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Wednesday
Feb032016

Reflections on the Calvin Symposium 2016

The Calvin Symposium simply has to be named among the best worship conferences out there. The challenge of getting so many different voices and perspectives in one place engaging in convicted yet loving dialogue is difficult, but the folks at Calvin have done a remarkable job of creating that space and setting the tone. My own experience as a conference attender, worshiper, panelist, and breakout session leader was shaped therefore not only by the content of the conference but the actual people in the room. I will share my impressions of the panels and breakouts I was a part of, for what they’re worth to others.

David Bailey, Sandra Van Opstal, Rawn Harbor, Myself, Monique, Ingalls, (not in picture) Ed Wilmington, Wen Reagan

I participated in four events and sat in on a host of others. Some of my highlights were being led by Bruce Benedict and his Hope College crew, deftly blending their band with the organ in a pipe rock extravaganza. It was also great conversing with worship scholars like Wen Reagan and Monique Ingalls about the national and global contemporary worship movement (check out this book that they both contributed to for fascinating historical and ethnomusicological insights into contemporary/modern worship). Another fabulous highlight was sitting in on Sandra Van Opstal’s pretty remarkable exposition of her new book, The Next Worship, which I look forward to reading and reviewing in more detail—there is a lot for me to learn under her tutelage.

Worship Leaders are Eager For This

The big surprise for me was to find how many people packed the lecture hall for my repeated workshop on “The Worship Pastor.” The room was electric, and people were resonating with what we were talking about. I was talking with individuals for long after the breakout ended, and I was hearing similar stories: “I’ve been feeling like what I’m doing has pastoral impact on people, and what you’re saying really helped define and awaken those thoughts.” I talked to lead pastors, as well, whose eyes were being opened to what the vocation of their counterpart worship leader really is.

Worship leaders are ripe and ready to take on the pastoral mantle. I’m not talking about formal ordination and formal “pastor” in their title. I’m talking about ownership…ownership of the reality of what they are already doing, shepherding souls, impacting faith-walks, and making disciples.

And Finally…My Hero

Dr. William Lock, my vocal and church music professor during some very formative college years

Most people didn’t know that a quiet legend was walking among us at the conference. His name is Dr. William Lock, who faithfully taught voice and church music for over 40 years at Biola University. And Dr. Lock has left an indelible mark on my life. He taught me to think critically about worship, church, and culture, and he was one of the first people to really encourage me as a writer. He gave me space to grow and wings to fly, and it’s high time I give this great mentor of mine a major shout out on this blog, which owes way too much to this man. 

Thursday
Dec042014

A Modern Trinitarian Confession Song, with Some Tradition Sprinkled In

In my chapter, "The Worship Leader and the Trinity," in Doxology and Theology, I try to give feet to how the people of God encounter Him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in worship. Sometimes, as church leaders we think too narrowly about the ways in which people can learn of and actually know God more deeply. We can think that our only recourse for people understanding and engaging God as Trinity is didactically, in the wooden sense of imparting knowledge and ideas through teaching and hearing. "Here, let me teach you that God is Triune, and let me unpack what that means"...kind of like a textbook, a chapter in a systematic theology, or a catechism. Classroom-style teaching like this is wonderful, but it is not the only way that people learn of and experience God as Triune. 

I began to wrestle with all of this several years ago, and it led me to several questions, including: 

  • What would it look like for the people of God to confess our sins in a Trinitarian shape?
  • Are there qualities of the Three Persons worth highlighting in the moment of confession?
  • What would three-ness-in-oneness look like in our confession?

My friend, Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia, and I began answering those questions in the form of a song. It became a confession that pulled in some historic words that the church has used in moments like these, as well.  It's called, "Father, Only in Your Power." We sing it all the time at Coral Ridge, and it's always powerful. Listen here, and allow me to explore the text.

Confessing to God the Father

1. Father, only in Your power
Can we ascend to You.
Help us, Father, we are helpless
To pay our righteous due.  

Among other things, God the Father is Law-maker, Law-articulator, source of Justice, and (along with Christ) Judge. He sets the standard and shows us the bar. As Father, he sets the pace for His household of kids (us). It makes sense, then, to highlight the helplessness which is immediately exposed when we encounter God the Father.

