I’ve got a new friend, colleague, and ally in the quest to raise the bar on evangelical worship. His name is John Gooch. He’s a new M.Div. student (worship emphasis) at Denver Seminary, and even as he leads worship at various churches, he’s been a part of our pastor’s group committed to weekly reflection, mentorship, and accountability in ministry. John recently wrote a paper reflecting on Mark Driscoll’s, The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). This was part of an … Read More
The most recent edition of RELEVANT Magazine contained an intriguing article by Jason Boyette, author of the “Pocket Guide” series of books…and a Baptist. Boyette openly wrestles with his tradition’s take on the presence of Christ in communion. Most Baptists traditionally believe that communion is purely symbolic and merely a remembrance…there is no special presence of Christ (whether spiritual or physical) in communion. This is sometimes called a “memorialist” position. Boyette offers some great thoughts as he entertains certain challenging Scripture passages and the majority tradition of the Church.
My Catholic and Orthodox colleagues, brothers, sisters, and friends continually remind me (either explicitly or merely by their presence in my life) that one of the sad realities of Protestantism has been the fragmentation of Christ’s Church. I agree. We’re splintered. And I believe that this grieves the heart of God (John 17). However, I resonate (obviously) with Protestantism’s zeal for biblical truth and desire to seek the worship and work of the Church in its purest form possible, re-formed according to Scripture. This tension is something I’ve come to rest in…though it’s a restless rest.
Worship Leader Magazine’s latest issue (a GREAT issue, by the way) featured an interview with Hughes Oliphant Old (worship leaders should know this name) by Reggie Kidd. In a brief, two-page span, Kidd probed Old’s brain on the subject of what Paul means in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 when he refers to “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” This is an ongoing and important exegetical dialogue that should be entered into by every worship leader. One of the questions and answers hit the subject that haunts every worship leader…whether or not songs should tie to the sermon. This is a perennial struggle
Passion, Awakening (2010, Various Artists) In my opinion, the Passion folks have drawn the clearest line of demarcation between the stylistic eras of “contemporary worship” (80s and 90s) and “modern worship” (late 90s to the present). I remember when Passion ’98 hit the scene. The songs felt fresh, youthful, and different from its predecessors, and from that time forward, we watched the blossoming of the solo careers of these Passion artists (Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, etc.) … Read More
As all the evangelical pointers continue to signal a continued shift toward worship expressions which are more rooted and liturgical, I’ve noticed an increased re-engagement with that archaic piece of print material known as the “order of worship.” Others call it an “order of service,” a “printed liturgy,” or simply a “bulletin.” Screens in worship have served well many functions, but one thing they cannot get away from is that the words and ideas they project are fleeting. You can’t (usually) know what’s coming next in a worship service with screens. You can’t meditate on any portion of the worship service when the screens constantly change text before you. You can’t take a screen home with you for reflection.
Review of Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (Downers Grove, IVP: 2009)Chapter 7, “Deep Worship” Our pastoral team has been reading through Deep Church, by Jim Belcher. We were intrigued by the subtitle, because we felt it captured our vision for our local church: “A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.” Most of us had the opportunity to personally meet Jim a few weeks ago when he spoke at St. Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal … Read More
In yesteryear, it was common for aspiring church musicians to pursue degrees in church music. Those paths of study included music history…and for good reason. Traditional church music is a descendant of western classical music. For those of us who have studied classical music, we all can attest that we are better at our craft of making and performing music because we have studied the ebbs and flows of music history. Through the lens of a singer: one does not … Read More
This Sunday is Reformation Sunday—a time when Protestants thank God for how He refined and revived the Church in the sixteenth century. Being Presbyterian, we’re wedding the celebration of the Reformation with the 500th anniversary year of the birthday of John Calvin. Our unique slant on acknowledging Calvin is by stepping back several centuries and worshiping with a liturgy straight out of Calvin’s Geneva. We’re going instrument-less and hymn-less. We’re singing a capella psalms. We’re comparing the Genevan liturgy to … Read More
If you’ve been checking me out, you know me by now. You know that I’m an odd lover of traditional hymns and modern worship. So I usually pick up anything that says “hymns” on it and looks remotely modern, to see what kind of work is going on in that field. I therefore picked up “iworship hymns” from Integrity music. They’ve been putting out this iworship series for a while now, and they’re latest issue is an album dedicated to hymns. It is a compilation of previously-recorded, previously-released tracks from great Integrity artists like Paul Baloche, Gateway Worship, Hillsong, New Life, etc.
