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Tuesday
Jul192016

Concerns about the Resurgence of Liturgy

Tongue firmly in cheek: I’m beginning to think that Santayana’s quip, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” should be added to Scripture, because it has proven to be pretty infallible. (Okay, okay, it shouldn’t be added to Scripture…it lacks apostolicity, universality, etc., etc.)

Sound Familiar?

My new context at Cathedral Church of the Advent has me reflecting a lot on the history of the Church of England, and right now I’ve been fixated upon the events of the mid- to late-1800s, which served to influence radical shifts in both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States. We take many of those changes for granted today. It’s downright SHOCKING to read about the controversies of this era and what the debating parties said and believed. (Let’s just say that one pastor issued brass knuckles to his congregants as a result of this turmoil. I’m not kidding.) And there are some very uncomfortable parallels with some trends in modern American evangelicalism that make me at least a little more concerned about the resurgence of liturgical interest among folks like me.

Anyone who is interested in, dabbling in, swimming in, drowning in historic liturgy needs to be aware of what is variously called the “Oxford Movement” or the “Tractarian Movement.” In the nineteenth century, there arose a group of pastors, churchmen (and women), and leaders in England who were finding life in the rediscovery of the church’s forgotten traditions of the pre-Reformation era. Spurred on by some probably healthy desires to connect the worship and life of the church with more ancient tethers, young pastors and leaders like Edward Pusey (1800-1882), John Henry Newman (1801-1890), John Keble (1792-1866), and John Mason Neale (1818-1866) were digging through history like pirates finding buried treasure. They were enthralled by the beauty, mystery, reverence, transcendence, color, and life of old, forgotten hymns of the church and liturgical practices long cast aside. Sound familiar?

I Empathize...Deeply

I share, quite deeply, many of these sentiments. When I was first starting out as a “professional” worship leader, the recovery of old hymns and liturgical prayers and practices lit my fire. And it still does. In fact, John Mason Neale was (and still is) a hero to me. Many don’t realize that the Oxford Movement’s retrieval of forgotten hymns gave us some of the greats that we would not otherwise have. Classic example: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” a 12th century medieval Latin hymn (Veni, veni Emmanuel! Captivum solve Israel!) that Neale re-discovered and translated into English so that we, even today, weep every Christmas as we cry out for our longed-for Messiah. I can only hope that as I and others retune and re-give old hymns to the 21st century church, maybe something similar will be recovered, restored, and perpetuated for the sake of Christ’s church. However…

Always and Only for the Sake of the Gospel

The more I am reading quotations and analyses of the first hand accounts of the Oxford Movement, the more concerned I am that we who care about retrieving historic practices of the church take heed of the now encrusted and (in my opinion) negative consequences of the movement’s success. Cutting to the chase, the movement was so dazzled by “the beauty of the liturgy” and the connectivity with the ancient that the core of what made those things valuable and gave those things life—namely, the Gospel—was obscured, if not lost.

Brothers and sisters, recovery of hymns and liturgy must never be for its own sake, but always for the Gospel’s. The only thing that should dazzle us is God on a cross. All rituals, practices, formalities, and ancient accouterments should aid and abet that one reality. Insofar as ancient liturgy and historic hymns lead us to wonderment at the fact that while we are great sinners, Christ is a great Savior, I say, “Bring it on.”

Idol-Factories, Forever and Ever Amen

But the irony is you and I will make an idol of anything…even the thing that is intended to lead us to Jesus! This is my diagnosis of the Oxford Movement, by and large, and this is my concern for this current era, which shares some similarities in zeal and aim. As the Oxford Movement took hold and took over (it’s still quite discernable in American Anglicanism today), the window between the Christian and Christ, which Reformers like Cranmer worked so hard to clean, once again became smudged and smeared.

One of the things that I love about Bryan Chapell’s game-changing book, Christ-Centered Worship, is its call for retrieval of the shape of historic Christian liturgy precisely so we might recover the Gospel’s narrative in our worship services. I imagine that our retrieval of hymns and liturgy should look something like this, contextualized for our local flocks and expressions. Therefore, as we proceed in mining the jewels of the past and polishing them off for the present, I propose a simple, evaluative question: Does this practice help to lead our people toward or away from Christ and His finished work? I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all question. I think it needs to be asked perpetually, prayerfully, and locally. But, literally for Christ’s sake, we must ask it. Our gods can only dazzle for so long before they devour us.