Confessing to God the Son

2. Jesus, only in Your weakness
can we your kingdom claim
Help us, Jesus, we are reckless
in self-destruction’s chains

Jesus, as Son, is our picture of Divine humility. He demonstrates God's love and power as self-sacrifice and submission. In His ministry on earth, Christ turned our concepts of power upside-down (well, really, rightside-up), exposing that we go about life all the wrong way. He gave us a vision of THE Kingdom that looks completely different than all the kingdoms we erect and admire, both in our individual hearts and in our corporate institutions. Our recklessness in seeking our own kingdom's gain is ultimately self-destructive, and it is the antithesis of the "abundant life" of the Son's Kingdom. We are exposed, again.

Confessing to God the Spirit

3. Spirit, only in Your presence
can we true union find.
Help us, Spirit, we are restless
Our soul’s divisions bind.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of peace and unity. He joins and unites the affections of the Father and Son (think about the fact that when Jesus prayed His most intimate prayer to the Father in John 17, he did so in the Spirit; or think about how at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the Spirit descended when the Father declared His pleasure in the Son). He joins us in union with God the Son that we might have fellowship with the Father. He unifies the Church as the Spirit of Truth. His presence exposes our discord, factiousness, barriers, and walls. He reveals our penchant for division with the other members of Christ's Body, and He casts a spotlight on all our internal division and self-conflict. We are internally and externally restless. We confess these things and more to the Spirit who is actively working to pursue the opposite in our lives and in our Church.

The Kyrie and Agnus Dei

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy 

Lamb of God,
Who takes away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us
Lamb of God,
Slain before the dawn of the world
Have mercy on us 

The Church, historically, had one very simple response to the problem of sin...the ancient cry, "Lord, have mercy." It's a cry that acknowledges helplessness, and it is the soil in which sola gratia (the doctrine of grace alone) grows. It is translated from the Latin, Kyrie, eleison.

Then, sung three times, the historic Agnus Dei (Latin for "Lamb of God"), which builds off Revelation 5 & 13, intensifies the plea of the Kyrie.

The Unifying Solution: The Blood of Christ

4. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Our ancient curse we own
Broken in the blood of Adam
The blood of Christ now show

As the song finishes, we "own our curse" by acknowledging we are culpable as blood-heirs of the first Adam, yet seeing hope in the blood of the Second, Greater Adam. As a true confession, it does not offer the words of God's gracious pardon to us (many modern songs of confession go there), but anticipates and demands them. This song needs to be followed up with God's gracious Word. We often sing "Nothing But the Blood" after a song like this.

"Father Only In Your Power"
Words & Music: Zac Hicks & Bruce Benedict, 2013
©2013 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP) / Cardiphonia Music
CCLI song #7006730
Friday
Apr052013

Hallel Psalms - A Joyful New Worship Compilation

Cardiphonia offers up yet another album full of great music, chiseled from the stone of liturgical history.  And this time, the liturgy is not just ancient.  It's from some of the earliest songs of doxological antiquity.  Psalms 113-118 are often called the "Egyptian Hallel":  "Egyptian," because these psalms as a body were used by ancient Jewish singers during Passover, which took place in Egypt; "Hallel," because that is the Hebrew word for for "praise," and these psalms in particular are full of joy and praise.  

Cardiphonia has focused on these songs to aid in the Church's sung vocabulary for this past and all future Holy Weeks.  What I love about Hallel Psalms (March 2013) is that, because the disciples themselves used these psalms during Passover (and therefore during our Holy Week, the last week of Christ before His crucifixion), here the church has a way to more fully rehearse the life of Christ in the Christian Calendar.  I've written more fully elsewhwere about what having a worship-oriented sense of time does to you, but here we have a way to dive even more deeply into holy week, putting on our lips the very same psalms that were on Jesus' and the disciples' lips during those fateful final days.  

Artists from across the Western world contributed to this flash mob project, and I'd encourage you to get it and support this worthy endeavor.  Some of my favorite "ear candy" songs are Nathan Partain's groovy, rhythmic "None But God (Psalm 113)," Rebekah Osborne's quirky, fun-loving "Praise the Lord with Glad Thanksgiving," Bruce Benedict's "When Jacob Out of Egypt Came (Psalm 114)," with its western-meets-70s vibe, splashed with Latin-style horns and Cake-esque guitar riffs, and Castle Island Hymns' electronic, ethereal, "How High (Psalm 113)."  One of my favorite tunes that I hear quite easily transferring into a simple contemporary context like mine at Coral Ridge is Jered McKenna's "Praise the Lord (Psalm 117)," which I could hear at a fast, driving tempo in addition to the mid-tempo version McKenna has recorded.  

