2014 Books: 3Q

Books read from July through September. Next reading list viewable by clicking here. Running yearly count: 30.

  • The Bondage of the Will – Martin Luther (1525); Print // I honestly put this one down less than halfway through. Between Luther not being the most gifted writer and this being a verbose response to an Erasmus work I have no interest in reading, I just didn’t want to waste the time and effort it would take for this.
  • Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food – Wendell Berry (2009); Print // Many of these essays were over my head because of technical descriptions of farming processes, but interspersed were reflections on the philosophy of farming and agricultural principles applicable to all of life. Great to also read an essay centering on the Lapp farm in Lancaster, PA.
  • The Closer: My Story – Mariano Rivera (2014); Library // Very glad I read this autobiography of the greatest closers ever, who built an incredible career off of one accidental pitch. A faithful Christian, Mo is incredibly humble throughout, though I also enjoyed his more candid discussions of A-rod and other problems in his career.
  • The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family – Martha Peace & Stuart Scott (2010); Print // Not bad, though there are much better and less baptistic child rearing books out there (Tripp, Wilson). Impoverished view of covenant children left much to be desired.
  • The Last Gentleman: A Novel – Walker Percy (1966); Print // A typical Percy discovery/existential novel, though still packed with his typical wit, philosophical insight, and twists. Not my favorite Percy work, namely because of an odd but jarring change in protagonist two-thirds through the book.
  • Perelandra – C.S. Lewis (1943); Print // A re-read, and a favorite of mine; the gem of Lewis’ unheralded but very enjoyable Space Trilogy. Takes place at the creation of Venus and its creation’s subsequent temptation.
  • True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia – Jerry Bridges (2012); Kindle // Bridges challenges the Christianese buzzwords of “fellowship” and “community” as more than merely baptized terms for hanging out. He examines their true meanings in Scripture: sharing (especially possessions), partnering, co-laboring, serving, and even suffering together. Well done.
  • Picadilly Jim – P.G. Wodehouse (1918); Kindle // A rollicking good story of mistaken identity. A little more heady and reflective than the typical Wodehouse.
  • The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1937); Audio // Better than expected. Bonhoeffer’s impassioned plea to the church to stop peddling cheap grace and truly die to self.
  • Letting Go of Legacy Services: Library Case Studies – M. Evangelist & K. Furlong (eds., 2014); Library // Very helpful treatment of the prevalent problem of “legacy” practices in libraries: practices frequently clung to from a bygone era.
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage – Paul Elie (2004); Library // Biography/light criticism of 20th century Catholic writers Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. Less than halfway through I ended up skipping the sections on Day and Merton. Not bad, but verbose and betrays a haloed perspective of 20th century American Catholicism.

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

Martin LutherYou may have heard it said, or said it yourself, that Martin Luther used a drinking song for his iconic hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” Or maybe you’ve heard (or said) Luther’s apparent quip, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” Either of these pithy truisms have been employed by those hoping to justify the inclusion of popular music in the church’s worship, just as long as the words are at least somewhat spiritual. Rick Warren, for one, is a celebrity pastor that takes this position.

In light of Reformation Day today, I hope to put to rest these false notions that shame Luther’s good name, while leaning on Paul S. Jones’ book Singing and Making Music: Issues in Church Music Today (P&R, 2006). Luther never used bar songs for hymns and never said anything about the devil’s good music. First, to dispel the silly quotation: this has never been found in any of Luther’s writings or verified by any Luther scholars. That paragon of all that is good about Christian music, Larry Norman (a pioneer of the CCM-precursor Jesus Movement), popularized the statement in his song with the same title, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” The statement has roots older than this 1970s Jesus Movement song, though, with something similar being attributed to William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) as well as misattributed in some form or fashion to the likes of Isaac Watts, the Wesley brothers, and D.L. Moody.

On to EIN FESTE BURG, the tune for “A Mighty Fortress.” This tune is one of Luther’s own compositions that he wrote specifically for this hymn as well as for a versification of Psalm 46. He also wrote several other very good tunes, including tunes for Psalm 130, an Advent hymn, and a Resurrection Sunday hymn. He, along with many other composers (including Bach) would borrow from other forms, including Gregorian chants and folk music.

The closest Luther got to stealing a drinking song was the tune VON HIMMEL HOCH for his Advent hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” This was associated with an old German folk melody, but when Luther heard the tune sung in inns and dance halls, he was embarrassed and the tune was stricken from his hymn collections. Folk songs were traditionally sung in such places, but that does not make them tavern songs. Lastly, a standard Middle Age German musical form is the “bar form.” Perhaps when CCMers were playing the telephone game, “bar form” was misheard as “bar song.”

