On Dominant Psalmody

My position–which I won’t debate at the moment with my more Covenanter-ish friends–is Dominant Psalmody.   The Psalms in their entirety should comprise the majority of private and public liturgical devotion.   The burden of proof should always be on the one who says we shouldn’t sing God’s word (even though God commanded us to sing his word, Eph. 5:19).  With that said, however, I am not exegetically convinced that there is no place for hymns.  I am not going to give huge detail on why or why not.   I have no interest in defending hymns at large, especially the saccharine revivalistic hymns.   But my own convictions lead me to conclude that some hymns aren’t sinful.   But that’s not the point of this post.

One of the recent New Horizons (March 2014) by the OPC examined the Psalm-singing debate.  Well, not actually.  It explored the ramifications of introducing more psalm-singing (specifically, a new psalter) into the life of the congregation.   Some of the articles (Eric Watkins and others) were quite good on redemptive history and the psalms, if not actually giving an analysis of the discussion.  However, one pastor argues that we shouldn’t sing all 150 psalms (p. 7).  He says God hasn’t commanded us to sing all psalms.  He notes (probably correctly) this has been the consensus of the OPC committee.

What to make of this argument?  I want to be respectful because I came from the OPC and I don’t like criticizing the OPC (remember the rock whence you are hewn).  However, it appears sophistic.  God commands us to sing psalms. True, he didn’t say “all 150,” but that’s like taking Paul’s injunction “to preach the Word” as meaning, “Yeah, but we don’t have to preach the whole bible.”   Sed contra, the hymn singer has to give the justification on why songs by Wesleyans and Pentecostals and anybody from the 1970s gets precedent over God’s word.   God or somebody who says we need a second blessing to be fully saved?  It’s not a hard choice (and for the record, I like “And Can it be?”  However, at the end of the day even Psalm 137 necessarily gets priority).

But back to the article:  The author claims that many of the Psalms “flow out of the Mosaic covenant,” which is obsolete (8).  He doesn’t give any examples, but then goes on to speak of “The Old Testament.” This is bizarre, since the New testament sees Psalms 8 and 110 as proof-texts for the New Covenant, and Psalm 89 is the locus classicus for the Davidic Covenant. Reformed theology, however, does not identify the Mosaic Covenant with the Old Testament.   In fact, since David wrote most of the psalms, would it not better to speak of their being in the Davidic Covenant, which is very much a reality for believers today (Acts 2; Jesus being identified as the Davidic King)?  In the second column on page 8 he says the imprecatory psalms are incompatible with Christian piety.   We are on the edge of Marcionism here.  Most amazingly, he writes that Christian’s suffering today cannot be identified with that of the Psalmists (3rd column, p. 8).  He may be the only person in Christendom who has ever said that.  In fact, if what he is arguing is true, not only should we not sing the psalms, maybe we shouldn’t even pray or read them!

Continuing in a veiled Marcionite strain, he says the attitude towards other nations changed.  While he admits that the Old Testament does see the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, he says this is not the psalms’ approach to other nations.  Presumably, the psalmists (though writing under the Holy Spirit) wanted God to kill the other nations.   It’s a strange argument.  Among other psalms, 22 and 72 prophecy the in-gathering of Gentiles.

Reading that article makes me want to apologize to James Jordan (just a little bit).  For all the wacky things he has said, he has also vigorously argued for more psalm-singing in church.   Even more, he has given practical and step by step ways to introduce it into the church.  We might be uncomfortable with the idea of chanting, but we must remember that everyone from Ireland to India chanted the Psalms, and for a specific reason:  memory.  In the ancient church you could not have been a bishop without having memorized the Psalms (and at least one gospel).    When he advocated an army of Psalm Chanters to change the world, he practically clinched the debate.   The negative of this is what happens when you don’t sing Psalms.

At this point I had planned to do a review of the Red Trinity Hymnal, but that would make the post unnecessarily long.

