God Sings by Douglas Bond and Sing! by the Gettys

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The term often used is “worship wars.”  Along with a hundred thousand other doctrines, practices, and preferences that divide Christians, we are prone to take up the sword and shield against, not our many enemies comprising the world, the flesh, and the devil, but each other.  The Church today not only cannot unite on many doctrinal fronts, but it cannot unite over who is going to lead the music and what music it is that is being led.

I don’t want to sound like I am minimizing the implications of the war for the keyboards and soundboards.  Important doctrines and actions are at stake here.  In the worst cases, we must love the singer, but hate the song.  Much singing and music should create as a collateral grace, amazing patience.  Flannery O’Connor tells in a letter of a man who was converted after attending church with his wife for years.  “The preaching was so bad,” he said, “That I concluded that there must be something important to all of this to cause people to keep coming.”  Maybe the same can be true of music.

I admit that I don’t want to wade into the worship wars battlefield.  I have fought with the brethren over Calvinism, baptism, the eldership, tongues, theonomy, weekly communion, congregational rule, charismatic gifts, church discipline, the application of Old Testament laws, the Sabbath, the role of women in the church, and more.  On some of these issues, I know I have been right at some point because I have been on both sides of the arguments at some point.  And I have not successfully avoided the sharp points of spears and barbs in fights over music.

But I would like to cross by on the other side of the road while the wounded musician lies there, beaten and robbed of his lyrics.  I will hope for a Samaritan heading to Brentwood, Tennessee will do what I don’t want to do.  Call me war weary, if you like, or maybe just a passive coward, if you prefer.  I confess that I really don’t know what to do to change music in the Sunday morning hour where we are all united in our being divided.

So, as a partial concession to the need to engage, I will comment on two excellent books on the music issue.  Read carefully, lest my tongue-in-cheek comments be taken for serious reflections and my serious reflections be taken for veiled attempts to rival the Babylon Bee.

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God Sings! (And Ways We Think He Ought To) by Douglas Bond is published by Scriptorium Press.  Check out Mr. Bond’s website (click HERE)   where you can either order two copies of this book, or get the book along with a free CD called Rise and Worship, containing hymns he has written.

Douglas Bond is best known for his cottage industry that produces Christian historical fiction.  While many of his books are geared toward younger readers, they are enjoyable for readers of all ages.  His novels War in the Wasteland (set in World War I) and The Resistance (set in World War II) are recent works of his that I have read, enjoyed, and reviewed in the past year.  His book Hostage Lands, set in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall, is a delightful book my junior high class and I read together.  It was that reading experience that cause me and Douglas to “Bond” as reader and writer.  (Yes, I know that was awful.)

But Bond is not stranger to the subject of music.  He has written biographies of John Knox and Isaac Watts, both being part of the “Long Line of Godly Men” series published by Ligonier Ministries. (Outstanding series, by the way.)  Moreover, anyone who has been a Christian for a long time and has had the occasion to sit in a variety of Christian worship services and conferences acquires a wide range of experiences with music.  Although music often is done almost as the opening act to a sermon or lecture, it is, upon reflection, more than that.  It is not merely an appetizer before the main course of a meal.

Side note:  We have attended services where the music part was referred to as “the worship” while the preaching that followed was…well, I am not sure what.  We are worshiping while we sit under the preaching of God’s Word as much or more so as when we are singing or listening to singing.

Bond suffers from the same possible tendency as I do:  Grouchy old man syndrome.  I am a bit older than he is, but his hair is totally white!  It is easy to write off the old, curmudgeonly Calvinist who is against everything except for some sparse, cold, doctrinally obtuse worship service.  So, one picking up his book and giving it the quick glance might conclude:  Here is another old man who is railing against the very thing we need to draw the young, unchurched into our churches.

I assure you that the description above is not who Douglas Bond is or what he seeks in his book.  (Whether it describes me or not is a different story.)  God sings.  Read Zephaniah 3:17.

“The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Music is essential to sound worship.  Musical lyrics are doctrinal.  Music teaches, which means that it can build up or lead astray.

