Book Review: By the Waters of Babylon

By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture by Scott Aniol
Amazon Link

This review is not timely. Aniol published By the Waters of Babylon in 2015. After I discovered him and his book through an acquaintance who is one of his students, I let it sit too long in my online shopping cart before I finally purchased it on January 9.

Structure and Theme

I read it in three days–quite the feat for a father of two young daughters if I say so myself. It is not light reading, but is certainly accessible. There is much background information and theory, but application is there. I would argue Aniol gives readers the tools to apply biblical worship principles rather than doing so much of the work for us. Aniol’s main contribution here is groundwork for most of the book: historical information (transformationalism; the missional church), comparing historical and contemporary understandings (definitions of mission and culture), and where understandings and definitions split from biblical bases (culture is the behavior of depraved individuals). The payoff is in the last third of the book, where Aniol lays out his case for a biblical relationship between worship and mission: the glory of God is foremost, worship is our purpose, and mission is the church’s God-given task to make disciples who are worshipers; or simply, “disciple-worshipers.”

Culture

The proper approach to culture, Aniol says, “could be called the sanctificationist approach” which he states, “simply seeks to apply what the Bible has to say about behavior to every area of the Christian’s life” (116). The missional church movement, as helpful as it has been in increasing overall zeal for evangelism, accepted the contemporary anthropological definition of culture and adapted to that. In doing so, their corporate worship time became a) primarily evangelistic, and b) simply a tool for the church to use in fulfilling its mission–a secondary to support the primary.

The Assembly of the Saints

Aniol, on the other hand, makes a compelling and biblical argument that the weekly gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day is a sacred event, a time set apart as regulated by God for his glory and our edification:
” … corporate worship is the public acting out of the spiritual realities of worship; it is a weekly dramatic re-creation of drawing near to God through Christ by faith” (135).
And since the Bible includes various “kinds of imaginative forms God chose to communicate his truth” (158), it follows that ” … the truth must include not only the expression of right doctrine but also the expression of right imagination. The imagination is shaped and cultivated through aesthetic forms” (157). In other words: the manner matters. For example, corporate worship may make us happy–even making us smile with delight in God, but it must be serious. A lack of seriousness in genre or conduct teaches otherwise.

Wholeheartedly Recommended

Should every elder who plans and/or executes a worship service read this? YES. Should every elder who focuses on music in the church read this? YES. However, what is obvious (and I am thankful for it) is that Aniol sees worship not simply as music or the arts, but a way of life for the believer with a special regard for the assembly of the body to whom the believer belongs.

Additional suggested reading topics based on this book:

Two-kingdoms theology, ecclesiology, the regulative principle of worship, biblical genres.

SCRIPTURE MEMORY: Colossians 1:21-23 #004

This is how I learn long texts. Say it with me, read along, and listen more than once!

Colossians 1:21-23 ESV

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

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RAPID THEOLOGY: Jesus, the Firstborn #003

This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by Monday’s memory verses and questions that arise when one reads “the firstborn of all creation” concerning Jesus.

TRANSCRIPT:

Our scripture memory passage earlier this week came from Colossians 1, and focuses on the Second Person of the Trinity: The Son of God, Jesus Christ. There’s a very interesting and wonderful descriptor of Jesus included twice. Listen:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn [there’s number one; the firstborn] of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn [second time that word’s shown up; the firstborn] from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.

Colossians 1:15-18

So, this word “firstborn”–does it mean Jesus is a created being? Does it mean he had a beginning? If not (and I think you all know Jesus is not created, but eternal; if not …), what does it mean? First of all, rest assured that Jesus is not caused. God the Son is most assuredly God. We affirm paragraph 2 of chapter 8 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English:

QUOTE “The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, is truly and eternally God. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the same in substance and equal with him. He made the world and sustains and governs everything he has made. When the fullness of time came, he took upon himself human nature, with all the essential properties and common weaknesses of it but without sin.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary … Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures were inseparably joined together in one person, without converting one into the other or mixing them together to produce a different or blended nature. This person is truly God and truly man, yet one Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity.” ENDQUOTE If you have any doubt, look to the first verse of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As we look at a word like “firstborn” that without any qualification refers to a created being with a beginning, it’s important to look at the whole of scripture and indeed to let scripture interpret scripture. “Firstborn” appears elsewhere. There’s:

Revelation 1:4-5b

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

Now, here’s what firstborn means–conceptually we see three distinct reasons the Holy Spirit inspired the word “firstborn,” but bear in mind they are functionally inseparable in Christ’s role in our redemption. The first is Christ’s position. He is the firstborn in that he is the heir, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings.

Psalm 89:26-28

He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever,
    and my covenant will stand firm for him.

