Monday, April 29, 2013

My Biblical Take on RAM

When I say RAM, I'm not talking about random-access memory, but about what is called Religious Affections Ministries, which is essentially Scott Aniol, with some help from a few like-minded men he has recruited to help with blog posts.  Scott has written at least two books on the subject of worship, and one of them is required reading in a class I have taught.  Recently online a RAM truckload of criticism has been dumped on RAM (so far here and here), which RAM has answered (so far here and here).  There are a lot of background occurrences that have stirred this recent flurry of conflict, so I'm going to weigh in on everything, because I have some analysis that could be helpful, I believe (after I started writing this, I noticed that Aaron Blumer has provided a pretty good background for the conflict here).

What's Good About RAM

The Lord created us for (Rev 4:11; Is 43:6-7) and then saved us for worship (John 4:23-24).   If we're not actually worshiping, then we're missing the point.  Most do miss that point today.  RAM has some of the best written arguments for traditional or conservative corporate worship.  The RAM guys are good on this (recently the writings of David De Bruyn).  You would do well to read much of what they write.  They are not the only ones that are thinking about it (see here, here, here, and here, for instance), but here is a center that is almost entirely dedicated to that one thing, so it is a go-to place for it.  RAM has added to my thinking about worship, myself already having written a book on music and worship in 1996 (still available).   I agree with a good portion of RAM writings on music and worship, and they do give some well-thought-through talking points in the debate, sometimes called worship wars.

What I have written here about RAM is almost exclusively the good that you will get out of it.  That is a lot of good, as I see it, because it can help you get your head screwed on straight about worship.  What you'll also find, if you read them, is that they are extremely civil, too much so in my opinion.  They are very, very nice about it.  They likely believe in being this way, but they also know who they're dealing with.  People are really, really not going to like what they say in the environment in which we live.  What I've found in the short time RAM has existed is that people generally don't interact with them about their point of view.  Maybe they read them silently without comment, but it seems like Scott Aniol and RAM get ignored by most.  People don't care and it doesn't matter.  They are viewed in a very marginal way by most.  Now they are getting attacked and they are also receiving more attention as a result, which I believe is good overall.

I'm usually a big defender of RAM, almost everywhere, despite their zero defense of me, because I believe in what they are writing.  They are usually getting attacked for something I believe is right and correct, so I have defended them and will likely continue to do so.  I haven't read one good argument against what they say.  None.  Those opposing their point of view are spiritually, intellectually, biblically, and any other possible good way inferior to what they say.

What's Bad About RAM

As you read what I'm about to say bad about RAM, you might wonder how I could be in such agreement with them and yet think there is so much bad.  I'm going to write more bad about them than good, and I'm doing so for a hopeful future for the RAM people.  RAM and I have a very similar view of corporate worship, the worship of a church, but they generally look askance at me, because I use the King James Version and I'm not a Calvinist.  I also criticize people that Scott likes sometimes.  I don't criticize because I don't like them, but because I do.  I want them to change.  That itself is part of my religious affections ironically.  Edwards's book was a criticism.  From my observation, Scott Aniol far more likes associations with certain Charismatics and Southern Baptists and evangelicals, than he would with me, even though I've got far more in common with him on his primary topic.   And yet I still like RAM for what they have that's good.  We can take the teaching of Jesus in Mark 9:40 as it relates to what RAM teaches, that is, "For he that is not against us is on our part."

To start, RAM should be RA, because it isn't a ministry.   Biblical ministry, so all ministry, operates within a church and under the authority of a single church.  RAM is parachurch, so it can't be a ministry.  As a result, even though Scott writes so many good things, it will be worthless for him for eternity.  Like Old Testament worship couldn't operate separate from Israel, ministry in the New Testament fits only in the church.  It's all we see in the NT.   He operates without authority.  RAM is wood, hay, and stubble, because of that, because it is not building with biblical material.   It is another ox-cart with good intentions, I'm sad to say.  If it were just Scott Aniol's blog, I'd say something different, but it's his "ministry."  Service to God is acceptable to God when it is regulated by His Word.  RAM isn't.  It should stop calling itself a "ministry."  Even if Scott sees this way of operating as what's best, easiest for him to maneuver, and to accomplish what he wants, he's wrong.  It undermines his message in ways that I'll deal with later.  Scott, however, is likely just following his own ecclesiology in doing it the way he's doing it.  It's wrong.  Most in the RAM camp will likely just roll their eyes at this paragraph.  I say they do that at their own peril.  They ought to listen.

