As demonstrated in Scripture and throughout the history of the church, Christian Psalms have occupied a precious place in the praise of God’s people. They “exemplify the Reformed doxological tradition at its best.” There is great value in continuing to sing these classics as they exalt the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again of our Savior.
One of the most encouraging recent developments in the worship of Reformed and Presbyterian churches is the revival of congregational Psalm singing. The introduction of quality Psalters, including The Trinity Psalter (Crown and Covenant, 1994), Sing Psalms (Free Church of Scotland, 2003), The Book of Psalms for Worship (Crown and Covenant, 2010), and The ARP Psalter with Bible Songs (Crown and Covenant, 2011) presented pastors, elders, and church musicians with an array of options to supplement offerings from traditional hymnals. The popular Trinity Psalter Hymnal (Crown and Covenant, 2018) combines the best of Christian hymnody with excellent settings of every Psalm in one convenient volume, leading even more congregations to join the chorus of those “singing the Lord’s song” (Ps. 137:4). Yet, as more churches include metrical Psalms in their worship, there is one form of praise that we cannot afford to neglect: The Christian Psalm.
Christian Psalms are singable settings of biblical Psalms that are embroidered with the beauty of the gospel. What we see promised in the types and shadows of David’s pen (along with the other psalmists), is fulfilled and brought into the light through the composing and singing of Christian Psalms. Sometimes, these versions are rather close to what we read in the Hebrew Psalter. Others are more like meditations or paraphrases that act as responses to the words of the biblical Psalms in light of Christ’s glorious work of redemption. Alongside of Psalms in their more natural sense, we should also include Christian Psalms in our worship because they are biblical, historical, and doxological.
Christian Psalms are Biblical
In Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Not only do we hear echoes from Hannah’s song (1 Sam. 2:1-10), according to Leland and Philip Ryken, “Mary borrows liberally from the language of the Psalms….to sing a new song of praise to her God as the Savior of the poor and humble.” We find similar connections to the Psalms in the songs of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) and Simeon (Luke 2:29-32). In addition, the canticles celebrating the conquering Lamb in Revelation 4, 5, 7, 11, 15, and 19 are replete with references to the Psalms. Notice, for instance, in Rev. 7:15-17, the multiple allusions to the Hebrew Psalter that point to the abundant blessings flowing from David’s greater Son:
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By Joni Eareckson Tada — 1 month ago
Every one of the good reasons I wrote about in my book decades ago are meant to point us to our kind and loving God. Because of Jesus Christ, he picks us up, holds us close, and assures us that everything is going to be okay. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us in our suffering. He says in Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I’ve experienced God’s comfort in this way. I cannot begin to describe the sweetness of my Savior’s presence when I feel the crunch of my affliction. Suffering, like nothing else, has shown me the goodness of the Father. Oh, I hope you’ll take the time to view this video where I talk about my book Songs of Suffering and all I’ve gained in my suffering.
Decades ago, when I was still young in my wheelchair, I was excited about all the things I was learning about God
The more I learned about him, the more I wanted to pass the insights on to other people who were struggling through hardships. I even wrote a book about it, listing reason after reason as to “why God allows suffering.” I detailed as many spiritual benefits from suffering as I could think of: how it refines our faith, develops self-control, exposes sin, makes us dependent on God, teaches us to follow the Word, helps us empathize with other hurting people, binds Christians together, and fosters humility. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Now, these are all true and good benefits of suffering, but years later when I started to struggle with chronic pain—and later, battled cancer— the overwhelming weight of my suffering seemed to far exceed any benefit that might result.
To make sense of my suffering, I had to go a lot deeper and ask, “What good could possibly be worth overwhelming pain and agony?”
I’ll answer that question with an analogy: imagine that a little boy hops on his bicycle, races down a hill, and at the bottom when he turns the corner, he loses control on loose gravel and crashes to the asphalt. His knee begins to bleed, and his wailing alerts his father. What would we think of his daddy if he came and stood over his son and listed all the reasons as to why the boy is hurting and bleeding?
What would we think if he said, “Now, son, your speed was excessive as you began the trajectory of your turn. The loose gravel has accumulated here because of the rains. Your knees weren’t protected by knee pads.”
