Reflections on Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference

wallpaper2thumbWell, I’m back from one of the more unusual conferences I’ve had the privilege of speaking at, Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference, held in Waco, TX, hosted by the ever gracious and witty David Crowder.

The schedule was non-stop, with speakers/presenters including Francis Chan, Rob Bell, Louie Giglio, David Dark, Matt Redman, and a few others. I participated in a main session panel and also led a workshop, “The Functional Limits of Creativity: How Innovative Can We Be with the Gospel?” (I’ll share the notes from that in a separate post).

The conference featured a diverse group of bands and musicians who both presented their own music and/or led us in singing praises to God. They included The David Crowder*Band (of course), Hillsong London, Israel Houghton, Jars of Clay, Matt Maher, Leeland, Gungor, Derek Webb, John Mark McMillan, Bifrost Arts, and more. Like I said, diverse.

I attended the conference with three guys I greatly respect (Ken Boer, Joseph Stigora, and Pat Sczebel) who help me serve Sovereign Grace churches in the area of musc and worship. Because we wanted to get some time together as well as meet with some folks, I didn’t get to all of the conference. But here are a few thoughts on some of the speakers/musicians I heard.

Francis Chan got the conference rolling with a message on being courageous and radical. His message seemed a little scattered to me, but Francis has an evident passion for following Jesus Christ and encouraging others to do the same. I missed the music before he spoke, but did catch Gungor, who play great music, if not always accessible to a congregation.

Friday morning started off with Bifrost Arts, led by Isaac Wardell. Accompanied by a choir, 11 piece orchestra, and harp, Isaac led us in a low-key but engaging time of singing that was built on a more formal liturgy than most of us were probably used to. I thought they did an effective job showing how a liturgy made up of more historic elements, when well led and properly explained, can really serve to focus our eyes on the person and work of Christ.

The Friday morning speaker was Rob Bell. His premise was: Words can be used in lots of ways. He reminded us that the Bible is made up of different literary genres, which should be interpreted differently. But he went on to suggest that the metaphors Scripture uses to describe Christ’s work on the cross are varied and influenced by the understanding of a particular audience, and that we’re responsible to come up with other creative metaphors to describe the purposes of the atonement. While I appreciate relevance and clear communication, developing our own metaphors for the atonement potentially undermines and distorts the gospel. Yes, it’s important to recognize and communicate the vast and multiple effects of Christ’s death and the resurrection, and yes, Christians can overemphasize theological precision and definition at the expense of actually communicating the good news. But every description of Christ’s work on the cross is connected to our need to be forgiven by and reconciled to a holy God. If we fail to communicate this, we have failed to proclaim the biblical gospel. To better appreciate why all metaphors for the atonement are ultimately grounded in penal substitution (Christ taking the punishment we deserved as our substitute) I’d highly recommend Pierced for our Transgressions, In My Place Condemned He Stood, or the article by Mark Dever, “Nothing But the Blood.”

Friday afternoon I was honored to be on a panel with David Taylor, Charlie Peacock, David Dark, Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay), and Matt Redman. We explored the topic of “Why Do We Sing.” Some of my favorite quotes:

“Singing is a way we give ourselves away.”
“We sing to remember and re-member.”
“We are separate from the world and singing helps us remember that.”
“Singing involves relationship, faithfulness, and trusting in the work of Christ.”

At one point I quoted Harold Best: “All our musical offerings are at once humbled and exalted by the strong saving work of Christ.” We touched on how our singing is not something we originate, but flows from the relationships of the triune God who sings (Zeph. 3:17; Heb. 2:12; Eph. 5:18-19). We sing because God sings and we’ve been made in his image. I never got to mention it on the panel, but a very helpful book on the Trinity is The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders.

Louie Giglio spoke Friday night on being “cosmologically insignificant and divinely desired.” He finished by emphasizing that our lives had to be built around the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen.

We had to head out early Saturday morning, but I was able to catch a little of Mike Crawford and his Secret Siblings. Definitely a creative band.

Over all I was encouraged by my time at the conference, and enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and meeting some new ones. I never tire of proclaiming the glory of the Savior for whom even a thousand tongues will never be enough.

I’ll share my notes from my workshop in a separate post.


28 Responses to Reflections on Crowder’s Fantastical Church Music Conference

  1. Steve Pyfrom October 7, 2010 at 5:40 PM #


    Really appreciate what you’ve done for the body of Christ. As a new Worship Pastor, I read Worship Matters, and have loved learning how to be content in the Gospel.

    Thanks for your outlook on the Conference. Was unable to go, but thankful to hear your perspective.

