My daughter’s great grandfather, passed away while we lived in Scotland. I came home from the University where I was pursuing a PhD to receive the sad news. My little girl began to ask me some big theological questions to help her process Pop’s death. “Can Pop see us right now?” “Does he still look the same age in his new body?” “What exactly is he doing at this moment?”

booksTo these questions and to most of them that followed, I could not answer. I kept saying, “Baby, I don’t know.” “Honey, I’m not sure.” Finally, with a look of frustration mixed with pity, she blurted: “So what are they teaching you at that school?!” Since, I was a post-graduate student in New Testament studies, she expected me to know a lot more than I did (so did my professors there!).

The truth is the Bible doesn’t give us much to go on concerning the Zwischenzustand—the technical word for the “intermediate state” (see I did learn something!). Most of Scripture is even silent with respect to what Jesus was doing from Friday night to Sunday morning. (Although my eight year old son once suggested that Jesus played Angry Birds all weekend.) The passages that do mention Jesus’ activity during this time are apocalyptic and vague.

But the New Testament is clear when it comes to what happened on Easter morning. As the hymn proclaims:

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Because of this resurrection truth, there was one certainty that I could tell my daughter. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those, like Pop, who have fallen asleep in him. The dead in Christ will rise first and we will all be with the Lord forever.

Music is unquestionably a gift from God. He didn’t have to create us with the ability to hear, much less to hear sounds so exquisite that we’re moved to tears. And yet he created the complex physics of sound and enabled our brains to interpret all of the beauty that eardrum vibrations can convey.

Christians, who should be the most attuned to God’s gifts, often find ways to limit our exposure to the depth and potency of music. For example, we like to limit our enjoyment of music to a specific subgenre we call “Christian music.” I’ve written on this before, and I also discuss it in Resonate (so, you know, you should probably buy a copy for everyone you’ve ever met…). My goal is not to degrade the music coming out of the Christian Music Industry, but to call us to engage with the wonder of God’s gift beyond this small marketing demographic.

Arcade FireIn this post, I’ll explore one brilliant piece of music that those who remain within the confines of the Christian Music Industry will never experience: the song “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire. (I wrote about Arcade Fire a bit in Resonate, but this song released after the manuscript was submitted, and I’ve fallen in love with it.)

Though Arcade Fire is not a “Christian band” by any definition I’ve heard, they frequently explore religious themes. In fact, they even purchased an abandoned church for rehearsals and recording and to give themselves access to an ultra-churchy pipe organ. So I wasn’t a bit surprised when their latest album, Reflektor, spoke of searching for the “Resurrector,” exposed the harmful effects of pornography, and meandered through other religious concepts. But I was surprised at the hopeful wrestling of “Afterlife.”

The song begins with a start: “Afterlife. Oh my God, what an awful word.” As Christians, we long for the afterlife. But Arcade Fire made me think here. After. Life. That is pretty crazy. The hope we have for the future comes after life. As the song puts it,

“After all the breath and the dirt and the fires are burnt…
After all this time, after all the ambulances go
After all the hangers-on are done hanging on
In the dead lights of the afterglow”

It reminds me of how odd our hope for the future must sound, of how odd it truly is that Paul would tell us not to “mourn as those who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).

The song also asks, “When love is gone, where does it go?” What a question! When we lose someone we truly and deeply and actively love, what becomes of that love? This question is followed by the related question, “Where do we go?” This has got me thinking so much about the ache of love in the absence of a loved one. It raises the question typically asked only at funerals, and then only briefly. And the question of where love goes leads me straight to this profound passage in the New Testament:

“Love never ends…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8, 13)

Arcade Fire 2The song never answers the question, but it does not shy away. The repeated refrain is:

“Can we work it out?
Scream and shout till we work it out.”

That’s as good a summary of the human experience as I’ve heard. We’re asking where we go, and our lives are a series of screams and shouts directed toward finding the meaning to our existence, the meaning that we know exists but remains just beyond our grasp. As the Preacher said,

“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

Best of all, the music is incredible. Mysterious, hopeful, inspiring, exultant, beautiful. Hardcore music asks some of the same questions, but something about the way Arcade Fire explores the issue in the actual music, not just in the lyrics, strikes me as compassionate, honest, and full of longing.

It’s not that Arcade Fire is teaching me about the afterlife. It’s not that I’m ready to add their song to the end of my Bible, or even my theology books. But their creative approach to these concepts has pushed me to think and feel my way through these all-important issues with a greater sensitivity and some fresh thoughts. And I’m deeply indebted to them for it.

