Spiritual Songs & New Songs
In his epistles, Paul speaks of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). His list categorizes three musical types: (1) psalms, which are inspired songs of the covenant, (2) hymns, which are ecclesiastically-shaped doctrinal songs, and (3) spiritual songs, which are distinguished from both. In this context, then, what is meant by “spiritual songs?” To put that question another way, psalms and hymns are also spiritual, so what sets this third category apart from the others?
Apart from Pauline literature, when “song” is used elsewhere in the New Testament, it twice refers to the “new song” of glory (Rev. 5:9, 14:3). In a third instance, the Apostle John does not mention psalms and hymns as Paul does, but uses “song of Moses” and “song of the Lamb,” both of which harken back to the covenant — i.e., the Torah and the Promise-Fulfilling Messiah. While there are a few hymn (υμνος) references (Mt. 26:30; Mk:26; Acts 16:25, 1 Cor. 14:26), “songs” (ωδη) in the New Testament are described with two adjectives: new and spiritual.
In the New Testament, there appears to be a parallel between the “new song” mentioned by John and spiritual songs mentioned by Paul. These are not totally separate from one another. The “new song” of glory is inspired not by human ingenuity, but by the Spirit of God. Likewise, spiritual songs of the Church are not ancient artifacts, but fresh songs that embrace the present and envision the future. In other words, the Spirit inspires both John’s “song” and Paul’s “song.” (It’s not surprising that John would use “new” rather than “spiritual,” considering his theological emphasis upon renewal, as evident by 9 references to “new” in Revelation.)
The Old Testament includes 7 references to “new song.” In every case, new songs celebrate God’s renewing work. From “He put a new song in my mouth” (Ps. 40:3) to “sing to the Lord a new song… all the earth” (Ps. 96:1), these songs express a forward-looking, eschatological dimension. That is to say, new songs reveal an inner longing for renewal that will ultimately come at the end of time. Isaiah’s mention of “new song” makes this especially clear as he calls all of creation to praise (Is. 42:10).
Likewise, the Spirit inspires songs that look ahead to the future. In Scripture, the Spirit points to the eschatological fulfillment of God’s promises. The Prophet Joel depicts the Spirit as marking the end times (e.g., Joel 2), and Paul also describes the Spirit as the seal of the covenant. (For more information, see Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence, chapter 12.) Thus, “Spirit-inspired” songs do not merely celebrate God’s past work, but possess an eschatological dimension as well.
Why does this matter? To begin with, “spiritual songs” should not be limited to a musical style — such as a gospel tune or an ad-libbed chorus. They are expressive songs, bubbling up from within us, and we must not lose sight of their theological function. Spiritual songs reflect the Spirit’s work within us, as we are being sanctified — moving closer and closer to glory. As such, the Holy Spirit inspires us in increasing measure to sing new songs to the Lord.
Synthesizer & Spirit
In response to Bob Kauflin’s recent post about synthesizers in worship, I agree with much of what he says (nearly everything), including the call for silence, variety, and Spirit dependence. Those are crucially important points, and I couldn’t agree more.
In my perspective, some further nuancing might be helpful in the article. Of course, the Spirit can work through physical means — just as He can work through other means. After all, we are embodied beings and certain sound waves affect us in different ways.
Too much cowbell would make us laugh. There’s nothing inherently spiritual or anti-spiritual about a cowbell, but culturally, we’ve associated cowbell with humor (e.g., SNL). Likewise, loud kick drum tends to be associated with dancing (or for others, headaches). These associations in themselves are not wrong.
As far as ambient pads go, in much of Western culture, that particular sound has been associated with contemplation, peace, and spirit. Like the sounds mentioned above, there is nothing moral or amoral about that in itself. In fact, synth sounds are used in contexts outside of worship (such as commercials) to communicate these same ideas.
For that reason, rather than comparing ambient pads to manipulation, I would compare it to the use of language. If culture uses certain metaphors (whether linguistic or not), then those metaphors can serve as vehicles of communication.
Again, I think Bob is awesome (a role model and a favorite!), and I agree with so much in his post. In my view, however, a bit more nuancing would be helpful, particularly some of the positive uses and/or more emphasis upon the fact that the Spirit not only uses spiritual means, but natural means. The Spirit’s activity is above and beyond our physical processes, of course, but neither is He absent from those processes.