In other words, as we dig for treasure, let's make sure we're not digging our own graves.

Thursday
Oct022014

Do Lyric Statistics Indicate a Shift in Worship?

Bruce Springsteen's Lyrics, in a CloudWord Stats

Yesterday, Duke scholar Lester Ruth (someone whose work every worship leader should pay attention to) tweeted this interesting stat:

Continuing hymn/CCLI song comparison. Most frequent human verbs in hymns? "sin" and "see"; in CCLI songs? "sing" and "praise"

His sources for study involve, first, a look at the 70 most republished evangelical hymns up to 1860…so, material that many evangelical historians would classify as more “classic” hymns (as opposed to the “gospel hymn” era of post 1860 through the mid twentieth century). He is comparing these hymns to the lyrics of the 108 songs which ever appear on a CCLI top-25 list.

It is extremely hard to assess global data in a way that allows one to make accurate generalizations about shifts in the worship climate of evangelicalism, but I do believe that the kind of work Dr. Ruth is doing is getting closer toward something that allows for objectivity.

Let’s flesh this out. First, we’re talking about human verbs in worship songs, so this doesn’t include or observe divine action.  This is from the vantage point of our action. Secondly, we are talking about the top songs in general rather than the entire sung corpus of any local church.  Still, I think these stats give us some hooks to hang our thoughts on when it comes to what might appear to be some shifting theological emphases in evangelical worship.

God's Salvation & Human Triumph

It’s interesting that the most common human action-words of yesteryear were terms that are tied up more centrally in the narrative of the gospel. The gospel is predicated upon a realization and recognition of our sin, and many have said well that our recognition of the immensity of God’s grace is directly proportional to how deep and dark we see our sin. The second word, “see,” may not appear at first glance to be a gospel-narrative word, but it is. Looking and seeing, from the Pentateuch to Revelation, is one of the primary actions associated with salvation and reception of God’s grace. Think of Moses holding up the snake in the wilderness (Num 21) and Jesus’ exposition of that as a prefiguring type of Himself on the cross (John 3). Think of all the biblical language that invites people to “come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!” (Psalm 66:5, NIV). Think of “beholding,” a synonym of “seeing,” and a host of scriptural quotations pertaining to salvation and God’s actions should start flooding the mind.

Note also that the most common human action-words of days gone by reveal an emphasis on the weakness and passivity of humanity. When I think of “sin,” I’m not usually tempted to think highly of myself. When I think of “see,” I’m inclined to ask, “What or Whom outside of me am I seeing?” I’ve talked on this blog many times about the prevalence of triumphalism in our worship (“God, this is what I’m doing for You”). The shift from “sin” and “see” to “sing” and “praise” I think at least hints toward the triumphalistic trajectory. “Sin” and “see,” though our action, really anticipate God’s action. “Sing” and “praise” are wonderful, biblical actions, as well (they're imperatives all over the Psalms). But the spotlight is definitely more on us.

Asking Fundamental Questions

Even if you think my analysis is reading in my own biases (which I admit could really be at play here…I’m going on words devoid of their lyrical context, and I’m hyper-sensitive when it comes to triumphalism vis-à-vis the gospel), just take a step back and ask some more fundamental questions.

If I’m reading through the scriptures and seeking to develop a full-orbed biblical theology of corporate, gathered worship, what human action-words should we expect to find? Perhaps it is “sing” and “praise,” especially if you’re just camping out in the Psalms. But once you move beyond the Psalms and listen to the full Scriptural voice about the core themes of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, an entirely different set of human actions comes to the fore, perhaps best summarized in themes of repentance and faith.

Finally, could we also be seeing how music, particularly singing, is starting to move to a more dominant position in the eyes of evangelicals with regards to what worship is? Nowadays, it's not uncommon to hear people say, when referring to music, "wow, the worship time was great." Or, we often hear, "first we'll have a time of worship [i.e. singing], then the sermon." It's pretty fair to say, I think, that NO Christian, prior to the twentieth century, would have understood what those expressions mean. The equation of singing with the totality of worship (not as a part of worship, but what worship centrally is) would not compute for nearly two millennia of Christian doxology.

