Why I Love Old Books

Caveat Lector

One of the reasons I love old books is discovering the long-forgotten things that someone tucked away in their pages for safe keeping. No matter how old we become, there remains a feeling of unearthed treasure when you discover such relics. Call it lexical serendipity.

That’s why I enjoy old books with writing in them. Sometimes the thoughts that a person scribbled in the margin are a window into a stranger’s reaction to the text; sometimes an unannotated underlining leaves you guessing what the words meant to them. Always, notes in old books make reading a communal affair. No longer is it just me and my page, there is now a third party on the line. Or, perhaps I’m the one intruding on their conversation.

Probably the best inscription in any of my old books is the personal typed note from a son to his father, taped into the cover of my copy of Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians:


Immediately, there is real kinship with Clyde through our common esteem for the great Reformer, and for his continent-shaking Doctrine.

Furthermore, the fact that the typed card is simply corrected by hand and pasted in without further revision is a small glimpse into an age before spell-check, before home-printers, and before such errors necessitated scrapping the note and starting again. The grave warning to not let anyone get away with this book conjures images of a masked book-bandito making off with copies of Calvin and Knox, even while the necessity of those words also reminds us of the scarcity of such works in an age before it took 0.004 seconds to download Luther’s Commentaries from any number of public domain websites. With that scarcity most likely came a much greater sense of value. I’d wager anything those old codices were read more often than their digital descendants. 

Yet the note is also unsettling.

Why the urgency of his request to his Father–I want you to read it. 

What untold stories lie behind that line?

Did the Father finish it before August 10, 1948?

What came of the revival at Bradshaw?

Our stories taped in books, still being told long after we’ve forgotten them.

Simple things to ponder on a breezy day, a day before Thanksgiving spent with loved ones.

Caveat Lector • 8/19/2015

Caveat Lector

[By: Nicolas Alford]

In the past I’ve used the “caveat lector” category to signal a slightly off-beat Decablog post, or a clumsy attempt at humor. Today I’m resurrecting the tag and starting what will be something of a regular column out of it. How regular? I have a plan in mind–but it’s secret. Basically, I don’t want to be held to it if I don’t keep up. How’s that for transparent opacity?

I intend this to be an outlet for occasional riffing on current events, shorter blurbs, and highlighting helpful links.

And so, into the breach.

While John Oliver’s devastating takedown of the Prosperity Gospel is pretty vulgar (I guess he only had the Sesame Street video for the letter “F”), he is spot on. Two things are especially tragic: that hurting people are preyed on by these jackals and that their shenanigans make such a mockery of the Biblical gospel. The church must be clear in denouncing such heresy, or the comedians of the culture will do it for us.

The press release put out from a recently hacked website that coordinates clandestine affairs for married people is a fascinating study in a convoluted worldview. The gist of the story is that hackers have stolen the user data of some tens of millions Ashley Madison.com customers–names, home addresses, credit card numbers, etc–and posted it all online to the delight of identity thieves everywhere and the dismay of tens of millions of betrayed spouses.

Important caveat: stealing personal data and using it either to shame or to steal from private parties is difficult to defend even in these shameful circumstances. But the fascinating part of this is the way that the company has chosen to not only condemn the theft, but to astonishingly also attempt to defend the morality of the affairs they facilitate. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. It is an illegal action against the individual members of AshleyMadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities. The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world. We are continuing to fully cooperate with law enforcement to seek to hold the guilty parties accountable to the strictest measures of the law.

Every week sees new hacks disclosed by companies large and small, and though this may now be a new societal reality, it should not lessen our outrage. These are illegitimate acts that have real consequences for innocent citizens who are simply going about their daily lives. Regardless, if it is your private pictures or your personal thoughts that have slipped into public distribution, no one has the right to pilfer and reveal that information to audiences in search of the lurid, the titillating, and the embarrassing.

Note three moral stances taken in this incredible statement.

1. The perpetrator(s) of this hack have no right to act as “moral judge” or “impose a personal notion of virtue on all society.” Notice that not only is the hacked website protesting the criminal act of invading their servers and taking user data, they are protesting the idea that there is anything immoral about the services they provide. So apparently, to think that it is immoral to secretly carry on an affair behind the back of your spouse is to appoint yourself an illegitimate “moral judge.” Honesty with your spouse and fidelity in marriage are merely “personal notions of virtue,” and “personal ideology.”