I have experienced both the unsingable, overly long, ancient church hymns that leave me cold and the loud, overly repetitious, shallow, syrupy creations that pass for music today.  All old and staid or all new and hip are not the choices.  But we do need to be singing doctrinal truths that are well written, learn-able and teachable, singable and delightful.  As Douglas Bond points out in example after example, such hymns have already been written in the past and they are still being written in the present.

God Sings! is good, convicting, and convincing.  Everyone on the church staff needs to read and discuss it.

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I picked up a copy of Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty a month or so ago at my son Nick’s house.  I took it home with me to finish reading it.  Nick said, “It looks like one of those coffee table books.”  By that he meant the type of Christian fluff that has large print, double to triple spacing, with little text and even less content.  I agree, for I did not expect to find much beyond a bit of light topping in the contents.

However, this book is a solid study–yet very readable–that is calling the Church to do something radical: Sing!  I have experienced (even with limited travels) too many cases where there is a loud performance group (called the Worship Team), plugged in instruments, words flashed on a screen, and a soundbooth working overtime to mic the singers, but only the tiniest of sound coming from the congregation.  I have watched my wife and children, all trained musicians, stop even trying to sing the randomized melodies of the shallow songs.  I myself refuse to go along with the “repeat 20 times” of a song.  I abhor the moment when the oft sung refrain is sung yet one more time quietly for some emotional effect.

But even as hard hearted as I can be, I am always moved when I hear and feel the surge of volume coming from a congregation singing the hymns.  Sometimes the effect is from the large size of the congregations (where I am visiting), but usually it is the participatory engagement rather than the numbers that affect the songs.

Read both of these books.  Distribute copies of them if you are able.  Pray for a revival of congregational singing of solid hymns old and new and yet to be written.

Post Script:  Incremental steps are often good.

  1.  Turn down the volume of the mics on the singers up front and turn way down the volume of the instruments.  (I am not talking to first rate pipe organ players!)
  2.   Introduce and learn a solid hymn or two.
  3. Be patient with enduring old favorites that are weak (like “The Old Rugged Cross”) or new favorites that are shallow (“Bless the Lord O My Soul”).
  4. Teach on the importance of good hymnody.
  5. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a U2-type concert will grow your church into stalwart Reformed soldiers.
  6. Allow songs to convey their messages.  Songs dealing with sin and the death of Christ don’t need to be set to dancing jig tunes.

 

 

 

 

The Resistance by Douglas Bond

The Normandy landings, D-Day, June 6, 1944, of which we are now remembering 75 years later, did not begin on that date.  Long before General Eisenhower gave the nod, amidst the dour weather reports, to proceed, actions had been taken to help make that landing a success and a stepping stone toward the defeat of the Third Reich.

Besides the immense amount of work that was going on in planning and training sessions on both sides of the Atlantic, there was a massive air campaign that was designed to impair and cripple Hitler’s war machine.  People still debate how effective the air offensive was and question the ethics of some of the bombing targets, but that debate is much easier to conduct long after the war has ended.  Certainly, lots of German men and materials were concentrated on battling air raids, and that kept those same men and weapons far from either the eastern or western fronts.

Resistance movements were at work all across occupied Europe.  Whether they were sending inside information about troop movements or sabotaging their oppressors, they were able to chip away at the enemy.

World War II, even if just restricted to the European theater, is simply too big, vast, and overwhelming a subject to grasp.  We are endlessly fascinated by it.  The remaining veterans are now few in number and feeble.  The world conflicts have moved on to new and other ugly threats.  But we still find so much that is full of wonder, amazement, horror, and conviction when looking at the Second World War.

I could easily recommend dozens of books, authors, movies, and documentaries that fill in gaps on the story.  I have been reading about the war since 1970, not realizing at that time that it was so very recent.

In this case, I will focus on just one book as a way of exploring the war.  This might be especially helpful for those of you who are teaching your children at home, teaching in a classroom, or just looking for a good read that is informative, enjoyable, and uplifting.

