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Entries in charles wesley (7)


A Great Invocation to Kick off Good Friday...or any Service

For our Good Friday service at Coral Ridge this year, we will begin the evening with an Invocation for piano, strings, and voices (though it really could be reset in a bunch of different ways, from choir and organ to folk). It's called "Come Witness This Gospel to Me," off our new album, Come and Make Us Free. Personally, it's my favorite on the album and probably took the most out of me to write, which is saying a lot, given how emotionally charged the album is.

The truth is that this isn't just a Good Friday text. It's an Invocation for any service of the year. After all, worship is nothing more and nothing less than God's divine service to us, where the Father showcases the glory of the Son through the witness of the Spirit.

Below is the text, but if you want a peek behind the curtain to see what I was thinking theologically and experientially when I wrote it, check out the article just published on LIBERATE: "He Saw the Whole Bloody Thing Go Down."

One little note about the recording: I love the way the strings always sag on the underside of the pitch. It makes the song feel more heavy and grievous. It's like they're both the mourning of the Spirit and our straining to believe.

Happy Remembrancing.

Come Witness This Gospel to Me

chord chart | lead sheet | piano music


1. O Holy Spirit, O One who was there
To witness the anger that God didn't spare
To witness a verdict both just and unfair
O Holy Spirit, O One who was there 

2. You saw on His face all the judgment of hell
My story of shame that I cannot untell
How heavy my burden of blame when it fell!
You saw on His face all the judgment of hell 

Come witness this gospel to me
Remembrancer, this is my plea:
Preach Christ till He's all that I see
Come witness this gospel to me 

3. You saw in His dying the death of my sin
The Son's bleeding body, I'm hidden therein
Where all of my poison He drank deep within
You saw in His dying the death of my sin 

4. You're preaching a grace that is forever free
There's no condemnation, no wrath left for me
I hear "It is finished" from Calvary's tree
You're preaching a grace that is forever free 

Now witness this gospel to me
Remembrancer, cause me to see
That Christ is my one victory
Now witness this gospel to me 

You witness this gospel to me
Forgiveness eternally free
And always Your child I will be
You witness this gospel to me 

O Spirit, the truth I now see
You witness this gospel to me

Words & Music: Zac Hicks, 2014
©2014 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP)

Just Some Indie Electro-Pop Neo-Anglican Meditations on the Great Litany, that's all

I am currently listening to an impossible sound. It's a beautiful collision of two things that don't normally go together: liturgy and pop-electronica. Charles Wesley would probably have no categories to what has been done with his "Hymns for Our Lord's Resurrection" from 1746. In it is a nine-stanza hymn, "Jesus Show Us Thy Salvation," which Cardiphonia describes as Wesley's riff on the lengthy Anglican prayer, The Great Litany. Cardiphonia has chosen to set each stanza apart in its own song, creating a nine-track record of meditations that aren't meant to be sung by congregations but heard and pondered. The album is called, To Heaven Restored: Songs for the Great Litany.

The production is marvelous, and the songs are creative and diverse. I hear tinges of Sufjan ("7. By the Pomp of Thine Ascending"), Odelay-era Beck ("6. From the World of Care Release Us"), 8-bit Nintendo jazz ("8. Glorious Head, Triumphant Savior"), Postal Service ("3. Unkempt Untempted," "9. By the Coming of Thy Spirit"), and then many other things that defy categorization and association. 

If you're looking for a different angle on preparing and nourishing your heart this Holy Week (or any time, for that matter), go get Cardiphonia's latest gift to the Church. If you're just streaming it on bandcamp, you'll notice that they're releasing a new song every day of Holy Week, but you can get the whole album immediately just by purchasing it there or in the widget below.  And go read more about it over at Cardiphonia!


An Interview with the Maker of the Modern Worship Hymns Album, Love Divine

As most of you know, a major focal point of this blog is the intersection of ancient and modern in worship, with a particular eye toward dialogue between mainstream modern worship and historic hymnody.  Several months back, I highlighted a preview of the album, Love Divine, which, as a compilation project of mainstream modern worship leaders singing re-tuned texts of Charles Wesley, is a significant achievement toward the end of the coming together of these two worlds.

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A Significant Achievement in Bridging the Hymns Movement and Mainstream Modern Worship

Last Friday, the blog gave away a beautiful re-tuning of the famous Wesley hymn, “And Can it Be.”  Worshiptogether is the unifying umbrella-brand under which almost all the major heavy-hitters in mainstream modern worship reside.  Besides the fact that this version of “And Can it Be” is very tasteful and inspiring (I’ve heard some that don’t quite hit the mark), there is a bigger story behind this track.  It is a part of an entire album called Love Divine, scheduled for US release through EMI CMG on April 19, 2011, whose subtitle reads: “The Songs of Charles Wesley for Today’s Generation.”

