Academic journal article The Hymn

Retune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: How Old Hymn Texts Found a New Home among Evangelicals

Academic journal article The Hymn

Retune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: How Old Hymn Texts Found a New Home among Evangelicals

Article excerpt

At the height of the Praise & Worship movement,1 a strange thing happened: young Evangelicals started singing hymns. This paper traces the development of the "retuned" hymn movement, a genre of congregational song that combines historic hymn texts with a folk rock music style. It grew primarily among young people of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), and is arguably the place of deepest interaction between traditional hymnody and contemporary worship genres in recent years.

A Fertile Field

In the late 1990s, the "worship wars" in the Evangelical wing of the church were mostly over and the clear winner was Praise and Worship (P&W).2 In many Evangelical congregations, the occasional hymn was sung as a concession to the older generation, and some churches held out for some sort of compromise with "blended" worship services. But by and large contemporary worship music ruled the day. Darlene Zschech's "Shout to the Lord" had rocketed to the top of the Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) charts, churches were reconfiguring their sanctuaries for projections screens, and P&W dominated worship services and Christian radio.

Because the Boomers had prevailed with their preferred combination of uplifting lyrics and light rock, their children-Generation X-had grown up without ever really hearing hymns. "Traditional" church music was Twila Paris and "contemporary" church music was the newer, more guitar-driven songs of Sonic Flood and Delirious. For these young people, hymns accompanied by organ or piano were like artifacts from a different culture.

Though they literally didn't know what they were missing, they seem to have felt a vacancy where creed, lament, and the deeper things of worship and life used to be. It was an empty space that couldn't be filled with the stream of upbeat songs that flowed from the worship industry and flooded their families' worship centers. These postmodern youth, raised in a culture of fragmentation and rootiessness, longed for something more from their faith and their worship. As they entered the questioning college years their thirst only became stronger.3

While the discontent of this young generation grew, a number of significant changes were taking root in the Evangelical church. Most important was the embrace of ancient-future faith, first popularized by Robert Webber (in books like Ancient-Future Worship)4 that was now making its way to the pews. Webber and others felt that Evangelicals' love of all things culturally relevant had disconnected them from the rich history of the Church. Two thousand years of wisdom was just waiting to be mined by the modern church, especially in the area of worship.

In the mid-twentieth century, mainline denominations and more adventurous independent churches had begun to rediscover the liturgical patterns that had been embedded in worship for centuries. This wasn't simply a back-tothe-future fad for hip pastors. Synchronizing with these historical patterns made participants aware that worship wasn't only a form of personal expression-it was a means for faith communities to be formed in the faith. That is, worship was not just something you did-it actually did something. Naturally, this understanding of the formative power of worship caused leaders to look more closely at the music they used in worship. Were they only singing praise, or were they singing the breadth of the faith? And if they had, indeed, confined themselves to upbeat praise, where would they find a more robust repertoire?

One of these restless young people was the newly minted pastor, Kevin Twit. As he began his ministry to students through the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at Belmont University, these questions loomed large. A musician himself, ministering in the famous music city of Nashville at a university known for its music education, Twit wanted to harness the full power of music when discipling students. He had experienced hymns and a smattering of retuned hymns in his own experience as a student in RUF before leaving for seminary. …

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