Check it out, and support the great local artists and worship leaders who are faithfully serving their local assemblies of Christ's Church.  Finally, be sure to check out Cardiphonia's post about some of the artists, with a few helpful pieces of explanation.

 

Sunday
Nov112012

Cardiphonia's Songs for Liturgy and Our Contributions

As I grow deeper in kinship with Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia, one of the preeminent gifts I recognize in him is hospitality.  Over a year ago, I enjoyed room and board in his home and an inordinate amount of time out of a busy week in the life of a worship pastor in a growing young church.  His hospitality extends to the way he administrates Cardiphonia, an outfit dedicated resourcing the Church's hymn revitalization and liturgical renewal. Benedict draws artists, songwriters, and liturgical misfits into a holy heap, and Cardiphonia continues to resource the Church with faithful words to sing to our Maker.

Why the Album Exists

Songs for Liturgy, out last week, is an exciting move forward for Cardiphonia, and it probably represents a pivot-point for those of us on the path of theological depth, historical connectivity, biblical fidelity, and gospel centrality in worship.  Our journey on this path led us to fall in love with the rich, forgotten treasure chest of historic hymnody.  But, unbeknownst to many of us, heading down this road took us into the theological contexts which shaped these hymns, and the theologians who shaped these contexts.  We discovered that the Reformation--from whence many of our Protestant heroes came--was equally a reformation of worship as it was of doctrine...but this reformation wasn't a doxological overhaul as much as an attempt at refining by getting back to the sources of the early church and her fathers (this was most notably the quest of John Calvin).  As soon as the mystique of pre-Reformational worship practices was brought to more clarity, we found much value in understanding how the Church worshiped between the time of Christ and the time of the Reformation.  And we, in turn, fell in love with liturgy.

Philip Majorins, Co-Director of Liturgical Arts at Christ Church in Davis, CA, describes this journey in much the same way in his great introduction to the album's accompanying songbook:

This album is evidence that many Protestant church musicians have been reawakening to the deep and simple truths of the gospel that have been a part of Christian worship (in the East and the West) for centuries. It may sound odd for some of us to admit, but the shape of the gospel is tied up in the form of the historic Mass. Even more puzzling is that many of us steeped in the charisms of the Reformed tradition are “re” discovering that the historic mass was shaped by Scripture. The truth is, the Reformed tradition has never really rejected the shape of historic Christian worship. It has just been neglected. Consider these tunes a basic primer for those of us interested in going back to the sources from which faithful worship is apt to spring. The earlier rediscovery of hymnary, by these same musicians, has naturally lead to an uncovering of church music with even deeper roots in Holy Scripture and historic catholic faith.

Okay, so some of you are wincing right now.  The Zac of five years ago probably would have done the same.  But before your five-sola-vaccination starts preventing the invasion of the "catholic" virus, consider reading a book like Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship.  For me, it gave me a new appreciation for my (small "c") catholic (which means "universal") Christian faith when it came to the gospel-shaped worship practices that characterized the Church for centuries.

How Can Non-Liturgical Modern Worship Contexts Use this Resource?

The Doxology & Theology conference a few weeks ago has convinced me that a rising generation of young worship leaders is hungry for the gospel to be embedded more deeply into the life of the worship service.  The irony is that the historic Christian liturgy from which many of us modern worship leaders have departed is deeply Trinitarian and (therefore) gospel-saturated, and I'm convinced that many of these short songs could be quite effortlessly woven into a block-of-songs-style worship set, amplifying the gospel-story:   

  • McKenna's "The Brightness of God's Glory" (one of my favorite songs) works great as both a soft opening to worship, focusing us on the majesty of Christ or as a set-ending, helping us revel in the gospel
  • The several versions of the Kyrie, which is in its essence a confession, work well in the middle of a worship set to provide people, after encountering the greatness and holiness of God, some space to say with Isaiah, "woe is me."
  • The "Glorias" and Doxologies work to round off a time of singing about the gospel of Christ
  • Many of the songs, like versions of the Sanctus, work well during communion and actually put ancient worship words into the mouths of modern worshipers.
  • Many of the benedictions can be used at the end of a service (especially if the sermon went long and you need a short song :))

Our Contributions to the Project

For those of us on the journey, Songs for Liturgy is evidence of our attempts to give voice to the broad, historic Christian liturgy in our local contexts.  I was blessed to contribute two songs.  The first is a version of the Lord's Prayer, which contains echoes of Malotte's famous version, sans the huge operatic vocal range.  The melodic line is comparatively flattened out for ease of singing, but I preserved the values of held notes and phrasing, because I find them prayerful and meditative.  You can grab my lead sheet for it here.