At any given moment in history, it’s hard for people to lift their heads above the fray and take inventory of the water they’re swimming in. At least we can say, in the face of these stats, that we need to pause and reflect on shifts like these and what they mean. Even if our conclusions are dreadfully off (which mine could be), the exercise keeps our evaluative and critical antennae up, which can’t hurt as we seek to faithfully shepherd and pastor God’s flock in worship.

Monday
Jul222013

What Worship Leaders Can Learn from a Fourth Century Songwriter

Worship leaders would do well to learn at least a little bit about the life and work of Ambrose (c. 340-397), a pastor and church leader in Milan, Italy. He became an important figure in the early church because of his strong opposition to Arianism, a heresy which argued against the full deity of Christ and therefore challenged Trinitarian theology. Ambrose was also an early mentor to Augustine.

What is less known about Ambrose is that he was an early songwriter in the church. Let’s just say that he was the fourth century’s Chris Tomlin. In fact, I set one Ambrosian hymn, “O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright,” to new music and added the Gloria Patri as a chorus—a true experiment in ancient-future doxology.

D. H. Williams, a respected evangelical patristics scholar, helped elucidate one of the principle reasons Ambrose wrote hymns. Ambrose gave songs to the church as a means of imparting good theology and warding off bad theology. He knew the power of song. Ambrose recognized that when people sing, they learn truth more by drinking it than by thinking it. Read this description of Ambrose:

Just before Easter in A.D. 386, Ambrose…found himself and his congregation besieged by imperial soldiers. The emperor Valentinian II, who sponsored an “Arian” form of the faith, demanded that the bishop hand over one of the basilicas in the city. Ambrose refused. Tensions rose throughout the city, and the threat of riot became real. During Holy Week, armed men were sent to take by force the church where Ambrose was presiding. While soldiers surrounded the building, packed with the faithful, Ambrose decided to teach the congregation hymns. Augustine was an eyewitness of the event, being a catechumen at the time, and he tells us that the church at Milan had only recently begun the custom of singing together for mutual comfort and exhortation.

The impact these hymns had on the minds of the congregants was made clear by Ambrose himself, who reported in a sermon that “Arian” detractors had accused him of leading the people astray by his hymns. He writes, “I certainly do not deny it. That is a lofty strain and there is nothing more powerful than it. For what has more powerful than the confession of the Trinity…All eagerly view with another in confessing the faith, and know how to praise in verse the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

These Milanese hymns and chants provided believers with more than inspiration and pious sound bites about their faith. Ambrose’s intent was to reinforce key features of Nicene theology. But as dramatic as these circumstances were, the creative inculcation of Christian truths through recitation and song was not an unfamiliar practice. Since the days of the apostles, the worship of the church served as a critical vehicle for imparting doctrina, that is, ordered teaching about the Christian faith. Christian leaders of the early centuries found that worship was a good opportunity to supply believers with the concrete foundations of how to think and live Christianly.*

Herein lies both an encouragement and a warning to worship leaders. The encouragement is that we have a very important job with some wonderful, powerful opportunities. Before us lies the task of the education and formation of the people of God. The questions become: What theology will we give them? What views of God are they singing? And there we have the warning. We mustn’t squander or abuse this opportunity. We must find creative ways, within our cultural musical idioms, to clothe in an accessible way the theology we’ve been handed by our forefathers and mothers, as it has been discerned from the Scriptures. What an opportunity!

*D. H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 164-165.

 

 

Monday
Mar182013

What Technology's Democratization of Worship Songwriting Means for Us

Ones and Zeros

Chuck Fromm, publisher of Worship Leader magazine, recently summarized and explored the implications of the shift of the church’s song from paper to bits and bytes in the January/February article in that publication, “The Hymn Cloud: Generation to Generation.”  The transition from hard publishing to web publishing has much more de-centralized and democratized the enterprise of hymnody for both songwriters and publishers (“hymns” being used in the broadest sense of “the Church’s body of sung prayer”).

