast (the power of government), the false prophet (religious deception), and the harlot (the idolatrous allure of material affluence and social acceptance).

3) Revelation helps us see our Champion in his true glory.  Whenever Revelation works on us as God intends it to, we trust, love, and fear Jesus more.  The purpose of its graphic portrayals of the dragon’s heavy artillery is not to haunt us with nightmares or keep us awake with night sweats.  It is to direct our eyes and hearts away from ourselves, to focus instead on Christ, the seed of the woman who crushed the ancient serpent’s head and now sits on God’s throne.  He is the lion of Judah, the slain Lamb, the captain of heaven’s armies, the faithful witness, the husband who lives his bride, etc.

4) Revelation helps us see ourselves in our true beauty.  Jesus loves his church.  Of course he is not blind to her blemishes, nor will he leave them untreated to mar his brides complexion when our wedding day arrives.  But Revelation shows us the lengths to which the Lamb has gone and will go to make us the holy city in whom he will dwell forever.  Christ loves his church and binds himself to her with bonds that no enemy from without and no failure of ours from within can sever.”

5) Revelation helps us endure suffering, stay pure, and bear witness to Christ.  The first century churches that John was writing to faced suffering and even martyrdom.  He wrote to encourage them to press on through suffering.  He also wrote to warn us of the devil’s appealing power and alluring guise, helping us fight spiritual seduction.  Finally, Revelation keeps us from withdrawing into a religious ghetto and keeping the gospel a secret.   The church is called to be Jesus’ witnesses, fearless in engaging the culture because we are confident in his care for as long as our mission on earth lasts.

This is an excellent summary of how Revelation applies to us, affects us, and encourages us in the Christian faith.  I recommend reading this entire excellent chapter of this excellent book: Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis Johnson.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Augustine on Unconditional Election

Here are some excellent lines from Augustine on the doctrine of election – specifically unconditional election.  Augustine wrote these words in his comments on John 15:15-16.

“Ye have not chosen me,” He says, “but I have chosen you.” Grace such as that is ineffable. For what were we so long as Christ had not yet chosen us, and we were therefore still destitute of love? For he who hath chosen Him, how can he love Him? Were we, think you, in that condition which is sung of in the psalm: “I had rather be an abject in the house of the Lord, than dwell in the tents of wickedness”?  Certainly not. What were we then, but sinful and lost? We had not yet come to believe on Him, in order to lead to His choosing us; for if it were those who already believed that He chose, then was He chosen Himself, prior to His choosing. But how could He say, “Ye have not chosen me,” save only because His mercy anticipated us?

Here surely is at fault the vain reasoning of those who defend the foreknowledge of God in opposition to His grace, and with this view declare that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, because God foreknew that we should be good, but not that He Himself would make us good. So says not He, who declares, “Ye have not chosen me.” For had He chosen us on the ground that He foreknew that we should be good, then would He also have foreknown that we would not be the first to make choice of Him. For in no other way could we possibly be good: unless, forsooth, one could be called good who has never made good his choice.

What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.” To which he adds: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.”

Listen, thou ungrateful one, listen: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Not that thou mayest say, I am chosen because I already believed. For if thou wert believing in Him, then hadst thou already chosen Him. But listen: “Ye have not chosen me.” Not that thou mayest say, Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen. For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”?  What, then, are we to say on hearing such words, “Ye have not chosen me,” but that we were evil, and were chosen in order that we might be good through the grace of Him who chose us? For it is not by grace, if merit preceded: but it is of grace: and therefore that grace did not find, but effected the merit.

Augustine of Hippo. “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John.” St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. John Gibb and James Innes. Vol. 7. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888. 353.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

Confronting an Alcoholic

Alcoholism is a huge problem in the United States – even in the Christian church.  Since it isn’t always a clearly visible sin, we may forget about it or think it isn’t such a big deal.  In fact, some Christians are oblivious to it to the extent that they flaunt their love of all kinds of alcohol without considering what effect that may have on others inside and outside of the church.  Some Christians sadly act like 16 year olds when talking about and consuming alcohol.  But alcoholism is real, it is serious, and it is a sin (cf. Rom 13:13, Gal 5:21, 1 Pet. 4:3).  If you’re dealing with drunkenness yourself or in the life of someone you know, I highly recommend Ed Welch’s Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave.  Here are a few helpful lines from Welch’s section on confronting an alcoholic (or someone with another addiction).