So to those who would appreciate God’s gift in its fullness I say: Enjoy every ounce of musical beauty that Chris Tomlin conveys in his music, but don’t turn up your nose at Arcade Fire. The gift of music is being joyfully explored in many “secular” places.

This great quote is attributed to Elvis Costello: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Indeed.

That’s one of art’s greatest characteristics. It defies description. It resists paraphrase. So when it comes to writing about something as complex, subtly nuanced, and experience-driven as music, you may as well be using a waltz to explain the Eifel Tower. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Resonate Mark BeuvingAt the end of this month, I’m releasing a book through Zondervan entitled Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music. It’s essentially a music lover’s approach to the topic. I have always loved music. Always. I still remember the time my dad came home with a new boom box and a cassette tape of the Beach Boys’ Surfer Girl album. Music has been a constant part of my life since that moment.

And that’s exactly where the description-defying nature of music comes in to play. I can’t tell you exactly what music has done for me. Inspired me? Deepened my emotional life? Helped me to contemplate key aspects of human existence? Enlarged my being (to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis)? Yes. All of those. But what do these grandiose claims mean precisely? As an educator, a book lover, and a writer, I spend a lot of time around intellectual types who would rather be reading commentaries than listening to Radiohead. That type of person gets suspicious when you talk about an “enlargement of being” in connection with melodies and tones. Yet I am convinced that all of us need to embrace the gift of music more deeply.

In my experience, we tend to take music for granted. It’s everywhere. Many of us pursue it eagerly, but even those who don’t care much about music are exposed to it constantly. The trouble is, we rarely think about the music we hear. Is music actually good for us? How so? Can it be harmful to our souls? If so, how? And how do we guard against the harmful affect? What kind of music should we be listening to? Is it okay for a serious Christian to listen to “secular music”? Should we be primarily focused on “Christian music”? And what does “Christian music” mean, anyway?

These are all questions that I’ve had throughout my music-loving life. I haven’t always had good answers to those types of questions. To be honest, I went through many years without even considering them. And yet music has always remained with me—affecting me in ways I didn’t understand, attracting me in ways I can’t articulate, even leading me into worship in the oddest of situations (a concept that I was not entirely comfortable with).

So while writing about something as mysterious as music is inherently difficult, I felt compelled to explore this gift from God. Anytime we find one of God’s gifts going unappreciated, or we find the gift being used but the Giver going unacknowledged, we need to think more deeply. If you’ve never felt awe at how unbelievable the gift of music is—if that gift has never left you in awe of the Giver—then you need to think more deeply about music.

That’s what I hope to offer readers through Resonate: the opportunity to think more deeply about music. In the first half, I explore a theology of music. What does the Bible say about it? How do we explain the universal fascination with music (there has never been a culture that has gone without music)? How should we as God’s image bearers relate to music? How should we think about the distinction between secular and Christian music? Then in the second half, I explore ways that we dive in and interact with music. How should we listen to it? How should we create it? How should we share it? How does music relate the worship and mission of the church?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll keep posting about music here and there. That’s partly to promote the book (what’s the point in writing it if no one reads it, right?). But I also genuinely care about music, and I sincerely want you to see the beauty, brilliance, and mystery of music as you’ve never seen it before. And my prayer is that you would see the beauty, brilliance, and mystery of God as your grow in your enjoyment of his gift of music.

If you’re so inclined, you can pre-order it here:

Bear with Us

Mark Beuving —  April 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

Office Space PrinterTo our loyal readers,

If things are looking strange around here and/or you couldn’t access the site over the past few days: our apologies. We actually lost the entire site along with every post we’ve written since early 2011.

After a collective minor heart attack and some serious consideration of: What if we lost everything forever?—we’re back.

But we did have to restart from the ground floor. So while it seems like we’ve got all the content here, we’re not 100% sure that all of the external links floating around the interwebs will function properly. What we are sure of, however, is that much of the formatting will be off and many pictures will be missing or skewed (which will hurt me more than it will hurt Preston—if he notices).

All that to say, please bear with us if things look funny around the site. We’re going to try to get everything back in order so that it’s as useful to you as it can be, but that will probably take some time and we may never get it back exactly as it should be. We’ll also likely be choosing a new look and feel for the site overall, so if it looks like we’re having an identity crisis, we are.

Thanks for your patience.

