More Communion, More Roots: David Crowder’s Final Album and the Trajectory of Modern Worship

Zac HicksChurch & Ecclesiology, Convergence of Old and New in Worship3 Comments

Worship Leader Magazine recently published an interview of David Crowder shortly after the release of their final album, Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]).  (Even the title carries with it our modern generation’s characteristic mixture of reverence and irreverence, being a requiem with a not-so-subtle reference to Spinal Tap…I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.)

While perhaps most of Crowder’s albums are not “worship albums” proper, since the early 2000s, the DC*B has been on the leading edge of where modern worship leaders looked for guidance in song and practice.  The verdict is not out, but there are many indicators that modern worship is hungry for a greater sense of rootedness in the Christian worship traditions of the past, a higher ecclesiology (a more robust view of the church), and a more meaningful engagement with things like the Lord’s Supper.  Just look at some of these statements by Crowder:

“What’s majestic and beautiful about a lot of the older liturgy that we’ve maybe misplaced is that that it feels transcendent. Many times the liturgy was like a journey. You couldn’t just pop in for half the service and get everything. You know, you can pop in a lot of contemporary services and not be very confused by any of it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but, it’s like the show Lost. The reason that show was so attractive was because there was an exploration that it demanded of you. You couldn’t understand everything that was really happening. I think there’s something very attractive about worship where everything is hinging on mystery, and it’s a difficult thing to put your head around. It’s more complex.”

“There are so many college students that are attached to what we’re doing,” says Crowder. “And the thing I love about where they are in life is that they want desperately to live for something bigger than themselves.”

T. David Gordon, in his book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns (which I have reviewed quite critically here), offers a critique of culture’s obsession with “the now.”  He aptly labels it “contemporaneity as a value.”  I think he would be pleased with indications of forward progress by folks like Crowder when they say,

“And the younger generation is finding that this present moment is not sufficient enough. That we need something that’s bigger than just ‘the present.’ And we need words that say something that’s bigger than the present. But we cant’ look into the future, so we look backwards and pull from what has already been said. In doing so we also realize that we’re not alone in this present moment, but in fact our history is with us.”

Interestingly, the band’s desire with this album at the close of their art-making as the David Crowder Band, was to put the final punctuation mark on the Lord’s Supper:

The David Crowder*Band has chosen their final record, Give Us Rest (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys]), to represent their goodbye, “And it’s all centered around the Eucharist,” finishes Crowder. “And so we thought, man, this is a great place to finish things up—to just come back around this. I guess the period at the end of the sentence would be Christ and his sacrifice, and his in-dwelling.”

People who are quick to lump modern worship into one category of hopeless, a-theological, a-historical now-ism need to take a closer look.  There’s something profound happening.  Could it be that the contemporaneity of contemporary worship is beginning to run its course?  Could it be that we are on the road toward healthier balance of historical rootedness and biblical reflection?

The article is worth a read, even if, in parts, it seems that its author either strains to understand the significance of what’s going on or uncomfortably flicks away what appears to be un-evangelical about the trends.

3 Comments on “More Communion, More Roots: David Crowder’s Final Album and the Trajectory of Modern Worship”

  1. Even if Crowder organized his CD around a liturgical model, I'm not sure the overall uselessness of his creation is going to endear anyone to liturgy. That may seem harsh to some, but I make the assessment based on the fact that, as a trained musician with a background in Pentecostal/charismatic worship (but who is now Presbyterian), I find his music either vapid or impossible to sing. Ten years ago, the second City on a Hill CD was released and it featured a lineup of songs organized around the order of service in the Book of Common Prayer. And, fortunately, the music offered there was simple but theologically rich and usable in a corporate setting. UNfortunately, it didn't seem to make a big splash, except for "All Creatures of Our God and King."

    I do, however, appreciate your assessment and look forward to reading your critique of Gordon's book. I have a copy of it, got half a chapter in and then threw it across the room in disgust. But this summer I'm going to give it another try.

  2. I don't know that Crowder considers his music congregational, despite the fact that many take it as such, so I wouldn't pick him apart too much on that. That's more the fault of the indiscriminate worship leader / music-selector. And…the point I was making was not that Crowder would have a heavy influence on modern worship toward liturgy, history, etc., but that an album like this is indicative of shifts and interests changing. Still, you're right. We've been seeing things like this for quite a few years now, and perhaps I'm being overly optimistic.

    In any regard, I do think you're right about his music being hard to sing. As for vapid, you and I disagree there. I've found him to compose some very artistic, substantive things, music-wise. Some people immediately dismiss pop music. I don't. I think there's good art to be found within the genre, even if much of it is fluffy, sentimentalized, and throw-away. There's too much baby there for me to say it's all bathwater. I think Crowder's a gifted artist and I hope he continues his work.

    Thank you for your thoughts! I value dialogue.

  3. Great post, I was wondering some of the same things when I heard Crowder did a record around the funeral mass. However, Crowder is intentionally un-congregational, and cares not whether his songs are singable. People will sing them anyways because they love his music, he knows this and has said the very thing in an interview. His views may have changed since the Worship Leader magazine interview I read, but he pretty much said this: "Go to a Pearl Jam concert. They don't take an ounce of consideration for the singability of their lyrics, yet the whole crowd sings along at the top of their lungs." Of course, this doesn't take into consideration that at a rock concert, the musician receives the worship, and in church it ought to be different. I guess you could say Crowder was endorsing the "Bono effect." But to the extent that his songs remain hard to sing, he is writing himself out of church music history because they simply will not endure. Case in point, not a ton of his music is on the CCLI top 100. However, "You Alone," and "O Praise Him" have been up there. They are very singable tunes and, imo, among his best work.

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