A Church of Mercy

(cross-posted from simplyxian.com)

Protestants, especially conservatives and/or Evangelicals, are often hesitant to champion social causes or acts of mercy…typically equating them with the ‘social gospel’ of the early 20th century and its associated liberal theology. The connection, however, is clearly unwarranted and unscriptural.  Hopefully that incorrect connection will soon fade away into memory as more and more Christians get involved in reaching out to help those in need, as Jesus did.

Richard Stearns’ Hole in Our Gospel is a powerful antidote to this kind of thinking.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  You won’t be able to put it down, and then you won’t be able to get it out of your head.  Also, Jeremy Tate has just written a wonderful post of being a Church of mercy.  While I don’t agree with his conclusion that her consistent acts of mercy show the Roman Catholic Church to be the one true church, the example set by Catholicism in this respect is definitely humbling and worthy of others’ imitation.

read: A Church of Mercy

photo courtesy of stock.xchng
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What Happens in Worship

Lutheran worship is primarily the proclamation of the gospel in Word and sacrament. As we gather together for worship, God speaks to us in his Word. Through the preaching of his law he crushes us with the stark and painful reminder of our own sin and unworthiness; he causes us to tremble at his holiness and justice; he speaks to us his urgent call to repentance. But in that same time of worship, a gracious God speaks to us words of full and free forgiveness. He points us to Christ and to the cross where his sacrifice paid the price of our sin, removed our guilt, and opened the door to heaven itself. In that same time of worship, we poor miserable sinners kneel side by side and receive the same body and blood that were given and shed for us. We commune with our God and with each other. In that same setting of worship, we witness how the power of the Holy Spirit, working through nothing other than his Word and simple water, creates new life and faith in the hearts of children and adults as they are baptized. And even when we join our voices to praise God in our words and songs, that praise is always focused on what God has done for us in Christ, adding our voices of gospel proclamation to the voice of the shepherd God has called to serve us.

If that is what happens in Lutheran worship, if the proclamation of the gospel and the preaching of Christ crucified is the center of what happens in our churches, then our worship services are not only times when God is nourishing the faith of believers; worship services also become a time and place where true evangelism and outreach take place. It is in that kind of Christ-centered and cross-focused worship setting that people hear not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. It is then that people receive something effective and lasting—not the passing emotional high that soon fades outside the church doors, not the hollow recipes for happiness, worldly success, or outwardly godly living.

Mark Schroeder

from here

Book Review: The Voice New Testament

When I first heard about the Voice New Testament, I was excited and intrigued.  The idea of a rendition of Scripture written primarily to be heard excites me, because until very recently in history, Scripture was not read like a textbook but heard by the people of God during times of corporate worship.  At the same time, I was intrigued because the translation team included many individuals who were clearly qualified with respect to their academic credentials but who are not well-known as Bible translators.  Neither of these points is inherently good or bad–they just formed my initial reaction to hearing about the project.

After reading a great portion of the Voice New Testament, I concluded that there are two reasons I cannot recommend this translation / paraphrase (?) for study or general use.  First, the text contains many insertions within the biblical text of notes attempting to clarify the text’s meaning.  These are essentially footnotes embedded in the main body of the text.  Though italicized to indicate that they are not part of the text, their placement within the flow of the text could be misleading to readers, unintentionally elevating these comments to the same level as inspired Scripture.  The second reason I have against recommending the Voice is that, while billed as a dynamic translation, it really reads more like the Message, which I would consider to be a paraphrase versus a true dynamic translation (like the New Living Translation).  The translation team took lots of liberties with the text–ones I think go well beyond what is either needed or desirable to satisfy their charter of highlighting “the beauty of God’s communication to His people” to ensure “the voice of God is heard as clearly as when He first revealed His truth.”

In sum, while I admire the goals of the Voice, it is not a translation I can recommend.  If, in the future, a revision was made to address these concerns (and those raised by others), I would gladly revisit this edition, but until then I will not refer to it often in my devotions, preaching, or teaching.

You can find out more about The Voice on the publisher’s website (here) or on Amazon.com (here).

The Gift of Music

I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone…Next to the Word of God, music deserve the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions–to pass over the animals–which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found–at least not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate…what more effective means than music could you find?

…the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming [the Word of God] through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.

Martin Luther, LW 53:321, 323-324

“Scripture Does Not Speak of Christ” by Pr. Peters

Our understanding of the Word of God (especially with respect to its reading as part of liturgy, public worship, and private devotion)  is absolutely paramount to our theology of worship, both corporate and private.  I have never read a short piece on the theology of the Word that is as succinct yet robust as this one by Pr. Peters on his Pastoral Meanderings blog.  I have republished this post below in its entirety, but please let the reader be reminded, these are Pr. Peter’s words and not my own…I emphasize that lest anyone give me any credit for this magnificent piece:

Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian now Roman Catholic, made the relevant point that Scripture does not speak of Christ but speaks Christ. Now this is not argument over terminology or semantics. This is the essential catholic confession — the Word of God does not speak of something the way, for example, I may speak of something I know or have an opinion about. Scripture is God speaking. When Scripture speaks, we hear the voice of God.