By Darby Strickland — 1 year ago
Yes, community is messy and complicated. Sometimes it seems hopeless, especially for those on the margins. Christ was one of those on the margin, knowing rejection. We see him ministering to the uninvited throughout the Gospels, so we know they are on his heart. We may struggle with wanting to be reshaped since it is easier to just stick to the relationships that come naturally to us. But if people on the fringes are on the Lord’s heart, they need to be on ours. We are meant to be built together into a spiritual house for the benefit of one another and for the glory of the Lord.
When it comes to community in the church, many people feel like onlookers. For many, deep fellowship seems far off. Some feel excluded because they “do not fit in,” and others are unsure how to engage.
In the church of Jesus, this should not be. All believers should feel welcome and invited to be an active part of its fellowship. But in truth, we tend to herd together in groups based on similarities like being married or single, our children’s ages, our life stages, political preferences, or professional positions. We feel more comfortable around people like us. (What does your small group look like?)
God wants us to fight against this tendency and build a community that embraces people who are different from us, including people on the margins. The apostle Peter tells us:
As you come to him [Christ], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5).
Believers are like living stones, and God is shaping and fitting us together into a place where he dwells. But forming this type of community does not come naturally to us. It is a blessing, then, that God is shaping each one of us so that we are more like Christ, the living stone. He molds and forms us so that we fit together. I need to be willing to be reshaped so that someone quite different from me might find a place of belonging next to me. God wants us to look more like who he created us to be for the benefit of one another.
I might have to grow in patience as I listen to others who take longer to formulate their thoughts.
By J. Alan Branch — 1 year ago
Written by J. Alan Branch |
Monday, June 20, 2022
Biblical sexual ethics advocates a morality of restraint in which the best interests of both women and children are affirmed. Biblical sexual ethics entails the sanctity of human life because when the act of sex is treated as a gift from God to be celebrated within God’s moral parameters, then children conceived via sex are also treated as gifts from God.
Sexual ethics and the sanctity of human life are two inseparable moral issues. Unbiblical views of sexual ethics go hand in hand with devaluing human life, particularly women and children. If one treats sex cheaply, then one will treat other people cheaply, and when sexual ethics are cheapened, women and children become the victims of males’ unrestrained sexual appetites.
In the sexual revolution, the demand for sexual freedom preceded the loosening of abortion laws. Because the “free love” generation divorced sexual activity from ethical responsibility, it is no coincidence that the so-called “Summer of Love” in 1967 was followed a few years later in 1973 by legalized abortion. Liberalizing abortion laws is the logical conclusion to the abandonment of sexual restraint.
The sexual revolution claimed to liberate women from what feminists considered the oppressive confines of marriage. But unrestrained sexual ethics actually serve to devalue women as mere objects for sensual gratification, and this contributes to disregard for children. Sexual permissiveness has conditioned our culture, particularly men, to think of children as a bothersome intrusion instead of a gift to be received. The moral issues of sexual ethics and the sanctity of human life are intricately connected, and biblical sexual morality dignifies both women and children. To demonstrate this thesis, five propositions will be presented: First, various forms of unbiblical sexual ethics devalue both women and children by viewing pregnancy as an undesirable outcome of sexual intercourse; second, biblical sexual morality properly connects sexual ethics to the sanctity of human life by teaching that pregnancy is a welcome outcome to sexual intercourse; third, when pregnancy is a welcome outcome to sexual intercourse, women are dignified as being more than merely objects for sexual gratification; fourth, when pregnancy is a welcome outcome to sexual intercourse, not only are women dignified, but young children are honored as welcome additions to a family; and finally, biblical sexual morality creates a culture which is safer for women and children as they are honored as co-bearers of the image of God.
I. Various Non-Christian Forms of Sexual Ethics
To demonstrate the connection between sexual ethics and the sanctity of human life, first we must see how various unbiblical forms of sexual ethics devalue both women and children by viewing pregnancy as an undesirable outcome of sexual intercourse. Daniel Heimbach’s True Sexual Morality suggests four counterfeit views of sexual morality: Romantic, Playboy, Therapeutic, and Pagan sexual moralities. Each of these views are various expressions of an unrestrained view of sexual ethics, and each of them though different in focus share an emphasis on hedonism and moral autonomy. In none of these views is pregnancy viewed positively.
