Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to the Rock - A Chastisement of Today's Christian Music

In case you haven't heard, Christian rock band Petra is attempting a comeback under the moniker of Classic Petra, bringing back, Greg X. Volz on vocals, Mark Kelly on bass, John Lawry on keyboards, Louie Weaver on drums, and the only band member to never leave the band, Bob Hartman on guitar. They have recently released an album of '80s Volz-era songs online, available at  I have not bought the album (yet), but have listened to the samples, which basically sound like they did in the '80s. Volz's voice has not changed, much, if any. There are two new songs, "Back to the Rock" and "Too Big to Fall." Other songs include, Bema Seat, Clean, Angel of Light, Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows, Godpleaser, Second Wind, More Power to Ya, Let Everything That Hath Breath (Praise the Lord), Grave Robber, and Adonai. They have even brought back the sword logo from the '80s. They're all songs that fans of Petra will know, but will they garner Petra new fans? They are planning a world tour and a live taping in Nashville sponsored by TBN on November 20. To date, no dates are posted yet. I'm wondering if anyone would book them, as much as I like them. Stryper has been semi-successful at coming back, but can Petra after only being retired for about 4 years.
One thing I've always appreciated about Petra was their stand on the Bible. Every song on their albums were backed up with scripture verses, listing them alongside the lyrics in the liner notes. There's a story that one time the record company did not print the verse references and Bob Hartman wasn't happy about that, but it was too late as the album had gone to press. Petra was offered compromises with record labels if they would tone down their Jesus content, but they constantly refused, and in turn, that may have been what led to their popularity waning in the '90s. Other artists seem to have compromised, such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, which led to their increased popularity among the secular crowd, though Smith not so much. Petra was perhaps the first band to get me interested in music, more specifically Christian music. I have fond memories of attending my first Petra concert in 1989 at the Atlanta Civic Center when Josh McDowell was touring with them. The last concert I attended with my dad was the Petra/Whiteheart co-headliner tour with opening acts Grammatrain and Johnny Q. Public in 1996. It was in Gainesville, GA, 4 hours from where we lived at the time. It was raining and hailing as we drove to the concert, but we had an awesome time. My dad even liked Johnny Q. Public. He got extremely sick and died over the next 4 months. 
So, how is this new album a chastisement of today's Christian music? As this blog updateputs it:
We are quite aware that we are not Gods’ only plan to shake up the Christian world again, but we are sure that we will be part of the big plan. Gospel music, as well as mainstream, in my opinion, has hit an all time low, with very little music I would consider interesting. The melody got lost somewhere along the way both musically and spiritually………….. There are some exceptions such as Switchfoot, Skillet, Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Casting Crowns, etc but you can count them all on your fingers.
He's right, Christian music, and music in general, has flatlined. Lyrics are shallow and insignificant. Christian music has become mostly about making us feel good. If you listen to Petra's lyrics or other's lyrics from the '80s and early '90s, you'll find that the music was about discipleship. I remember a twitter post where someone asked Steve Camp why he left Christian music and he replied that it was too much about money. All the Christian labels are owned by the world. He's right. They are. Now one could say that we should be salt and light to the world, and we could not compromise. Christian music isn't about discipleship anymore. It's about making money by offering feel-good lyrics that are all about me. Or perhaps they're just plain superficial. Artists that are still making good music: Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, P.O.D., Steven Curtis Chapman, Lecrae, and I could go on, but you won't hear these artists latest albums on Christian radio, unless you're listening online or to Air1. Our local Christian station hasn't played a single new Jars of Clay song for at least the past two albums now. And when they do, it's from their first album, released over 15 years ago. Petra? They play "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" from Petra Praise 2. It took them 6 months before they played the first single from Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise." I hardly hear it now. TobyMac? They jumped on his music right away, as superficial as it is.
Christian music could hardly be called Christian anymore. We need artists who are willing to take a stand on the Word of God and provide scripturally-based lyrics, that are about following God and not about feeling good. It's about discipleship. I've heard Christian artists get up on stage and say they're not theologians, blah, blah, blah. But, if you're writing words that we are hearing and singing, and billing yourself as a Christian musician, then yes, you are a theologian. You are writing what you think about God. You better make sure it's based on scripture and not on your feelings, however. 
To conclude, one of the new songs on Petra's album is titled, "Back to the Rock." There's a double meaning there. First, it is a return to the rock of the '80s, in a way. Second, the lyrics speak for themselves as the Rock is referring to Jesus. "Back to the Rock that is higher than I..." goes the song. Let us remember that as we listen to Christian music, that we should be focused on Jesus and not on what makes us feel good.

Why Many Muslims Hate the West - Phil Parshall Audio

Dr. Phil Parshall (retired missionary with SIM) recently spoke at Columbia International University's Chapel. I have had him for class and so this message wasn't completely new to me. It needs to be shared with all American Christians.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Bright Spot in the Disaster in Indonesia

Baby found in trees days after Indonesia tsunami

MENTAWAI ISLANDS, Indonesia — An official says an 18-month-old baby has been found alive in a clump of trees days after the devastating tsunami that killed at least 343 people.