Now Scott Aniol has joined a Southern Baptist Church and is an elder there, while teaching at a Southern Baptist seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (I had already written about this here).   When I think about Scott's doing of this, I could see how he could justify it to himself.  The seminary is an academic setting, so it doesn't count as "fellowship."  It's academia.  It's a new fundamentalist argument regarding separation.  He has priorities for a church.  Calvinist.  Liturgical.  Conservative.  He's found that in his new church.  He subordinates the SBC cooperative program, the lack of separation, and even faulty eschatology to those priorities.  I'm guessing that if the church was Calvinist, Liturgical, Conservative, and King James Only, the latter would be a deal breaker.  It's how it works today.  Many people function like Scott is, which isn't an excuse.  There are churches around with a better hermeneutic and better separation, but I believe Scott is choosing where he thinks he can worship God the best, according to his view of the world.  How Scott is practicing should not offend most of his critics.  He's taking a fundamentalist and gospel-centered approach.  His church is right on the fundamentals and the gospel, so the other things don't matter so much as it relates to his understanding of unity.  That he's getting criticized by those as being inconsistent doesn't make any sense to me.

So then why do I think that being SBC is wrong?  Here's why.  SBC is rife with false worship and so Scott fellowships with it.  The cooperative program means he's in fellowship with it.  He's indifferent in his separation.  That dishonors and disrespects God in contradiction to Scott's stated philosophy.    When criticism points at Northland for its new worship philosophy, it blows up in Scott's face.  They can hardly criticize Northland when Scott has chosen to be some place else that is worse.

All the problems above stem mainly from a faulty ecclesiology.  They see the true church as all believers, even though that's not how it reads in the New Testament.  Because of that, they see a necessity of unity with all believers.  This means they rank doctrines and make their decisions of fellowship based upon their priorities.  The Bible doesn't teach this.  God is One and doesn't contradict Himself.  A biblical theology will be internally consistent.  It can be because the same God wrote it.  A universal church belief results in all the contradictions.  Some of the liturgy favorable to RAM looks Protestant and Catholic over on the formalistic side of professing Christianity.  I'm not against liturgy, intentional worship, planning for an excellent offering to God like a well-planned and then well-served meal.  I see too much Protestant and therefore Catholic influence on RAM that parallels with its ecclesiology.  If RAM can't or won't separate, it will never be able to preserve biblical worship.  It will be a short-lived mini-movement in a very small branch of fundamentalism.

RAM is selectively culturally conservative.  I've harped on this for years now.  If you are going to take a consistent world view, that starts with one God, and, therefore, one truth, goodness, and beauty, you will look at more than music.  I'm sure that the RAM guys are more conservative than most of fundamentalism all the way around on cultural issues, but they aren't in a few obvious ways.   Modern versions and gender neutral dress clash with their foundational world view.  It's not consistent.

One Bible with one set of Words is one truth.  That fits with one God.   This is the view of historic, conservative Christianity.   I see the RAM clash with this as a bow to modernity.  Designed gender distinctions in dress, the way biblical churches always practiced, relates to one goodness.  Goodness doesn't change.  If our culture had designed into its changes a new definition of male or female dress, I could understand a change, but it hasn't.  It has erased the distinction as a bow to modernity.  This is not conservative Christianity.  RAM does not practice a consistent world view.  This makes RAM less credible to me.  It's not a faithful, premodern practice.


Nevertheless, despite my criticisms, I want to reiterate the value of RAM.  The truths will edify you and lead you to more biblical thinking on worship.  There's very little online of which you can accept everything, but for the one emphasis at RAM, you will be helped greatly.


d4v34x said...

. . . but for the one emphasis at RAM, you will be helped greatly.

I think that's what some critics don't understand. RAM addresses a specific set of issues. It doesn't claim to encompass the whole of Christianity. As you point out, that's what churches are for.

Kent Brandenburg said...


On the other hand, if you are looking for a representative for RA, you want someone consistent on them, and Scott has put himself in a position now to receive criticism because of those inconsistencies. That isn't helpful. I am telling people, in essence, to separate what he says from some of what he does. Maybe he is consistent with what he does. He never ever addresses it. I would like to at least see it addressed because it is strange to me (although I'm the strange bird) ;-D.