Screeeeeeeeeeeeech!  What?  Folks, this is a big deal.  Let me try to paint the picture for you (keep in mind that these are broad-brush generalizations).  Contemporary worship, birthed in the 70s, matured in the 80s and 90s, and firmly established in the early 2000s, began as an anti-traditional movement.  It emerged out of a youth culture that despised hardened religiosity and sought authentic, meaningful, intimate fellowship and relationship with Jesus.  For this generation, the traditional hymns of the church were a chief illustration of the deadness they were reacting against.  Contemporary worship was lyrically anti-traditional—texts were simple, not complex; forms were repetitive, not through-composed; subject-matter was intimate, not transcendent.  It was musically anti-traditional—classical choirs and organ were out; pop bands were in.

This is not to say that the contemporary worship fully abandoned hymnody.  They kept a few hymns.  But they kept them on their terms.  The evidence of this is found that for every contemporary worship “hymns” album out there, the same twenty or so hymns are being recycled (e.g. “How Great Thou Art,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” etc.), with very little awareness that the hundreds of years prior to but especially after the Protestant Reformation yielded a treasure trove of thousands upon thousands of verses of glorious ecclesiastical poetry (see, for example, the comments in my review of the iWorship hymns album).  Some have asked me if I was excited to see Passion produce a hymns album (Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2004), and my response was, “a little.”  It was encouraging, but it was still a rendering of the more popular hymns that betrayed a lack of true engagement of modern worship with the Christian hymn tradition.

But, in less than a month, the modern worship world will be treated to this track-listing, from these fairly well-known mainstream modern worship artists:

01) I Know That My Redeemer Lives – Tim Hughes (of “Here I Am to Worship”)
02) Rejoice The Lord Is King – John Ellis
03) And Can It Be – Jason Roy (of Building 429)
04) Jesus We Look To Thee – Kim Walker-Smith (of Jesus Culture)
05) Jesus Lover Of My Soul – Chris Eaton
06) Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – Brian Johnson
07) Praise The Lord Who Reigns Above – Leigh Nash (of Sixpence None the Richer)
08) Jesus The Name High Over All – Chris Quilala (of Jesus Culture)
09) O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing – Chris McClarney
10) Love Divine – Jenn Johnson (of Bethel Live)
11) Christ The Lord Is Risen Today – Aaron Keyes
12) Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies – Mark Roach
13) O For A Heart To Praise my God – Brenton Brown (of “Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing),” and a lot of others)

What is significant about this track-listing is that the songwriters who pulled these artists together (Chris Eaton and John Hartley) have drilled down deep into hymnody.  They did some research.  They were aware.  They acknowledged that the texts written by Charles Wesley over two hundred years ago have lasting value for modern worship today.  This album, from an historical standpoint in church music, is much more significant than Passion’s hymns album. 

I have to believe that the influence of the hymns movement is coming of age.  Something important has taken place.  Modern worship is continuing to turn its head backward as it moves forward.  I do not know how closely the tracks on Love Divine will stick to the original texts of Wesley.  I do not know whether all the arrangements will be as appealing as the one I heard.  But I have high hopes, and I look forward to hearing and reviewing this album, Lord-willing.  I hope there will be more like it.

If this album intrigues you, there is a wonderful, lengthy description, with many helpful details, over at 


When Calvinism Goes Awry: David Bazan's Falling Out

I’m a little behind in my indie-rock listening.  In the late 90s and early 2000s, I was a big fan of indie band, Pedro the Lion.  My indie/emo-dude roommate in college took me to a show in a little club in LA (called Chain Reaction at the time) where I witnessed the mesmerizing performance that cut against the grain of any other rock show I’d ever been to.  David Bazan, the front man, was (and is) a prophet.  His lazy, half-drunk vocals are refreshing against American Idol-style pop singing.  (People ask me why I love hymns artist Christopher Miner's recordings, and I just tell them, "Pedro the Lion.") RELEVANT Magazine, along with a few online indie periodicals, have chronicled Bazan’s trip through married life, having a child, and the alcoholism that has plagued him in recent years.  Bazan has moved from some kind of faith in Jesus to a general agnosticism about God.  This has bewildered many young Christians who hailed Bazan as their generation’s voice.  I would probably count myself as part of that bewildered generation.

I remember hearing a live bootlegged recording of Bazan singing Wesley’s hymn “And Can it Be,” believing it to be one of the best, most authentic renditions of any hymn or worship song I had ever heard.  In fact, hearing that recording still moves me.