The second contribution is what I call a "Benedixie."  It represents a bit of a journey in worship pastoring for me.  Every worship leader feels the pressure to squeeze their church's musical style into whatever the majority like best.  For many evangelical churches, this means a pretty set rock sound.  I love that sound, personally, but I find God always pushing my boundaries wider with the musicians He brings my way.  How am I supposed to fit a trombone and clarinet into an arena-worship rock ensemble?  Well, I can't.  But I can respond to God's providence by connecting what we do to styles that are both gripping for congregational music and fitting for the instruments provided.  Hence, New Orleans Dixie.  We'll see if it takes off in Denver.  :)  So here's our clap-happy benediction, "Lord Dismiss Us With Your Blessing," by John Fawcett.  Here's the lead sheet, and here's the clarinet and trombone score.  

And, I must give credit where credit is due.  This was very fun to record.

Austin Hogan - clarinet
Dave Strunk - trombone
Connor DeFehr - tuba
Cathie Detwiler, Paige Wilson, & Strunk - vocals 

 

Wednesday
Aug152012

Open Our Eyes: A Worship Song Based on Luke 24

Emmaus Road (Stained Glass)The Story

Ever since my conversion to a more sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper, and upon reading Henri Nouwen's, With Burning Hearts, I've been captivated by that odd encounter that Jesus had with two downcast sojourners on the Emmaus Road after Christ's crucifixion, recorded in Luke 24.  

Several things about that encounter keep fascinating me:

  • The sojourners "were kept from recognizing" Jesus for a long time (v 16)
  • Part of what began lifting their spirits was when Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (v 27); so Jesus "preached Himself" from the Old Testament!
  • While Jesus preached, their "hearts burned" (v 32)
  • God allowed them to recognize Jesus only after He broke the bread (vv 31-32)

Good exegetes who look for "authorial intent" would notice that Luke's description of this whole encounter is loaded with early Christian worship language.  Emmaus Road is an encounter of Word and sacrament, the two main pillars of Christian worship from the beginning (read Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Worship for more on this).

When I heard that the Gospel Coalition was summoning submissions for worship songs based on the book of Luke, I felt a nearly immediate summons to figure out how to capture chapter 24 in music.  I also knew that my good friend over at Cardiphonia, Bruce Benedict, would be the perfect songwriting partner, (1) because he shares my passion for this understanding of Luke 24, and (2) because many of his songwriting strengths shine where mine are weakest.  (Read his post on the song.)  Bruce emailed me, in short order, the anchor verses, and then I added a few more verses and a chorus and set those things to a simple tune.  Bruce tweaked the tune, tweaked my verses...then we went back and forth on some finer points of precision about theology and themes...and then Bruce passed on the words and music for the bridge, and voila, we had a song.

What I Love

Here's what I love about this song:

  • Musically, it's singable, fairly simple, and has a good dynamic and melodic contour
  • Textually, it's dense with both experience and Truth, and it's loaded with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ and the theological vision of the book of Hebrews
  • Experientially, it makes corporate the individuals' experiences in Luke 24--burning hearts, opening eyes
  • Theologically, it embodies the Greek concept of remembrance/anamnesis with a strong emphasis on the Trinitarian causality of that remembrance (the Trinity causes us to remember Himself in Word and sacrament)

The Song

In my opinion, this song works great alongside celebration of the Lord's Supper or as an Offertory or song of preparation leading into the preaching of the Word.  It works equally well at the top of a service as the call to worship or song of gathering.  It's quite flexible, I think.  

I recorded a simple demo with piano and guitars, and afterward Bruce and I received some great constructive feedback from our friend and gifted author, musician, worship leader, and songwriter, Greg Scheer.  The recording doesn't reflect some of the subtle melodic changes from Scheer's comments, but the below text reflects those minor revisions in the lyrics that post-date the demo.  Bruce and I hope you enjoy it and maybe even utilize it in your worship.

Listen to it

(Download/listen to the mp3

Lyrics

When we see the risen Savior
In the bread that He has blessed,
He becomes the living Servant, 
Heavenly food for holy rest.