More important than merely debunking urban myths is the principle inherent when such statements are uttered. Pop music or heavy metal, for example, are not automatically sterilized and sanctified by merely pairing them with religious texts. As Ken Myers argues in his classic All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes (Crossway, 1989) and T. David Gordon more recently hammers home in Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (P&R, 2010), popular music has inherent characteristics that are ill-suited for corporate worship. Music is not ideologically or theologically neutral and thus not all musical genres should be used in worship. Since music is not neutral, personal taste does not trump objective standards. For more on this topic, I commend Jones’ chapter to you (on which this post heavily leaned): “Luther and Bar Song: The Truth Please!” in Singing and Making Music. The aforementioned All God’s Children and Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns are also well worth your time.

So on this Reformation Day, please do not take Luther’s name in vain by attributing to him what he never said, intended, or desired. And in the spirit of All Saints’ Day tomorrow (November 1), here’s a bonus video of the magisterial British hymn “For All the Saints.”

Love Ditties and Wanton Songs

“I wish that the young men might have something to rid them of their love ditties and wanton songs and might instead of these learn wholesome things and thus yield willingly to the good; also, because I am not of the opinion that all the arts shall be crushed to earth and perish through the Gospel, as some bigoted persons pretend, but would willingly see them all, and especially music, servants of Him who gave and created them.”

 -Martin Luther, from the preface to the Wittenberg Gesangbuch hymnal; quoted in Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?  The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Crossway, 2005 ed.), p. 90

Faith lives upon no other

Then let us feast this joyful day
On Christ, the Bread of heaven;
The Word of grace hath purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed,
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other. Hallelujah!

-final stanza of Martin Luther’s resurrection hymn “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

“Be not contented to have right notions of the love of Christ in your minds, unless you can attain a gracious taste of it in your hearts; no more than you would be to see a feast or banquet richly prepared, and partake of nothing of it unto your refreshment. It is of that nature that we may have a spiritual sensation of it in our minds; whence it is compared by the spouse to apples and flagons of wine. We may taste that the Lord is gracious; and if we find not a relish of it in our hearts, we shall not long retain the notion of it in our minds. Christ is the meat, the bread, the food of our souls. Nothing is in him of a higher spiritual nourishment than his love, which we should always desire.”

-John Owen in The Glory of Christ (1684)

Baptism points due north

“One practical way this lifelong benefit of baptism is used is when the Christian struggles with sin and doubt. As John Calvin said, ‘Therefore, as often as we fall away, we ought to recall the memory of our baptism and fortify our mind with it, that we may always be sure and confident of the forgiveness of sins.’ Baptism is a reference point for the Christian. It is like a compass that points us due north, to Christ and our life in him. This is what Martin Luther is reported to have said to himself every morning: baptizatus sum, ‘I am baptized,’ and when he was asked ‘How do you know you are a Christian,’ he said ‘I am baptized.’ This is a statement of faith for the one who embraces Christ and his benefits signified in baptism.”

-Daniel R. Hyde in In living color: Images of Christ and the means of grace (2009), p. 147

Printing Press as the Reformation Propeller

In honor of Reformation Day (October 31) and All Saint’s Day (November 1), I wanted to reflect on the effects of one of the world’s most important inventions that helped spur the Reformation on: The printing press. Much of this post is adapted from a graduate paper I did titled “Print, Luther, and Identity: Reformation of the Religious Consciousness.”

Two of the most momentous, formative events in human history occurred within one hundred years: the invention of the moveable type printing press by Johann Gutenberg in 1440 and the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century sparked by Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door in 1517. It is doubtless that the printing press, as a new communication technology, played a large role in the success of the Protestant Reformation. But a causal relationship is nearly impossible to prove. But much like the information age would have been delayed or avoided without computers, the Reformation would not have exerted nearly as much religious, intellectual, or cultural clout without the printing press. In God’s Providence, the printing press had been invented but not yet fully utilized before Luther nailed his Theses to the door. With the changes that the printing press brought with it, print prepared people for and served as the main facilitator for the religious change brought by the Reformation.

Luther posted 95 theses in Latin to the church door in Wittenberg, the church door being a traditional place of academic debate. Luther admitted later in a letter to the pope that he did not intend his theses for mass distribution, but instead an anonymous person translated his theses into German and printed them. Soon they were printed and distributed throughout Christendom. After his theses gained immense popularity, Luther started publishing profusely, helping the printing industry gain success in the process. The relationship between Luther and the press was mutually beneficial, as Luther needed the press to disseminate Protestant ideals while the press needed a prolific author to realize its full potential as a powerful communication medium.

Media theorists like Innis, McLuhan, Ong, Postman, and Levinson have argued that communication technologies in their cultural context are not neutral. Instead, they influence the content of the information they carry. For example, it is widely accepted that the communication technology of the printing press helped to promote new concepts of individualism, authority, nationalism, and privacy. The printing press also facilitated changes in the collective and individual religious consciousness. Many factors played roles in the collective religious shifts of the Reformation, some of which include print influencing the change from the church’s authority to the reader’s authority, print’s visual bias, and print’s mass production and dissemination of information in the vernacular. The Reformers’ religious consciousness was also affected by print, with print’s bias toward systematic thought and qualitative differences between the spoken word and the printed word..