The Resistance by Douglas Bond is published by Inkblots Press.  Mr. Bond’s website is www.BondBooks.net.

Douglas and I became friends via social media last fall after my class read Hostage Lands, which is an historical novel about a Roman soldier and a Celt warrior who get acquainted in the region around Hadrian’s Wall in England.  We all loved the story, and I felt that making contact with Douglas was long overdue.

Douglas Bond has created a whole shelf of historical novels, along with some biographies and Christian music.  He is a Christian writing machine.  What G. A. Henty did in the past (without following a set formula like Henty) and what Bernard Cornwell is doing in the present for adult audiences (without Cornwell’s brutish realism), Douglas Bond is doing for young readers in our time.  But remember the necessary guideline for writing good books for younger readers:  The book has to be enjoyable for older readers as well.  If the parent reading the book sees that it is garbage, the child on the knee who is listening doesn’t need to be subjected to it.

That discussion of books for young people aside now, let’s look at The Resistance.

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This book is something of a sequel to War in the Wasteland, which is Bond’s book about World War I.  I say “something of a sequel” because they are not about the same characters with the same developing plot lines.  But War in the Wasteland deals with an individual soldier and his comrades in the First War, while The Resistance focuses on several individuals in the Second War.  Besides the war themes, the other common denominator is C. S. Lewis.  Lewis the soldier was in the first book, but during World War II, he was on the radio–by request from the BBC–giving lectures on a surprising topic–the Christian faith.

In some ways, discussing Christianity in the 1940s in Europe was akin to discussing alchemy as serious science.  But Lewis did exactly that; meaning, that he made the case for Christianity, not alchemy.  The radio talks became a short book called The Case for Christianity (and I have a copy of it!) and then became part of a larger book called Mere Christianity.

Lewis’s radio talks are the recurring background story in this novel.  The main story is about a B-17 crew that is shot down over France.  Only two crew members survive, and they are picked up by the French Resistance.  From there, there are search and chases and narrow escapes, bloody wounds, ambushes, concealments in strange places, internal conflicts, and—a developing love story.  The two main characters, Eli Evans the pilot and Charlie Tucker the navigator, share a number of harrowing experiences and confrontations with good and evil.  Tucker is a good ole southern boy, deeply rooted in the faith.  Evans has learned to pray during the war out of the fears and dangers, but is only slowly awakening to who God is.

This book is a good adventure into some real history, real conflicts, and the reality that supersedes even World War II.  I started the book by reading a few short chapters at a time, but soon found that I could not put it down.  Can’t wait until the next Bond book appears.

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War in the Wasteland and Other Reads on World War I

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I recently read Douglas Bond’s War in the Wasteland after having read and taught through his book Hostage Lands.  As it turned out, War in the Wastelands, which is about World War I, was just the right book to tackle while simultaneously reading from some other World War I works, such as The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, World War I by Michael Howard, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. And currently I am reading Never in Finer Company by Edward Lengel, which is about an American battalion that was caught in the middle of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.  (I will be posting a review of this book soon, D.V.)

With more books at hand, I could easily get caught up in a year or more of reading on World War I.   But the pressures of school will lead me on to other events in the 20th century.  This is the time where I will discuss Bond’s novel.

No automatic alt text available.Douglas Bond has carved out a much needed niche in writing books chocked full of history, but told in fictional form and suitable for younger Christian readers.  I hesitated about that last phrase “younger Christian readers” because it might tend to ward off adults from reading his books.  Let me repeat this saying (without knowing who to give credit to for saying it):  A good children’s (or teenage or young adult) book is one that grown ups can read and enjoy as well.  Some books are not good for us at certain ages.  Of course, some books are not good at any age.  Elie Weisel’s Night is a powerful and painful book, but not one that should be read to the wee little bairns as they are cuddled up in blankets about to go to sleep.