    Steve Pyfrom

  2. Rich Tuttle October 7, 2010 at 6:26 PM #

    Hey Bob, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with you for a few minutes before you had your panel discussion. It was truly the highlight of the conference for me. Thank you for your personal encouragement and for bringing such a weighty gospel-centered voice to the conference.

    • Bob Kauflin October 7, 2010 at 6:39 PM #

      Rich, thanks for your encouraging words. It was great meeting you and your family. Thanks for being faithful to magnify the Savior.

  3. mark lioret October 7, 2010 at 7:00 PM #

    Hey Bob,

    Like Rich, I was thrilled to meet you at the Crowder conference (after your Creativity class). I wanted to tell you something that stuck out like a big neon sign to me during the panel discussion. Though it was quite interesting, and pretty deep in places (couldn’t help thinking to myself a few times – what in the world are they talking about? haha).. i noticed you were the only one on the panel pulling out your Bible – every time you spoke, you read from the Bible along with your comments.. and i said to wife, “this is why i respect this man so much!” I’m enjoying your book i purchased at the conference – i think i’m just going to read it through to take it all in, then go back and dig in.. of course, i’ve read much of it already through the years in your blogs and before that in your email newsletter… ;) again, thanks for what you do!

  4. Greg Foster October 7, 2010 at 7:01 PM #


    Thank you so much for your faithfulness to the scriptures. I am a worship pastor in Waco, and have been in many conversations about the conference to reflect on things that were sung or said… One thing that keeps coming up is just how much scipture poured out of your mouth in every situation that a question was presented to you. Thank you for modeling that for us, and for giving me a picture of what it looks like to be saturated in the Word.
    I do have a question for you though, because I want to be more like that… What methods of scripture memory do you use or have you used over the years that have been most effective?
    Thank you again,


  5. mark lioret October 7, 2010 at 7:04 PM #

    oh yeah – my favorite quote from the panel… when each member was asked individually “why do YOU sing?”…

    “God hasn’t given me a song to sing yet… but i do have a PhD in mix-tapes”… David Dark.. haha!..

  6. Eugene October 7, 2010 at 7:56 PM #

    Hey Bob

    I would like to know your take on Louie Giglio. He is one of my favorite speakers personally.

    Also… please share your thoughts because the mix of thinkers and leaders and speakers that were there are definitely a large gamut of theological differences and artistic ranges…

    what was it like to speak next to Matt Redman?

    • Bob Kauflin October 7, 2010 at 10:44 PM #

      Eugene, you caught me. I actually arrived at the end of Louie’s message. But the guys I came with said he did a great job, although he might have spent a little more time explaining WHY the cross and resurrection are to be central to our lives. As I didn’t hear the message, I can’t comment. I had a brief conversation with Louie on Friday morning where he said his message that night didn’t real have a point except that our lives needed to be centered on the cross of Jesus Christ. Matt Redman is a man I respect in many ways. He’s a serious theologian, mindful of the fact that his lyrics teach. He loves the gospel of Jesus Christ and it shows in his songs. He loves God’s people, and that comes through in the way he relates to others. He’s genuinely humble, and besides all that, he’s got a quick wit, demonstrated by his comment that he was the only one on the panel who was standing up. So sitting next to him was like sitting next to a godly, humble, witty guy. Who happens to write amazing songs for congregational worship.

  7. Greg T. October 7, 2010 at 10:08 PM #

    Hey Bob,

    I just read through the comments on this post and wanted to say a big “ditto!” Thanks for being an encouragement by modelling a biblical perspective and a life of worship.

    It was great to see you again – that’s twice in one year!

  8. Jason October 8, 2010 at 3:00 AM #

    I’m a very curious about your comments about Bell. Contextually..take someone born into a Jewish home, an orphan from an Aids colony in Africa and a Eastern European you not agree that the biblical narrative and descriptors and those “metaphors” used for Christ’s work on the cross would mean something completely different than it means to a white american male? I guess I’m wondering if the text means different things to different people, which is true, then how does that fail to communicate our need to be forgiven? In each case I described, especially the Jewish one, those words, those descriptors are rich and full of historical meaning to a culture, to a time, to a place but the need for Jesus was still the same. If each person interprets the text from their life narrative and see how it fits into the greater narrative, there is still a necessity within that for recognition of and a need for repentance because that’s the whole of the narrative. It’s upon reading that find our place in that narrative and join God in renewing all things because the work of Christ was not only about the cross but also the resurrection. The resurrection, the renewal, the new life, that calls for repentance and no matter how you read or create your own metaphor, you can’t escape that.