The second is this: Jesus is the firstborn in his incarnation, in that he QUOTE “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, …”
John 1:14

Finally, Jesus Christ is the firstborn in his occupation–his finished salvific work:

Romans 8:29

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Time does not permit me to read other pertinent passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and Hebrews 2:9-12. Read those and you will see more clarity in how Jesus is the firstborn in his position, incarnation, and occupation. But I do want to specifically answer one burning question you might, like I did, have about the “from the dead” part of “the firstborn from the dead” What about those resurrected before Jesus, like the widow’s son in Luke 7, Jairus’s daughter, or Lazarus? Weren’t they raised from the dead before Jesus? Listen to Paul in Acts 26:

22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Acts 26:22-23

How can Jesus be the “first to rise from the dead” when those I mentioned–the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, Lazarus–when they were resurrected prior to Christ’s resurrection? The answer lies in understanding what it truly means to “rise from the dead” in the context of the redemption of God’s people. Back to the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus: what happened to them eventually? They died. Jesus, however, triumphed over death. He rose from the grave victorious, nevermore to die. The first to defeat death, and the victor on our behalf.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”

Romans 6:5-8

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1 Corinthians 15:20-22

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Hebrews 2:9

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

SCRIPTURE MEMORY: Colossians 1:15-20 #003

This is how I learn long texts. Say it with me, read along, and listen more than once!

Colossians 1:15-20 ESV

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

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RAPID THEOLOGY: Folly and God’s Name #002

This week’s Rapid Theology episode of The Backroads Baptist was inspired by the now infamous “A-woman” prayer by Rep. Cleaver.

TRANSCRIPT:

Read through Proverbs 26 and you might think you’ve found a mistake in the printing of your copy, or even what at first certainly appears to be a contradiction; listen:

(4) Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
(5) Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs chapter 26, verses four and five.

So, verse 4 says to “Answer not a fool according to his folly,” while verse 5 says to “Answer a fool according to his folly.” What we have is not an error or conflicting directives, but general advice for how to answer the fool: sometimes, it is best not to respond in a like manner, and sometimes it is good to answer “according to … folly.” We must be wise and exercise discernment in determining what course of action is called for in a given situation. In a unique situation, I believe we can approach with both answers: pointing out foolishness with absurdity and pointing out foolishness with reason. In my humble opinion, we recently experienced such a case with Representative Emanuel Cleaver: one aspect can be critiqued with jest; another more serious aspect must be addressed with seriousness.

United States Representative Cleaver led a prayer to open the 117th U.S. Congress. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that he closed it with “Amen and a-woman,” which is folly that is absolutely deserving of the memes and tweets pointing out its ridiculousness. The word “Amen” has nothing to do with the male human after all, but is a word we get from Hebrew which means, “so be it.” It’s used to express agreement or confirmation. Representative Cleaver used the consecutive presence of the letters “m,” “e,” and “n” to attempt to draw out and correct an instance of inequality. But his absurd prayer closing has been justly met with humor.

That was absolutely not–or at least shouldn’t be–the most notable part of the prayer. What should get the attention of those in Christ is his taking our Lord’s name in vain. His attempt to pray to the One, True God of the Bible and include other gods by praying QUOTE “in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths” ENDQUOTE is sinful, and is the type of folly we must not answer in kind. In the Old Testament, one’s name referred to one’s character or reputation, and of course the Third Commandment makes it clear that God requires we treat his name with honor, with reverence, with awe, with respect. Therefore, we must not be afraid to publicly address those who impugn or profane God’s honor, God’s name. The Bible is replete with the idea of God moving on his people’s behalf and his saints giving him glory for the sake of his name.

Some examples:

Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us. – Jeremiah 14:21

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive.
O Lord, pay attention and act.
Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name. – Daniel 9:19

For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. – 1 Samuel 12:22

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:3

Though I do not believe the Representative prayed to the I Am, our Almighty God, I do believe he intended to. His prayer was and will be heard by many who will consider this lumping of generic and pagan deities together to be perfectly fine. Many will find it acceptable to do likewise and will do likewise. That must be publicly corrected. This is not to say we are gatekeepers who dissect and discern every statement about God and pounce mercilessly on any notion remotely heterodox, but we must strive to see God honored and revered for the sake of his name.

Does God need us to defend him? No, of course not! But does God typically use human beings as the means to the end of his purpose for our good and his glory? Absolutely. Now do I think when you speak up privately or publicly—be it from the pulpit, during family worship, around your dinner table, on social media, in a group text—do I think that will effect a change in the person who dishonored God? No, but it will likely help someone think through it. It might correct a brother or sister confused or affected by dishonorable words or actions.

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
that he might make known his mighty power. – Psalm 106:8

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SCRIPTURE MEMORY: Colossians 1:9-14 #002

This is how I learn long texts. Say it with me, read along, and listen more than once!

Colossians 1:9-14 ESV

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

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SCRIPTURE MEMORY: Colossians 1:1-8 #001

This is how I learn long texts. Say it with me, read along, and listen more than once!

Colossians 1:1-8 ESV

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

RAPID THEOLOGY: Celebration and Anticipation (Matthew 1, Revelation 21) #001

For this very brief episode, I recorded some thoughts based on a sermon I recently preached pointing out the beautiful symmetry and parallelism in Matthew 1 and Revelation 21.

The short, single-topic, reading from a transcript is likely what to expect more of going forward, though I do hope to record some episodes more like #s 002-009 someday soon.