The first unbiblical view is Romantic Morality, which says all that is necessary for sex to be moral is for the participants to be “in love.” In this case, love is an amorphous feeling of affection for another person, and affection is expressed as sexual attraction. Heimbach explains, “Romantic sexual morality so glorifies the importance of sentimental affection in sexual relationships that sex is justified based on feelings alone. It says couples have only to decide if they are in love, and if they are, then sex is moral whatever else might be the case.” From this perspective, marriage may or may not be an intended goal. Just because someone professes love for a sexual partner does not necessarily mean he or she intends to marry the person.
Since the Romantic view is based in ephemeral feelings of attraction, pregnancy interferes with the excitement of romance. As sex is occurs outside of marriage, conception is undesired and children are usually not wanted. In many cases, a man will insist his professed love for his sexual partner does not include love for any children conceived between the two of them. Tragically, Romantic sexual morality destroys the affection it promises. As Heimbach observes, “God designed sex to create a total union between persons at all levels at once, but romantic morality tells individuals to avoid unconditional commitments and hinders partners from pursuing total union.”
Because Romantic Morality destroys the affection it promises, it contributes to the devaluing of human life. Love is divorced from a covenant, and instead is grounded in fleeting emotions which may or not remain present if pregnancy ensues. And here we see the connection between Romantic Morality and abortion. While there are usually a complex set of reasons which contribute to a decision to abort, a 2013 survey of abortive women found that 31% of respondents gave partner-related reasons as influential in the decision. To be clear, only 6% mentioned the father of the child as the only reason for aborting. But one wonders how the variable of an unsupportive father amplified the perceived reality of other stressors, such as finances or an inopportune time for having a baby. All this to say, not only does Romantic Morality destroy the affection it promises, it destroys the children resulting from this purported “love.”
While the Romantic view is founded in vague feelings of love, Playboy Morality builds an entire system based pleasure. As the Feinbergs explain, “[The Playboy morality] says sex is a natural human impulse or instinct. . . . Greater human happiness is attained if people can take whatever pleasure they can get from sex without the burden of moral guilt, as long as they do not satisfy their sexual urges by using a partner involuntarily, hurtfully or deceitfully.” Heimbach adds, “Playboy sexual morality begins with the physical pleasure associated with sexual experience and proceeds to construct an entire framework of moral thinking based on it.” Quite simply, this approach to sexual ethics says any natural impulse that produces pleasure is good and should be allowed free expression.
This Playboy Morality is reflected in many popular songs. One example from the era of the sexual revolution is Foghat’s 1972 version of Willie Dixon’s I Just Want to Make Love To You, which says:
I don’t want you, wash my clothesI don’t want you, keep a homeI don’t want you to be trueI just want to make love to you
In this song, sex is completely divorced from any sense of marriage — “I don’t want you, keep a home” — or fidelity — “I don’t want you to be true.” Instead, the woman is merely seen as a target of opportunity for sexual gratification with no commitment beyond the sexual encounter itself. Pregnancy is not a desired outcome and children are not wanted. All that is wanted is sexual pleasure.
Playboy Morality exhibits the danger of the hedonic paradox — the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake does not result in pleasure, but frustration. For example, Ecclesiastes 2:1–11 describes the hedonistic pursuit of wine, accumulation of wealth, aesthetically pleasing surroundings, and sexual encounters, only to conclude by saying, “And behold all was vanity and striving after the wind and there was no profit under the sun.” (Eccl 2:11) Pleasure, especially sensual pleasure, is an insufficient starting point for ethics. The danger of the hedonic paradox was recognized by Aristotle who was critical of using pleasure to determine morality and said, “It appears to be pleasure that misleads the mass of mankind; for it seems to them to be a good, though it is not, so they choose what is pleasant as good and shun pain as evil.” Indeed, when physical pleasure is seen as the telos of life in and of itself, one is deceived about the true value of other people and other humans become a means to achieve the ends of one’s own pleasure.
