This blog is dedicated to discussions surrounding worship, church, theology, and culture. A subtext of that agenda is to encourage Christian (and particularly evangelical) worship along its trajectory toward more thoughtfulness, biblical reflection, theological awareness, and historicity. A sub-subtext of that subtext is to encourage this growing movement of folks dedicated to the setting of old hymns to new music. I do this not because hymns are the be-all and end-all of the deficiencies of modern worship, but because this one practice embodies so many of the subtext’s aforementioned values. Many hymns are thoughtful. Many hymns are soaked in scripture. Many hymns are written from a fiery theological heart. And all hymns except current-day ones force the Church to reckon with the fact that she is a body rooted in history–a history of God’s past worth celebrating.
So, people might get tired of me barking about this very specific thing called the “hymns movement,” but they must remember that this movement is a herald of the shifts taking place with these bigger, more fundamental issues in American/Western Christian worship today.
I am therefore excited to share a brief “status update” of the movement. More rumblings, more exposure, more buy-in. The hymns movement continues to affect and infect the Church with greater potency and wider distribution. Four things stand out.
Less than 48 hours ago, the 2011 Gospel Coalition Conference kicked off with none other than a hymn sing, gathering together and exposing before a new generation of eager, cross-denominational, Gospel-loving evangelicals some of the heavy-hitters in the hymns movement: Kevin Twit and Indelible Grace (Sandra McCracken, Matthew Smith); Mike Cosper and Sojourn Music. As Cardiphonia likewise reported, Noisetrade is giving away a free sampler of these artists. One more indicator that the next generation of pastors and church leaders care about deep, substantive worship, exemplified in hymnody.
In less than two weeks, Sojourn Music will release another album, The Water and the Blood, a second installment of an ongoing project to reshape the hymn texts of Isaac Watts for new ears. As will be explained in my upcoming review, Sojourn continues to push out the narrow musical boundaries of contemporary/modern worship, forging ahead while reaching back hundreds of years into the vault of Christian hymnody.
In five days, an album will be released which features a bunch of well-known mainstream modern worship leaders headlining re-tuned hymn-texts of Charles Wesley. It is called Love Divine. I have already spoken about what a significant mile-marker this is, notwithstanding the fact that it will probably go unnoticed (though I hope not).
A little over two weeks ago, a unique conference took place in St. Louis. Hymns movement leader Bifrost Arts hosted a gathering on “Liturgy, Music, and Space.” The average age was interestingly young, given that the topics discussed at the conference were ideas that contemporary worship used to say that only “older people” cared about: liturgy, history, aesthetics, theology, inter-generationalism, etc.
Folks, there’s no organizing force behind the coincidence of these things…at least no human one. This can be characterized as nothing short of a movement of the Spirit through renewal of the worship of God. All this is very significant.