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Worship Matters: Don't put trivia in the mouths of God's people

"It's no light thing singing doctrinally accurate & 'sharp-edged' songs. I am singing & writing the very truths that got my brothers like Athanasius exiled or killed. I must not cheapen their memory & the freedom they won by putting trivia in the mouths of God's people. Nobody was ever burnt at the stake for saying "God is nice & He likes you"
Matt Blick

Which is the equivalent of what John Piper writes of Athanasius:

What was clear to Athanasius was that propositions about Christ carried convictions that could send you to heaven or to hell. There were propositions like: “There was a time when the Son of God was not,” and, “He was not before he was made,” and, “the Son of God is created.” These propositions were strictly damnable. If they were spread and believed they would damn the souls which embraced them. And therefore Athanasius labored with all his might to formulate propositions that would conform to reality and lead the soul to faith and worship and heaven. I believe Athanasius would have abominated, with tears, the contemporary call for “depropositionalizing” that you hear among many of the so-called “reformists” and “the emerging church,”younger evangelicals, ”postfundamentalists,” “postfoundationalists, ”postpropositionalists,” and “postevangelicals.” I think he would have said, “Our young people in Alexandria die for the truth of propositions about Christ. What do your young people die for?” And if the answer came back, “We die for Christ, not propositions about Christ,” I think he would have said, “That’s what Arius says. So which Christ will you die for?”

Which challenges me to be careful in the way I prepare to preach on Sunday, the words matter.
What I say matters because Jesus matters. Or as Calvin so beautifully puts it:

“I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.”

Why is this so important? Glen is right:

"Grace is not basically a concept or property. He is a Person. Doesn’t this (literally) put flesh and bones on the concept of receiving grace as a free gift. We’re really asking the non-Christian to receive Jesus – the gift of His Father."


  1. Words and worship matter yes, but so does idolatory. And this probably one of the biggest evangelical idols.

    Putting your confidence in wordsmithery is very easy to do. Especially when you lack the foundations to know (for yourself) why what you believe is true.

    I suspect that mainly due to the lack of apologetics, and rigorous discussion in the church that this means that people become desperate for an experience (either charismatic or conservative it matters not) that will ground them and confirm the faith to them.

    We need truth and reality to function and if reason isn't allowed to help with this, then what is left for the self to use?

    And then it becomes all too easy to depend on the eloquence or ability of the speaker, rather than on God's power at work. Preaching then becomes rather over spiritualised.

    Work hard on words yes, but remember that the worship of speaking ability/Piper/preaching/bible exegesis above other things, and over Christ is unhealthy, ineffective and unbiblical.

    That should get the discussion going :)

  2. Some days I think you think that "lack of apologetics" is the root of all evils...

    As always, show us what alternative you're suggesting looks like other than the good outworking of what you're attacking?

    Is not apologetics the good use of meaningful words and careful construction of them into rigorous discussion? Is not that what Athanasius, Piper, Calvin are calling for?

    The charismatic or conservative boogeyman you attck might exist, but he seems rather elusive... One should beware making an idol of apologetics :)

  3. Beware of making an idol of apologetics

    Absolutely, and easy to do too.

    Last time you asked me for a solution I gave you one, and you stopped commenting (check my blog). So, I've shown you.

    Simple solutions to difficult problems are another part of the problem. Teaching theology is about simplifying things, but there is a very real danger of depending on technique.

    I actually think that the NT is against techniques, principles, models etc, so hence my reluctance to give you a nice neat model with a bow tied around it. I think it's a misguided enterprise. People are messy and very varied. The solution is diverse, dynamic and flexible.

    Your theological models can get in the way of seeing this sometimes.

    See the book "Being Human" (Barrs and Macauley) p. 11-27, for the best solution that I have read and the one that I'm working with.

  4. My apologies for missing your example (still can't find it - last request for it was here), my concern is that you get a reputation for decrying what others are apparently doing and assuming others are depending on technique when there's little evidence that they are...

    "your theological models" - such as? is this a reference to the reformed charismatic thing? I can't really see the harm is some rough-edged categorising of things - if you can speak of apologetics then can i speak of being charismatic?

    you keep pressing definitions (of charismatic) but I say you can't tie everything down, nor do we need to. I totally agree people are messy, solutions are diverse, dynamic and flexible, but , how does that make being careful about the words we use a bad thing - which was the subject of this blogpost?? :)

  5. Well anyone whose read Piper's books on Christian Hedonism, would wonder about his over-spiritualised use of words to sound Edwardsian and archaic.

  6. Slightly changing the subject but if some of the latest statistics have shown that people who hear a preach every sunday are no more biblically literate than those who don't, doesn't that suggest a problem with the way 'church' is done or 'performed' in some churches? Obviously the goal of christianity is not to know the bible but how many people do you know that could confidently give a reason for why they believe in Jesus other than...just a subjective, experiential I just know/feel that God loves me...isn't that what the Mormons do??

    Don't get me wrong I like a good preach occasionlly but one thing the reformations did wrong in my opinion is to make an idol out of preaching. Jesus never delivered a sermon the way preachers do today anywhoo.

  7. Dan,

    I guess it depends what the point of a Sunday sermon is... In my mind it's not primarily to develop Biblical literacy - 20-45mins of communication isn't going to do that. It should be to hold up Christ to be believed in. That's always the point when the church gathers. That's not to say it shouldn't have substantial content and provide those kind of answers - in my experience it often does so.

    The implication of this though is that we need substantial additional Christian education on a full range of matters, in addition to the main meeting of God's people.

  8. I'm comfortable with being uncomfortable with the status quo, where its appropriate to question it. But you're point is accurate and is a danger for a philosopher when hanging around theolgians. We tend not to toe the line like you guys do :)

    If you look at the post above on my blog then you will see my answer.

  9. Dave,

    yeah of course I understand what you mean but surely the day we set a side for God could be better used rather than sitting down, standing up, listening to a sermon, have some tea then back home? If its more education and discussion we need why isn't this done on a sunday instead of taking up more precious time during the week we should be living out this stuff?

    If you speak to a mormon, muslim or JW they understand what they believe and can tell others usually pretty clearly what they believe, agreed?

    If you speak to most christians they cannot clearly defend what it is they believe and why nor basic theological doctrines that people died to protect for us!

    I just struggle to understand how a system that obviously doesnt work is so ardently defended.

  10. Dan,

    At its best it works for what it's meant for - for beholding Christ together, for exercising spiritual gifts to build one another up. For that sort of purpose what we do on Sunday's works. It's just that there needs to be more than just Sundays...

    As I say, we need more Christian education, catechising, learning etc. I grant a Mormon, Muslim or JW can articulate stuff well but that needn't necessarily be a virtue to imitate. Though, a thoroughly persuaded rigorous Christian worldview is to be sought after. Being able to say the right answers isn't the same as that. Christianity is beautifully simple in its essentials and beautifully rich in its depths.


    Tom, not sure I toe the line that much... we all like to think we're a bit rebellious.


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