I think that the statement found on the cover of All Quiet on the Western Front is quite true:  “The greatest war novel of all time.”  I loved teaching this book to my high school students, loved reading it for the fourth or fifth time, loved writing the student exercises for Omnibus VI: The Modern World on the Remarque novel. That being said, it is not the book I would want to teach to junior high students about World War I.

Douglas Bond, as I previously implied, has written a whole shelf full of books on history.  History textbooks should have a warning from the Surgeon General on the front cover:  “Warning:  This book might contribute to a dislike of history by the student.  Contains many dry facts, maps, dates, etc. that will possibly hinder an unrestrained love of the past.”  Granted, I love history books, but it was a teacher, World War II documentaries, and stories, stories, stories that wooed my heart away from childhood fantasies to envisioning a future teaching history.

Bond is a story teller.  He does the historical research, carefully looks over the time and settings, and even calls forth a few actual historical figures for some cameo appearances.  He then crafts a story that will be entertaining in and of itself.  But the story is lodged within the greater story of the actual history.  G. A. Henty did this same thing in his 82,000 (I may have exaggerated) formulaic history novels.  Michael Shaara did it in Killer Angels and his son Jeff has produced a number of volumes on various wars.  Bernard Cornwell has written dozens of novels on historical events, including the Saxon series which I have been reading and collecting for several years.  And some Russian guy named Leo Tolstoy is reputed to have written something about some war and the peace that followed relating to Napoleon and Russia.

Bond’s appeal (aside from the fact that his books are 1 one thousandth the length of Tolstoy’s) is that he is writing specifically Christian books.  He is not dropping a Christian message from the sky into an otherwise pagan setting.  Nor are his books crafted so that all the participants come forward in an altar call in the last chapter.  He writes about Romans and Celts, Scotsmen in Scotland and the American colonies, Protestant Reformers, and others who would have been influenced by, aware of, and often converted to Christianity.

War in the Wastelands is about a young recruit in the British army named Nigel Hopkins who is sent over to France along with thousands of other Brits to join with the French in fighting the Boche (Germans).  World War I, after a month or so of maneuvers and movement (see Guns of August) settled in to being four years of trench warfare, a war of attrition, a war of little movement, much death and destruction, and lots of futility, waste, and angst.  Battle lines moved back and forth by a small number of miles and large numbers of casualties.  In fact, having read several accounts lately, the numbers have reached a point of not even registering in my mind due to the incomprehensibleness of so many deaths.

Young Nigel and his dog (part of the story) happen to be in a unit where there is a soldier named Perret, a sergeant named Ayres, and a lieutenant named Johnson.  These were (unlike Nigel) based on real people who served in the war.  You may have heard of them.  I had, but did not realize it.  They appear (briefly) in such books as Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, and other works by another real historical figure in this book.  That was C. S. Lewis.  Like his friend Tolkien, Lewis was a soldier in the war.  He was an officer; he was wounded; and he was an atheist at the time.  (Yes, there are atheists in fox holes, which were actually called funk holes in that war.)

Lewis, while talking about literature, citing lines from his poetry, and bantering with others, is questing for more than survival in the war.  The seeds that came to fruition are told of this book.  Did any of it actually happen in this way?  Read Surprised by Joy and see.  Until then, the answer is “No, not exactly like this, but what the book includes is part of the real Lewis story.”

This book makes for a helpful read for those wanting to learn about World War I.  It is good supplementary fiction, free from the textbook dangers mentioned above.  It is also a good look at the life of Lewis and the thinking that formed his mind in his pre-conversion years.  It is also a testimony to faith.  As much as I love All Quiet on the Western Front, I ache for the souls of the characters in that story.  Not so in this book, although not everyone dies trusting God.  Above all, War in the Wasteland is an enjoyable story which is the key purpose of a book.

News Update:  Douglas Bond’s newest book The Resistance, which is about World War II, is coming out and is available right now alongside of War in the Wasteland for $25.  Great for a Christmas gift to your kids, your history reading friends, and for that special someone who really likes books–yourself.

See the special offer HERE.

2-Book bundle-THE RESISTANCE & companion volume WAR IN THE WASTELAND