2. Yet even as they deny the legitimacy of morally condemning people having secret affairs, Ashley Madison.com has no hesitation condemning the hackers in explicitly moral language. Note that the hackers are “thieves” and “guilty parties.” They have no right to “pilfer and reveal” that which others want kept private. Now, the website probably has a point, but the thundering question is, on what possible consistent grounds do you deny the right of others to “impose a personal notion of virtue,” while at the same time decrying that act in the most morally laced language possible?

3. It doesn’t even stop there. There are incredible statements used defending the adulterers who this site caters to. They are actually described as merely “freethinking people,” and–astonishingly– “innocent citizens simply going about their daily lives.” So there you have it: the hackers have no right to impose their morality on Ahsley Madison.com and it’s clientele, Ashley Madison.com has every right to impose their morality on the hackers, and meanwhile, the clientele in question is utterly “innocent.” Never mind, of course, the frank admission that the stolen data most likely contains “the lurid, the titillating, and the embarrassing.” Not exactly the language of innocence.

This is what happens when you cut the societal tether to objective moral absolutes. Behold the worldview of autonomous moral authority. If you think it doesn’t make any sense, that’s because it doesn’t. We’re living in a culture where the only sin is believing that someone else is sinning, expect for when they’re sinning again you, but meanwhile, it’s not sin to provide a website for others to sin against their souses! The whole convoluted mess would be laughable, if it didn’t represent tens of millions of broken hearts and shattered vows.


If you missed Mark Nenadov’s piece on Elijah Craig, you shouldn’t have.


Free The Rhino Room!


Today the seventh Planned Parenthood expose was released. Here’s a thorough roundup from The Gospel Coalition.

Here’s my eleven word commentary:

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 3.24.05 PM
Come quickly Lord Jesus.


That concludes the maiden voyage of Caveat Lector. Until next time,

Grace and Peace.

The NCFIC Boldly Speaks Out Against Reformed Country-Western: A Parody with a Point

Caveat Lector, Culture, Music, Worship

Note: This will just be a weird, weird post if you haven’t been following the recent comments made by a discussion panel of men associated with the NCFIC about Reformed Rap.  Information on that can be found here, here, here, and here  [Update 12/3/13 Scott Brown has issued an apology which can be read here][Update 12/11/13 I can’t keep up with the updates to this story.  Go read The Confessing Baptist]. The below “transcript” is a parody with my modifications to Brent Hobbs’ notes in bold.  If you read and watch all that, this parody might seem less weird to you.  But I can’t guarantee it.


I applaud the recent bold stance taken by the NCFIC against the growing popularity of a certain so-called “musical form” in the church.  For too long, we have looked the other way as Reformed country-western has gained steam.  Look around.  Our young men have hats with ridiculously large brims pulled down low over their eyes, their headphones in, slowing strumming the air as though they were out riding the countryside looking for stray steer.  Country-western “music” cannot be disassociated with the culture from which it originated- a culture rampant with the abuse of alcohol and spouses, where the jeans are too tight and every one is cryptically told to “cowboy up”- whatever that means.  The crooners of this so-called “art form” think they are serving God.  They’re not.  What these cowards don’t know is the hand which picks up the Bible must first lay down the lasso.

Here is the transcript from the recent comments:

At the recent Worship of God conference, attendees were encouraged to prepare questions for the concluding time of Q&A. One of the questions we received was: “Any thoughts on reformed country-western artists? … Their musical styles would be considered offensive to some, but the doctrine within the songs is sound.”

Speaker #1:

I would be very against reformed country-western music. Let me tell you why. Words aren’t enough. God cares about how we deliver the message. And there’s two aspects of the delivery. The purpose of songs is to instruct. It’s also to praise God, it’s also to worship. But it’s to instruct and to admonish. We’re given the words because we’re a word-based religion, the emphasis needs to be on the words. And just having good words is not enough. The question is where is the emphasis. And I would argue with the country-western music, with the annoying twang, with those things that the physical distraction is so much that the focus is no longer on the words. And music should be about helping us to remember concepts that we need to remember. And help us to carry forward. Music is a wonderful tool as a memory aid. Country-western’s not that good for that because of the other problem with country-western. The problem with any other form of music is who’s the attention drawn to. And country-western is about drawing attention to the crooner, drawing attention to how his guitar strumm’n is different than anybody else’s strumm’n. To how he is a special person… [Story about M. L. Jones about a preacher with an unimpressive delivery who brings great glory to God.] that’s what all preaching needs to be. It needs to move the attention away from you and towards God. Otherwise it’s about you. And my problem with reformed country-western music is I think in the end it’s always about the crooner, even if the words are correct.