As some reporters have noted, and based on my admittedly limited view of Bazan’s life and circumstances, it appears that what drove Bazan over the edge into agnosticism was a Calvinism gone wrong.  This seems confirmed for me in Bazan’s bitter song, “When We Fell.”  The song breaks my heart, because it lays out what opponents of Calvinism often consider to be the logical conclusion of a robust view of God’s sovereignty.  I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves:

with the threat of hell hanging over my head like a halo
i was made to believe in a couple of beautiful truths
that eventually had the effect of completely unraveling
the powerful curse put on me by you
when you set the table
and when you chose the scale
did you write a riddle
that you knew they would fail
did you make them tremble
so they would tell the tale
did you push us when when we fell
if my mother cries when i tell her what i have discovered
then i hope she remembers she taught me to follow my heart
and if you bully her like you’ve done me with fear of damnation
then i hope she can see you for what you are
what am i afraid of
whom did i betray
in what medieval kingdom does justice work this way
if you knew what would happen and made us just the same
then you , my lord, can take the blame

This makes me shudder.  The opening chapter of John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (Sanders, along with Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd, is one of the chief proponents of a radical view of divine sovereignty known as “open theism”) lays out a similar reaction to a Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty.  Philosophically, opponents of Calvinism would say that determinism collapses into fatalism.  This is what Bazan is saying in his song, with its blasphemous closing line. 

I don’t have space to lay out why determinism does not collapse into fatalism.  Philosopher-theologians like John Feinberg, John Frame, and Douglas Groothuis* have done a far better job than I ever could.  I’d only like to point out  that there are views of determinism which hold in tension (not contradiction) God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, which help put Calvinism at philosophical rest…without letting go of the affirmations of Scripture, and without affirming a contradiction.  The view I hold to is most often called “compatibilism” or “soft determinism.”  Another view I highly respect, but do not personally hold to, is often called “Calvinistic Molinism.”  I’m not throwing out terms to name-drop but to provide tools for further research if this is an area that interests you.  Googling goes a long way these days. 

What concerns me about Bazan’s take is that it begins existentially rather than Scripturally (the same criticism is often given to Sanders' work, the opening chapter of which is a testimonial of a tragic event which drove him to question a high view of God's sovereignty).  Bazan observes his life and circumstances and concludes that what Scripture says about God must not be true.  However, if God exists and has revealed Himself in the Scriptures, then the proper modus operandi is to let Scripture inform and define our reality, not the other way around.  I don’t think that such an observation would be at all persuasive to Bazan, and my goal is not to “re-convert” him.  Only the Spirit can do that work.  I simply want to re-affirm some solid truths of Christian faith in the face of some real and challenging problems. 

The hard reality for Bazan is that he’s lost the type of influence he once had.  Pedro the Lion’s album Control remains one of the most prophetic albums I have ever heard (next to their other album Winners Never Quit).  By moving to agnosticism, Bazan has lost the foundation that makes his prophetic voice valid—external revelation from a higher source.  When you listen to Control, you are arrested by the penetrating cultural analysis Bazan makes, set against the backdrop of the ethics of God.  He cannot make those analyses anymore.  And it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to.  So, while Bazan continues to exert influence, it is one of a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.  Yahweh is not supplying the foundation for his words. 

The only thing I’m holding out for is that perhaps Bazan, with his songwriting in the last few years, is taking the concept of persona to new depths.  Could he be putting on a different self, so real, that even he is convinced he is who he says he is?  I think I may be scraping for that one…


*The works that have influenced me most:
John Frame, The Doctrine of God: A Theology of Lordship. Phillipsburg: P&R, 2002.
John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil. Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.
Douglas Groothuis (see his forthcoming apologetics text from IVP)
R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism.  Downers Grove: IVP, 1996.


A Great Worship Song on the Holy Spirit

We're heading toward the season of Pentecost.  I've been on the prowl for a good worship song on the Holy Spirit.  Surprisingly, though evangelical modern worship is most influenced by Pentecostalism, there are few songs of quality which deal with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. 

My friend in North Carolina, Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia (a robust site with all kinds of resources and reflections on worship and liturgy), has set an old Charles Wesley hymn, "Come, Thou Everlasting Spirit," to new music.  The arrangement is great.  It's a singable melody with nice movement.  Here are the first three verses:

Come, Thou everlasting Spirit,
Bring to every thankful mind
All the Savior’s dying merit,
All His sufferings for mankind!

True Recorder of His passion,
Now the living faith impart;
Now reveal His great salvation;
Preach His Gospel to our heart.

