The book of Psalms is a hymn book. It is a collection of hymns that was used first by the people of Israel primarily for services of worship in the temple in Jerusalem and in the synagogues of scattered Judaism. In later years this book of 150 hymns was adopted by the Christian Church as one of the major components in its worship. It was the very first “Book of Common Prayer” used by Israel and the Christian Faith in corporate worship….
Those who do surveys on sermons, report that the psalms are used for the text of more sermons than any other book of the Bible. Those same surveys tell us that they are used more in private worship than any other Biblical book. Specific psalms have also been committed to memory more than any other portion of scripture, other than the Lord’s Prayer. Obviously the Psalms are deemed important by the church.
But this reading or singing of the psalms present us with a rather odd phenomenon. There has been a long tendency to skip verses in the public reading of some of the psalms. We do surgery on some psalms because they shock us. These acts of surgery are called “Psalmectomies” or “textotomies.” We cut out the offending words.
To read more, check out the essays under this heading that deal with these uncomfortable psalms, such as psalms of cursing, songs that express anger at God, psalms that lament God’s seeming absence, and others.
I remember the past 50 years, planning for the Advent – Christmas season each year, thinking about the 5 weeks at the close of the year, and asking what shall I speak about this year. I would look over the past years and ask, what have I not covered recently that I could turn to? It may be why I am mostly bald: pulling my hair out, trying to think with creativity, while staying relevant to a congregation’s needs.
So I thought it might be useful to post some of the sermons that I have actually delivered over those years, to hopefully prime the pump, and to get the waters flowing, in those of us who get to lead congregations during this high season. The sermons can be found under the heading, Christmas. But a word of caution: I am not suggesting that you plagiarise mine or anyone else’s sermons. But …
Over the past 50 years when attending conferences of Church leaders I hear the invited guests talking about things regarding which I am quite inept. I have planted no churches, I do not lead a rapidly growing congregation, I am not an expert in homiletics, or church administration. I am not an expert in Post-modernism and I have been unable to solve the worship wars that rage across the face of the church.
But there is one other area about which I am an expert. SIN. I have been a practitioner of that vice for over 70 years. There were times that I was an eager participant and other times I was a most unwilling perpetrator. I say this without any rejoicing in my sinnership. I have never “sinned boldly” as Luther has exhorted. I sinned covertly and ashamedly. In my first 20 years I sinned without repentance. In the past 50+ years I have sinned followed by penitence and self-flagellation.
You may want to read more; checkout the articles on the Seven Deadly Sins….
Intro to The Book of Revelation
For me, it all began when I taught a course at Maple Grove Family Camp in Thamesford, Ontario. I had been asked whether I would be willing to teach a course on Prophecy & The Second Coming. This was to be held in August 1972. I had never taught or studied much in this area, but fools rush in, where angels fear to tread and wise men never go. I said “yes”, and then was informed that the textbook for the course had already been chosen and ordered. The book happened to be “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Hal Lindsey. Since I had two months to prepare myself for the event, I went ahead and read the text. I had not taken any courses in College or Seminary that dealt with this theme in any serious way. As I read the book, I wrote my reaction at the end of each chapter. After the first chapter I wrote “Do I believe this?” At the close of the next chapter I wrote, “I don’t believe this, do I?” As I continued to read my comments changed to, “I do not believe this! So what do I believe?” The next two months were invested in exploring the New Testament looking for any biblical texts that dealt with the theme. I ignored the textbook, taught the seminar, and my audience was kind!
3 years later, in 1975 I took a course in “Inter-Testamental History & Literature” from Dr. Richard Longenecker at the U of Toronto. This course proved to me to be invaluable. It changed my way of reading the four gospels and the rest of the N.T. and particularly the book of the Revelation. Then a decade later in 1985 I took another course while at McGill University in “Apocalyptic Literature” taught by Dr. D. R. Runnalls. This further stimulated my mind as I thought about this last book of the Bible.
Over the past 30 years since then I have taught on the Book of Revelation at least a dozen different times in college and seminary courses, and in church camps and conferences. I must confess to my impudence, however. I have sub-titled my approach; “How to save the Book of the Revelation from the hands of its friends.” The book has been maligned and mangled by those who love it best. I wanted to help restore it back to what it had been intended to be: a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
In the following seven chapters I do not hope to “explain” the details of this book. My only task will be to help you read this book as the first readers read it at the close of the first Christian century. If you are interested, read on.
