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I’m a fan of Regina Spektor, ever since discovering one of her songs on the Prince Caspian movie. What do you think about this one?

[Warning:  The content of this post is sexually and verbally explicit in places. Please proceed with caution.]

For the past several weeks, my wife and I have been spending Sunday nights watching Seatle pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon series on the Song of Solomon. My interest was piqued by all the controversy over Driscoll’s supposedly graphic commentary on this book, and I wanted to see for myself whether the hubbub was a big deal.

It wasn’t. Driscoll’s preaching seemed pretty uncontroversial, in fact. He did talk a lot about sex, but that was because the Song of Solomon talks a lot about sex. He did mention details about different sexual activities, but not in a grossly graphic way. He mentioned oral sex, a wife dancing for her husband’s enjoyment, and even referred to the vagina (gasp!) with some sort of phrase like “a woman’s most intimate part.” Here’s the thing, though:  Song of Solomon talks about all these things, and last I checked, the preacher’s job is to preach the Bible. Some have objected that Driscoll should not have explained the euphemisms that are sprinkled throughout the book, but to do so would be to leave everyone in the dark as to what the two lovers of Solomon’s Song are saying to each other. Three thousand years or so separate our culture from the Hebrews’, and unless someone explains what is meant, we probably won’t understand it. Again, this is what the preacher is supposed to do.

Perhaps the umbrage that many people have taken in response to Mark Driscoll’s sermon series has helped expose some of our own sins. We have taken our own morality and made it God’s. We have elevated our own cultural etiquette to the status of the Ten Commandments–Thou shalt not talk about sex openly with other Christians, thou shalt not ask questions about oral sex in marriage, and whatsoever thou doeth, thou shalt not utter the accursed four-letter words that start with d, h, s, and f.

Driscoll also exposes a common sin of the pulpit–the failure to preach the whole word of God. If the Bible talks about sex, then preachers should preach about it. Good grief, this country, with its non-Christians and its Christians, is saturated with a twisted view of sex. Preach the truth about sex. Set people free to have pure fun in their bedrooms with their spouses.

Last, I think Driscoll helps expose a sin among translators. If the Bible is the word of God, then should we censor it so that it won’t offend our sensibilities? If the Bible is explicit or offensive, what gives anyone the right to soften it. If a verse is meant to shock, why would we take away its shock value? Take a look at Philippians 3:8:

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (KJV)

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (NIV)

At least twice, I have heard a pastor (R. C. Sproul was one) explain that this word is actually an obscenity. In other words the verse should read:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them shit, that I may gain Christ. (NIV)

If these preachers are right, then that’s what Paul said, and that’s how it should be translated. Consider the shock value that has for us. The best that we have to offer isn’t just rubbish, it’s utter shit. Wow. Pretty shocking.

I do not think that Driscoll’s series of the Song was perfect by any means. I think he was way off on a comment he (reluctantly) made, in response to a question he kept getting, about how often a married couple should have sex. He said that the average couple does it twice a week, and the average married man masturbates five times a week on the sly. Therefore, the couple should probably have sex every day so that the man can have his sexual needs met. The reason why I strongly disagree with him is that I know that masturbation is not meeting a sexual need most of the time. When guys get lonely, feel sad, are bored, or feel a lot of different things, they often meet those emotional needs by masturbating. As far as actual sexual needs go, twice or three times a week is plenty for me, but that’s just speaking for myself.

Last, I was not convinced that the things Driscoll said about relationships (which were in and of themselves, right on) were in fact a good exposition of the actual text. I am not saying that he wasn’t right in how he interpreted this or that euphemism. I am just not sure that his interpretation of the flow of events or historocity of the Song’s relationship were correct. That’s just a suspicion, though. I have yet to do an actual study of the book.

In summary, Driscoll’s sermon on SoS was a helpful series and one that the church needs to hear. Driscoll is a gifted pastor who loves his wife, family, and church very much, but like the rest of us, he has his problems.

Feel free to leave your take on this series, but please, be civil.

I love my denomination, but I am beginning to suspect that this quote from Tim Stafford may apply to it:

The neo-Reformed are committed to a tradition of scriptural interpretation. They’re sure it’s right and they read the Bible by looking through those lenses.

I have a confession to make to all my fellow Protestants:  sometimes I make the sign of the cross at the end of my private prayers. No, I am not converting to Catholicism, but I am appreciating a Catholic tradition. In fact, I am appreciating an ancient Christian tradition.

Five or six years ago, a group of friends and I attended a Lutheran church so tiny that the eight of us made up half the congregation. Consequently, the pastor took a lot of time from the service to explain to us non-Lutherans some of the things he was doing, and one of these things was the practice of crossing oneself. He pointed out that though it is often used superstitiously (like at baseball games), the sign of the cross is an ancient practice in the church that serves to remind us of who we are. I liked the idea and began practicing it, trying consciously not to use it mindlessly. It is a reminder that the cross is for me, that its benefits mark me like a seal.

Apparently, the sign of the cross goes way back in church history. In the fourth century A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem made the following statement:

Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat, and the cups we drink; in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are in the way and when we are still. Great is that preservative; it is without price, for the poor’s sake; without toil, for the sick, since also its grace is from God. It is the Sign of the faithful, and the dread of evils; for He has triumphed over them in it, having made a shew of them openly; for when they see the Cross, they are reminded of the Crucified; they are afraid of Him, Who hath bruised the heads of the dragon. Despise not the Seal, because of the freeness of the Gift; but for this rather honor thy Benefactor.”

St. Ephrem of Syria, also from the fourth century said:

Mark all your actions with the sign of the lifegiving Cross. Do not go out from the door of your house till you have signed yourself with the Cross. Do not neglect that sign whether in eating or drinking or going to sleep, or in the home or going on a journey. There is no habit to be compared with it. Let it be a protecting wall round all your conduct, and teach it to your children that they may earnestly learn the custom.

Even earlier, in the second century, Tertullian wrote:

 “In all undertakings — when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each task — we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”

It might surprise my fellow Protestants to know that Martin Luther supported using the sign, too. Here’s a page of his writings concerning it, and here is one quote:

In the morning, when you rise, you shall make the sign of the holy cross, and you shall say: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Can the sign of the cross be used superstitiously. Yes. The sign itself cannot ward off the devil, nor can it bring anyone good. But the physical sign can serve as a reminder of what our Lord has done for us and what he will do. It can be a real encouragement.

This site offers a lot of helpful information, some of which I have already used. It tells several ways in which the sign of the cross is done, which I have copied and pasted below.

The Sign of the Cross is made thus: First choose your style:

  • Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.
     
  • Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ
     
  • Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice.
     
  • Option D: Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers — representing the 5 Wounds of Christ — together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm

Then:

  • touch the forehead as you say (or pray mentally) “In nomine Patris” (“In the name of the Father”)
     
  • touch the breastbone or top of the belly as you say “et Filii” (“and of the Son”)
     
  • touch the left shoulder, then right shoulder, as you say “et Spiritus Sancti” (“and of the Holy Ghost”). Note that some people end the Sign by crossing the thumb over the index finger to make a cross, and then kissing the thumb as a way of “kissing the Cross.”

Any thoughts? Is this an idolatrous practice? Or a comforting reminder?

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