Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Theology on Fire"... Worship, Music, Christian Formation

Below are seven paragraphs from Kevin Twit's very good article: "What's In a Song? Tuning Our Hearts."  Link to the full article is below...

During my time in the ministry, I have come to appreciate the power of hymns to help us meditate upon the reality of God’s grace in worship and mold us as the people of God. When my students actually begin to read the words, they can’t believe that they used to regard hymns as lifeless and dull. As one student put it, “These songs convey emotion. Sorrow, loneliness, surprise, overwhelming joy! They are all here, and my generation doesn't associate any of those qualities with hymns.” Unfortunately, sometimes this rich theological poetry is connected to tunes that fail to express the emotion of the lyric to my students. The words are so rich that we have begun to write new tunes for some of them. And I take whatever opportunity I can to urge gifted composers to search out powerful hymns that have tragically dropped out of use, or even to write new hymns.
Hymns take a truth from Scripture and let us sit in it for a while. They engage intellect, imagination, and emotion. The hymns are mini-meditations upon the mysteries of the Gospel that drive us to worship. They offer a story, something very attractive to postmodern people, and invite us to come in and see if it might be our story, too. For instance, I love to introduce students to the hymns of Anne Steele. She was an 18th century English Baptist hymn-writer who spent 50 years as an invalid. I believe she wrote some of the most remarkable hymns about the power of the Gospel in the midst of grief and pain that you will ever find. Yet her hymns unfortunately have vanished from almost every modern hymnal. When people sing her words they find themselves in her story. They find they can fellowship with a woman who lived 300 years. Suddenly the Kingdom of God becomes huge to them!
Hymns are theology on fire. They are theology expressed in beautiful, poetic language that gets at the heart, and engages the imagination. They help us to sit for three or four minutes in the mysteries of the Gospel that fill us with wonder. The hymn-writers really glory in these paradoxical statements. One of my favorite examples is in a hymn by Augustus Toplady (the author of “Rock of Ages”). He writes, “O love incomprehensible, that made Thee bleed for me. The Judge of all hath suffered death, to set His prisoner free.” To sit in that thought, even for a little while, changes you! And the more you meditate upon it, the more it overwhelms your heart.
C.H. Spurgeon once said “When I cannot understand anything in the Bible, it seems as though God had set a chair there for me, at which to kneel and worship; and that the mysteries are intended to be an altar of devotion.” These mysteries are what the hymns love to dwell upon. Hymns are mini-meditations on the ironies of the Gospel that drive us to worship. They are an opportunity to meditate upon a mystery like “And can it be, that Thou my God should die for me?” until it begins to really sink into our heart.
If we ever lose our sense of wonder, we will be conformed to the culture. If we ever lose our sense of the beauty and the amazement, we will be conformed to the culture, we will be conformed to the flesh. Hymns, you see, are not only opportunities for our meditation, they were often the result of meditation. It used to be that it was the pastors who would write the hymns. Often they would write a hymn at the end of a week of meditating upon their sermon.
In her book, A Royal Waste of Time, Marva Dawn tells of Vaclav Havel, a playwright who is also the president of the Czech Republic. He was asked, how the revolution to overthrow communism in the Czech Republic was bloodless and yet had experienced real staying power. He simply replied, “We had our parallel society. And in that parallel society, we wrote our plays and sang our songs and read our poems, until we knew the truth so well that we could go out into the streets of Prague and say, 'We don’t believe your lies anymore!' And communism had to fall.” 
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of what worship should be about? We gather to sing our songs so we will know the truth so well that we can go out into the world and we say, “We don’t believe your lies anymore! We won’t be squeezed into your mold!” And so we can speak to our fearful heart and say, “Heart, I don’t believe your lies anymore!” (or as Charles Wesley put it, “Arise my soul arise! Shake off your guilty fear!”) because Jesus can trump even what my heart says! And Jesus does trump our hearts as He becomes beautiful and believable to you. That is why we gather in worship. That is why I urge you, use the hymns of the church! God is using them to mold us to the truth, restore our sanity, and open our eyes to see Jesus as beautiful and believable.

To read the full article, click HERE.

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