Stay with us, for day is fading,
Feast with us, O secret King;
Show to us how Scripture's story
Speaks of You in everything.

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Jesus, show Yourself the author 
And perfecter of our faith;
In Your living and Your dying,
Consummation of God's grace.

From creation to the exile,
Incarnation to the grave,
Resurrection to ascension,
Come, Lord Jesus, come to save!

Do not our hearts burn brightly now?
For You're here among us now. 

Open our eyes to see You, Christ,
Risen, ascended, reigning high;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You.

Feed us with living bread above;
Bind us in union with Your love;
Open our eyes, open our eyes to You. 

You're the Word that spoke creation;
You're the End of Moses' law;
You're the Goal of Abra'am's blessing;
You're the King whom David saw.

You're the Day the prophets longed for;
You're the covenant of grace;
You're the hero of the Scriptures;
Now we see You face to face.

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

You remember God the Father,
You remember God the Son,
You remember God the Spirit
In the hearts of those You've won. 

(Pre-Chorus & Chorus)

So Jesus, show Yourself the Prophet,
Jesus, show Yourself the King,
Jesus, show Yourself the Priest,
All in all, and everything. 

Words & Music: Bruce Benedict & Zac Hicks, 2012
(c) 2012 Cardiphonia Music & Unbudding Fig Music 

The Theology

A final set of thoughts, if you care to read on.  Here are the doctrines and theological ideas explored in this song. See if you can find them in the text (some of them I've already pointed out).

  • anamnesis / remembrance
  • Trinity
  • the three-fold office of Christ
  • union with Christ
  • covenant theology
  • typology
  • active and passive obedience of Christ
  • eschatology
  • sabbath
  • eucharist as festal celebration
  • soteriology - significance of not only the crucifixion, but the resurrection, ascension, and second coming
  • heavenly session of Christ at the Father's right hand
Monday
Aug062012

Observations on the State of Modern Worship from the National Worship Leader Conference

The National Worship Leader Conference (NWLC) held every year in Leawood, KS is a sight to behold.  It really is an off-the-chain modern worship “concentrate.”  Many of the big name Contemporary Worship Music (CWM) industry artists and leaders are there with bells on, and the multitudinous breakout sessions range from the pragmatic to the philosophical.  It’s a wonderful place to get immersed in this world, to learn much about it, and to bounce thoughts off it. I spent much of the conference with roomies and compatriots Bruce Benedict and Wen Reagan, and I must say that one of the most helpful things to do is to reflect with thoughtful folks like these guys as the experience is happening.  If any of you out there are thinking about going to conferences in the future, make sure to experience it with others as it's happening.  Your takeaways, growth, and formation are multiplied.  Bruce has posted his reflections here.  They're critical but important.  So here are my reflections:

Scholarship is finally emerging which takes contemporary worship seriously enough to analyze it.  I was able to spend time with four individuals all at the conference, who are writing for and publishing on the CWM industry:

  • Lester Ruth, Duke Divinity School
  • Reggie Kidd, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
  • Monique Ingalls, Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Cambridge
  • Wen Reagan, PhD candidate, Duke Divinity School

Their writings are no joke.  Dr. Ruth has done a lot of reflection on Trinitarian theology as it relates to modern worship.  Drs. Ruth & Kidd are "mirror-reflecting" how ancient Christian worship practices can interact with strengths and weaknesses in the movement.  Dr. Ingalls is researching from a musicological perspective and is on her way to publishing an edited work of fresh interdisciplinary interaction with modern worship, including a chapter on Israel Houghton by Wen Reagan.  In my conversations with all four of these folks, I am impressed by their intense academic rigor and acumen coupled with a gracious, humble posture to engage from within rather than criticize from without.  This emerging scholarship will be a great asset to the continued growth, health, and development of the modern worship movement.

The industry is attempting to be conversant with this thoughful scholarship.  I had the privilege of meeting and having a brief conversation with Chuck Fromm, the guru over Worship Leader Magazine and the NWLC.  Aside from being approachable and amiable, I was struck by Chuck's obvious learnedness.  Along with Wen Reagan (a friend and PhD student at Duke University), I got to briefly discuss aspects of Dr. Fromm's PhD dissertation from Fuller Seminary many years back, integrating the discipline of sociology with reflections on the early contemporary Maranatha! movement.  Chuck's own appreciation for the influence of the academy is evident in the room he made for the above-mentioned scholars to impact and interact with the conference-participants.  He gave Dr. Ingalls a platform to share some of her reflections (emerging from her cover story article in the most recent edition of Worship Leader Magazine), and Drs. Ruth and Kidd both held outstanding breakout sessions on many of the aforementioned topics.

