If you had told me 10 years ago when I was on the Board of Emu Music that in 2011 we’d be putting on a TWIST music conference for pastors and inviting the ‘Director of Worship Development’ from a major charismatic US church to be the keynote speaker… well I’d have been a little surprised, to say the least.
After all, one of the major drivers behind the formation of Emu (and TWIST) was to encourage a thousand evangelical songwriters to bloom; to write and distribute not only our own uniquely evangelical songs, but an evangelical theology of singing in the face of the pervasive and growing dominance of pentecostal ‘praise and worship theology’ in the Christian music scene.
But here we were at the inaugural TWIST pastor’s conference listening to Bob Kauflin, the music guy from the Reformed-charismatic powerhouse Sovereign Grace.
So that was unexpected.
If I’m honest, I also didn’t expect to enjoy the day as much as I did, both the talks and the singing. The songs we sang at various points were really superb examples of what Emu had always hoped to produce and champion—thoughtful, encouraging, gospel-centred words, set to well-written singable tunes, led from the front in an unobtrusive but very skillful way, and accompanied with a simple but effective piano and guitar backing. Having become (I have to confess) a bit jaded by some of the songs that seem to be popular in our circles these days—think power ballads or Coldplay-style numbers that are hard to sing and backed by a big, loud ‘worship band’— this was refreshing.
I also didn’t expect to be so stimulated by all that was said. My mind was buzzing by the end of the day, with all sorts of ideas and reactions. But rather than try to synthesize all these thoughts into a well-structured symphony, I thought it might be best just to riff away over the next few blog-posts, and start some discussion.
Reaction 1: There are different ‘musical stories’, and mine is probably the opposite of many others
In his opening talk, my good friend Philip Percival spoke about how Emu came to be formed, and what the music scene was like in the church he went to in the 80s. He spoke about the explosion of pentecostal music at that time, and how lifeless and boring our Anglican-evangelical music was by comparison. The result was that a decent number of young people from his church drifted off to pentecostal churches where the music was more exciting and interesting.
This is a narrative I’ve heard before in different forms, and I’m sure it’s true of many people’s experience. The implication that is often drawn from it is that we Anglican evangelicals have the teaching and the exegesis and the theology, but we don’t ‘do’ emotion, especially in our singing, and so people are drawn to the big pentecostal emotion-fests as a more attractive alternative. Ergo, if we want to retain and/or attract people, we should be more emotional (which normally means ‘more charismatic’).
Interestingly, my own experience of Sydney Anglican evangelicalism has been almost the complete reverse of this. In the early 80s, I came to a Sydney Anglican evangelical church from a charismatic/pentecostal background and found genuine spiritual emotion for the first time. My experience was one of liberation from superficial and manipulated emotion to a genuine moving of the affections by the the word and Spirit of God. And it was St Matthias, that supposed bastion of all things conservative and non-emotional, that introduced me to this vibrant, authentically experiential Christianity, with singing that was theologically and biblically exhilarating, and at the same time joyful, heart-felt and raise-the-roof loud. It’s hard to express the difference, having travelled in the opposite direction to many, except to say that the emotion was ‘real’, because it sprang from hearts that had been so totally revolutionized by the word of God.
So there are different stories. And perhaps the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. But I never found the music and emotional atmosphere of the growing charismatic mega-churches of the 80s and 90s even remotely attractive. I’d been there, I guess, and had found it to be insubstantial and largely fake, because it wasn’t grounded in, based on, soaked in the Word of God.
This leads me to a second reaction to the TWIST day, and to another of its surprises. Having come from a charismatic background myself, and having read, thought and written about charismatic theology and practice at some depth, I know a distinctively ‘charismatic’ approach to singing and music when I hear it. And that’s not really what I heard from Bob Kauflin.
But more on this next in my next post.