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Crowder and the Hymns Movement Converge

The David Crowder Band is hosting a Church Music Conference at Baylor University in Waco, TX, September 30-October 2.  This is exciting on many levels.  I’m pumped to see the name of a Friday breakout workshop: “A New Old Vision for Worship – Liturgical Spirituality for Post-Modern-Semi-Reformed-Hipsters.”

Here's what is truely exciting: more signs of the subversive growth of influence of the hymns movement are on the horizon.  The David Crowder Band (for those who didn’t know) is THE name in modern worship.  Of course, they’re a performance band.  Of course, their most recent records really haven’t been “worship albums.”  Still, Crowder emerged out of the flagship modern worship movement—Passion—and is still tethered to it.  Therefore, this event with Crowder is significant.  Who’s on the roster?  You’d never know from the up-front promotion, but tucked in more detailed advertising, we hear of two names:

The Welcome Wagon

BiFrost Arts

Check out their music some time.  The first thing you notice is that, in the rock genre, they are the polar opposite of Crowder—under-produced, anti-digital, pitchy, lo-fi, quirky, indie, pop-orchestral…Sufjan Stephens-esque.  The second thing you notice is that the text-material for their songs are either old church hymns or songs which are bathed in the thought and life of historic hymnody.

But actually…this isn’t such a far leap from Crowder.  Much of Crowder’s material beyond the radio-friendly hits leans in a direction that shows that the treasure-troll-haired singer appreciates music akin to what BiFrost and the Wagon are doing.

But more is going on here than mere musical appreciation.  People often think that all modern worship has sold out to novelty with no sense of connection to the historic songs of the church.  It’s just not true.  The Passion movement put out Hymns: Ancient and Modern, and littering all of Crowder’s material are hymns as old as the Greek “Phos Hilaron” and as new as “Heaven Came Down.”  Make no mistake.  Crowder loves him some hymns.   And Crowder is obviously appreciating artists like BiFrost Arts and The Welcome Wagon, not only for their musical innovations, but for their textual focus.

Still, this goes even deeper.  The Welcome Wagon and BiFrost Arts are not only intermingled with one another, but they are wedded with the heavy-hitters in the hymns movement—Indelible Grace.  Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken’s connection and collaboration with these two groups are case in point.  They’ve got denominational ties, too: Welcome Wagon’s leader is Vito Aiuto, an ordained PCA minister; Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace is ordained in that denomination, as well.  Many of the artists associated with both groups are PCA die-hards.

All this to say: We have the hymns movement, perhaps for the first time, being welcomed in to a bona fide mainstream evangelical worship event.  Just like Indelible Grace’s Ryman Hymnsing, this is a moment to plant a flag in the sand as a marker of the growing influence of the grass roots hymns movement.  Thank God.


The Big Picture of Indelible Grace: Kevin Twit and the Ryman Hymnsing

"Edible Grace...what?"  That's the type of reaction I get when I talk to mainstream evangelical worship leaders about the hymns movement and their golden boy, Indelible Grace.  IG is a move back to substantive modern worship.  Their M.O. is to combine modern folk and rock instrumentation with old hymn texts.  Many people misunderstand "old hymns to new music" as throwing a contemporary beat and sound on a hymn...just think of all the forced, "contemporary" versions out there of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "How Great Thou Art."  No, no.  These are taking the hymns almost like pure poems and setting them to music.  Hear clearly.  They're taking the WORDS of the hymns, and setting those words to new melodies and backing chord structures.  These aren't "jazzed up hymns" or "contemporized hymns" or "updated hymns" in the sense of how those phrases are most often tossed around (hear my lament about an album that falls into this category).  They're actually engaging in the historic practice of resetting old hymn texts in new musical garb

(By the way, "indelible" should be an acceptable word to mainstream evangelicals.  The fact that David Crowder has used it in "Foreverandever Etc." is like an ex cathedra proclamation that it's okay for modern worship...Crowder has spoken.)