Theology of Art (Piper)
John Piper offers a wonderful theology of art, in which he defines art as that which is done not merely for utilitarian purposes, but to move or affect.
Strengths of this definition:
What we could add to this brief definition:
Urbanization & You
The world spins madly on, and as it spins, our population continues to increase.
Over and over again, artists have questioned our tendency to clump together in urban centers and destroy the natural world around us. At the same time, philosophers and theologians contemplate how historical truths apply in an ever-changing landscape.
We often take our surroundings for granted, but that can be dangerous. Rather than accepting the status quo, we should follow the lead of artists like Yang Yongliang and consider where our trajectory will take us. For those of us who believe in God, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our time, our energy, our people, and our world.
Good Design & Good Results
Good design has dramatic effects upon the human brain. We have all sensed that in one way or another — maybe through an abstraction painted by Pollock, a computer designed by Apple, or a sunset displayed by God. But have you ever wondered why?
“Why We Love Beautiful Things” (you can read it here) is a well-written article that explores the connection between good design and science. It is worth reading for anyone who enjoys art and its relation to our brains. Here is how the article ends:
“We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.”
I would add that science, too, is a gift from God. Science does not diminish from art, but adds to the incredible wonder of our complex, yet utterly coherent, world that God has made. From a theistic viewpoint, art and science compliment each other because they have a common Creator, so these findings should not surprise us, but rather encourage us as we pursue the arts and sciences.
Photo: NY Times (click image for link)
THE BEST DANCE TEAM ON THE PLANET…
… featuring creative moves in a variety of locations.
Creativity & Leadership
“For the leader, creativity is essential. Life is constantly changing, but people always fear change. The leader is responsible to help them adapt and do something new. So, by increasing creativity, suffering or deprivation may feed the springs of leadership in a young soul.”
Leighton Ford (Transforming Leadership, 42)
Technology’s Role in Christian Ministry
As Christians, we should have a modest view of technology within the context of ministry – not too lofty and not too lowly. In itself, technology does not have the power to change lives, but God can use technology (such as the printing press) to further His kingdom. We live in a unique age that requires a theology of technology, and we need to think before we embrace whatever is before us.
Rather than overdosing on technology, the Church should use it strategically. Some tools can save time, which in effect can produce more time to interact in person. Some tools can help us reach more people, which can start new relationships for the sake of glorifying God. But of course, these tools need to be used in moderation and within reason.
A unique feature of the digital age is that technology is available on a massive scale – not only who can own it, but where it can be used. Unlike the days of the printing press or even dial-up modems, new technologies are “omnipresent” in the sense that they travel with us in our pockets. Tragically, despite all of the contributions of the digital age, our gadgetry has led to the idolization of technology. Millions of people worship the newest device, while their other god(s) are quickly forgotten.
To avoid such idolatry, we must use technology for our purposes – and to prevent technology from using us. Like craftsmen, we need to master our tools, so that they can be used effectively for the kingdom. As with any tool, technology should be used in a way that helps rather than complicates. This requires thought and planning.
Here are a few ways that technology can be used in quick and easily manageable ways:
• Spark conversation with a thoughtful quotation
• Respond to current events with a Christian worldview
• Share web links that are encouraging and gospel-influenced
• Introduce your church with a video
• Raise funds for social outreach efforts
• Praise God for what He is doing in your life
• Invite locals to a church event
• Advertise community events (e.g., a food drive)
• Tell the community about changed lives!
• Suggest Scripture passages to read
• Start an online discussion
• Invite members to an upcoming event
• Alert members to important prayer requests
• Encourage your congregation during the week
• Post videos about social justice issues
• Share what God is doing in your life
• Respond to others’ posts with Christian love and biblical truth
Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but such ideas show that technology can be gospel-driven and glorifying to God. As a general rule, we should avoid technology that glorifies ourselves, and instead, strive to honor God. This is not always easy, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, this is what we are called to do in every area of life.
What Makes “Christian” Art?
What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:
1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.
Hymns that Inspire
For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.
How Sweet and Awful Is the Place
How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin
Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.