TRANSCRIPT:

In Matthew 1, we read of the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife, and that he was to name the child conceived in her by the Holy Spirit “Jesus.” We then read:

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Matthew 1:22-23

Take note in particular this language—the meaning of the name “Immanuel”—God with us.

Then consider Revelation 21 and its parallel. John sees a new heaven and a new earth, and new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Then verse 3:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God …”

Notice the striking similarity? At the incarnation of Jesus Christ, he is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” At the exaltation of Jesus Christ, once again God will dwell with his people. Once again, God will come to us.

During this season, we focus on celebrating the first coming of Christ. We celebrate what the Old Testament saints anticipated. They were wise to look to the Scriptures and anticipate the arrival of their Redeemer. We would be wise to learn from them and do likewise: to search the Scriptures and anticipate the return of our Redeemer. Like those saints of old, there is much we don’t know; God’s Word is not explicitly clear on some things concerning eschatology. However, we know what to believe: that he is returning, and his return and the hope of the assurance of our eternal habitation in a city prepared by God, in a “better country,” should cause us who are in Christ to live fundamentally differently from those who are in Adam—it should cause us to see this world fundamentally differently.

Darrell Harrison said, “The Gospel calls the follower of Christ to adopt and embrace an entirely different view of this world—so different, in fact, that we are to live in it as if we belong to another world altogether, because we do.”

Indeed, the Bible is clear in its language that we are “not of this world.” Those in Christ are aliens, strangers, exiles, and sojourners—the wilderness bride of Christ.

God’s Word tells us plainly to live this mortal life in light of eternity, expecting Christ’s return: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
Colossians 3:1-4

In his book Far As the Curse is Found, author and professor Michael D. Williams wrote:

The future to which we aspire shapes our attitudes and decisions in the present. It’s important to know where we are headed, for it tells us how to live in the present. That is as true of what we see to be our ultimate future—the issue of human destiny—as it is of our proximate futures. To live responsibly in the present requires that we be acquainted with our future end.

We believers must be able to confidently tell the world:

I ALWAYS have joy and hope and the knowledge that at the end, on the last day, I will stand before my Lord and Savior JUSTIFIED and everything I did for His Kingdom will be worth it—for His glory and my good! Everything I endured in this life—grief, pain, loss—will be worth it—for His glory and my good! I don’t know exactly every detail about how my story ends, but I know how my eternity begins: WELCOMED by my gracious Heavenly Father into everlasting life with HIM, where he will dwell with us.

I’m anticipating that. Are you?

My First Pipe Tobacco Cake

I made my first cake/plug* out of miscellaneous pipe tobacco this past week. I made a DIY “noodle” press with:

  • 3″ diameter PVC pipe, 5″ long
  • 6″ C-clamp
  • 2 hockey pucks
  • Parchment paper

The parchment paper-covered pucks slide perfectly into the PVC pipe. With 4 ounces of a random pipe tobacco blend in between, I tightened the C-clamp. I had trouble keeping the clamp surfaces and pucks perpendicular, so the cake came out lopsided. I have an idea to try next time to prevent that.

For the actual tobacco, I used:

  • Lane HGL (about 2 ounces)
  • Hearth & Home’s Louisiana Red (about 1 1/4 ounce)
  • Country Squire’s Shepherd’s Pie (about 1/2 ounce)
  • Just For Him’s Whiskey Gravy Biscuit (about 1/4 ounce)
  • A splash of Buffalo Trace bourbon in the storage jar, and a couple drops on the cake after I cut it in two

Why do this?

  1. It reduces the number of jars on your shelf. Who doesn’t want to save space?
  2. It looks cool. Plus, it feels more manly to cut tobacco from a cake/plug than to pack loose bulk-blended pipe tobacco.
  3. It creates a unique blend. You’re the only person in the world who has that one-of-a-kind blended cake.
  4. The pressure can enhance the combination of flavors. I’ll see what difference four days in a press makes when I smoke this.

Some quick Q&As:

Q: How long did you press it?
A: Four days. More is probably better until it gets too dry or to the point of diminishing returns.

Q: Why did you use those particular tobaccos?
A: I had too much, plus I’m pretty settled on the blends I smoke. The ones I used for the cake don’t make it into my pipes much anymore.

Q: So do you recommend not buying those tobaccos? Are they poor smokes by themselves?
A: No! I do recommend buying them. They’re great blends, I just prefer others more. Since taste is so subjective, I think it’s wise to try many blends to find what you love and maximize enjoyment.

It smells about as incredible as you can imagine! I would love to find a candle that smells precisely like this cake. I just hope the retrohale and room note are similar to the tin note.

I’m going to let it age for a few weeks/months before packing a bowl. God bless and happy puffs!

*Cakes are usually called “crumble cakes” which are meant to be pulled apart and rubbed between the fingers into smaller pieces before packing in the bowl. Plugs are pressed more tightly, and the tobacco must be sliced off in strips before preparing them to pack. What I made is kind of in-between; the sides are noticeably more loose than the center (probably from drying). It likely needed more time in the press and needed to be more moist. I’ll dress with bourbon before blending my tobaccos next time.