Modern worship is, perhaps, witnessing a turning point toward eclectic styles.  Notwithstanding a few exceptions, contemporary worship has largely been stylistically monolithic over the last 30 years.  What I mean is that even as styles have changed (from folk, to light adult-contemporary, to alt rock, etc.), they've changed together, such that one could observe a general "sound" that characterized the majority of western, largely white, suburban contemporary/modern worship.  It seems like this is changing.  Rend Collective Experiment, for instance, came off as a very amped up, Mumford-meets-Dropkick-Murphys (so definitely no U2/Coldplay vibes), and yet they were accepted and appreciated with great enthusiasm.  A similar sense was felt with All Sons & Daughters.  And this was all alongside acoustic-pop Paul Baloche, in-your-face-rock Elevation Worship, and (I won't attempt to describe him) Israel Houghton.  Perhaps modern worship has always had its fringe ecclecticism, but I wonder whether this diversity will infiltrate the core in the coming years with the increased tribalization of worship music and independent artists.  Though the labels still run these folks, you can feel the impact of the independent worship recording anti-industry when you witness this trajectory toward a splintering of the contemporary/modern worship "sound."

Modern worship has a great heart and has captured an important aspect of what whole-self worship looks like in the corporate setting.  Whenever I'm in large, bombastic modern worship settings like this one, I'm continually impressed by the fervency of many worshipers.  You see it in bodies and faces.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: What modern worship has to offer to the larger worshiping body of worldwide Christianity is one model of what full-bodied worship looks like.  Though I am a mind-body dualist, I've been jamming recently on viewing the human being, body and soul, as a unified whole.  Sometimes our dualism has allowed us to excuse bodyless, "inner-heart" worship as appropriate and adequate.  But it seems to me that the scriptural call, modeled in the Old Testament's whole burnt offering and the New Testament's gospel-response of bodily living sacrifices as our spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1), is a corporate worship expression that includes the body as well as the soul.  Though we may critique aspects of the way CWM engages the corporate expression, an open heart witnesses something much more "shalom-ish" in CWM settings than it does a lot of other places.  I'm grateful that this challenge is always brought to me to be more invested, more whole-hearted, and more full-bodied.  (Check out other posts on this subject here.)

Modern worship has a healthy self-awareness of its quirks.  Savvy, cynical outsiders like to tease the odd stage mannerisms, predictable hairstyles, skinny jeans, v-necked shirts, Coldplay-emulating, U2-rehashing, kick-thumping sameness of the modern worship leader culture.  More than once at the NWLC, some of those big names (e.g. Paul Baloche, Laura Story) were poking fun at themselves and their cohorts.  More than that, some of them were calling for a more sensible approach to the rock show aesthetics (lights, haze), even as the "show" would be in full gear every night.  They are aware of themselves, which means they probably haven't been oblivious to their critics.

Modern worship continues very much to struggle with ageism and the worship of young, beautiful people.  With a few exceptions, all the highlighted artists were either actually young or quite young-looking.  Virtually no one was ugly or overweight (by our cultural standards).  This continues to be a problem which affects churches on a local level.  It's really hard to see how this will change apart from miraculous divine intervention.  It is a deep-seated, nasty reality.  It is idolatrous, and I find my own heart all too often tempted to bow to this god (check out my post on ageism in modern worship leading for more on this).

Regardless of their denomination, many modern worship leaders are oblivious to how beholden their practices and worship planning habits are to pentecostal theology.  In almost every instance, if there was a breakout session with an artist or practitioner, their language and reflection were loaded with pentecostal presuppositions: comments about the human's relationship to the causality of God's manifest presence and the power of the Spirit; quips about the role of the worship leader; hints at internally-oriented, very individualized piety; and on and on.  Whether Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, or non-denominational, it's still a bit discouraging to see that many worship leaders see no tension between the theology upheld by their tradition and the praxis of much of modern worship.

