A Defense of Contemporary Worship Songs

Lindsay answers critics of contemporary song form worship music using Psalm 27 by Donnie McClurkin.

Includes a brief harmonic and rhythmic analysis and explores how the form serves the lyric:

Psalm 27

by Donnie McClurkin

One thing that I desire from the Lord

That one thing will I seek for

That I may dwell within His house
And inquire in His temple
And behold the beauty of the Lord

Beautiful Savior
Beautiful Savior

I’m not worried and I’m not dismayed
I never will run away
I won’t fear the enemy
When they come at me they’re gonna fall
For Your power will conquer all
There’s just one place I wanna be

That place is….

One thing that I desire from the Lord
That one thing will I seek for
That I may dwell within His house
And inquire in His temple
And behold the beauty of the Lord

Fairest Lord Jesus
Ruler of creation
Thou art God and Thou art man and so beautiful

Thee will I cherish, Lord
Thee will I honor, Lord
You’re my soul’s glory, joy and crown
Oh, my God

Beautiful Savior
Beautiful Savior
God of all creation
How I love and adore You
For You’re beautiful beyond all description

Beautiful Savior, yeah (x3)
Wonderful Jesus

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Burdens We Were Never Fit To Carry

(Originally published 05 February 2009)

“The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” ~ Pierre-Simon Marquis de Laplace

“Theists have not yet grasped the concept of the burden of proof, apparently. It’s really simple, so I find it astounding that it is so easily dismissed-the one who makes the positive claim (ie-god exists) is the one who has to prove that claim, not the person who is in the default position of suspension of belief due to lack of evidence (ie-as far as we know, god does not exist).” ~ How to Respond to a Supercilious Christian, Kelly O’Connor,

This burden of proof question is one that has always bothered me. Atheism has positioned itself as being stated in the negative. For this reason, in formal debate, atheism claims never to have the burden of proof because the rules state that that burden belongs to the positive position.

Formally, I understand the burden of proof rule with regard to other kinds of subjects. A universal negative is difficult if not impossible to prove. Take the negative statement; “There are no two snowflakes exactly alike.” That statement cannot be proved without exhaustively searching the universe in all places simultaneously to prove that twin snowflakes do not exist. Conversely, the positive is easy; just show a single example of twin snowflakes.

The atheist claim isn’t anything like that though. It’s a positive claim in disguise. No atheist is claiming simply that there is no evidence for God, rhetorical posturing to the contrary notwithstanding. If that were the case then we could just unpack our evidence and that claim would no longer stand. The Atheist claim is that God is not a necessary hypothesis to explain life, the universe and everything as per Ockham’s Razor.

Effectively, the atheist claim is that life can come from the universe spontaneously, a positive claim. Or that complex systems happen by simple systems gradually becoming more complex over time, contrary to the second law of thermodynamics, another positive claim. Or that complexity=life. Or that matter is eternal. Or that right and wrong has a biological basis. Or any myriad of other kinds of claims that are positive in nature.

Greg Bahnsen dealt with this problem head on in his debate with Gordon Stein, calling it “the pretended neutrality fallacy.” He explained:

“In advance, you see, Dr. Stein is committed to disallowing any theistic interpretation of nature, history or experience. What he seems to overlook is that this is just as much begging the question on his own part as it is on the part of the theists who appeal to such evidence. He has not at all proven by empirical observation and logic his pre-commitment to Naturalism. He has assumed it in advance, accepting and rejecting all further factual claims in terms of that controlling and unproved assumption.”

So in a formal debate scenario, where the question is, “Is there a God?” the more jejune Atheist says “no” without definition or dealing with the implications of their response, hoping to then sit back and wait for the Christian apologist to fail or succeed. And failure is foreordained, because the naysayer can simply say, “I’m not convinced.”

That simply doesn’t work. This is a totally different kind of question than the garden-variety claim of something’s non-existence. Saying, “there is no God” carries with it a host of implication that saying, “there is no Santa Claus” does not carry. Santa Claus’ existence has no impact on our worldview’s ability to account for logic, morals, design, right tuning of our senses to the universe, the mind/body distinction or any of many questions like it. Saying there is no God, on the other hand, demands positive claims in each of those areas. It amounts to a variation on the complex question fallacy.