Speaker #2

Music is a medium of communication and God cares not just what we say but he cares how we say it. That’s the function of music. And if we truly believe in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, I believe the Scripture should govern not just what we say – in other words not just the content – because I’ll agree, I’ve read a lot of the lyrics of the reformed country music and some of them are much more doctrinally dense than some of our songs. That’s true. However if we truly believe in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, Scripture will govern not just what we say but it will also govern how we say it. So the question I always want to ask is (because remember Scripture is given to us in literary art forms: narrative, poetry, these sorts of things, parable, and those should govern our art forms as well). And so I want to ask with anything with country-western, with any form of music: does it compare? Are we allowing the art forms, the way truth is communicated in Scripture to also govern our art forms. When it comes the art form of country-western music, very few will disagree with the cultural milieu out of which it grew. What it was intended to express by those who created the art form. The only defense I’ve heard by country-western singers of why they want to use this form is they say, “Well we want to redeem the form of country-western music.” But when I read Scripture, whenever there’s redemption there’s change. There’s fundamental change. So I’m all about redemption of musical forms, but if we were if we truly redeem certain musical forms to express God’s holy truth that will mean that those forms will change to actually be appropriate vehicles for the communication of God’s truth as is expressed in the very Word of God itself.

Speaker #3

Yes, amen to that. “Do not be conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And what concerns me about this this so-called “art form” – it’s a picture of weakness and surrender on the part of people who think they’re serving God. And they’re not. They’re serving their own flesh. They’re caving into the rodeo. They are there disobedient cowards. They’re not really willing to engage in the fight that needs to be engaged. Scott, thank you for saying that. If we are reformers we are going to change and fully redeem and replace the rodeo. We’re not going to make ourselves friends of the rodeo and enemies of God. And so this is what concerns me about anytime Christians, in a cowardly way, follow the rodeo instead of changing it and confronting it. And confronting the antithesis. And we need be doing this in every possible art from – including film, including other kinds of music. And so, Scott, just to summarize: Reformed country-western is the cowardly following of the world instead of confronting and changing it.

Speaker #4

I don’t have much I add, I agree with everything that’s been said. Just maybe add one thought. If my children, with their upbringing were to start to embrace this – I would use all these arguments, with intensity that they’ve been spoken. When someone comes to me, who comes from a culture that’s raised that way, had no Christian background, and first hears this kind of country-western and listens to the lyrics and gets really interested in Christianity – first thing I don’t challenge them on is the form of the music. I to try to take them in, disciple them, and break this in slowly to them. I wait until they are sleeping to swipe their boots and shave off that ridiculous mustache and sideburns.  So let’s have a little compassion for people who, for whom they related to this culture – which we don’t really relate to at all probably – and work with them. And get them to this point where they understand these things. But that doesn’t happen a day. That’s only thing I would add to it.

Speaker #5

I’m gonna get sucked off the stage with the gasping happens with what I say here. I’m probably the only panelist who’s ever had Garth Brooks on my iPod. Yeah. They want to know who Garth Brooks is. We’ll tell you after the panel. So here’s what here’s what drove it home for me: A few months ago I saw picture of Garth Brooks. Vintage Garth: tight jeans, ready to sing, and but he’s 50 now. Wasn’t 50, you know, when he became cool. And he’s starting to have wrinkles on his face. OK, so he’s 50-year-old man with wrinkles on his face – got those tight jeans, and he’s ready to sing. And what didn’t seem unseemly when he was a young man just looks really out of place in the pictures now. So the question is: 50-year-old men in the church – is their job to extend a hand down in the Church and to pull them up into Christian manhood? You don’t see the discontinuity so strikingly until they start getting wrinkles. It’s our job to reach down to our young men, offer them a hand and pull them up in maturity and Christian manhood. That is not doing that.

