Category Archives: Witnesses

C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms

C.S. Lewis.

The Psalms remain a difficult book for many Christians today. C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms might help many of us to find our way through this great book of poetry, in the Hebrew Scriptures.

I have come to the conclusion that C. S. Lewis is probably one of greatest Christian writers that actually few Christians hardly ever read. As I have written about before, back when I was in college, C. S. Lewis was all the rage. But aside from his children’s books (the Narnia series) and a handful of other titles, I think that many evangelical Christians, like myself, probably have bought C. S. Lewis books before, thinking that we really should read more of Lewis, but that if we are honest, we often leave those Lewis volumes gathering dust upon our shelves.

I bought Mere Christianity a good 35 years ago. There it still sits on my shelf, beckoning me.  Even my co-blogging colleague, John Paine, has confessed here on Veracity that he found C. S. Lewis very hard to read.

Many evangelicals know that C. S. Lewis has been probably one of the greatest apologists for the Christian faith, of all time. Therefore, we feel we ought to know at least something about him, aside from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As my church begins to preach on the Psalms this summer, I thought it might be good to step up to the challenge myself and listen to Reflections on the Psalms, as an audio book, and hear what I can learn from the Oxford don, whose voice once resonated across the BBC airwaves, during the horrors of Hitler’s bombings of London, during World War 2 (That is how we got the essays that make up Mere Christianity, by the way).

Evangelical unease over Lewis can be put no better than in Douglas Wilson’s brief review, when he read Reflections on the Psalms: “Glorious, but awful in parts….Lewis has an uncanny ability to edify me and appall me simultaneously.” Continue reading


Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman, Christian Rock, and Evangelical Identity

Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock. It is a great biography, but it is also a brilliant look at the state of Christianity in America.

Larry Norman: the undisputed father of contemporary Christian music. Decades before Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith, Downhere, and Hillsong, a guitar player with long, blonde hair was singing about Jesus on a major secular music label. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney told Larry Norman, “You could be famous if you’d just drop the God stuff.”

I was a teenager in the late 1970s, when I went over to a friend’s house, to listen to a 1972 vinyl record, Only Visiting This Planet. It blew me away. I had only recently made a decision to follow Jesus, but I had invested a lot of lawn-mowing dollars previously to buy albums recorded by Led Zeppelin, Rush, and The Who. Larry Norman, though, was different. He sang about Jesus. But he simply did not fit into the “churchy” box.

I can still remember that first time I heard the song, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?,” as the needle passed along the record grooves, about the life of Janis Joplin. Larry Norman and Janis Joplin both performed their separate acts, at a number of the same concert events during the “Summer of Love,” in the late 1960s. Joplin died an early death, due to a heroin overdose:

Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
You drown your sorrows till you can’t stand up,
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf,
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.

You will have to listen to the rest of the song, as displaying the lyrics for the next verse may or may not pass your Internet content filter.

 

This is was a Christian singer? I was shocked, but believe me, I was hooked. Larry Norman seemed like a real person, with whom I could relate. Though I did not use drugs, a number of my high school friends did. But when I started my journey with Christ, I got the distinct impression that Christians should avoid people like that. I was fearful, and I had no clue how to relate the Gospel to my “druggie” friends.

Hearing Larry Norman, on the other hand, singing about loving drug addicts, with the love of Jesus, gave me the courage to witness to my friends. Along with the two other albums in the Norman famous trilogy, So Long Ago The Garden and In Another Land, I ended up listening to Only Visiting This Planet dozens and dozens of times. Pure classic rock.

Larry Norman was a “Jesus Freak,” but that designation never seemed to bother him.

Sure, there were rumors, some harder to substantiate than others, but much of it all true: Larry Norman knew just about everyone in the 1960s/1970s music industry. He got his start opening for acts like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Larry Norman had hired one of Led Zeppelin’s sound engineers to record his albums. Bob Dylan made a commitment to Christ after attending a Bible study, first led by Larry Norman.

What I did know for sure is that Larry Norman was despised by the conservative Christian mainstream. The folk music of Nancy Honeytree was tolerable, Amy Grant was cute and sweet, but Larry Norman’s “rock and roll” was a bridge too far. Tele-evangelist Jimmy Swaggart considered his music to be “spiritual fornication.” But I could not trust Swaggart with a ten-foot pole, so that only added to Larry Norman’s reputation. Some rural preachers made headlines, dismissing all rock and roll music because of claims of “backwards-masking.” Yet Larry Norman, in his concerts, would mock that mentality, by noting, who cares what they were saying backwards, when what they were saying forwards was bad enough?…. And that old claim that the beat used by rock drummers came from Satanic cults in Africa? Larry Norman exposed that canard for what it really was: RACISM.