We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.
Lyric Formatting for Worship
In many churches, there has been a subtle change over the past decade. When we started using PowerPoint for worship, the majority of churches would use a slide for a verse, another slide for the chorus, and so on. Today, however, the trend is to use a slide for 2 to 4 lines — more like a snippet — in order to display larger font, include artwork, or show video of the band.
While this generally looks better and in a few cases is helpful, we should not accept it without question. One downside of fewer lyrical lines being displayed on a slide is that it makes it more difficult to memorize the lyrics. Rhymes are split between slides, and congregants have a more difficult time determining what is the verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge. Also, it is impossible to “look ahead” to scan what lyrics are coming up.
This may seem insignificant until you consider the consequences it has upon our worship. In my own case, I have noticed that I close my eyes and raise my arms less because I need to be more concentrated on figuring out what words are coming next. As with all new media, we need to examine how such media affects the way that we worship.
Technology & The Church
I am a huge proponent of incorporating technology into the local church. It deserves to be said, however, that when it comes to technology in the local church, we need to think through our options. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should.
On a practical level, one instance of this is the recent increase of multiple video screens (usually in larger churches) and the rise of satellite churches (which incorporate sermons via a video feed). After nearly 2000 years of church ministry, only in the past decade or two has this technology been an option. In response to this growing phenomenon, much could be said about the importance of personal contact, proximity, and lifestyle as they relate to preaching. A quick illustration, however, will suffice to show why we need to think through these issues:
At the most recent Presidential inauguration, there were roughly 2 million people in attendance. Some of these people were near President Obama or within eyesight, while others were 2 miles away at the Lincoln Memorial. Those who were far away, of course, depended on video screens in order to see what was happening on stage. They were present in person, but in in a different sense.
That actual event reveals a very simple truth: people within eyesight had a greater sensory experience, while those far away (though enjoying their time) had a much different experience. For those watching a video screen (2 miles away), there was a personal disconnect that could not be fully resolved by technology. At least to a degree, they were removed from the action. They were participating, for sure, but in a more distant sense.
Of course, this directly relates to preaching because a preacher appeals on behalf of God and calls people towards a response. We should want as much “proximity” as possible and not allow technology to get in the way. On the other hand, some may argue that technology increases proximity more often than decreasing it. Maybe the question we ask is, “How does this particular technology change ministry (compared to New Testament times), and how do we overcome any potential weaknesses?”
While technology certainly has a place and can be very helpful — obviously, without technology there would be no internet or printing presses — we also need to be aware of the drawbacks. The point here is that simply adding more technology does not automatically ensure real, inner life change. Rather than simply accepting whatever technology is available to us, we need to be careful and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating technology in the local church. The solution is not a boycott of technology, but a greater effort to think through how we use technology.
Poem: Belated Eulogy
Nearly two years later, it is still difficult to write about our son, Jeremiah. For months, I could not write about his death. Then, after it became possible for me to write, I felt like anything that I wrote was far too trivial.
About a year ago, I wrote my first song about our experience and memories. Now, about two years later, I am writing my first poem. (I had tried to write one earlier, but again, it seemed too trivial.) I woke up today, a very snowy day, and was frightened by how easily I forget those lives that are so meaningful to me. I decided to write so that I could remember. I suppose it didn’t feel trivial because I was not writing for the purpose of writing a poem, but for the purpose of remembering.
This poem may evolve with time, or I may write another. In the meantime, you are welcome to read my first attempt: joeljupp.com/poetry.html
Theology of the Arts
Recently I was asked about my view of the arts in local church. I thought I’d post my brief response, in case it is helpful to anyone.
When it comes to the creative arts, I believe that art is a wonderful part of the Christian life. Various passages of Scripture reveal that God loves creativity, He enjoys various expressions of art, and He desires to be glorified through the arts.
In the local church, creativity’s primary purpose is to glorify God. A theme verse of mine has been Psalm 115:1, though there are many to support this. In no particular order, secondary purposes of the creative arts include: (1) delighting in creation, (2) expressing ourselves to God, (3) soothing/reviving our spirit, (4) edifying the church with sound doctrine, and (5) testifying to non-believers.
