Reliquarium: Hymns for the World filming in Nashville at Ocean Way Studio.Read More
by Kemper Crabb
My father asked me to make an album of hymns. He wanted me to do this as a benefit for his missionary ministry, Servants of the King. While I was thrilled to do an album to benefit SOTK, I was reluctant to do an album of hymns.
“Dad,” I told him, ”the world needs another hymns record like it needs a hole in the head. There are tons of great hymns albums available out there.” (Not least of which in this category is the finest hymns album of all, Hymns,
by Craig Smith, produced and arranged by my friend Paul Mills, which can be procured at http://www.craigsmithmusic.co/hymns. No funds were given for this endorsement, by the bye; it’s just a great recording…). My father, unimpressed by my patently true argument, still wanted me to make an hymn project.
After some thought (I love my father, and hate to disappoint him), I told him that I would do so, if I could arrange the hymns any way I wanted to, though I assured him that I wouldn’t alter the lyrics or melodies, which I recognize as having stood the test of time, recognized across the centuries and decades as excellent, memorable, and orthodox in doctrine (at least, the ones still regularly used in the churches today), and therefore, in terms of lyrics and melody, sacrosanct. He replied that he didn’t care how I arranged them, he just wanted me to do it. So I did.
What partially motivated me in this endeavor was the fact that the transmission of ideas which give rise to cultures across time is a formative bridge, moving from the past through the present to the future, carrying forward the most central and magnificent concepts and artifacts embodying those cultures. This concept should be welcome and familiar to Christians, whose faith is based upon the historical actions of God Himself, enscripturated in the Bible by the Spirit’s inspiration, the testimony to which has been believed and taught by the church from centuries past (2 Tim. 3: 16-17; 2 Peter 1: 21).
Yet even the greatest of ideas loses its urgency eventually. The most influential and beautiful art gradually passes into obscurity through sheer familiarity. The passage of time assures that even the most vital things are finally taken for granted, even though the influences which shape a culture over time, whether idea or artifact, are based upon those which preceded them in a society’s formation. Every generation must learn its past anew.
This is why Christians have attempted across the ages to heed the admonition of St. Paul to Timothy: “ Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Tim. 2: 15). In an attempt to faithfully obey that principle, my mission is the retrieval of the most vital music of our past, a revisitation and re-rendering of musical pieces from the formative core of Western culture, the songs which helped form us as a people, and yet have disappeared from conscious memory, though they have influenced the music and history which have produced our place in time.
Since most of these songs were dominated by the language, belief, and worship-patterns of Christianity, such a recovery can only help our increasingly post-Christian society to remember (or realize for the first time) that Christianity was the dominant force which produced, in its interaction with, and reorientation of Europe’s inherited Classical heritage and Germanic cultures, the laws, institutions, societal concepts, and art of the Western world.
However, a brute retrieval of these songs is not enough. As Geoffrey of Vinsauf wrote in Poetria Nova, his 13th Century book on the art of rhetoric:
“Permit an old word to regain its youth by giving it a home
in another situation where it can be a novel guest, giving
pleasure by its strangeness.”
Those vital things of the faith which have been allowed to sink into obscurity must be resurrected, though in a fashion which renders them accessible and attractive to an age which has forgotten them and the concepts they embody.
This is why the ancient music must be presented as a fusion of its original form with the musical styles of the present, especially since the original form helped give birth to the music we enjoy today. Such a fusion compels attention by an amalgamation of the musical approaches which please modern sensibilities while simultaneously revealing the beauty of the ancient source with all its essential quiddity preserved. Such a juxtaposition renders the original beauty of the piece “strange,” a combination which refocuses contemporary attention (by virtue of interest in its unusual or “strange” rendering), but which still communicates the power and force of the original music.
This technique (normally called “defamiliarization” by literary theorists) has been successfully utilized by writers such as C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton, architects such as Antonio Gaudi, and painters such as Hieronymous Bosch and Vincent Van Gogh. Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, and Gaudi were all utilizing this technique specifically to refamiliarize and re-present Christian concepts and forms to modern society.
Such a presentation can be greatly enhanced by accompanying commentary concerning the inherently Christian cultural and historical background which gave rise to the original songs and infused them with lasting, even eternal importance.
What is to be gained from such an endeavor? Aside from the nascent beauty of the ancient music, it must be remembered that the beliefs embedded in these songs helped shape the culture we inhabit, with our values and concepts, both musical and otherwise, especially since many of these songs continue to be utilized in churches across America and Europe to this day. A conscious retrieval of all that this music represents and has to offer can enable us to more intelligently discern how our culture has come to the point at which it has arrived, and to inform us as to where it is (and should) be going. As the maxim so wisely states, “A tree is only as strong as its roots.” We cannot know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been as a people, and, in a culture which has become estranged from and forgotten the Faith which gave birth to it, the recovery of Christianity is imperative.