One example of print’s collective effect is that it helped shift authority from the church to Scripture. Ong (1982/2002) explains that typography’s regular lines, justified paragraphs, and aesthetically uniform presentation are superior to those of manuscripts, which give print a more objective aura of finality. Thus, the reader views printed texts as authoritative. Indeed, “a book was sensed as a kind of object which ‘contained’ information, scientific, fictional, or other, rather than as earlier, a recorded utterance” (p. 124). The layout of printed books, compared with copied manuscripts led to more systematic and linear argumentation, with Luther specifically being able to extract crucial biblical doctrines like salvation by grace alone from Scripture and explain them in systematic, orderly ways in his writings.

An example of print’s effect on individual Reformers’ life and practice is evidenced by Luther. Luther was well aware of the power of the press, publishing more than 450 treatises, printing more than 3,000 sermons, and writing more than 2,500 letters. Thanks in part to Luther’s penchant for using local printers, Luther’s favorite local printer became the mayor of Wittenberg because of his great success and influence as a printer. Luther called the press “God’s highest and ultimate gift of grace by which He would have His Gospel carried forward” (cited in Spitz, 1985, p. 89). While the power of the press may not have been a secret, Luther was the first to fully exploit its power to aid an historical movement.

One of the main factors that influenced Luther’s religious consciousness was print’s proclivity for systematic thought. McLuhan touched on this in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), in which he argued that the uniformity and repeatability of print led to segmentation and fragmentation of religion and nature. In other words, the press helped scholars to separate God, Man, and Nature. This can also be applied to religious thought during the Reformation. This segmented thinking the press fostered also led to systematic thinking and writing, evidenced in Luther’s fondness for systematically criticizing the church and systematically laying out the doctrines of Protestantism. He was aware that print held a different authority over the spoken word because of the word being fixed in space – print could not be publicly, directly questioned other than through publishing another text against it.

Also, Luther’s “use of print served in great part to fix theological positions more irrevocably than might have been the case in pre-typographical ages” (Ong, 1967, p. 285). Because Luther fixed his doctrinal statements in print and wrote so profusely, he was constantly reinforcing the emerging views of religious truth. By refuting the church in print and teaching systematically and frequently, he was able to proliferate the truths of the Reformation. In fact, if it was not for Luther’s constant publishing of essays, sermons, treatises, pamphlets, biblical translations, and debates, the Reformation itself would have suffered immensely.

Print has been aptly called the “gunpowder of the mind” by David Riesman (cited in Levinson, 1997, p. 24), and it certainly lit the fuse of the Protestant Reformation. Not only did print light the fuse of the Reformation, but also served as its fuel. The printing press played a large role in the success of the Reformation movement, enabling the general public to identify with the ideas of the Reformers. Through such effects as its visual bias, its capability for systematic thought, its promotion of uniformity and repeatability, and the translation of the Bible and other religious texts into the vernacular, print certainly was one of God’s main instruments in bring reform to His church. In God’s Providence, the sixteenth century was the perfect storm for scriptural change to occur, with the printing press priming people for change and Luther and other Reformers following through by utilizing the press to spread the good news of the gospel.

Eisenstein, E. (1979). The printing press as an agent of change.
Levinson, P. (1997). Soft edge: A natural history and future of the information revolution.
McLuhan, M. (1962). The Gutenberg galaxy: The making of typographic man.
Ong, W. (1967). The presence of the word.
Ong, W. (2002). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the world.
Spitz, L. (1985). The Protestant Reformation 1517-1559.

Sunday Citation

Special Reformation Sunday Citation Edition:

“What Luther found at the cross of Jesus utterly confounded him: disdain and derision, insecurity unto death, desertion by friends, the collapse of hope for the future, a death with hated malefactors, the wrath of the whole world – and God…

“…the cross reveals the Creator, the majestic, all-powerful God suffering – and suffering for us. Luther could even say that the cross shows us the dreadful mystery of God tasting death for us. Where could we find a clearer expose of the depths of human sinfulness than to know that we could be made right only through the death of God Incarnate. Believers, therefore, can embrace the cross, but only if they despair of themselves, only if they forsake a theology of glory…

“Thus, as Luther constantly repeated, the cross must always remain utterly scandalous. It was a scandal for Jews, and all who sought God through moral exertion; it was a scandal for Greeks, and all who sought God through the exercise of the mind. The cross, for Luther, revealed the judgment of God that no amount of human work could make humanity successful; no amount of diligent study could make humanity truly wise; no amount of human exertion could provide enduring joy. The cross, in sum, was God’s everlasting ‘no’ to the most fundamental human idolatry of regarding the self as a god. It was God’s final word of condemnation for all efforts to enshrine humanity at the center of existence.”

-Mark A. Noll in Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (1997), pp. 170-171