Well, 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.