Norman’s songs were quite radical at the time. His lyrics addressed topics that you rarely hear talked about in many Christian circles, even today. He spoke out against racism and war mongering among Christians, and he criticized America’s efforts to land a man on the moon, at the expense of allowing hungry children to starve to death. I could not agree with all of his views, but that was not the point. The fact was this: Larry Norman, was different from your stereotypical evangelical Christian, and he got my attention.

I really was inspired by Larry Norman. I considered him a hero.

And that became a problem.

But it is more than just my personal problem. It is also about the very identity of the evangelical church, particularly in America. Larry Norman’s story gives us a bird’s eye view into why the contemporary church now finds itself so much at odds with the dominant, secularizing culture.

As Russell Moore, a leading Baptist thinker and theologian puts it, in his review of Gregory Alan Thornbury’s masterful, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, there is a “dark side of Larry Norman.” This dark side tells us a lot about contemporary, evangelical Christianity’s obsession with celebrity personalities, exposing the blindspots of Christians, including myself.
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MLK: I Have Been to the Mountaintop

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Mountaintop,” saturated with Scripture, the night before his death is chronicled by Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition, including a recording of the full speech. Here is the last minute of that speech:


“Chrislam,” Rick Warren, and the Internet Lie That Never Dies

Christians are called to be people of the truth (John 17:17). Sadly, some Christians have a persistent habit of misrepresenting the truth, by the way they (mis)use the Internet.

Take the example of pastor Rick Warren and the supposed “Chrislam” controversy. Rick Warren is the pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California. For years, Rick Warren has taken an interest in building relationships with Muslims, so that they might hear the Gospel of Jesus. As Rick Warren says, “You cannot win your enemies to Christ. You can only win your friends.” Yet as a pastor of one of America’s largest churches, such a high profile personality comes under a lot of scrutiny.

Sadly, another Christian leader, a tele-evangelist (I will not name the man), became suspicious of Rick Warren and popularized the terminology of “Chrislam,” accusing Rick Warren of trying to combine Christianity and Islam together into a single new religion, and denying the faith. Rick Warren, in 2011, publicly denounced the accusations as false.

Now, just to be clear, I have no dog in this race. I have never met Rick Warren. I have never been to his church. I have never heard him preach, but others tell me that he is a great evangelist. I read a short pamphlet/book he wrote a few years ago, and I thought it was somewhere between pretty good and OK. Not the best thing I have ever read. But not bad either. I am sure God has and will continue to use his writings to change the lives of many people. It just was not necessarily the type of reading I personally go for.

In 2012, an article in a local, secular newspaper, the Orange County Register, printed a story that sought to confirm the reports of Warren’s “Chrislam” views and activities.  Unfortunately, the newspaper article contained many errors, according to Saddleback Church. Shortly after the article was published, Rick Warren made statements intended to correct the misinformation. Sadly, some Christians, including the above mentioned tele-evangelist, spread the Orange County Register story, like wildfire on TV and the Internet, without ever bothering to ask Rick Warren directly, if the story was accurate or not.

Fast forward to 2018, and if you do a Google search, for something like “Rick Warren chrislam,” you will get an amazing 200,000+ hits, most of them repeating the same type of accusations made six years earlier in 2012, that Rick Warren addressed within days of the Orange County Register article.

Six years. Over 200,000 hits.

Never mind the fact that Saddleback Church has baptized over 45,000 people, over the years, a number of whom come from a Muslim background. That is right: people from a Muslim background, risking ostracism and family rejection, to publicly identify with King Jesus.

It is like the Internet lie that never dies.

If you have been tempted to pass on such old rumors like this to your friends, there is this pesky little command, in the Ten Commandments, that you might want to be aware of:  “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

The video below should pretty much dispel such rumors, which is an interview that Rick Warren had with a leading Calvary Chapel pastor, a year or two ago. Much of the lingering controversy involves Rick Warren’s signature in 2007 on a Christian response to the Yale “A Common Word” document, written by Muslim leaders. The Christian response was open to misinterpretation on several points, but it was meant to commend Muslim attempts to call for peace and dialogue, and rejecting violence, and not to be a final statement on doctrine. For more about the related “A Common Word” Yale document, see this earlier Veracity post


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