There are some apologists who are pleased to bear the burden of proof solely on the Christian side and build a probabilistic kind of argument for God’s existence. The difficulty here is in determining when that burden has been met. If it has only been met when Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, et al agree that there is a God, I think we have set an impossible standard. Not all people who understand an argument find it cogent.

That smart people disagree is not a defeater for any proposition. There are many reasons that even intelligent people who understand the arguments have for not finding something particularly compelling. Those reasons aren’t always given when they disagree with a position “on its merits.” Smart people convert, and not usually because they suddenly get some piece of information they never had before that puts the puzzle together for them. Often it is because some pre-commitment loses its force for them personally.

So what about the day-in-day-out apologetics of our everyday life? Surely the rules of academic debate don’t encroach here. It’s just friends and family members gathered around the questions that unite us all, right? Yet even here we find that an unhelpful attitude about burden of proof stymies real dialog.

The fact is, when two people come together to discuss God, they BOTH have a burden. Neither one has an option to simply shrug and say, “I’m not convinced by your Kalam Cosmological Argument, so I win.” They must account for their worldview just as you must account for yours. Lacking that, all they’ve done is bamboozle you with the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument and lived to bamboozle another day.

So what of the two quotes that started this article? Is Laplace correct in claiming that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Let’s test this idea.

If I claim to be able to ride a bicycle, what proof is required? My riding of the bicycle. This is an ordinary claim and the corresponding ordinary evidence.

If I claim to be able to operate that same bicycle without a rider by the power of my mind, what proof is required? My operation of the bicycle with the power of my mind. This is an extraordinary claim, but the evidence is the normal kind; the demonstration of the claim.

I do not deny that we go about providing evidence in different ways for different things (Bahnsen’s “crackers in the pantry” fallacy). I am merely pointing out that there are not separate standards of evidence in evaluating worldviews. Each worldview is subject to the same standard of evidence.

The result of adopting Laplace’s notion is that it is absolutely arbitrary. The strangeness of a claim is a predilection of the one receiving the claim. Furthermore, what level of evidence is required is also arbitrary and usually results in the bar being set to “whatever convinces me.”

What of Kelly O’Connor’s spirited quips? Does she have the default position as she claims? On what ground does this claim rest? It rests on her arbitrary and unproven presumption of Naturalism.

An evidential apologist may claim that something like a mind must have preceded the universe, and continues to support it and its law-like functioning. O’Connor may claim that nothing like a mind was necessary.

The evidential claim is philosophical. It must stand to philosophical rigor. But so must O’Connor’s claim. She may object that she’s agnostic on the question of cosmic origins; she simply doesn’t know and so carries no burden. This is simple obfuscation. An Atheist saying there is no God is saying that universes begin themselves spontaneously or has some other cause. She may come up with a strong reasoning that underlies this positive assertion, but it is a positive assertion that must be supported. O’Connor’s claim of having the “default” position is without merit.

We don’t come to a discussion to win for winning’s sake. We come together to talk about these questions so that all might know the truth. Stacking the deck with an unfair burden of proof is anathema to this end.

Go Forth And Shut Up About The Gospel!

(Originally published 01 September 2008)

I love the very shape of the Christian life.

Consider the way we start our days in prayer: how it puts us in our place in the universe and in relationship to a holy God; how it readies us for a day of loving our neighbors as ourselves. It prioritizes our works, helping us to attend the weightier matters of life and not get confused about what is heavy and what is light. Family takes its place at the epicenter of the practical exercise of our faith, and thus becomes a rich ground where other relationships can take root and grow because of the forgiveness that is the central imperative in all our dealings with others.