The reintroduction of these songs, surrounded by commentary on their historical origins and cultural meaning, can go a long way toward arousing interest in Christianity by way of enlightened self-interest, as there is presently a great curiosity in America as to what formed us as a people and culture. The beauty of the songs, coupled with teaching explaining how they helped form the development of our values and beliefs, should function as an apologetic refuting current post-Christian doubts that Christianity is effective in the production of works of lasting beauty, as well as demonstrating that the Christian ideas transmitted in the ancient music were not only central in the formation of the Western culture of the past, but that those ideas remain relevant and vital to future cultural development.
My goal is thus to give “pleasure by strangeness,” to arrest the attention of our culture by the mixed beauty of this music, and thereby help us see where we’ve been, and aid us in calculating where we are going.
This is even more important as current technology rapidly advances a truly global culture, and the West, in its cultural melding and exchange with the global South and East, seeks to offer and receive the most helpful elements inherent in each of the participant societies, to the betterment of all the Earth’s peoples. This continues apace as an historical fulfillment of the Scriptures’ prophecies that God will redeem “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9), “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues” (Rev. 7:9), who will contribute their languages, cultures, and art to Christ’s Kingdom.
In celebration of this ongoing exchange, I have sought to utilize the instruments and modes of the cultures of both East and West, signifying the growing influence of all the Earth’s cultures upon each other, and in anticipation of Christ’s impact upon all the earth’s cultures. My latest project, Reliquarium, is a prime example of my efforts along these lines.
By Kemper Crabb
Christians have always seen parts of the Creation as symbols of God. Well they should, since the Bible teaches that this was one of the reasons God made the world: to reveal Himself to men.(On Reliquarium: Part Two)We can see this in places like Romans 1:18-20 -
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…
and Psalm 19:1-4 –
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world…
A realization that God has made the things that exist precisely in order to symbolize and reveal Himself causes believers to see the world differently, and parts of the world, especially parts that are important to their faith, become loci of devotion, things whose very existence act as reminders of, and engagements with, the Presence of God.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, especially since most people were illiterate, relics (articles of clothing or other possessions, or even the remains of those of holy life who had died in the Faith) became such focuses of devotion, reminders that God was real and worked in the lives of believers not just in the long-ago Biblical times, but also in the present life and ongoing experiences of Christians still living.
These relics were frequently kept in caskets or containers known as reliquaries, to preserve and simultaneously reveal these relics to believers across time.
With the advent of the Reformation, however, came a change in attitude amongst the Protestants in reaction to what they considered to be a far-too-deeply-developed devotion to these objects, and they deliberately distanced themselves from what they saw as a form of devotion that was an intrinsic part of what they were seeking to reform (Reformation, right?).
People being what they are, however, and the world being exactly what Scripture says it is, that vacuum of secondary objects of devotion was soon filled with creations more suited to the aims and goals of the Reformation: hymns.
In the Medieval Church, the laity, the non-clerical worshippers, didn’t sing in the services in church. That was a task done by either clerics (priests or monks or other ordained ministers) or by other specially-trained lesser clerics. The people simply listened.
Part of the reform wrought by the Protestants was a restoration of worship in song by the congregation as well as the ministers and choir. The Reformation brought a spate of composing hymnists who labored to write songs suited for congregational worship, hymns which both celebrated God and His Works and which also taught Biblical doctrine in forms both accessible to worshippers in their native tongues (prior to this, all songs were in Latin, which very few understood) and which were memorable melodically and lyrically.
These were songs even the illiterate could learn and utilize themselves in God’s worship (though the Reformers labored mightily to educate their people to read, as well). As ongoing, regular elements of believer’s worship, elements which allowed them to become integral parts of public worship, these hymns themselves soon became objects through which the Protestants could focus their devotion, and the hymns filled the space in life formerly occupied by relics.
The hymns were, for Protestant believers, the new relics, new, highly accessible portals and foci through which their devotion and worship of God could be evoked and poured.
In light of all this, it occurred to me that a collection of such post-Reformation hymns would itself be a kind of reliquary, a reliquary of hymns. In Latin, the word is reliquarium. This is the origin of the title of my collection of performed hymns: Reliquarium.
by Kemper Crabb
History is a corkscrew: a spiral, really. It seems like it moves forward in a line (and it does, sort of), but really it has these ups and downs, these punctuated rhythms which are like counter-steps in a complicated circle-dance. The history of the Church is not only not immune to this, but in many ways is actually paradigmatic for everyone's ongoing history, Christian or not, encompassing individuals, families, nations, cultures, etc. And culture is what I'm primarily thinking of and addressing here.
Having been a musician all my life (and a minister for most of that time), I've been much involved with the music of the Church (especially its worship music). Those who are familiar with my recordings and live performances either associate me with rock and pop music (ArkAngel, Hope of Glory, Atomic Opera, RadioHalo, Caedmon's Call) or with Early music and folk (the Vigil, A Medieval Christmas, Downe In Yon Forrest), and, considering my musical output, that's easily understandable. I was involved in the first wave of what became CCM music (which didn't really exist when we started during the Jesus Movement around 1970), and, because of that, I've always been involved with contemporary worship music, and still am. But I grew up singing hymns.