Fromm, both a tenacious student of and seasoned insider within the contemporary worship movement that arose in the 60s and 70s, does a marvelous job rehearsing the history of the emergence of contemporary worship.  For those who don’t know much about the history, the article is a great place to start for that.  But tracing contemporary worship’s origins is not his goal.  Rather, the article arrives at an open-ended vision for a way forward for the worship songwriter to regain his or her seat at the table of ecclesiastical theologizing (shaping the Church’s understanding of biblical doctrine). Fromm’s purpose appears to be to both impress upon local worship songwriters the gravity of their vocation and to encourage their contribution to the “open-sourced hymnal” that no longer exists locked down in publishers’ offices but floating rather formlessly in the cloud.

The New Hymnal

The article is a fascinating exercise in the intersection of sociology, technology, philosophy, and theology:

A new form of hymnal has emerged. In terms of appearance it hardly looks like its past predecessor. Print culture was symbolized by the book—several hundred pages of print between two pieces of cardboard. The book represented standardization, authorship, and authority. It was also a very costly form of storage…The new hymnal is stored in mp3s, PDFs, and on YouTube.

The new multimedia hymnal is networked with thousands of other hymnal content agencies (denominational and “non-denominational” producers and distributors). In modern vernacular, it is a “Hymnal Cloud” that is open for continuous contribution and enlargement, i.e., it is not limited by the pages of a book. At the creative core of the hymn cloud stands the worship leader and the rest of the congregational theological team.

We're All Back on the Hook

But the article is also a summons to worship songwriters to return to ancient paths:

In the midst of these communicational/cultural changes we have only partially described and hinted about above, it is critical that we again review the historic role of the songwriter/poet as a member of the theological team. It’s a shame that so few seminaries across the world understand or appreciate the vital role of the hymn composers and adapters as key transmitters and creators of theology.

This should be both empowering and frightening for us as local worship pastors, leaders, and songwriters.  We should not think of ourselves merely as song leaders or lead musicians but as people called by God to guide the church’s living, fiery doctrine toward biblical ends.  To use an old-school term, worship leaders and songwriters are some of the church’s most preeminent catechists. This should therefore give us pause about doing our job in a haphazard, willy-nilly fashion.  No longer can song selection be merely about keys, groove, flow, airplay, and popularity.  Too much deep shaping is going on for us to take such a superficial approach. 

It probably means, too, that it may be less helpful than we thought to wholesale import pre-fabricated worship sets from outside entities like (well, this is ironic) Worship Leader magazine or CCLI readouts.  We, as worship leaders in tune with the people of God in our local contexts, need to straddle well that interplay between those (great and not so great) data and the movement of the Spirit in our hometown ekklesia.  And perhaps, as Fromm suggests, if we are faithful to exegete and minister to our local contexts well, we can contribute our little offerings to the hymnal cloud above to see what cyber highways and byways the Spirit might carry our songs and ideas on to bless brothers and sisters in other contexts.  It’s an exciting time to be a worship leader and songwriter, folks. 

Chuck Fromm, "The Hymn Cloud: Generation to Generation," Worship Leader Magazine, Jan/Feb 2013 (Vol. 22, No. 1), 26-29.
Wednesday
Dec122012

Hail to a Great New Album: Indelible Grace VI

"My heart is stirred by a noble theme" is my best one-shot phrase to describe the experience of hearing (and hearing again) Indelible Grace's latest offering to the Church, Joy Beyond the Sorrow: Indelible Grace VI.  The impressive production choices and continued growth of the artists in the IG coalition alongside unapologetically gospel-drenched hymn lyrics make this album a feast for the ears, mind, heart, and soul.  As a worship leader in a local context, I can say that, per capita, I imagine more songs on this album being sung by my congregation than any of the previous albums.  In other words, I find more songs on this record transferrable to my local context, and I can't wait for us to sing these new, old songs.

Summary

Musically, the album is filled with singable melodies, enclosed in an artistic, elegant, country-folk-tinged rock sound.  The production is top notch--it's a beautiful album to hear with a nice set of headphones.  It shimmers with professionalism but doesn't sound plastic.  In other words, it is a human album, and the molecular base of its polish is an organic, not synthetic, compound.  