After appreciating the warp and woof of how we nurture our Christianity and it nurtures us, I’m prompted to consider the place of apologetics in this Christian life. How does our defense and explanation of the notion that we have peace with God, afforded us by a foreign righteousness imputed to us, figure in all this? Can’t we just do as the quote oft attributed to St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words?”1

As charming as that notion seems, our answer has to be “no.” God has ordained an end, the calling of a peculiar people to Himself, and also ordained the means, the preached word. This is a preaching of propositional sentences regarding the nature of man, of God and of the only means of reconciliation between God and man—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. These are truths that cannot be conveyed by simply living well and waiting for someone to notice and ask, “Hey, what’s the reason for the hope that is in you?”

But affirmations beget denials, and more so with the subject of religion than any other. The Bible says that man is fallen. Yet many believe the famous quote from the inspirational book The Diary of Anne Frank, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are basically good at heart.”2 Either we’re talking about two different things or one of us is wrong. This is certainly not the kind of question that is answered by simply living life as a nice person. It must be met with discourse while we remain nice people.

Christianity is filled with propositions like this that must be explained and defended. Let’s take the central truth of the Christian faith: the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. In the face of Dan Brown novels, Jesus Seminar Scholars and others claiming that Jesus married Magdalene and moved to France or was buried in a community grave and eaten by dogs, one simply cannot answer the contradiction without opening one’s mouth to preach the Gospel using words.

What of those of us who sin (e.g., all of us)? What if we do the wrong thing? Being a radio apologist I am forced to consider carefully what I do. I am convicted by the occasional helpful criticism that I might be failing sometimes. What do we do with our pseudo-Franciscan epigram then? With such facility the critics of the faith bandy about the word “hypocrite”, and how simple is the step of illogic, which says, “Look, he failed, Christianity is false.”

We recognize, of course, that sin does not render Christianity false, but affirms the Christian anthropology. So we are confronted again with the notion that it is almost always necessary to use words in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Certainly there is value to the aesthetic ‘form’ of the Christian life, but to what extent is a beautiful life evidence of the Gospel? Do not all religious people everywhere pray for their children and strive to live out the moral tenets they have received? Don’t atheists hope for good for those they meet and try to be “good people,” whatever that means, themselves? Of course they do!

The beautiful Christian life is what James calls ‘justification’ of our faith. He says in chapter 2 of his pithy epistle, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works,” (all quotes NET unless indicated)3 and my favorite ‘misunderstood’ quote in the Bible, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”4 All of the things that James prescribes in the moral arena in his epistle are evidences of a faith rooted in propositions that the works themselves cannot articulate. They must be proclaimed by the spoken/written word.

In summary, my friends, we must tell everyone we can about the Gospel and also give evidence to everyone of the truth of these things by our love for one another. And when challenged about it (as we have been, are and ever will be) we must “always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15b-16a)

The pseudo-Franciscan epigram is false for the Christian who has an explicit mandate from Jesus Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 28:19) even if its imperative to live a beautiful Christian life is true and is itself a kind of apologetic for the Christian faith. There is simply no substitute for opening your mouth to speak the words God gave us to speak, and we are not living the beautiful Christian life until we do.


1 It is doubtful St. Francis of Assisi actually said this. The nearest one finds to this quote in his writings is in chapter 17 of his “First Rule” which states: “Let no Brother preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Church, nor without the leave of his Superior. And let the Superior take care that he does not grant this leave indiscreetly. Nevertheless, let all the Brethren preach by their works.” (Francis, of Assisi Saint Francis,Works Of The Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, Translated by A Religious of the Order, (London: R. Washbourne, 1882), 42.

http://books.google.com/books?id=HU3CJ2bRk2gC

2 Frank, Anne, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Translated by BM Mooyaart, (New York: Bantam Books, 1993)

3 The NET Bible® is freely available at www.bible.org/

4 Note the NLT reading of this verse, “So you see, we are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone,” seems to miss the context of showing our faith by our works, a concept that does not contradict or deny that we are “justified,” in the sense of being “made right with God,” by faith and not by works. So the phrase “made right with God,” corresponding to the first lexical meaning of dikaioutai (present, passive, indicative ofdikaioo: to render righteous or such he ought to be) doesn’t fit here. Rather the second lexical meaning (to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered) is the one that makes sense in context.