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Torah, not theonomy

Of course, by Torah we mean after Christ, apart from works of Torah.   I am saying that seeing the “Law” as Torah and not theonomy provides a better model for understanding Scripture.  Theonomy runs into difficulties because it assumes the legal categories of late Western modernity.  That’s not necessarily its fault.   Everyone has to apply the word in the culture he lives in.  But a quick perusal of the Pentateuch will show that it was not written with late Western modernity in mind.  In fact, seen in our categories, much of it is quite bizarre.

That’s not to deny its importance.  If anything, the strange ways in which Torah is organized should invite the reader to reflect even deeper about reality and the way that God’s world works.  Let’s consider a few and ask how these can possibly work on the theonomic thesis:

  1. While there are covenantal-sequential patterns and typological motifs (riffing off of the days of creation–Ex. 25-40), many of the laws are apparently haphazardly organized together.  This should alert us to the fact that maybe God didn’t intend for these laws to be understood in a post-common law framework.
  2. If you find a bird’s nest on the ground, you are given certain commands on how you can gather the eggs. Is anyone in the modern Western world really going to do this?  Is this law judicial or moral or both?
  3. Torah is also story.  In Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans Torah is not functioning as a list of dos and don’ts, but as story.  How do you put story into a law code?

Which tradition is closest to Jesus’s Liturgy?

If someone says, “Yeah, but we can trace our complex liturgy back to St Ignatius who was John’s disciple and you can’t,” then I simply respond, “I don’t care.  This is what those aforesaid disciples said Jesus did.” (And at this point it is obvious that Ignatius trumps the disciples on their gloss).

What Jesus Did

Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Roman Catholic Liturgy (and to be fair I’ll quote the more traditional one and not the Novus Ordo Clown Masses)

Why do we ring the chimes or bells during the Eucharistic Prayer? I was once told that before microphones were used, the bells would be rung to let the people who couldn’t hear know that the most important part of the Mass was taking place.
The bells originally had a practical purpose. The Mass was in Latin, and the words were spoken quietly by the priest – so even microphones were not an issue. The bell was rung one time when the priest extended his hands over the chalice in blessing right before the Consecration. This was a signal to the congregation that the Consecration was about to take place. Then, when the words of Consecration had been spoken, the priest would genuflect, raise the Host (Chalice) to be visible to the people, and then genuflect again. The bell was rung at each of those steps – so the triple ring became common.

Nowadays, with the Mass in the vernacular language, and the words spoken aloud, the bells are rung in some parishes more as a continuity of tradition than as a practical matter.

Eastern Orthodox Liturgy

Most of the Proskomedia happens in the sanctuary behind the iconostasis. While the priests prepare the offering, the congregation participates in further litanies. Every part of the service except the homily is chanted, and normally a choir sings while the congregation does not. Clouds of incense fill the church at specific moments, signifying the prayers of the congregation rising to heaven, and signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

High Reformed Liturgy:

The Sacrifice of Peace
Prayers of Thanksgiving & Memorial !
Communion Hymn: #583 (Psalm 25) “Lord I lift my soul”! ! TH!
Communion in the Body & Blood of Our Lord!
†The Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis): Luke 2:30-32!

Baptist Liturgy

The pastor transubstantiates the wine into grape juice because we are holier than God.   He then passes out the chiclets while a lady on stage sings an emotional solo.

 

 

Progress and Realism

Technology is a Christian concept.  Pagans (the sons of Cain) can have technological advances, but it’s not clear why.  When magic pervades all there is no point behind cause-and-effect.  Stuff happens in Homer for no rhyme or reason.

Mature Christian man does not need magic or to see nature “re-enchanted.”  Anchorites accuse Calvinism of gnosticism because we don’t “sanctify” and bless different objects.   The opposite is true.  The Reformed Protestant asks what is so wrong with nature that it needs to be “graced.”  If nature–even pre-fall nature!–is seen in such a way that it needs “a little sumpin’-sumpin’” in order for it to be “good,” then the Anchorite is the real gnostic.