Relief coordinator Hermansyah says the little boy is recovering in a health center. He says a 10-year-old child discovered the baby in a clump of trees on Pagai Selatan island on Wednesday. Both his parents are dead.

The discovery is one of the few bright spots in the tsunami that flattened villages and displaced tens of thousands of people when it hit Monday.

Let us continue to pray for the recovery and the survivors. I pray that they would see the Gospel in this largely Muslim nation.

Too Much Facebook?

This woman sure did:

A north Florida mother has pleaded guilty to shaking her baby to death after the boy's crying interrupted her game on Facebook.
Alexandra V. Tobias pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Wednesday and remains jailed.
The Florida Times-Union reports that she told investigators she was angered because the boy was crying while she was playing the game FarmVille.
This is a sad case. Do you get angry at your kids for interrupting your time in anything? Just your kids?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Jesus and Religion

Mark Driscoll offers a humorous (but sad and serious look at how Jesus treats the religious in this week's sermon from Luke. This is really good.

Monday, October 25, 2010

[Book Review] "The Skin Map" by Stephen R. Lawhead

There is much cause for celebration whenever a new Stephen Lawhead book comes out, especially since he is known for writing series and the last book may have come out two or three years ago. This book is the start of a new series and as such, there will be a new book a year for the next couple of years.
This book is a little different for Lawhead, but still reminiscient of the Paradise War series with the world between world idea. Lawhead adds in his famous style for going into great detail about places, especially within a historical setting.
I do feel that Lawhead is trying to hard to make this book a movie-series type feel, and he jumps around a lot from character to character. However, by the end, it seems he's just getting started and the next book may flow more easily with a better development of characters.
Lawhead has been blamed for being quite bloody in his previous books (though the Raven King series was not so much), and I think he's toned it down a lot. I think fans of Dan Brown's books will probably like this book and series. Though there is not much mention of Christianity in this book yet, I believe it will all be tied in some way. Lawhead subtly weaves it in. There is reference to Providence guiding the characters while the lead bad guy denies Providence and goes with a chaos theory.
As usual with most of the series that Lawhead writes, this one leaves you hanging, but this one the most. We must wait until September 2011 for the followup.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Do You See the Cross?

Whenever we are exiting the interstate to get to where our church is, I hear the voice of my three year-old from the back seat asking the question, "Do you see the cross?" Now, this question is directly related to the fact that our church sign by the road has a huge cross on top of it. And yes, you can see it, as you enter the road from the interstate exit. This question has two meanings, however. Spiritually, do we see the cross?
I should mention the fact that across the road, there are the buildings of two cults. There is both a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We are a Reformed Baptist church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, we have a huge cross in front of our church, while neither of those churches has any type of symbolism outside. Based on their beliefs, I believe they fail to see the cross at all, even if it is 30 feet tall (my best guesstimate as to how tall it is).
On another note, some years ago, Christian musician, speaker, and author John Fischer wrote a book called, "On a Hill Too Far Away ," referencing the cross. In it, he describes a church in New England that has a large wooden cross in the front of the church. One cannot miss it as one sits in a worship service as it just gets in the way. He talks about how today's churches simply miss the cross. They focus on what color their carpet should be or the style of worship music, all the while missing the cross.
C. J. Mahaney has written a book, "The Cross Centered Life ," also focusing on the cross. I cannot comment on this as I have not read it other than to say that I have the Songs for the Cross Centered Life that accompanies the book. So, let me ask this. Do you see the cross in your life? How is the cross at the center of your life? Do you know what the cross represents? The cross represents all the sin that we have committed. It has been nailed to the cross and we bear it no more, or says the hymn. Too often throughout the day, I don't see the cross. Some days, I don't even think of it that much, and I work for a Biblical University. 
I am reminded at least twice a week by a three year old to see the cross. May we see the cross daily and praise the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mosque at Ground Zero - Some Clarification and my take

Much is being made of the Cordoba Initiative, an Islamic cultural center being built a couple of blocks away from where the Twin Towers used to stand in New York City. There is a lot of misinformation being put out there as well. Robert Spencer and Pamela Gellar keep calling this an Islamic Supremist Center. Based on the United States Constitution and the zoning laws of New York City, there is nothing wrong with this center being built there. One hesitancy might be that this is going to send a wrong message, which is why my friend and former advisor in seminary, Warren Larson (Director of the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies), said he opposed it. The following article from the New York Times actually clears up a few things:
Since long before the Islamist terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001, a storefront mosque has been sitting on West Broadway in TriBeCa, a dozen blocks from the World Trade Center. No one seems to have ever minded its being there.

Okay, this mosque has been there for more than 10 years and nobody cared.  Continuing in the article:

No one is known to have protested the fact that three blocks from ground zero, on Murray Street off West Broadway, there is a strip joint. It prefers to call itself a gentlemen’s club. A man stood on the street corner the other day handing out free passes to willing gentlemen.