If you want to respond to anything I say about this book, you may respond on prodigalprof.com or at my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I wish you joy in your journey!
Prof. David N. Ashton.
Thank You! Since June of 2012 there have been more than 50,000 hits on my website Prodigalprof.com. I thought you might be interested in some recent stats. People from more than 120 countries have visited the site, with Canada, USA, UK, India, Brazil, and the Philippines being the most frequent visitors, I am surprised!
The most popular sites also surprised me. Here are the top four: “Unanswered Prayer”, “The Prodigal”, “The Temptations” and “Creed or Chaos”.
I am grateful for your “visits”. It helps me handle semi-retirement with more grace.
I wish you well in your journey!
Over the past 40 years I have been asked to write articles on theological matters for various magazines. Some of them were of a transient nature and not worth a longer shelf-life that the day they were published. Other items were of lasting interest, and many of those are re-published here.
Many of these were published in Light And Life magazine, under the category of “The Deeper Path: Doctrine”. These were designed for those readers who wanted to dig a bit deeper into issues of theology. At the close of those articles there were 3 categories to further thought or application. They bear the subtitles (1) Think it Through, (2) Take Action, and (3) For the Small Group Leader. Feel free to follow their guidance or ignore them.
Other items were prepared for oral delivery at conferences, and were not always published in printed form, but may have been recorded on cassette or cd. Those I am publishing here in their printed form.
I have entitled these published articles under the rubric, Things Theological, since that is the over arching theme that unites them. They follow no particular order, other than alphabetical. They are not intended to be read in any particular order, some might pique your interest, others may hold no interest to you. Like a smorgasbord; take what you want, leave the rest for others of more peculiar taste.
David N. Ashton
A Journey with Jonah I remember the fight. It was my first semester in College. I had just been chosen to be the freshman class chaplain. A few days later a fellow student approached, saying she had a question she wanted to ask me. I was interested so stopped. Her question was “Do you think Jonah is fact or fiction?” I did not know this was a litmus test. If I was to be the chaplain of her class she wanted to find out if I was kosher. I did not pass the test. I responded, as only an English Lit major would, with an answer that sounded something like this: “I think it is a wonderfully told story, but I do not know whether it is fact or fiction.” She knew I had waffled on the question, and so began to educate me on the principle that if Jonah was not historically accurate, that put the whole Bible in jeopardy. And so began my interest in this short story. 50 years since that chat I have thought much about this controversial book. Here is the table of contents of my journey with Jonah: A Journey with Jonah The text of The Book of Jonah (NRSV)
1. The Fish is a Red Herring
2. The Renegade Prophet
3. Righteous Sinners & Wicked Saints
4. Jonah’s Pitiful Prayer
5. The Failure of Prophecy
6. The Repentance of God
7. Jonah & the Animals
David N. Ashton
In 2006 I was invited to Wesley Acres Family Camp in Southern Ontario to deliver a set of lectures on “The Temptations of Jesus”. It was a six day event that whet my appetite to continue to dig deeper into the theme in the years since. After another half dozen years of reflection on the theme, I decided to put into thoughts into print. You can find the 11 sessions by checking out the main menu of http://prodigalprof.com
Some years ago I wrote a paper on the doctrine of Purgatory. In recent days a request was made that it be posted so that others could view it. So here it is. Feel free to respond. This will forever remain a topic where friends can still agree to disagree. It is posted under the heading “Purgatory?”. Please notice the question mark.
Creed or Chaos
A recent trend has been causing me significant unease. The fixation with “contemporary” has caused many churches to retool themselves to attract young people to their sanctuaries. I applaud the goal. All of us would love to see our churches flooded with teens and young families.
But the methods often chosen to attempt this, however, have resulted in the removal of all that had been inherited from the long past. The diminishment of scripture reading to a brief text, rare reciting of creeds, declining frequency of the sacraments, an aversion to hymnody and written prayers, have been increasing in momentum. This trend has been in aid of making us as up-to-date as 24/7 news channels, the newest technology, and in step with new social media. One of the consequences has been to sacrifice content to style, mind to emotion, and deeds to devotion.
These recent trends make me want to taste the wares of that form of faith that preceded the current fixations. It is one of the reason that causes me to re-introduce an ancient creed for a post-modern age. I confess my attraction to the doggerel, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” (though I’m not sure what “blue” could mean in this context.) But if you are interested in something old and borrowed and yet ever new, I recommend you visit this website and explore the lines of the Apostles’ Creed under the heading “Creed or Chaos”.
David N. Ashton