On not praying to angels

A prior note on terminology.  Anchorites will insist they don’t worship angels the same way they worship God.  The Bible, however, collapses the distinction between doulia (reverence by way of service) and latria (proper worship).  God specifically tells his people neither to worship these gods (however you want to define that term) or serve them.   Further, the claim that praying to an angel is no different from asking your friend to pray for you won’t hold up.  If you examine these prayers, besides the fact it is nowhere commanded by God, the angels are simply asked to intercede, but to act in such a way that they have power to do x and y.  That is simple Paganism.

Old Creation Judged and Gone

Angels ruled the Old Creation.   That has since been destroyed in the Death-Resurrection of Christ and the Death of Jerusalem.  Why would we pray/invoke entities who no longer rule?   Does not the New Covenant say The “lights” of creation (day 4) were designed to rule (thus the language of greater lights ruling over the lesser lights).   Lights (e.g., the sun) manage time, and so also in the Old Creation they are connected with Festivals.

Before Jesus humanity was under angelic tutors. Psalm 104:3-4 (and Heb. 1:7) connects angels with the natural forces.  Further, this is also connected with Torah.  The law was to shut the whole world under sin (Gal. 3:22-23) and was given by angels (Acts 7:53).  Thus we can conclude that the angels had some authority over the world which was connected with Torah.   Paul further connects Torah and Angels with “elementary principles” (stoichea, Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8).  We may further conclude that any attempt to live under the guidance of angels, however slight, is seeking to go back to the stoichea and is elsewhere condemned in the book of Hebrews.  Oliver O’Donovan even notes that Paul connects both Torah with the stoichiea. In fact, Paul even notes (Galatians 4) that the Gentiles were in bondage to Stoichea.  This is shocking.  No one ever accused the pagan Gentiles of being too much under Stoichea. It’s not as shocking as it seems:  apart from Christ both Torah and the stoichea appear to us as a threat (RMO, 22).  This conclusion of Paul’s only makes sense if we keep in mind that Angels, Torah, and Stoichea are interconnected under the Old Creation.

Forms, Realism, and Nominalism

One thing I noticed in recently reading Homer and Vergil is that the pagan deities were often invoked as powers.  This is not that different from the language of Forms.  Forms in this philosophy is not simply an idea of x, but that the higher form causes and acts in such a way that is is a power to the lower forms.  Paul Tillich made the interesting connection that ancient Christianity simply baptized the older view of Forms with the newer view that these forms were saints and angels, which form a hierarchy of being to God.

Tillich’s suggestion makes sense.  After Plato and the skeptics, few Greeks and Romans were stupid enough to believe that Athena sprang from Zeus’ head.  However, Greek mythology did have a lot of explanatory power.  It might have been philosophically naive to suppose that the pantheon was rule, but it was philosophically astute to transpose that understanding of deity to the realm of the Forms.

Maximus the Confessor famously (though not originally) spoke of the distinction between Logos and Logoi.   Jesus is the Form in whom all the forms exist.  He is the inter-causal causal cause.  It’s beautiful philosophy.  It runs into problems with the Forms are identified with the stoichea.

This is why I am neither realist nor nominalist, but covenantal verbalist.
Nota Bene:  I wonder if this is why demon-possession stories are so common in Catholic and Orthodox lands (see Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and  The Soul After Death).  They are playing too close to the elementary principles of the Old Creation, which God has specifically condemned.  If they get too close to these principles, then God just might let them get close indeed.

The Bible Commands War Against Hellenism

For I have bent Judah as my bow;
    I have made Ephraim its arrow.
I will stir up your sons, O Zion,
    against your sons, O Greece,
    and wield you like a warrior’s sword.

Zechariah 9:13

Ironically, the Biblical Horizons guys could have scored huge points against Calvinist International if they would have quoted these verses.

Is there Greek and Hebrew thinking?

Another observation on today’s Federal Vision is the parting of ways among some of their thinkers.   Most notably is Calvinist International’s rejection of Jim Jordan’s model of “Hebrew Thinking.”  I don’t come down on either side of the discussion, but I will make some observations.  Unlike both parties, I don’t hold to Van Til’s system.    They write,

In his lecture, “Exorcising the Saints of the Great Hangovers,” we were named as a dangerous influence because we stand with the Reformers, the mainstream Reformed tradition, and C S Lewis regarding the natural law and natural theology.