The evangelical world has flown into turbulent skies over the last few months. From Phil Robertson to bakeries in Arizona, and more recently the World Vision debacle. Evangelicals are facing a potential fork in the road in how they think through homosexuality. Then there’s the never dying debates about spiritual gifts, women in ministry, and the timing of future things. Worship wars. Doctrinal disputes. Young leaders improving on old methods; old leaders suspicious of new methods. House churches ditching the whole “institutional” church. An unforeseen flight of young Protestants to the Orthodox and Catholic churches. And the massive growth of Christianity in the majority world.

If I were a prophet, I’d predict a major divide in evangelicalism in the near future, one which would rival the split between fundamentalists and moderates in the early 20th century. In the one corner, we have a millennial, internet-savvy, social media driven, post-9/11 brand of Christianity that’s seeking authenticity, justice, and community. In the other corner, we have baby boomer Christian leaders, whose theology was forged in the caldrons of the Cold War era, where debates about the rapture, sign-gifts, and the rise of post-modernism formed a church’s identity.

One version of evangelicals define themselves by what they’re against; the other by what they are for. One group elevates truth; the other, love. One seeks authenticity and community; the other races to Bible studies and marriage seminars. One will divide over eschatology; the other over homosexuality.

We are facing a split. A growing chasm that will spawn two distinct versions of evangelical thought.

As I reflect on this inevitable divide, here’s my challenge to both sides:

1. Be Biblical. Don’t just blindly rehearse inherited presuppositions, and don’t base your theology as a reaction to your inherited presuppositions. Neither inherited theology nor reactionary theology is good enough. We are Protestants; we believe in the authority of the text. We value fresh exegesis and letting the text critique our theology. We don’t bend the text around our theology, but our theology around the text—even if we don’t like it. Head in SandWe cannot debate this doctrine or critique that theology with a closed Bible. We desperately need to root, and re-root, our 21st century theology in the actual text, and not some vague inherited notion of being biblical—without knowing the relevant chapter and verse, and being able to identity and articulate the strongest argument against our view. Search it out. Study with blood, sweat, and calloused knees. Be biblical. Root your theology in the actual text of Scripture.

2. Be humble. We believe in absolute truth. Absolutely! But such truth is harnessed and understood through fallible human interpretation. So be humble. Work your exegetical minds to the skull, but be humble in your conclusions. You may be right. You probably are (if your conclusions are backed by solid exegetical evidence). But recognize that you are human and you therefore might be wrong. And that’s okay. God is right. God is mysterious. God is beyond us, and He is always right. We are sometimes wrong. We are wrong more than we think. Much more. Our beliefs are clouded by presuppositions, cultural baggage, unexamined assumptions, and experiences that fog up our interpretive lenses. So be humble.

3. Seek truth and practice. That is, seek to live out and love out the truth you say you believe in. The world—and the evangelical left—is passionately unimpressed with unpracticed doctrines. Truth is validated and confirmed through doing it. So be biblical. Stay humble. And do it. Live out what you say you believe. For example, more than 2,000 passages in the Bible lambast the misuse of wealth, and only 6 address homosexuality. Align your values accordingly. Don’t be a stingy gay-hater, for this is not Christian. Become a Jesus follower who serves people who are attracted to the same sex. God served you when you when you were serving yourself—and idols. I don’t care if you are pre-millenial, post-millenial, or amillenial. Do you love the poor? Are you radically generous? Are you submissive, humble, and eager to love your enemies? Do these, and then I will know that you are a follower of the crucified and risen Lamb.

4. Study hard. I don’t say this because I’m an educator, but because the next generation of seekers are also thinkers. They ask hard questions and they get irritated at pre-packaged answers. With the rise (or world domination of) the internet, people have access to piles and piles of information. The anti-intellectual, Jesus-and-me, don’t-think-but-only-obey version of Christianity isn’t going to work with the 21st century generation. We need to think deeply and critically about sexuality, epistemology, science, and ethics. And if you don’t know what epistemology means, you need to. We need to think. We need to pull our heads from the sand and shed the stereotype that Christians have their heads in the sand. We need to think, interact, debate, and believe with our God-given minds the beautiful story about a God born in a manger. Millennials are asking very hard questions; recycled answers won’t work any longer. And we need to prove the truth we believe in not only with logical arguments—though we will always need these—but with an unarguable life that lives out the truth we say we believe in.

Let’s press on and obey and imitate the crucified and risen King, who pulled us into a beautiful story about a loving God who sought and saved the lost.

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