    • Bob Kauflin October 8, 2010 at 12:53 PM #

      Jason, thanks for asking for further thoughts on Bell. I think it’s somewhat of a leap to use different literary genres as a foundation for encouraging the use of creative metaphors for the atonement. It’s true that words mean different things to different people and cultures, but at some point people’s response to the gospel must include faith and repentance (Lk. 24:47) – faith that Jesus truly did suffer the punishment for our sins in our place, and repentance from a godless way of thinking and acting. Repentance without faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice is a dead work, unacceptable to a holy God.

      That’s the point that I think “creative metaphors” and specifically Rob’s teaching can obscure. Rob called words like redemption and sacrifice metaphors, when they’re more descriptions aiming to get at the truth of what Christ accomplished. Atonement is not a metaphor. It’s a reality which has at its heart God’s wisdom finding a way for God’s love to be shown to those who deserve God’s wrath, without calling into question God’s justice. Of course we might being a presentation of the gospel talking about things like exile or disconnectedness, but at some point we have to make our way to the fact that only the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for our sins can free us from the punishment our sins deserve. It seemed odd to me that Rob told us the writer of Hebrews used a “sacrifice” metaphor for the atonement because pagans made sacrifices to their gods. Seems to me it has much more to do with 1400 years of Jewish sacrifices at the temple and the sufficiency of the perfect sacrifice by the perfect priest, Jesus Christ.

      Is that helpful? More thoughts?

  9. Ryan Egan October 8, 2010 at 7:05 AM #

    Bob, thanks so much for this helpful and gracious perspective on the Fantastical conference. After reading many of the Twitter posts and blogs that were “note-taking” during it I was very curious to read your perspective. Wise, gracious, and helpful, as always. Thank you for your example to all of us and how consistently magnify the greatness of Christ in all you do.

  10. Clarice October 8, 2010 at 10:53 AM #


    On Bell and “metaphors”: I’m not totally clear on what Bell is talking about with metaphors of the atonement…that sounds really abstract and confusing to me. :) Does he mean stuff like Galations 4, Hagar and Sarah, or…?

    I think every culture has a category for sacrifice of some kind leading to peace with the divine, right? The outworking of that category is kind of like a metaphor. And one that will only find it’s true meaning in Christ.

    There’s an interesting book I would recommend ( I think. I haven’t read it in a while!) called Peace Child by missionary Don Richardson. In it he tells his story of he and his wife’s mission to the Sawi people–cannibals– in New Guinea. They had a religious ritual of offering one of their children to a neighboring tribe to be killed as a “peace offering.” Richardson uses that “metaphor” to share with them the story of Christ and the TRUE peace child.

    Don’t know if that sheds light on Bell’s thoughts. I didn’t hear the message so I’m just trying to make sense of Bob’s retelling. :)

  11. Aaron October 8, 2010 at 11:17 AM #

    Thanks for your perspective on the conference. I thought a throw away comment by Bell was very telling- While talking about the victory that we have in Jesus, he mentioned that the victory we have is over oppression that dehumanizes us. This is a dangerous way to look at sin because it shifts the responsibility away from me and puts it on an outside oppressor. The Bible is clear that my sin is my fault but that Jesus graciously gives victory over sin, death and hell.

  12. Mike Morrell October 11, 2010 at 4:16 PM #

    Hi Clarice – in my opinion, language about atonement (and really, language about ‘God’ in general) is metahphorical in the sense that it is not a 1:1 depiction of the grandeur, majesty, and mystery of God. So: We speak of Jesus’ death as a ‘sacrifice’ for our sins; our Reformed brethren (like Bob here) will likely refer to it as a sacrifice of the Son *unto the Father* for our sins – but these are metaphorical in the sense that Jesus wasn’t literally led to a consecrated altar, and sacrificed before His Father. (We might, indeed, condemn such gross literalism as child sacrifice, which YHWH condemns!) And so historic Christianity has seen this as a way of speaking about the meaning of atonement – one that approximates, but can never fully compass, its meaning.

    This doesn’t mean that other atonement metaphors carry more privilege. Pentecostals and charismatics like me always historically emphasized a ‘ransom’ metaphor of atonement – Jesus rescuing us from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil. More recently, many of us in what some call the emerging church conversation appreciate NT Wright’s retrieval of the ‘Christus Victor’ model (or metaphor) of atonement, wherein the Father vindicates the goodness and perfect obedience of the Son vis-a-vis bodily resurrection, proclaiming victory over death, and the principalities and powers. Still others, in Quaker and Anabaptist and Girardian schools, rightly empathize the ironic nature of Jesus ‘sacrifice’ as a repudiation of all violence.