The CWM industry/movement still lacks adequate reflection on technology.  I have been observing the industry for long enough and have jumped in its stream many times now to believe wholeheartedly that CWM's unbridled use of technology (sound, lighting, projection) is moving much faster than any accompanying theological reflection. Thoughtful authors and reflectors are certainly asking the probing questions, but conferences like the NWLC show that they haven't been heard and are far from being answered.  Questions may include: (1) How do we reflect the "otherness" of God in a screen-/image-saturated culture? (2) How is our use of fast-paced technology shaping us in our ability to attend to the drama and elements of corporate worship? (3) What place does the spoken word have in a media culture dominated by the image? (4) How do big up-front productions encourage and hinder the corporate singing and participation of the people of God?  

Alright.  There you have it.  What say ye?

Thursday
May242012

Newest FREE Cardiphonia Record Resets Old Ascension Hymns

Those of us that are part of the retuned hymn movement speak in our more internal discussions about the various "waves" of the movement, and Bruce Benedict at Cardiphonia certainly has continued to be one of the leading forces in the second or third wave.  Cardiphonia has now established a pattern of "flash mob" compilation recordings, gathering various artists from various parts of the country with various stylistic bents.  Their latest album, out this week, is Hymns for the Ascension, centering on that important but under-appreciated event of Jesus' departure from earth to His rightful seat of power and advocacy in heaven (check out my post about why the Ascension is really, really important).  In my opinion, the songwriting and production quality of the Cardiphonia compilations continues to get better and better.  

For churches that don't follow the liturgical year, is this album of any value?  Are any of these songs usable?  Certainly.  For folks in those contexts, I'd encourage you to think about how the ascension highlights aspects of the gospel we tend to talk about less.  When we sing the gospel, we most often talk about the cross, atonement, forgiveness, and sacrifice.  But the beauty of the gospel goes deeper.  The ascension highlights these aspects:

  • Jesus as our priestly mediator
  • Jesus as our advocate, "pleading the merit of His blood" before the Judge
  • Jesus as Ruler and King

 The second point is especially gripping to me.  Jesus prays for us!  He goes to bat for us before the Father.  Imagine the kind of ministry that would take place among our people if we sung about that more often!  So, you don't need to be "liturgical" to make use of this album; we don't need an ascension-themed Sunday to get mileage out of singing about the ascension.  

I will also say that the quality, artistry, and even quirks of this album (my song included) shouldn't take away our ability as worship leaders and planners, to do the job of "listening through" the songs to hear their basic melodic and chord structure.  Sometimes, we get so caught up in the production that quite singable songs sound unsingable.  That's the perennial tension of the "recorded product."  Nevertheless, many of these songs are congregationally friendly in a surprisingly diverse amount of worship contexts.  I will hopefully be incorporating at least one of these even in our traditional service (Majorins' beautiful "God Ascended").

Best yet, it's FREE, and any donations go to Jobs for Life.  Check it out!  (I'll post on my song and behind-the-scenes composition choices soon.)

Wednesday
Feb012012

Recent Discussions on the State of Christian Music in the West

As of late, there have been some very important reflections on the state of Christian music (whatever you think of the phrase, I'm using it as shorthand).  Two weeks ago, I had a face-to-face discussion with a man who's been in the industry for quite some time, working for some pretty influential major labels.  For an industry-insider, he was surprisingly blunt about the industry, sharing a lot of critique centering around basically two realities (which many people have pointed out): (1) for much of the industry, the bottom line is the dollar; (2) the industry is unfortunately interested in celebrity-making and therefore have certain criteria for how they select artists.

Several industry insiders and outsiders have been talking in the last few months with some very important observations.  I'll highlight three.

Bobby Gilles - My Song in the Night
"Can We Trust the Contemporary Worship Industry"
Thorough and balanced reflections on the state of the industry, ultimately concluding that it is neither completely guilty nor totally innocent. 

Michael Gungor
"Zombies, Wine, and Christian Music"
A successful artist from within the industry (signed with Integrity) prophetically rails against the industry in a post laced with cynicism.    

Bruce Benedict - Cardiphonia
"Observations on the New Hymns Movement"
 ( Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 )
In preparation for a discussion at the Calvin Symposium, Benedict put together some thoughts about the emergence of the rediscovery of hymns and the retuning of them among emerging adult generations.  Among other things, his reflections emphasize how the movement emerged as a reaction to the mainstream industry.  Part 3 is the most intriguing in this respect, because he highlights, ultimately, that this reaction cannot, in and of itself, solve the problem, because the retuned hymns movement needs to be complemented with other aspects of church music.