Thursday, 31 March 2011

Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More

After re-listening to this album recently I thought I would write a few blog posts about some of the lyrics from the songs.
As a debut album I think it is fantastic. I know that the band have a Christian background, I don't know where they all stand in terms of faith in Jesus, but that is not going to be the point of these posts.
I want to try and engage with some of the ideas that come out, and try to show, with my limited wisdom, how they could be used to engage in fruitful gospel conversations.

So, without further ado, the opening track is the title track, "Sigh No More."

Serve God, love me and mend
This is not the end
Live unbruised, we are friends
I'm sorry

Sigh no more, no more
One foot in sea and one on shore
My heart was never pure
You know me

But man is a giddy thing
Oh man is a giddy thing

Love it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be

What I find interesting are little references such as "my heart was never pure" and being "more like the man you were made to be." These are both things Christians can totally get on board with.
We know that everyone is fallen, we most certainly do not have pure hearts. Jesus made that clear in Mark 7, it is out of men's heart that sin comes. The old saying that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. We know we can't live up to our own standards never mind God's and not matter how hard we try we can't give ourselves a pure heart. We need a heart transplant, we need to pray with David in Psalm 51 "create in me a pure heart, O God."

But what about the real emphasis on love in the song. Love we are told will not betray, enslave or dismay, but it will set us free. That is a popular thought in many places, is it not? Many Hollywood chick flicks present this idea of finding the right person solving all of life's problems, or bringing true fulfilment.

Can love do this?
Does love never let you down? Does love never betray, dismay or enslave?

In our experience love does let us down. Relationships break down, family members let us down, and some relationships are totally enslaving, because the person they are "in love with" becomes their idol!

If we define love the way the Bible does (1 Cor 13:4-7; 1 John 4) and we see that "God is love" (1 John 4) we can affirm that love will not betray, dismay or enslave, but truly does set up free as human beings. The love of God displayed in the gospel truly does set us free from slavery to sin, it frees us to be the people we were created to be. When a person accepts the love of God shown at the cross and repents, they become more fully human, and the Holy Spirit continues to make them more and more like Jesus each day. Jesus after all was the perfect human being. He shows us the real way to be human.

The final thing I want to draw out of this song is the design, alignment and cry that the band say comes from the heart to see the beauty of love the way it was meant to be. I may well be reading too much into it, but does that not echo the fact that the Bible says God has "...put eternity into man's heart..." (Ecc 3:11)
There is something inside every human being which they suppress (Romans 1:18-32) and try to hide away that longs for something more than this world, something eternal, God. God is Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect loving relationship. That is where we see the beauty of love the way it was meant to be. The beauty of the Trinity is supremely attractive.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

LOVE WINS - Rob Bell

I know that I am well behind the furore that has hit the blogosphere over the last few weeks regarding Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins. But I just watched his promo video for it (featured above) and thought it was worth making some observations.

I have not read or purchased the book, and I was not privy to early release of selected chapters for review. Many are saying this is the final straw for Bell and that he has clearly outed himself as a heretic.

My aim is not to answer that question, but to observe a couple of things from the promo video itself which give me cause for concern even without reading the book.

It seems from the video that Bell is keen to distance himself and the Christian faith from a God who needs to save us from Himself. He makes it clear that if that is what God is like, then He can't be good, and that the news about Him can't be good news either.

He wants us to see that God is love, which is biblical, "God is love" (1 John 4).
But that chapter goes on to say that God is love and that "this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
And atoning sacrifice, or propitiation, or required precisely because a penalty must be paid, the offend party must be appeased.

So the question is, when it comes to sin, who is the offended party? Who do we need to be saved from?

It's not the devil, because he is quite happy that we sin. He is not God's equal opposite, whom God has to bribe or pander to in order to save our souls.
We are not ultimately the offended party. David is clear in Psalm 51 that in all that he did in the Bathsheba and Uriah saga, it is against God that he has sinned.

Precisely because God is pure, unadulterated and holy love, He must punish sin. The outworking of that love against evil is wrath. Wrath is not some kind of add on to God, it is love responding to sin, to evil. Romans 3 asks the question, how can a righteous, holy and just God remain just and have a relationship with imperfect, sinful, rebellious people? The answer is that he remains true to Himself and punishes sin, but He deals with the problem by punishing that sin in the person of Jesus.
This is not cosmic child abuse either. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity in human form, willingly dies an horrendous death out love for His Father and love for us, taking the punishment we deserve that we might be free.

God truly is love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfectly loving relationship from eternity past (John 17). That love is so great and beyond our imagining.
If God does not save us from Himself then we have no way of being saved.
A God who does not act in wrath, a settled conviction and response to evil, is not a loving and just God. God cannot remain just and leave evil unpunished when it is ultimately lack of love for Him.

The God of the Christian faith is even more loving that Rob Bell wants us to see He is, because he does save us from Himself.

The final note, which I don't have time to expand on is the question Rob Bell raises about a select few being saved. 1 Peter 1 and Romans 9-11 and Ephesians 1 are some passages I would want to encourage you to look at and see what you make of them. Revelation makes it clear that those whose names are in the Lamb's book of life are the ones who will live in the new creation and that they are an innumerable number from every tribe, nation, people and language.

That does sound like a major rant, but let me end with some things that this current furore has been good for, and some ways I believe it should challenge us:

1. God is love. We can often be heard to say that Jesus is a "get out of hell free ticket", trust Jesus and you will go to heaven rather than hell when you die. That is true, but the Christian gospel is so much more than that. Jesus said He came to give life and life to the full. We are not just saved from something, we are saved for something. We are saved for a wonderful relationship with the Triune God of the universe. Surely we should be shouting that from the rooftops.

2. Some people, particularly the so-called New Atheists, see God as a bit like Lotso from Toy Story 3, warm and cuddly on the outside, but a real nasty tyrant on the inside. We need to be clear that this is not the image of God we present to people, because it is utterly not the God of the Bible. Rob Bell is right to want to present the God of the Christian faith as a God of love rather than a tyrannical rule giver who might lash out at any given moment.

3. This whole debate should challenge us to be really clear and really sharp on what we believe and why, because challenges to the gospel will come from inside and outside the church.

4. There is s real need for the gospel to be proclaimed week in and week out so that people can hear it and respond to it and be saved. But also so that Christian don't forget exactly what the gospel is!

Any comments would be warmly welcomed. For a long review of the book from the Gospel Coalition in America see this link.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

What Bob Dylan Got Right

I really like the Bob Dylan albums; Saved, Slow Train Coming and Shot of Love.
Whether He is a Christian or not is much debated. But whatever you think, he is a masterful songwriter and he declares some wonderful Biblical truths that really warm the heart and challenge the mind across those three albums. Here is a blog from Desiring God I thought I would repost as it caught my eye.

What Bob Dylan Got Right