For most of Protestantism Scripture has become a book of rules to be followed, a set of principles to inform how we reshape the world, a set of practical tools to better your life, or a road map to lead you from here to eternity. But that is just plain wrong. Scripture is the voice of God. Scripture is the discourse of God in human words. This Word is powerful and can do what it claims and keep all its promises. This Word has the power to call and gather the Church.

On Sunday morning we often treat the Word of God as if it were nothing more than a book of wise sayings, some of which may be practical enough and pointed enough to make a small difference in the ordinary and mundane of our world. We treat so casually what is essentially the Voice of God who speaks to us and is speaking to us in Scripture.

We act as if the gems of Bible study were the hints or conclusions reached from that study — like a school child reads the encyclopedia for things he or she can use in a paper that is due tomorrow. Bible study is important because it is time with God, it is the conversation in which God is the speaker to us and we who have ears tuned in faith can hear Him speaking. It is not what we learn from Bible study but what we learn in Bible study as a people gather to hear every word and as a people who know that this every word is important.

Nowhere is that more true than in worship — the Word of God predominates not because we have found it useful but because it is Christ speaking to us. In this respect liturgy is the first real context for us to hear Scripture — everything else flows from this assembly and is not in competition with it or can substitute for it — as it was for those who heard Scripture first from the voice of the apostles.

This is what we need to rediscover – the urgency, the immediacy of God’s voice in our midst. In response to that voice, we come, we listen, we hear, and we grow. The distasteful practice of cell phones and watch alarms going off in worship is a sign that we have not understood that Scripture is God’s voice speaking to us — or surely we would shut those things off. The strange practice of people moving in and out of the Sanctuary as the Scriptures are read and preached is a sign that we do not understand that Scripture is God’s living voice speaking to us or we would find a way to fit our bathroom needs around this holy and momentous conversation in which God is the speaker and initiates the dialog that brings forth faith in us and bestows upon us all the gifts of the cross and empty tomb.

Instead of burying our faces in bulletins to read, we would raise our heads to listen. I am convinced that the reading of Scripture is heard differently than the reading of Scripture from a service folder page. We don’t listen to each other with our heads buried in a booklet. We listen to each other by looking at the point where the voice is coming from and by learning to tune out the distractions so that we might hear what is said. This is the discipline that is so missing on Sunday morning.

All because we think of Scripture as a vehicle that delivers something to us instead of the thing that is delivered — the voice of God speaking grace and mercy, conviction and condemnation, redemption and restoration, death and life… Wisdom!! Attend!!

My Personal Psalter Project

The Psalms have always been central to the worship, liturgies, prayers, devotions, and songs of countless Christians across the centuries.  In the Psalter one can find cries of joy and pain, brokenness and rage, helplessness and confidence.  In other words, the voices in the Psalms are real, very real, and in their heart-felt transparency lies a great deal of their popularity and importance.  They teach us how to pray, how to grieve, how to rejoice–i.e., how to live as believers in the real world with its ups and down.

Here’s how Luther more eloquently summed up the great value of the Psalms in the believer’s life:

Every Christian who would abound in prayer and piety ought, in all reason, to make the Psalter his manual; and, moreover, it were well if every Christian so used it and were so expert in it as to have it word for word by heart, and could have it even in his heart as often as he chanced to be called to speak or act, that he might be able to draw forth or employ some sentence out of it, by way of a proverb. For indeed the truth is, that everything that a pious heart can desire to ask in prayer, it here finds Psalms and words to match, so aptly and sweetly, that no man—no, nor all the men in the world—shall be able to devise forms of words so good and devout. (from Luther’s 1545 Preface to the Psalter)

I love to read from the Psalms each day, but still I long to be more familiar with them than I am.  With this in mind, I began my Personal Psalter Project earlier this week.  I purchased a Moleskine notebook and have begun copying, by hand, one Psalm per day until I have copied all 150.  I am copying them from the New Living Translation, which is my favorite translation, but am taking advantage of the luxury of a single-column setup to take advantage of my own formatting, using different levels of indention to really make the parallelism stand out (similar to what is done in the excellent Psalter layout in God’s Word translation).  In addition, the extra space gives me room to make notes about Hebrew/LXX vocabulary, alternate translations, or personal thoughts.

I will post additional thoughts, as well as some pictures, as this project continues.

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Review of God’s Word Translation–the New Testament (Part 3)

In this third post in my multi-part review of God’s Word Translation (GW), I will take a look at the New Testament as translated in GW.  If you are not familiar with GW, please read my first post on the history and philosophy behind GW and my second post on the Old Testament in GW.