“…If you really want to lay a foundation for honesty, you must be a person who is quick to acknowledge your own sin, and who will not overreact to sin in those close to you.  To keep from overreacting, you must be persuaded that the problem is ultimately before God.  As the psalmist said… ‘Against you, you only have I sinned’ (Ps. 51:4).  It is not our law that has been violated, it is God’s.”

Welch then discusses the steps of confrontation and discipline in Matthew 18 (if it is a church context) and says that the goal is “love and restoration.”

What about the actual intervention – when you confront the addict face to face to tell him of his sin?  I don’t have room to summarize everything Welch writes, but here are a few (edited) notes:

1) Consider who would be best to participate in the intervention.  2) Have a time of personal repentance and prayer, remembering that the gap between the substance abuser and you is quite narrow. 3) Have each person explicitly [and specifically] describe some of the apparent signs and consequences of the addiction that he has witnessed.  4) Prepare follow-up options (i.e. cutting off all funds, protecting children involved, counseling, detox, etc.  5)  Set up the intervention.”

Of course Welch gives more wise advice on this topic from a biblical and gracious perspective.  In fact, Welch calls confrontation/intervention a “rescue mission.”  To learn more, you’ll have to get this book to read this chapter (5) and the rest of this excellent resource on addictions: Ed Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

War Hymns? Ambiguous Hymns?

J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings In 1933 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A published a completely new hymnal.  It was a significant event in the history of the PCUSA as it opened the door even further for liberalism and modernism.  J. Gresham Machen wrote a critical review of the hymnal in the December issue of “Christianity Today” that same year.  Here are two excerpts from it that I thought were interesting and helpful.

“…We are glad that the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ …is absent from the new book.  Opinions may differ about the political views out of which that poem was born.  Some of us may agree with them; some of us may disagree.  But one things is clear – a fiery war song like that one has no place in the worship of a Christian congregation.”

“…What characterizes the new hymns above anything else is their deadly vagueness.  Such vagueness cannot, of course, be exhibited in any review; it can be appreciated only when a man reads the new hymns through for himself.  This vagueness is altogether attractive to the nondoctrinal Modernism that now dominates the visible church, but to the Christian heart it is almost as depressing as definitely and clearly unscriptural teaching would be.  Let it be clearly understood, therefore, that what we shall now say in criticism of individual hymns is only supplementary to the central indictment that they ignore the great central verities [truths] of the faith and particularly the heart and core of the Bible which is found in the shed blood of Christ our sacrifice.”

Ambiguous hymns weren’t confined to the 1933 hymnal; they are alive and well today on Christian radio, overhead church projectors, and worship band playlists.  I agree with Machen: ambiguous hymns are “almost as depressing as definitely and clearly unscriptural teaching” is.

(Note: You can find the rest of Machen’s helpful article in his Shorter Writings.)

shane lems
hammond, wi

Prayers and Prejudice

... Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert - Rosaria Champagne ButterfieldIf you haven’t read The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, you really must!  It’s a great biography full of mercy, conviction, struggles, love, church, fellowship, and the triumph of sovereign grace.  Here’s one convicting paragraph I highlighted so I would read it again (and again!):

“Shortly after becoming a Christian, I counseled a woman who was in a closeted lesbian relationship and a member of a Bible-believing church.  No one in her church knew.  Therefore, no  one in her church was praying for her.  Therefore, she sought and received no counsel.  There was no ‘bearing one with the other’ for her.  No confession.  No repentance.  No healing.  No joy in Christ.  Just isolation. And shame. And pretense.”

“Someone had sold her the pack of lies that said that God can heal your lying tongue or your broken heart, even cure your cancer if he chooses, but he can’t transform your sexuality.  I told her that my heart breaks for her isolation and shame and asked her why she didn’t share with anyone in her church her struggle.  She said: ‘Rosaria, if people in my church really believed that gay people could be transformed by Christ, they wouldn’t talk about us or pray about us in the hateful way that they do.’”

“Christian reader, is this what people say about you when they hear you talk and pray?  Do our prayers rise no higher than your prejudice?”

Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, p. 25.

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