On Church Street, around the corner from where Cordoba House would rise, there is a store that sells pornographic videos and an assortment of sex toys. A few doors east of the planned Islamic center, there is an Off-Track Betting office. Spilling onto the sidewalk in front of it the other day were men who would have been described in my old Bronx neighborhood as degenerate gamblers.

A strip joint, a porno store and a government-run bookie operation. No one has organized demonstrations to denounce those activities as defiling the memory of the men and women who died a few hundred yards away.
Okay, so, we are okay with porn, naked women, and gambling, but not okay with a house of prayer. Not to say that they're praying rightly, but there seems to be a problem here. Many of the opposition claim that we were founded on Christian principles and that we have a duty to oppose the building of mosques. Many of the founding fathers were deists, at best, but hardly Christians. Our Constitution guarantees that Congress cannot establish a state religion, meaning which, this nation is not a Christian nation. We are not a Theocracy. I think the protests are hurting the Christian witness more than anything. The following is what I think is being most missed and this is astounding because it shows how much people do not know about Islam (emphasis mine):
New York officialdom, while sensitive to the displeased families, has long made it clear that it is not about to hand them veto power over how the city builds and rebuilds. Officials from the mayor on down have endorsed Cordoba House, in large measure because of Imam Feisal, a Sufi who has cultivated relations with other religions and who has spoken out against the violence of Islamist fanatics. He has given no one a reason to doubt his sincerity.
Wait a second! A Sufi? He's not a Shi'a (Iran/Iraq) or Sunni (the majority of Muslims)? But he is a Muslim, that should count for something, right? Not necessarily. So, what does that mean, that he's a Sufi? Sufism is defined as a mystically-oriented school of thought within Islam (Phil Parshall, Bridges to Islam). Dr. Parshall is perhaps a leading Christian expert on Sufism as he dealt with it a good deal when he was in an Asian country as a Missionary most of his life. I will be referencing the above book a few times in the next little bit.

Parshall says the following about Sufism:
Sufism is the embrasive influence of mysticism within Islam. I particularly like to use the word influence in attempting to define and understand Sufism. Mystical Muslims may or may not fit into categories or orders. Their behavior and even doctrine may differ widely among themselves, yet there are definite patterns within their fraternity that have the effect of creating homogeneity within heterogeneity. A Muslim has defined Sufism as "truth without form." That may be basically correct, but the so-called truth will be identifiable as we study the way it is expressed within the multiple sects found throughout the Islamic world. (Bridges, p. 26).
In Sufism, there is a striving for one's personal holiness, emphasizing love. There is little concern for heaven or hell, but only love (Bridges, pp. 27-28). In other words, Sufism is not the Islam we think of when we watch the evening news and see a bomb has been blown up in Baghdad or Kabul. No, Sufism, if anything, can be seen as the peaceful side of Islam.  Many Sunnis and Shi'a shun Sufism as it does not adhere to strict tenets of Islam.  Sufism has a history of syncretism as well, as can be seen by the history of the Sufi Imam of this mosque in New York City.

Free Resources on Islam

His Peace Upon Us reports on a few free resources on Islam.
Free "Discover Islam" E-book Resources DVD- You have to fill out your name and address, but the DVD should arrive soon.
Free E-Book on Islamic View of the Prophets - Downloadable .rar file. I use 7-Zip to extract the archive.

Resources on Islam

The following are listings of books I have used in my studies of Islam.

I recommend anything by Nabeel Jabbour or Phil Parshall. Dr. Jabbour is an Arab Christian who grew up in Lebanon and was a missionary in Egypt. He now travels the country holding seminars on Islam and is a good friend and former professor of mine. Dr. Parshall is also a former professor of mine, but is also one of the leading scholars on Islam in the Christian world. He is a former missionary to Bangladesh and the Philippines and has extensive experience among Muslims. I do not recommend books by either Robert Spencer or Ergun & Emir Caner. They are not helpful in understanding Islam at all and take an extreme right wing Christian religious approach in dealing with Islam. The books I have named are ones I have used in classes and take a much more balanced approach to Islam. Samuel Zwemer wrote numerous books and articles which are very helpful. Both Answering Islam (link above) and the Zwemer Center have full books and articles. In fact, the Zwemer Center has a huge collection of Zwemer's books and articles available on the campus of Columbia International University (CIU). The Zwemer Center (insert shameless plug here) also offers courses and seminars in Islam. You do not have to be a student at CIU in order to take a seminar. The seminars only cost $190 and are offered 5 weeks during the Summer and 2 weeks during the Winter. Be sure to check out their website for more information. If you do have questions about a book I listed or a book you found, please ask and I'll try to answer as best I can. I surely hope this helps you in learning how to minister to our Muslim neighbors.
[Edited to link to pages where you can buy the book. Yes, I do get a percentage of sales through Amazon's affiliate program. I have not been paid to endorse any of these resources (take that, FCC!)]