The third unbiblical view is Therapeutic Morality, an ethic of which sees sex as a means to human fulfillment and personal growth. Though not denying the vague form of love in Romantic Morality or the pleasure associated with Playboy Morality, advocates of Therapeutic Morality contend that limiting sex to marriage denies the single person of something essential to his or her personhood. Heimbach says: “Therapeutic sexual morality justifies sex based on ideas about human psychology. Sex is regarded as moral or immoral depending on how it relates to things such as mental health, personal development, or social success. . . . No sexual behavior is right or wrong in itself because what matters is a person’s inner sense of satisfaction.”
Planned Parenthood best fits in the category of Therapeutic Morality because they see sex as a part of any well-rounded person’s life, married or unmarried, adult or teenager. For them, emotional wellbeing assumes one is having sex. In answering the teenage question, “What should I do if I think I’m ready for sex?,” they suggest the teenager ask himself or herself questions such as: “Do I have a healthy relationship? Can I talk with my partner about things that are bothering me?,” as well as asking, “How would I deal with an STD or unintended pregnancy?” Setting aside obvious questions about how a teenager only a couple years removed from cartoons and toys is supposed to “deal with an STD or unintended pregnancy,” Planned Parenthood assumes it is normal and healthy for teenagers to have sex. The idea that one would wait until marriage is barely even suggested, though the group glibly adds, “And some people choose to never have sex — that’s totally okay too.” And in case teenagers do get pregnant, Planned Parenthood offers abortion as a coping mechanism. In this way, both young men and women are conditioned to see each other only as objects of sexual pleasure and children as a bothersome obstacle to human fulfillment.
The final unbiblical view is Pagan sexual morality. This moral stance can encompass vague notions of love ( Romantic Morality), pleasure-based ethics ( Playboy Morality), and vacuous concepts of human fulfillment ( Therapeutic Morality), but combines all of these ideas into using sex as a vehicle to connect with the divine. Pagan sexual morality emerges from the monistic worldview integral to paganism: “All is one and all is God.” Based on this premise, all humans are seen as partially divine or having some form of divine spark. Such religious language serves as a camouflage for radical autonomy, and as Heimbach says, “Indulging sexual desires is therefore good no matter what form it takes.”
Pagan sexual morality and fertility cults associated with it are clearly seen in the Roman god Mutunus Tutinus and his Greek parallel, Priapus. In Rome, Mutunus Tutinus was a phallic image deity with a shrine on the Velian Hill. The god was embodied in a sacred phallus on which the bride was required to sit before the consummation of marriage. But while the pagan gods were invoked for fertility within marriage, the diminutive deities of the pagan pantheon engaged in sexual promiscuity and there was no moral rule against the common practice of exposing unwanted children.
Modern neopaganism has revived the sexual ethics of ancient polytheism. Neopagan author Amber Laine Fisher proclaims the goodness of sex without moral boundaries and says, “Goddess religion and goddess spirituality endeavor to release us from the taboos of sex and sexuality, to untie our hands, freeing us from certain paradigms or ideals that we are taught to accept as normal.” And Pagan sexual morality devalues human life. For example, California-based psychologist Ginette Paris grounds pro-abortion arguments in a pagan worldview. In her 1992 work The Sacrament of Abortion, Paris urges women to abandon a Christian worldview and instead worship Artemis, and she considers abortion a sacrifice to Artemis.
Each of these views share the one purported rule of mutual consent. Both parties are supposed to be willing participants in the sexual encounter. But the tenuous restraint of the canon of consent is seen in the salacious revelations about Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. One of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry, for years Weinstein forced himself upon women. A serial sexual predator and rapist, Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault and sentenced to twenty-three years in prison on March 11, 2020. Christians grieve with and for the women violated by this evil man. But our grief is heightened when we see an entertainment industry which repeatedly sexualizes women in song and film, and catechizes young people into a culture of unrestrained sexual desires. And yet, this industry which communicates such unholy messages is surprised when a man objectifies and abuses women. When sex is divorced from a restrained view of ethics and separated from marriage, other people are valued only objects of sexual gratification. Women in particular become vulnerable targets of opportunity for predatory males. And for such men, children are undesired outcomes from sex.