    While I wasn’t at the Fantastical conference, my guess is that Bell wasn’t suggesting that songwriters make up new metaphors ‘cold turkey,’ but create them in continuity with the great tradition of historic Christianity, giving ourselves the same permission the biblical writers had to seek the Spirit afresh and interpret Gospel goodness to those in our time and place. Because let’s face it, the author of Hebrews is right – Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice! Because of this, sacrifice and blood guilt terminology is a Jesus-authored anachronism, something that no longer makes sense 2,000 years later. Jesus has triumphed over sacrifice once and for all – and our worship should move on accordingly.

    To explore more of the sacrifice metaphors of Scripture, I’d recommend Scot McKnight’s ‘A Community Called Atonement,’ as well as links I’ve catologued at

    Grace & peace to you!

    • Bob Kauflin October 11, 2010 at 4:59 PM #

      Mike, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I didn’t get the impression that Rob was as careful as you suggest when coming up with fresh metaphors for the atonement. I also don’t believe Scripture describes the atonement in ways that are simply metaphorical. Rather, terms are used that best communicate what really took place. Sacrifice, propitiation, redemption, victory. FWIW, I don’t believe Jesus’ death was a sacrifice unto the Father since the plan of redemption involved Jesus propitiating the wrath of the triune God. I think Mark Dever does an effective job responding to the “different views of the atonement” in the article I link to in my post. The atonement stretches the limits of our understanding, but God calls us to faithful proclamation not innovation.

      I’d say more, but currently I’m laying a slate patio for my wife…

  13. George October 11, 2010 at 5:44 PM #


    “The atonement stretches the limits of our understanding, but God calls us to faithful proclamation not innovation.”

    Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t it be both? One doesn’t necessarily have to assume the ‘sacrifice’ of the other? I think also we have to be very careful of being sure of events we weren’t present for. It would be like me saying I know for a fact that it rained in Spain yesterday when I wasn’t there. I do appreciate the work you are doing though bro.

    • Bob Kauflin October 11, 2010 at 5:58 PM #

      George, thanks for the question and the encouragement. I intentionally used the word “innovation” as it relates to the message of the gospel. If you had a chance to read my outline, you’ll see that I recommend always thinking how we can present the gospel in the most persuasive and understandable way. There can be a subtle line, though, between a creative presentation and a new message.

  14. Mike Morrell October 11, 2010 at 7:41 PM #

    Wow – I hope the patio went well!

    I’m not trying to a slippery-relativist postmodern guy or anything, but to say that propitiation describes what ‘really happened’ does stretch my epistemology quite a bit, unless you’re using it in the “really real, reality behind the curtain” Platonic ideal sense – which I don’t have a problem with (unlike some of my emergent compatriots, I don’t think that neoplatonism is the enemy; it simply needs to be tempered with a robust Hebraism, and openness to other cultures where the Good News has spread and incarnated).

    What you say about “the plan of redemption involved Jesus propitiating the wrath of the triune God” sounds intriguing; it sounds like it could simply mean that God was blowing off some steam, propitiating his own wrath through a novel means, but I doubt that’s how you’d put it, or that this even encompasses the whole of what you’re saying. I shall check out Mr. Dever’s post.

    And BTW, the conversation is continuing over at my blog

  15. George Elerick October 12, 2010 at 11:11 AM #

    Bob: thanks.

    so would you say there is no space for a plurality of interpretations of what the gospel is/could be? – take for example, jesus hanging with 12 very different people a lot of the time…

    i think their inherent plurality demonstrates that the gospel can and should be presented in drastically different ways with drastically different/unmeasured (dare i say?) outcomes…

    i think the ethos of my question is shirt-tailing the point in Mike’s message about the gospel being viewed and enhanced through the eyes of other cultures

    • Bob Kauflin October 12, 2010 at 1:14 PM #

      George, there can be diversity in how the gospel is presented, what aspects are emphasized, and the starting place of connection. But all aspects of the gospel are in some way connected to our need for forgiveness before a holy and just God. That is why the aspect of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice is at the heart of the gospel and can’t be messed with or the gospel itself is distorted. Again, there is too much to say for a blog comment. Dever’s article says it well, but if you really want to get into the topic, I’d read Pierced for our Transgressions or Stott’s The Cross of Christ.

  16. Bob Johnson October 16, 2010 at 11:00 PM #

    Bob, Thanks for your insight and staying true to the Scriptures. I agree that we must be careful about how creative we are at presenting the Gospel. We must be careful that the cross is not lost in the presentation. The bottom line is that if there could be salvation any other way than the cross, then why did Jesus suffer the cross? Even Jesus asked if this cup could pass from Him and the answer was no. There is no other way to salvation. This is the truth, reality, not a metaphor. If this is lost in the presentation then so is Gospel.

  17. majorshadow December 15, 2010 at 9:43 PM #

    Song Title: Hosanna
    Hear @ URL:


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