In late June, Indelible Grace took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  Thousands of people were there to witness what I would consider a watershed event in the life of the hymns movement in particular and modern worship at large.  Most won't pick up on its significance.  The event is important because it is a symbol of the growth and stability of the movement.  The vision articulated that evening, combined with how well it was received by so many different types of "church people," put a stake in the ground--a mile-marker that shows, since IG's birth in the early 2000s, the growth and influence of the movement alongside the maturation and individual success of many of the IG artists.  

In a rare blog post (oh, for more!), Kevin Twit (IG founder) zooms out and wears his visionary heart on his sleeve.  We see his passion for the Gospel, for college students knowing Jesus, and for the nation-wide (if not worldwide) reform of worship toward more substantive, thoughtful, historically-engaged, and theologically-reflective ends.

I wish I could have been at the Ryman that night, if only to cheer on Indelible Grace, Kevin, and the growth of the hymns movement.  But since I wasn't there, consider this post my raising my glass to God's work in and through Kevin Twit and Indelible Grace.


Indelible Grace Finally Gaining Legitimacy in the PCA

Indelible Grace (the pioneer of the hymns movement) is leading a hymnsing at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.  This is exciting!  (The artist list is pretty hot, too.)  What is being undersold about this event is that it's connected with a larger event--the General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  This is significant.

I was involved with the PCA for 5 years, gaining some important ministry chops at a church plant here in Denver, interacting with the other elders in our region (the Presbytery) as I came under care and pursued a pastoral internship.  I'm now in the EPC, so I'm an outsider looking in (my perspective may be off).  I haven't spoken to Kevin Twit or Matthew Smith (Indelible Grace guys) about this lately, but a conversation we had a few years ago in Nashville gave me the impression that Indelible Grace, to my surprise, was still trying to gain a sense of legitimacy among the old-liners in the very denomination that birthed the movement. 

Because I was involved in a PCA church plant, and because the other PCA churches I was connected with nationally were generally other church plants, "Indelible Grace" was a byword for everything that we wanted our worship to be all about--theological depth, historical-rootedness, cultural-connectedness, gospel-centeredness, old hymns to new music, etc.  But the new church plants do not summarize the ethos of the denomination.  My conversation with Twit and Smith revealed that there were still traditionalists purists who did not care for or even opposed the enterprise of setting old hymns to new music. (This is surprising, because, as I discussed in a previous post, Indelible Grace and those in the hymns movement, are actually MORE true to the practice of historical church music than those who are pure traditionalists.)

So now we find ourselves at the place where Indelible Grace is headlining a major event at the PCA GA.  Even more, the GA's theme is "Love, Sing, Wonder," taken from John Newton's hymn, which has been one of Indelible Grace's more popular hymn re-sets. 

I thank God that the PCA is placing Indelible Grace in a prominent position.  Indelible Grace deserves it.  They've carved a new path that has had considerable grass roots, underground influence on mainstream evangelical worship.  I would very much consider my own passions and desires for the broader church's worship (having come out of a more mainstream evangelical setting growing up) shaped and influenced by IG.  Despite continued traditionalist objections, IG is doing traditional worship a huge favor, and hopefully there will be more of a coming together of traditionalists and those who are comfortable with modern musical styles, because what they DO share is the most important thing--a commitment to biblically rooted, historically informed congregational songs.


How to lead worship for people old enough to be your grandparents.

I turned 30 a few months ago, so I’m actually at the beginning point of stepping out of this problem.  But it still happens to me.  People wonder what “that sixteen-year-old” is doing up front leading music or liturgy, or preaching a sermon.  I’ve received so many comments over the years on how young I look that I’ve become inoculated to them.  I’ve developed 100% immunity to being embarrassed or offended when people tell me I look like I just got my driver’s license.  It’s even become a fun joke around church, such that when I became an ordained minister, they put my picture up among those of the other elders…only it wasn’t me; it was a doctored picture of Doogie Howser (no pun intended)!

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