Speaker #6

I don’t think any of us are saying that in the worship of God there’s only a certain kind of music that should be sung – like we should only sing rap music in church. Or we should only sing classical music, etc. But I think what we are all saying is that some forms of music cannot be separated from the culture out of which they come. That’s an important thing to bear in mind. When we have young men or women the church let’s say the young men start wearing boots and a “cowboy up” t-shirt. I say, “What’s the purpose of the boots? The lasso?” And they’ll say, “Well I just like it.” or “I think it’s nice,” or “it’s the fashion,” and I say, “Do you know why it is the fashion? Do you know who you’re identifying with when you wear these spurs? You’re not identifying yourself with the godly men in the church but with an entirely different culture out there. And same thing with certain forms of music.

I don’t want to be controversial or unloving, Brother Cash, but I believe country-western is the death rattle in the throat of the dying culture. And I think also that we must not use music in the worship of God where the words get lost in the twang. And all people hear is the twang. Now that doesn’t just mean rock-and-roll, that means some songs, you know, that you can cow-daddy shuffle to. That people remember an old tune or identify that particular beat or rhythm or kind of music with something in their past and so, even though they might be singing the right words the connotation is something entirely different. And I think that the music that we use in the worship of course all the words must be true. We must sing our hymns to God, they must be about God, and anything we say about ourselves in the hymns must be with reference to God.

And I think the music by which we sing must fit the majesty of the words, and the dignity of the words, and that there be edification and instruction as well as praise in the words. For instance: music where everything is just repetitious, the guy loses his wife and truck and dog and goes drinking over and over and over and over again and people call it various things, and it may move them emotionally, but that kind of music is so depressing – I think it’s also disrespectful to God, it doesn’t reveal any kind of real knowledge of God.

So music as all of us know is a very sensitive thing. There’s certain kinds of music I like and certain kinds I don’t like. We use a great hymnal in our church, but some of the tunes are funeral dirges and I don’t like singing funeral dirges in church. You remember what it says the Old Testament? The purpose of music is to raise sounds of joy. That is to help us in our joyful praise of God. You must always ask yourself, particularly you young people who listen to music a great deal on your iPods and all the rest: What does this music do to me? How is it making me feel? Is it making me feel anxious? Bitter? Upset? Lustful? Ready for a rootin’ tootin’ round up?  How is this music making me feel? And the same thing I think we should ask when we’re worshipping God: Is the music enhancing and strengthening the words that we’re singing, to the glory of God? Or is it basically the twang that we’re after?

-End transcript-

Prophetic words, no?  What about you?  How does this music make you feel?  Does the guy strumm’n the guitar and crooning enhance and strengthen the words you’re singing?  Or is basically the twang that you’re after?  Coward.

P.S.- does this parody seem ridiculous?  Full of holes?  Only half the story?  That my friends, is exactly the point.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

A New Take On Uncle Henry’s Old Thanksgiving Hymn

Caveat Lector, Music, Worship

I went looking for a video of Uncle Henry‘s Thanksgiving hymn to post and came across a modern arrangement I wasn’t familiar with.  I think it has real promise, and made me hear the words with fresh ears.  Although the video itself includes many stereotypical praise band members I am tempted to poke fun at, in the spirit of the day I shall refrain; even from making fun of the sweater vest keyboard dude, the too-cool bass player, and the cat with the scarf and ripped jeans.  Somehow making fun just doesn’t seem right today.  Maybe tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

Eating iCrow

Caveat Lector

iCrow photoOk, first let’s explain the weird photo.  That is a picture of my new iPad taking a picture of me taken on my new MacBook (if you read that sentence slowly it actually makes sense).  I am grimacing as though in pain for two reasons.  1.) Taking a picture of yourself in that manner in a lot harder than I thought it would be, it actually made me physically ill and 2.) I am grimacing because I am being forced to eat a healthy portion of iCrow.  Sometime back I posted on The Decablog what has been described as a bit of a diatribe against a certain company which produces and distributes expensive gleaming white electronics.  At the end of that screed I made the offer that if anyone gave me any Apple gear, I would retract everything I had written.  Two anonymous Mac-hiavellians have struck a blow for the Kingdom of Jobs and I find myself defenseless.

So if you have no idea what I’m talking about, first read this post.

Now, hear this: I renounce my previous post.  I repent of my sarcasm.  I both acknowledge and own my foolishness.  I was ignorant of the joy that is Apple.  I lay down my weapons.  I am home.

(By: Nicolas Alford)