An unexpected TWIST

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.

16 thoughts on “An unexpected TWIST

  1. My experience mirrors yours, Tony. After some years attending Baptist churches that attempted “blended” music approaches and singing along to songs that inevitably worked better as studio recordings, I attended St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church in Vancouver, BC. There was an evening service that used contemporary music, and I believe that the joy expressed in the singing had everything to do with the Living Word in people’s hearts. But I also noted that the Anglican liturgy itself, its structure, and its focus on Christ and the Scriptures gave the emotion a structure which made it all the more powerful. The rector of that church is David Short, a Sydney Anglican, and I credit the Christ-centeredness of the evening music program to his Reformed approach to theology and, of course, music. I ought also mention that we had a wonderful music director, Ed Norman, who lavished all his God-given talent on enriching our morning services with beautiful traditional music. The emotional effect of that hymnody was no less genuine than the evening service.

  2. Why am I not surprised that your background is Pentecostal/Charismatic? I picked up on that immediately when I saw you at the People Growth Conference in Chicago. This explains your sympathy for emotionalism and experientianlism rather than doctrinal purity and faithfulness to Scripture above “evangelical ecumenicalism”.

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  4. Tony, looking forward to reading your comments more.

    Craig, I was only there for the first part but was very impressed with Bob Kauflin. I heard him at Moore the afternoon before and got to spend some time with him as well.

    He said some new, stimulating and helpful things (for me) really well.

  5. Charlie, do you really think your comment is helpful? Is it godly to throw mud like that, in what is effectively an unsubstantiated ad hominem attack?

    Is this the “measure” (Matthew 7:2) you would like used on yourself?

    Tony is probably too thick-skinned to worry and will just ignore it.

    But the Bible says the Lord’s servant must not quarrel. It states that gentleness is almost always the order of the day when correcting others.

    I challenge you to take an hour (rather than a knee-jerk 60 seconds) after reading my comment to reflect on whether your comment is a constructive, God honouring approach for Christians to take in commenting on the internet.

    If not, then repent.

  6. It’s interesting, isn’t it, this emphasis on emotion in praise and worship. It reflects the spirit of our age in some way–that we wish to be transported, delighted, moved, etc. by the the things around us (movies, television, music). It’s sort of an escapism (from boredom, I suspect). It may also be because we are lazy and need to be told what to feel (hence laugh tracks in sitcoms?)

    I’m not saying that the alternative is to be emotion-less and stodgy. I keep thinking of Archie Poulos’s Briefing article about affections and emotions–how what we believe, to a certain extent, determines what we feel–that the good news about Jesus gives rise to joy and gladness when one has grasped its full significance. We do not sing as passionately because we take for granted what we have in Christ.

  7. Thanks Tony,

    I attended Bob’s three sessions on Saturday and was totally surprised and filled with joy at his mature Christian view of worship.

    I had no idea who Bob Kauflin was, and had no expectations of the day, other than a general hope that it would help me lead singing in church.

    I was amazed to find a man who knew his bible well and who had really researched the meaning of “worship” theologically throughout the bible. He strongly believes that music is important to the worship of God (partly because there are 50 commands to sing praise to God in scripture – eg Ps 47:6), but he also believes that the word of God is more important than the music.

    Bob uses the term “worship leader” even though it carries it’s own baggage.

    His definition is:

    “A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, by skilfully combining God’s word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to: (a) proclaim the gospel; (b) cherish God’s presence; (c) live for God’s glory.”

    I could not ask for more, but he unpacked each concept with appropriate biblical support. Thank you Lord, for Bob Kauflin.

  8. I attended Friday’s conference for Pastors and Leaders with my husband who is an Anglican minister. I have also been ‘in charge’ of singing in congregations at 4 different churches that we have attended.We really appreciated hearing a biblical approach to congregational singing as there is so much nonsense out there in churchland. I really appreciated Bob Kauflin repeating Jonathan Edward’s definition of our affections towards our God in singing-it should engage our thoughts,emotions and wills. Its not about just our emotions. Thankyou Twist for such an encouraging day, and I went home praising my God all the more.

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  10. Hi Tony,

    You don’t know me. I am working at the Anglican Church of Christ Church Northern Beaches. I haven’t been able to find an email address for you and saw this blog and hoped that you would respond through this means.

    I need to get the best material on whether all Christians should be involved in evangelism. I have read Lionel Windsors small article but was hopeful that you could point me to something more substantial.

    Many thanks,
    Daniel Ryan

    • Hi Daniel – perhaps I could briefly reply too. In footnote #1 to my first article on the topic I mentioned some books. Are these the kind of thing you’re looking for, or are you after something different?

      Also, my article is part of an eight part series that’s in the process of being published; so it’s possible you might find some further ideas in my future posts.

      Cheers, Lionel

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