Theologically, it hits the nail on the head.  It emphasizes what the Bible does--salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone--and it beats that drum continually, fourteen songs strong.

The songs I would most likely employ in my context are: 

Musicality

This album is not over-arranged.  It is not dense and multi-layered.  You won't find a forty-track "wall of sound" anywhere.  The album breathes with a lot of restful "white space," exemplified in songs like "Thy Will Be Done" and "For the Bread Which You Have Broken."  It feels more mainstream, straight-up rock than their previous, more overtly folk-Americana records--straight beats, acoustic downstrums, epic, bluesy electric solos, plenty of B3 and other tasteful keyboards.  Here and there are touches of strings and country styles and instrumentation (e.g. pedal steel, banjo).

There are no real driving, up-tempo numbers, but there are a few mid-tempo anthems, like "Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart," with its paced bluegrass backbeat, "Until the Daybreak," with its hammered Celtic-style turnarounds, and "Hail to the Lord's Anointed," with its four-on-the-floor feel.  There are some very exciting, soulful, bluesy electric guitar solos with great tone and musical fingering.  I'm thinking, in particular, about the epic moment a little over two minutes into "Did Christ Over Sinners Weep"  and the tucked wah-solo about four minutes into "Until the Daybreak."  The album's goal was obviously not to break new ground, musically, but the styles they worked in provide some very fresh, creative touches, like the left-and-right-panned, nearly contrapuntal banjo lines that bookend "From the Depths of Woe."

One note about "From the Depths of Woe."  This song has been around a long time in producer Kevin Twit's Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) circles, and it has made its rounds in many (mainly Presbyterian) churches.  I've always struggled with the song musically, because its syncopation and chord choices made Psalm 130's confessional lamentation feel too unfittingly happy for me.  This album goes to show that tasteful re-arranging and gentle massaging of tempo, singing style, and chord structure can make all the difference.  The slower tempo softens its melody's syncopated punchiness, and the opening two verses which ride around the relative minor of the key (as opposed to the tonic chord) "fix" the song for me.  And then, when in the third verse, the beat comes up and major chord hits, it explodes in glory, perfectly complementing the text for me.  Bravo, Kevin and the gang, for reminding me what good arranging does to tastefully frame a given text.  This is my favorite song on the album.

Theological Content

Seriously, how can you go wrong when your song-texts draw from the wells of Psalm-versification and dead English Calvinist pastors?  :)  As with every other Indelible Grace record, there is a fidelity to the Gospel here, in every second of every track.  Many moments draw me to tears, such as "Upon a Life I Did Not Live":

Upon a life I have not lived
Upon a death I did not die
Another's life, another's death
I stake my whole eternity

Not on the tears which I have shed
Not on the sorrows I have known
Another's tears, another's griefs
On these I rest, on these alone

How can one improve on the direct, simple truth here?  If the Holy Spirit resides within you, how can you not be moved by the "same old story" of Jesus Christ, for us?  Thank you, Horatius Bonar.  One of my favorite texts on the album is "Did Christ Over Sinners Weep," which functions as a "preach the gospel to yourself" kind of song: 

Did Christ over sinners weep, and shall our cheeks be dry?
Let floods of penitential grief burst forth from every eye.

Behold the Son of God in tears the angels wondering see!
Hast thou no wonder, O my soul? He shed those tears for thee! 

He wept that we might weep, might weep for sin and shame;
He wept to show His love for us and bid us love the same. 

Then tender be our hearts, our eyes in sorrow dim;
Till every tear from every eye be wiped away by Him.

People who accuse traditional hymnody of being cold, stoic, and emotionless haven't really experienced the best of the hymn tradition.  This song is doused in the fullness of human emotion.  It exposes that the best meeting place of head and heart is where the Gospel's "high theology" strangles your heart in a death-grip (well, actually, a "life-grip.").  

I could go on and on, but the reality is that if you get this album, you're in for more than a treat.  You're bound to be encouraged for a long time with its life-giving texts, artfully framed by fitting, beautiful music.  Go get it

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.)