I follow the above guys only so far as it keeps me out of trouble.   Their use of categories was wise and shouldn’t be likely discarded.   I think natural law can work if we see that equity is an inescapable concept.    At the end of the day, though, I will go with Torah over natural law.  Much of CI’s response is a justification of natural law.   I won’t interact with that since I presuppose (irony?) a form of natural law at the most basic level.

This positions him to be the herald of a new age, who speaks with the authority of a new age; previous ages are thus imperfect not simply as all ages are, but rather, are deeply tainted with paganism which only he and a few predecessors have been able to see and correct.

Yes and no.  That much of Western Civilization held on to remnants of paganism is beyond doubt.  The question is whether these specific remnants can fall under common grace (and so be retained) or are they truly pagan and should be rejected.

The idea that past doctrines might actually have the same meaning as some of his own formulations seems ruled out for him by his historicistic principle; the past must be inferior simply because it is past, and truth is new.

Can I say two things:  this is a true proposition as regards Jordan but much of the “Hellenic” thinking is bad and that affirming the latter clause does not entail the former?

Only the Bible stands above this, but not the Bible as read consensually over time; but rather, the Bible as read now, by him.

This is a legitimate criticism of Jordan.  Many times I would have no problem with his conclusions if he would take the time to work out the sixteen steps he used to get there instead of being so dogmatic about it.

Is There a Greek Mind?

The next section of the essay explores who is the true Van Tillian.  Since I am not one I won’t come to a conclusion.  Ironically, I think I will agree with Van Til on his use of the Greeks.  I think the guys at CI do a good job in showing how Jordan borrows from various streams of antiquity while claiming to reject antiquity.

However, I think Jordan does score some points on the effects of Hellenic thinking and I realize that much esotericism is Jewish in origin.  Here is what neither CI nor Jordan have said:   ancient Greek thinking is by no means Western.  It is Eastern.  Many Greeks borrowed from Egyptian and Babylonian magic religions.   So when Greek Orthodox Christians engage in pagan practices like monasticism and extreme ascetism, they are not shucking their Greek heritage for some bastardized Judaism.  They are simply drawing upon the Eastern strain of Hellenic thinking.

And the sad fact remains:  read the earthy sexuality of Song of Solomon and then read Tertullian, Basil, and Augustine on married sexuality.   There is a huge difference between Hebrew and Hellenic thinking.

As to Jordan’s historiography of the Reformation on this point, the CI guys are correct.   Calvin did not simply recover the Hebrew worldview.  Calvin held to Plato’s view on the soul.  Bucer quoted False Dionysius with approval.  I disagree with both gentlemen.

But the antithetical polarity continues in Mr. Jordan’s lecture, with him at one point sounding like an odd combination of Adolf von Harnack and Dr. Bronner:

I can’t shake Harnack’s thesis.  Sure, it’s a bit crude but there is something to it.  When I read the ancient fathers and the Greeks, I see “hyperousia,” the termination of motion, and a serene god.  When I read Zephaniah I see Yahweh fighting like a drunken Samson!

The CI guys then give a list of scholars who have supposedly rebutted the Greek vs Hebrew thesis.  All I can say is, maybe.  I don’t think there is such a view that the Greek brain functions differently than the Hebrew brain.  That is silly.  But the philosophical concepts behind the Old Testament and the ancient Greeks are worlds apart.  Hesiod (and Virgil, too-cf Aeneid Book VIII) saw each successive age as worse than the last one.  Hebraic Christianity on the other hand sees a progression from Older Glory to Newer Glory (2 Corinthians 3.  It’s in the text, Barr notwithstanding).

The CI guys then point to “Hellenism” in the New Testament.   I don’t deny Greek influences, but I do stand by my thesis that pagan Greek philosophers would find certain categories in the OT as incompatible with their own.  The rest of the paper is a spiel on natural law.  I’ll leave it at that.