Overall Readability

As mentioned in my review of the Old Testament, GW has achieved excellent readability–balancing contemporary English style without breaking significantly from traditional English translations.  What I said about the Old Testament holds true for the New in that I would place the ‘feel’ of GW (anecdotally) somewhere between the NIV and NLT.  One thing I have noticed by spending time with this translation over the past couple of months is the consistent use of simple word choice and sentence construction.  These facets are discussed in the “Guide to God’s Word Translation” booklet I received from Baker, and after reading large portions of this translation I appreciate what the translators were trying to accomplish.  Additionally, some of the English and Evangelical colloquialisms found in other contemporary translations are absent from this translation.   Far from creating a ‘dumbed down’ translation with respect to vocabulary and grammar, GW would lend itself very well to use in teaching the English language or in an ESL church context.  I hope GW will be able to find a warm reception and be put to good use in this area.

The Gospels

The narrative and dialogue of the Gospels reads exactly how one would expect these genres to read.  The flow is very good, interrupted only by section/pericope breaks common to most translations.  The style in the dialogue sections reflects contemporary English, for example, in its use of contractions and lack of repeating ‘verily’/’truly’ phrases (which are very good Greek but very poor English).  As in the Old Testament, poetic sections (primarily quotes from the OT) are formatted with multiple levels of indentation to show the Hebraic use of parallelism, effectively pointing out to English readers a poetic device we are largely unaccustomed to using.  As a format note, all the of the editions of GW I have seen are black-letter editions.  I do not think any red-letter editions exist, which for many of us is a stylistic bonus.

The Epistles

The language and grammar of the Epistles also makes for a very readable translation, even in the very lengthy sentences of Paul and difficult Greek used by Peter.  As is customary in many English translations, very long Greek sentences are made into more manageable English sentences.  As I’ve seen throughout GW, the translation team has done a very good job overall crafting an accurate and readable English translation.

Non-Traditional Wording

In my review of the Old Testament, I pointed out three areas, both good and bad, where GW broke with long-standing tradition in the realm of English bible translation.  There are more examples of non-traditional vocabulary choices in the New Testament, several of which are worthy of note, either positively or negatively.  First, let’s look at some of what I consider to be good changes:

  • Instead of ‘repent,’ GW consistently uses some variation of ‘change the way you/they think and act.’  While this is a verbose translation of ‘metanoeo,’ it accurately defines the Greek word in terms familiar to contemporary English speakers.
  • Instead of ‘verily, verily’ or ‘truly, truly’ throughout the Gospels, GW uses ‘I can guarantee this truth.’  In sections where Jesus says ‘amen, amen’ repeatedly it can sound a bit mechanical, but it’s an improvement over either of the traditional renderings.
  • In keeping with other contemporary English translations, GW translates the standalone use of ‘christos’ as ‘Messiah’ rather than ‘Christ.’  ‘Iesous Christos’ is still translated traditionally as ‘Jesus Christ.’  Even though Messiah and Christ are synonyms, I prefer to have ‘christos’ translated as Messiah to clearly link OT promise with NT fulfillment.

There are also a few choices made by the translators that I don’t like:

  • GW tends to translate ‘trespass’ (‘opheilema’) and ‘sin’ (‘hamartia’) as ‘failure,’ which itself I think is a failure.  In the typical usage of those with whom I interact, ‘failure’ connotes an unintentional shortcoming of my best efforts rather than intentional defiance or rebellion.  While ‘failure’ can denote ‘trespass’ or ‘sin,’ I don’t find it used this way.
  • Similarly to the NIV and NLT, GW translates ‘sarx’ as ‘sinful nature’ rather than ‘flesh.’  Lots of ink has been spilled evaluating this choice, and I won’t add to it other than to say I really don’t like it.
  • Instead of ‘grace,’ GW consistently uses ‘kindness,’ which only partly misses the mark.  God’s grace to us isn’t just kindness but his ‘undeserved kindness’ toward sinful humanity.  Simply using ‘kindness’ weakens the impact of God’s grace (‘charis’).
  • The most problematic vocabulary choice made by GW, in my opinion, is the use of ‘God’s approval’ instead of ‘justify’ (dikaioo).  Justification is more than just God’s approval, which itself connotes God’s positive reaction to some work on humanity’s part.  Justification is our acquittal from sin, God’s pardon of us (in Christ) in spite of ourselves.  Considering this translation was done by a team that maintains that a proper understanding of justification is key to salvation, this choice is a real disappointment to me.

Overall

The New Testament is well done overall.  As with the Old Testament, the narrative is clear, the dialogue contemporary, and the poetry well-presented.  I love the single-column, black-letter text, both of which create an enjoyable reading experience.  Also similar to the OT, some of the non-traditional wording choices are helpful but some, especially the translation chosen for ‘grace’ and ‘justify’ are poorly done.  In fact, this last item is probably the one thing that keeps me from recommending God’s Word without caveat.  Hopefully, the folks at Baker will take note of these items and revise the text, which would make this a truly solid, wonderful translation…not that it’s far from that mark today.

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