Thursday
Dec152011

Great Hymns Albums Released in the Last Few Months  

I swear, I’m having to write these kinds of posts more often.  The hymns/rehymn movement continues to strengthen and expand.  Here are some great new albums that I’ve been enjoying and appreciating.

Sojourn Music, A Child is Born

Some very creative rock tunes, great guitar work, unconventional and delightful production choices.  Some traditional tunes reworked, some originals.  Sojourn is always on the upper side of the art spectrum.

 

High Street Hymns, On Winter’s Night

A great Advent/Christmas EP from our friends out east.  They venture into new territory here, incorporating hip-hop in tracks like “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding” and “O Come, Emmanuel.”  There’s a nice re-tuning of “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” too.

 

Castle Island Hymns, Christmas

A very hip indie Christmas record.  Unconventional, quirky, orchestral, and ambient, in a Radiohead-meets-Sufjan kind of way.

 

Cardiphonia, Songs for the Supper

Evangelicals are thirsty for this, perhaps without even knowing it.  Because I am an evangelical, I’m very aware of our impoverishment of language and expression for the Lord’s Supper.  This isn’t just an album of good Communion songs; it’s a signpost pointing to brighter pastures for evangelical Eucharistic celebration.

 

Chicago Metro Presbytery Music, Proclaiming the Bridegroom Near

An advent album of folk and classical orientation and instrumentation with some beautiful arrangements of traditional hymn tunes.  It’s a great example of how several churches can partner on a successful project.  Check this album out for some lesser-known hymns.

 

Leigh Nash, Hymns and Sacred Songs

This is a great album.  The production is superb, professional, and creative (one of Matt Redman’s producers, John Hartley).  The singing is unique, original, and stylized, and the texts can’t be beat.  There are some great hymn re-tunings that worship leaders shouldn’t overlook for congregational material.

 

Zac Hicks + Cherry Creek Worship, In a Byre Near Bethlehem

Of course, I had to throw in our random single.  We didn’t write this song; we just recorded it so others could hear this great text and tune.  It’s a modern Advent/Christmas hymn from the Iona Community in Scotland.  It makes the incarnation tangible.

 

Shai Linne, The Attributes of God

Right, right.  It’s not a hymns album.  It’s probably better.  It has more densely-packed theological muscle in each track than Charles Finney’s entire Systematic Theology (I know…not saying much…but it was a good joke)The rapping is stellar, not second-rate.  Very sophisticated, very poetic, very clever, very artistic.  And, the production is solid.  There are some very thoughtful beat- and color-choices.  This album rocks, er, raps, my face.    

 

Sovereign Grace, The Gathering: Live from WorshipGod11

This really isn't a hymns album, either.  But Sovereign Grace does modern worship like no one else is--Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, theology-rich...all combined with some nice, driving rock.


Monday
Dec122011

Old Hymns to New Music…Now in Spanish

I honestly can’t believe that this day is here.  There is something very important about the prospect of the hymns movement going Spanish.  In general, Spanish-speaking Christianity (at least of the Latin American variety) by and large is one of two brands—Catholic or Pentecostal.  The latter, as far as I have observed, doesn't often engage the rich history of hymnody that is a part of our Christian heritage.  And, as I’ve advocated over and over again, hymnody indoctrinates.  There is a robust theological education and a deep spiritual formation (not that the two don’t overlap considerably) when the people of God sing historic hymns.  I have longed to see this hunger develop among the Latino culture in the US and broader west.

With the dawn of Alabanzaré, perhaps these hopes and dreams can harden into some real-world concrete.  Their himnario features forty hymns at the moment.  I noticed a Spanish version of Indelible Grace’s setting of “Jesus, Everlasting King”: “Señor Jesús, eterno Rey.”  There are also original-tuned translations of popular hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Be Thou My Vision.”

In my opinion, the next step for the outfit at Alabanzaré would be to work hard engaging the popular Latino musical idioms, seeing if hymnody can translate.  It’s an experiment worth pursuing.  Perhaps they could start by analyzing some of the popular contemporary Christian Latino worship artists like Jesus Adrian Romero and others (my knowledge is pretty limited!).  It will be interesting to see what kind of traction the Latino hymns movement gets in the next five to ten years, but, until then, I salute the effort and hope that more will join their ranks!