Worship is important to God and to His people. Although the creative arts should be enjoyable — very enjoyable — it is far more than being a form of entertainment. As I see it, the arts serve as the intersection between theology and expression. In biblical terms, this means worshiping in “spirit and truth.” We get into trouble when we neglect one or the other.
Finally, worship extends far beyond music and the other arts. It includes all of our actions. 1 Corinthians 10:31 makes it clear that we can even glorify God in our common, everyday activities, which extends far beyond a few hours on Sunday. (And based upon Amos, it is fair to say that this “daily worship” is much more important than the music on Sunday morning.) In a sense, creative arts are not an end in themselves, but a means towards greater service, sacrifice, love, etc. Worship beyond Sunday morning is the real test for the Church, and which ultimately determines the validity of its corporate worship.
WorshipGod Worship Conference (Sovereign Grace, 2008)
Very rarely do I post links to other websites, but this one is so beneficial, I couldn’t resist.
If you are interested in worship or lead worship at your church, Sovereign Grace has graciously posted 37 audio sessions on their website at:
Worship conferences usually cost several hundred dollars, so this is a blessing for those of us without such resources. Although I did not attend the conference, these audio sessions are the next best thing.
Art that Betters the World
In his closing comments at the Arise Arts Conference, Brian McLaren complimented Christian artists for “using the arts to better the church.” Most of us could agree with that because over the past 30 years the Church has made huge strides in music and arts in the church. There has been an improvement in quality and diversity, as seen in our churches and the success of contemporary Christian music.
Following his brief compliment, McLaren challenged Christian artists to use the arts to “better the world.” His challenge resonated deeply with me. Far too often, we fall into the temptation of using art to improve our local, personal context. We only think within the walls of the Church. In reality, though, art can transcend that and become much more. Our art, in short, should be selfless.
Through art, we can do amazing things. Just to name a few… We can personalize strangers. We can spread light. We can help people feel compassion. We can invoke emotions. We can bring people into the redemptive story.
>>> By the way, be sure to check out Taylor Birkey’s blog and his post about the arts conference. He is a fellow Taylor grad that graciously helped me attend the conference, and his blog is definitely worth checking out.
Worship: Responding to God’s Voice
Several weeks ago I wrote that art does not create truth, but “uncovers truth,” as an artist chisels away stone. In other words, art discovers truth, but does not create it. Whatever the form, it is important that art never gets so self-consumed that it loses sight of the original Source of Truth.
On the other hand, maybe even “uncovering” is giving ourselves too much credit. My reason for second guessing myself is this A.W. Tozer quote from “Theology Set to Music”:
Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.
Tozer had a humble view of worship songs. They need to be seen for what they are. Songwriters and songs do not create truth. As Tozer states, “God does it and man sings it.” We are responding to the truth that God has created.
The question that remains is this: Do new arrangements of words reveal truth? Can our minds be edified in a new way through new songs and new lyrics?
On one hand, I want to say yes. Our minds need words and arrangements of words to help us comprehend ideas. As human beings, our thoughts are directly connected to our vocabulary. Conversely, if we are limited in our exposure to language, we are limited cognitively.
However, I think Tozer is emphasizing something deeper here. While words are crucial to our understanding of truth, God can always transcend language. After all, He is the God of burning bushes, talking donkeys, and babbling tongues. Ultimately, then, Tozer offers a helpful reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us, not our human creativity.
For this reason, worship songs are responsive. Our task as songwriters is not to create a new message, so that others can “better understand.” Rather, we have the joy of helping others celebrate the truth that already exists. Our worship should be a musical echo of God’s voice.
God has already done it. Now it’s our job to sing it!
To be effective as ministers of the Gospel, we must be contagious.
God’s Truth needs to be something that we breathe, something that we ache with, something that we love. If we don’t feel it within our soul, we desperately need to ask ourselves why.
Whatever our ministry, we need to passionately live out the Gospel. We are not living because of facts about God, we are living because of the love of God. And this can only be communicated through passion. Remember that people rarely fall in love with facts, but they do fall in love with love.
Along these lines, Matt Chandler offers some great advice in this brief Resurgence video. He shares advice for young preachers, but even if you don’t preach, his suggestions are still valuable.