Come, Thou Witness of His dying;
Come, Remembrancer divine!
Let us feel Thy power, applying
Christ to every soul, and mine!

Who writes texts like these nowadays?  Anyway, check out the post for the full song text and an mp3.


old hymns, new music...NOT a new thing

Every innovative endeavor is bound to receive some backlash... And I've certainly had my share of less than enthusiastic comments about my re-setting of old hymn texts to new music.  Tonight is an evening where I feel like proffering a response. Sometimes I encounter old hymn lovers who give off the air (or say explicitly) that they don't appreciate old hymns being tinkered with, tampered with, even desecrated.  Perhaps some are aware (but I find that many are not) that such a practice of setting old texts to new melodies for modern ears and new generations of Christian assemblies has seen many iterations over church history.  Even more ironic is that some of the beloved hymns that I and my hymns movement cohorts are accused of desecrating are already once-over desecrated texts.  Perhaps, then, for the person unfamiliar with the history of hymnody, I'll crack open the door of just how historic re-hymning truly is by offering a brief sketch of one man, Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Mason was a Massachusettes-born Georgia boy, banker turned church musician.  After the explosive heyday of Watts and Wesley (when they shifted in the eyes of the church from being the contemporary movers and shakers to being the more staid, "traditional" hymns...funny how that works), notwithstanding some notable hymns and hymnwriters in between, church song was growing stale.  The old hymns felt tired, and worshipers wanted more fresh hymns for a new era in evangelicalism.  The flurry of the first Great Awakening had come and gone, and the revival dust was settling.  Mason observed American congregations, saddened by the lifelessness in the singing.  He commented:

“Go where we may into the place of worship…when the singing commences…the congregation are either on the one hand gazing at the select performers to admire the music, or on the other expressing their dissatisfaction by general symptoms of restlessness.”*
Mason was dissatisfied with lifelessness and decided to do something about it.  He did so, not by shirking the traditions but by re-expressing them in modern ways.  He began affixing new tunes, melodies, and chord structures to glorious old hymn texts...a musical garb he believed modern listeners in his day would appreciate and resonate with.  Check out the impressive list that the nethymnal offers of over 80 new tunes Mason composed here.  Let me point out a few hymns that Mason re-hymned: Joy to the World! A Watts hymn written in 1719...the original tune of which was certainly not what we sing today!  Mason took the music of G. F. Handel and arranged it for congregational singing...a tune that is now immortally tied to this text. There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. William Cowper's 1772 hymn saw new light when Mason re-energized it and hymns of the same meter for modern ears.  Interestingly, the tune that we often sing with it today (not Mason's tune) is a 19th century camp song (ah, those silly youth and their wild music!). When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This beloved 1707 Watts hymn was not sung to the tune we know and love, until Mason came along and wrote "Hamburg" in 1824, blessing the church in perpetuity. The list could go on. In the light of this, it's quite ironic when hard and fast hymn-lovers criticize folks like myself who attempt to clothe old hymns in new music.  Were it not for the members of the "hymns movement" of old, like Lowell Mason, they would not have some of their most beloved hymns!  Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Sojourn Community Church, Sovereign Grace...they're not doing anything new.  They're recycling a repeated practice in church music history--giving back historic hymns to the modern church by re-setting them with new tunes and instrumentation. Though some traditional hymn lovers criticize this practice, at the end of the day we join hands with the same burden.  It's a burden to see to it that great hymns don't lose their place in the changing church.  Some hymn lovers believe that the only way to relieve this burden is to dig one's heels in and keep singing them the way they've always been sung.  Re-tuning them is a transgression too far across the line.  I humbly disagree, because, though I share their burden not only for the texts but the music, I find that the loss of music is by far and away the lesser of two evils (and sometimes the loss of music is not an evil at all, but a great some of those horrid tunes need to be put in the grave! :)).  I've waded long enough in the stream of modern worship to know that "sing em our way or the highway" will only polarize, divide, and push away.  For now, modern worship, for better or worse, is tied to a certain set of musical priorities and parameters, and the music is not ancillary to the worship expression but part of the DNA of what draws worshipers to that style (which, as history tells, will change, too). So all we're doing in the hymns movement is attempting to be 21st century Masons.  We believe in the power of these old texts.  Therefore, with our musical ability, we'll attempt to smuggle them in modern music, so that perhaps some might give them a hearing and be pleasantly surprised when a poetic profundity socks them in the gut, drawing them deeper into knowledge, insight, wisdom, and the worship of God. And if this little post can't convince some of my criticizers that what I'm doing is worthwhile, at least perhaps it can take some of the blinders off, curing historical myopia. *Thomas Hastings, Biblical Repertory, July 1829, pp. 414, 415

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