Saturday, August 30, 2008

does this make me a heretic?

Lately I've been enjoying poking fun at hymns. (Don't worry, the only reason I'm not poking fun at modern songs is because they can be so dire that I can't even laugh at them.)

A favourite of mine (and my Dad's) is one verse of "O God of matchless grace". It starts:
'Tis meet that Thy delight
Should centre in Thy Son...
Once you've got past the weird language - that's right! Well done, God! It's proper that you like your Son. You can rest assured that we approve.

One of my Mum's favourites was this:
I have heard of showers of blessings
Thou art scattering full and free
Showers the thirsty land refreshing
Let some droppings fall on me

Self-explanatory, I think.

She also said that when she was a kid she couldn't stand singing "O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise" - she couldn't help imagining a bunch of disembodied tongues singing by themselves.

I hate this particular one:
God holds the key of all unknown,
And I am glad;
If other hands should hold the key,
Or if He trusted it to me,
I might be sad (I might be sad).
That's right - God, you hold on to this key (whatever it is), because if you don't, (o horrors!) I might be sad. And you wouldn't like that.

Then there's the really old-timer songs, which my Dad recently found in his old boxes of stuff. The songs where everyone's happy.
On Monday I am happy
On Tuesday full of joy
Wednesday has a faith
The devil can't destroy.
On Thursday, and Friday
I'm walking in the light
Saturday's a victory
And Sunday a delight

Ain't that right, folks? Doesn't that reflect the Christian walk to a T?


I am a big fan of hymns, especially as they are being chucked out in favour of repetitive and unpoetic songs that will be out of fashion next year, except for a few token old songs that no one can possibly object to and which can be fiddled with and put in a modern format. But I can't agree with the purists who say that modern songs lack depth, and all old songs can give that to us.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think it helps anyone who's struggling or being attacked or dying or loves someone who's dying to have to stand in church on a Sunday and sing a song about how everything's a breeze when God is in our lives.

These are two verses of "Trust and Obey", which we coincidentally had to sing at church soon after my Mum died:
When we walk with the Lord
in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise,
not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear,
not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

I get it. I get that the point behind the song is that things are better when God is in our lives. I could see that at the time. But it didn't help to have such drivel pushed down my throat, without any recognition that what I was going through was difficult. I do not agree that this sort of song has depth.

What I ask for is thought going into the songs we are asked to sing. Both old and new, Christian songs should be songs that we can sing honestly. We tend to quote the psalms a lot in our music - but do we quote those unhappy psalms (quite a lot of them) which make it clear that life is not heaven? Even with God in it?

The really good hymns which in my opinion no modern song has yet come close to beating are those which reflect a cry from the human heart for God. A cry that loses none of its power over time. Such as this:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee
Let the water and the blood
From thy wounded side which flowed
Be for sin the double cure
Save from wrath and make me pure

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill thy law's demands
Could my zeal no respite know
Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and thou alone

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to the cross I cling
Naked, come to Thee for dress
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Foul, I to the fountain fly
Wash me, Savior, or I die

While I draw this fleeting breath
When mine eyes shall close in death
When I soar to worlds unknown
See Thee on Thy judgment throne
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

being convincing

Recently I've heard (or heard about) a few talks given by Christians trying to address questions or problems of non-believers. I want to say right from the start that I respect their effort very much indeed and I know those kind of talks can do a lot of good. They inevitably come up against a lot of criticism, some of which is very uninformed, and I think they are very brave, especially those who make an effort in an environment like my university, which seems to be just getting more and more anti-Christian.

I would like to respectfully suggest, however, a few things (for any of these speakers who may happen to read this blog which is unlikely):

For someone like myself, who has been trained to some extent in academic ways of thinking, I don't find these talks very helpful. Although I'm already on your side and agree in the end with the basis of what you're trying to say, it always seems to me like you're repeating arguments that have been used again and again ... and again. I'm not sure how many times now I've heard the analogy of the tornado causing a Boeing 747 to come together to discredit the "chance" theory of evolution, but it's a lot; likewise, asking me if I knew that only a few metres difference to the circumference of the Earth would make the planet unhabitable (or something like that) has been asked so very often that it loses its power as an example. It comes across quite clearly that these talks are standardized, and that Christians are encouraged to take these examples and repeat them - which seems a bit like spoonfeeding to me. Also, someone like myself doesn't just hear an argument like that and accept it as fact. I want to know where the footnotes are.

I really think the only way to approach debates like these is to focus on specific arguments. A recent series of talks at my university has been, ostensibly, on Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. However, according to at least one non-Christian observer, they really weren't so much about Dawkins' argument, focusing instead on the sort of argument given above. In my opinion, especially in a talk given to a university audience, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking Dawkins' thesis and refuting it, point by point. This may be more "intellectual" or "highbrow" but Dawkins did not write to a lowbrow audience, and his argument must be responded to from the same footing as he is on. Dumbing it down is not going to help our case.

It is also a very smart move to anticipate the objections of people to your talk. For example, in this particular series, apparently the speaker said that it's illogical to presume that life can come from no life. Yes. It is. However, the immediate reaction of the non-Christian observers in our university's magazine was to say, well, then: where did God come from? As far as they said, anyway, the speaker offered no explanation for this question which naturally follows his assertion.

Also, I'm not convinced that following the Creator argument is the best way to go. I think any defence of Christianity must begin with a defence of the Bible. Everything else is just unproven assertions, unless you can convincingly defend the Bible's historical accuracy and internal consistency (which I think can be done plausibly and compellingly). This is what seems to bother thinking non-Christians the most about Christianity, at least in my world. Yes, the world is an amazing place, yes, Jesus is an attractive figure who cannot be delegated away as just a prophet or a nice man - but can we believe what he has to say? This is crucial, and ignoring the historical evidence for Christianity just leaves you open to criticism. I really don't think non-Christians have a very good case at all for attacking the Bible's accuracy and consistency, but if we don't prove this, they will raise objections which sound plausible to those who know nothing about how the Bible was written.

Even if you disagree, and think that the Creator argument is the most important here, I really think we Christians need to be creative in our arguments. We need to show thinking people that we haven't simply swallowed what our preacher, or authors such as C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Tim Keller or Lee Strobel, have to say. (Although I find their books very helpful, simply quoting them is not enough.) We need to show that we can think for ourselves, and still find the gospel convincing.

Just a few ideas.