The album is a good one. It’s a great listen and has great production. The texts of the songs are wonderful, and the worship leaders are all great, authentic people, passionate about God’s glory. But I’m discouraged about what’s going on in modern worship with regards to “resetting” hymns, and this is a prime example.*
I’ll begin my analysis with a vignette of a typical conversation I often have with people when I tell them about what I’m trying to accomplish with The Glad Sound. I’m sure my friends at Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, and Sojourn Community Church have had similar dialogues.
Person: So what’s your project about?
Zac: We’re taking the texts of old hymns and setting them to new music…new melodies, chord structures, and instrumentation.
Person: Oh, I LOVE that! I love it when we sing “updated” hymns in our church.
Zac: Tell me about that a bit more.
Person: You know, when they take an old hymn and “jazz it up” by adding drums or guitars or something. They just make those outdated hymns contemporary.
Zac: Oh, cool. (sigh…) [the conversation continues as I try to explain how what we’re doing is different, and hopefully better]
I don’t know how many times I have had this conversation. People don’t understand that when we’re “resetting” hymns, we are not keeping the music, at all. We are not “updating” or “jazzing up” the melodies and chord structures. It’s as though we’re taking a written poem and setting music to it for the first time. The old tune and the new tune have nothing to do with each other, except that they can be affixed to the same text. I’m not completely against this type of re-hymn setting. I think in some cases it works and sounds great (for some reason, I’ve felt that songs in 3/4 and 6/8 work better for this). But more often than not, it sounds forced, canned, and a bit artificial. There’s a good reason for this. The music was composed in a different style and genre (often block chord writing) that doesn’t easily and naturally import to modern styles (melodies with fewer chord changes between). Often, I feel that the original composers are rolling over in their graves when their music is bent out of shape. (Again, I’m not totally against it…I plan on at least attempting to jam the plainsong chant melody of “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” into a modern groove on our next album…traditionalites, don’t shoot me, please).
These types of conversations, and these types of “updated hymns” albums like “iworship hymns,” betray a myopia quite pervasive in mainstream evangelical music: the only way to do hymns in modern worship settings is to take the original melodies and affix a new instrumentation, syncopation, and beat to them. Friends, THERE IS ANOTHER WAY! And this other way is something that’s been going on for centuries (see my previous post on this for more detail). For centuries, musicians have sought to re-clothe an old hymn in the current musical vernacular. Almost any time you look in a hymnal and see a text written in one year and the music written much later, that’s usually the case.
Why is it that we only think we have one option here? Why is it that new modern worship “hymns” projects deliver to us the same thing again and again? Please don’t take me as complaining about these projects. I’m more observing and lamenting the fact that there aren’t more who are “updating” hymns in ways which feel more natural to everyone. In conversations where I’m talking to a lover of old hymns who actually gets what I’m doing, they’re appreciative, not only that I’m giving modern worshipers a taste of old hymns, but that I’m not tampering with the musical integrity of the tunes previously used for these hymns.
I just know that there is so much more to be done in re-setting hymns, but every time I pick up a new “hymns” album, it’s just the same old concept, recycled. There are SO many hymns to be brought back to the church, and there are SO many great songwriters out there! Step up! You can have so much more freedom with these hymns than you might realize!
Peace, love, dove.
*One mild exception to my discussion on the iworship hymns album is “When I Survey,” by Kathryn Scott, re-set to the tune to “O Danny Boy.” It’s actually a beautiful setting and brings out some different nuances of the text that I’m interested in exploring.