[Un]Acquired Tastes

_20150808_133920Why do we put up with developing ‘acquired tastes’? What acquired tastes have you come to enjoy? Coffee, wine, diet soda- lutefisk?  The first time that you tried it and found it wanting, what gave you the desire to give it another try? Acquiring a taste for something reminds me of a recurring difficulty I had as I began my flailing efforts at a liberal arts education. I was asked to read all sorts of things. So many times I was told to expect grandeur only to find a bore, or worse, a wall of esoteric inaccessibility. Take an example I’m not terribly proud of- I hated reading through my first two Charles Dickens novels. I can’t remember which novels they were, but something clicked with David Copperfield. I finally saw the light.

For other books, the ‘click’ took longer to arrive.  My perennial question became how do you tell a dud before you spend time with it? There are so many books worth reading, surely, so how do you know when you’ve been given jug wine instead of a classic vintage? Starting out, it is sometimes hard to tell. Charlotte is still my only Bronte, and I can only read T.S. Eliot with Google close by. I have, however, stumbled onto a principle that has assisted me in trusting the annals of time with something I don’t immediately appreciate that I probably should.

Imagine writing that seemingly obtuse opening chapter, composing that quirky score, or creating that set for the initial scene. I remember recognizing the usefulness of this principle by remembering my baptism into the art of saxophone. I was immersed in the world of middle school symphonic band, back when it was ok that your saxophone sounded like a lawnmower. I wanted to play everything that came across my path. After a gloriously short stint in a jazz band (we did manage to play in a coffee shop), I came to appreciate the complexities that accomplished players would display in all sorts of performances. The hours of grueling practice across a variety of genres made it easy to imagine myself in this band, producing that tone. My experience made awe a possibility.

Imagine writing the piece that you are trying to appreciate. What would you do differently?  Would you be able create the same intrigue that the author has? Listen to Bethoven’s 5th, imagining that you are the composer- beginning with that smallest initial motif that continues throughout the piece. Many times- not every time- you’ll get a glimpse of excellence that bids you plod along.

Unless you’ve tried to harmonize a choral in the style of Bach, you haven’t a clue how perfect this music is- how subtle are the inner voices, how wonderful the harmonic choices, how superb the baseline! It’s great art! ~ Robert Greenberg

The Mistress and Governess of Human Emotion- Martin Luther on Music

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I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on the history and development of music in Western Civilization and Martin Luther surprisingly came up. In keeping with the changing commitments in his time, Luther seemed almost Socratic in his attitude about the powerful influence of music on our lives. Socrates, recognizing the extreme power of music, thought the poets should be banned from the state. Luther agrees about its power, but argues that music can be a resource for soul-enhancing change:

Greetings in Christ! I would certainly like to praise music with all my heart as the excellent gift of God which it is and to commend it to everyone. But I am so overwhelmed by the diversity and magnitude of its virtue and benefits that I can find neither the beginning nor end or method for my discourse… We can mention only one point (which experience confirms), namely, that next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. She is a mistress and governess of those human emotions- to pass over the animals- which as masters govern men or more often overwhelm them. No greater commendation than this can be found- at least not by us. For whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate- and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good? – what more effective means than music could you find? The Holy Ghost himself honours her as an instrument for his proper work when in his Holy Scriptures he asserts that through her his gifts were instilled in the prophets, namely, the inclination to all virtues, as can be seen in Elisha [II Kings 3.15]. On the other hand, she serves to cast out Satan, the instigator of all sins, as is shown in Saul, the king of Israel [I Sam 16.23]. Thus it was not without reason that the fathers and prophets wanted nothing else to be associated as closely with the Word of God as music. Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener’s soul, while in other living beings and [sounding] bodies music remains a language without words.

Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, ed., Theological Aesthetics: A Reader (Grand Rapids: MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 145.

Many of us regularly listen to music with an almost religious fervor. I wonder how this music affects our emotions, and how we are using music as a tool to challenge and to elevate our minds? Another question comes to mind- if all music is a form of meditation- how much do you think singing should be incorporated into the rhythms of our lives- both communal and solitary?

Allah’s Advocate- Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

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Updated 12/31/15, and 1/2/16 to include additional links, see below. 

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? The question intrigued me because it was raised by a tenured professor at Wheaton College, a well-known evangelical institution. Larycia Hawkins made the decision to wear a hijab, an Islamic veil or headscarf, during the Advent season with a view to showing her ‘human’ and ‘religious’ solidarity with Muslims around the world. She wrote on her Facebook post:

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

What think ye? Wheaton College issued a statement indicating that Professor Hawkins would be placed on administrative leave, indicating that her statements about the relationship between Islam and Christianity conflicted with Wheaton’s statement of faith.

Here are a couple of helpful links:

  • Alan Jacobs weighs in with a Lewisian bomb-shell on why most of us should probably just shut up.
  •  Catholic philosopher Francis Beckwith argues the affirmative.
  • An excellent article in the Chicago Tribune provides a refreshingly balanced perspective.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with the concluding argument of Scott McKnight (I think he’s got it right) on a post he wrote in response to Miraslav Volf’s contention that Muslims and Christians worship the same God:

I have said this before and will say it again: we can agree to some degree at a generic level, but we don’t worship God in the generic. We worship either the God of Abraham and Moses, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, or the God of Mohammed. The God in each of the faiths is understood differently enough to conclude that saying we worship the “same” God muddies the water.

E.g.,. we could say these things that show the three are sufficiently dissimilar:

1. There is only one God and he has taken on human form in one person, Jesus Christ.

2. The one God has revealed himself most completely in Jesus Christ, who was crucified and raised, so that cruciformity is central to Who God is.

3. The one God is revealed in Three Persons, Father, Son and Spirit.

Neither Judaism nor Islam embraces any of these, so there is good reason to say they are not the same.

Feel free to share any thoughts or helpful material that you may have. I only ask that you consider- why is this important to me?

12/31/15- I also came across two additional articles that may be helpful- 

1/2/15– Francis Beckwith put together an excellent roundup, including a follow-up post by Peter Leithart.

Understanding Faith

This is a guest post by Adam King. Adam is a recently ordained graduate of Piedmont International University, and a new father. Adam and I had the opportunity to go with our pastors to Alistair Begg’s Basics Conference in Ohio last spring, where we forged a true friendship over our shared appreciation for theology and coffee.

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Faith, at first appearance, is the simplistic means by which someone becomes rightly related to God. In keeping with reformed thinking, we should certainly understand that it is simple to enter into covenant relationship with God by faith only, not by any works or complex human effort. However we should not quickly assume that faith itself is simple. One way to demonstrate the complexity of faith is by asking a few Christians to define faith from the Scriptures, there will certainly be a wide variety of answers and exposition.

My own typical approach to defining faith was to turn to Hebrews 11 and quote “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11.1 may be a good starting point for helping understand what it means to have faith, but as I study and continue my walk as a Christian, the simplistic faith seems to become more complex. The question, “is my faith dependent upon reason and logic, or independent of it?” and any ensuing answer proves the complex nature of faith.

So how is the Christian to understand faith? I do not claim to have the answer but can offer an approach I have found helpful, which is, do not try to define faith, but dive into the Scriptures and look at the stories of people who lived lives pleasing to God. I believe this is exactly what the author of Hebrews intended in writing Hebrews 11 and concluding it with his statement in 12.1-2. What does 12.1-2 tell us? That the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 are all examples to us, and we would do well to follow them by laying aside every sin and weight that will cause us to trip and fall in the race of our lives, not forgetting the one who is the champion of our faith, Jesus.