From the earliest times I remember, I sang hymns in worship services, especially after I embraced Christ as my Savior at 11 years of age. The hymns, of course, took on deep experiential and emotional roots within my awareness after my conversion. As I grew older, I learned a good deal about the hymnists who composed these songs which dominated my youth. I was especially impressed with the lives of four of them:
-Fanny Crosby, blinded accidentally soon after her birth, nonetheless became the most prolific hymnist who's ever lived, becoming a skilled multi-instrumentalist (including guitar, a very unusual instrument for a woman of her time), a friend to presidents, the first woman ever to address the United States Senate, and much more.
-Charles Wesley, brother to John Wesley, and one of the progenitors of the First Great Awakening, was subjected to continued ecclesiastical persecution and physical threats following his conversion and commitment to public preaching, began to write hundreds of hymns of elegance and eloquent theological poetry.
-Charlotte Eliot, a member of the Clapham Sect, William Wilberforce's Evangelical group committed to Biblical social change, contracted a mysterious debilitating disease which forced her to lead much of her life as a semi-invalid, but led her to pen some of the most beloved hymns in the English language.
-George Whitfield suffered enervating depression all of his life, attempting suicide multiple times, yet rose to become one of his time's most respected poets (even considered for the post of poet-laureate of England) and developed a close friendship with John Newton, publishing with him some of the greatest hymns ever penned.
All of these men and women faced tremendous challenges and yet mastered and utilized to great effect the artistic expressions of their time to provide a medium of common and participatory faith which worshippers ever since have used in worship.
As I began to write worship songs myself, I gradually became more and more interested in how these various hymnists approached composing their songs, and realized that, though they self-consciously embraced the contemporary lyrical and instrumental forms of their day, they were also deeply informed by the musical traditions of the Church in the centuries before them. This led me to realize that, just as they were informed by past musical practices to compose their songs, so was I, and, further, that all the musical practices of our current culture bore the influences (pro or con) of the ubiquitous worship songs of the hymnists who came before.
It saddened me, in the years that have followed this realization, that the great hymns of the past, once so universally known, were gradually being marginalized by newer songs, as the older hymns, which began to be seen as spiritually moribund and musically non-relevant, increasingly became unknown to younger believers, and lost to the culture at large, despite the fact that the influence of these hymns still undergirded that same culture.
I determined that arranging these hymns in more contemporary forms would revive interest by showing their intrinsic excellence in a newly refurbished light. In addition, the lives, challenges, and triumphs of these hymnists need to be made known to Christians today, as a context for their songs. And, with Reliquarium, I began to do so, and am now involved in writing, teaching, and filming the results of these efforts, and have invited you, my friends old and new, to take part in this ongoing retrieval of our common Christian heritage.
In a world gone quite mad, it has never been more apparent that we need each other to get through the insanity. The divisions of race, color, creed, gender, economic and/or social standing, and the like are being violently exploited by those who profit from their repercussions. These profiteers will use the insane actions of one they oppose as a bloody brush to paint all they oppose as being in solidarity with the one, yet immediately dismiss and explain away the actions of (i.e., murders committed by) one with whom they are ideologically aligned as those of an irrational individual with no connection to their causes; one for whom there can be no possible explanation regardless of how the individual him or herself clearly identifies the cause in which name they kill.
It may seem like the height of irrelevance to discuss the ‘lone wolf Christian’ at the present time. Not so. Unity in the face of dividers is our strength as believers; a refusal to allow the enemy any opportunity to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize the one who stands for Christ. With that I defer to Kemper Crabb, author of Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church, and our ongoing interview.
In the book you strongly counsel against the lone wolf mindset among Christians; going it alone as a believer rather than being an active member of the church. Why do we see so much of the lone wolf mentality? Also, is the plethora of individual, independent churches part of this phenomenon?
Hmmm. Well, this is a problem concerning the One and the Many, a question of, I guess you’d say, imbalance. What I mean by this is that, since we’re created in the Image of God, we’re intended to reflect Who God is (on the creaturely level, of course). God is Triune, One God in Three Persons, Unified in His Essence or Substance, and Diverse in His Persons. The Lord is not more One than He is Three, and He’s not more Three than He is One, which is to say, God’s not more Diverse than He is Unified. He is Both Equally, and always has been. God is the Foundation of Balance, the Paradigm for human society (family, state, business, etc.), since God’s Image is revealed in humanity in two genders, multiple relations, and so forth, not just in individuals alone.
God has always dealt with men in terms of the Covenant, and the Covenant is modeled on the Relationships between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, adjusted to the Fallen creaturely level. This is important because every Christian is a member of the New Covenant, which is what defines the Church. And both the Model of the Holy Trinity Himself, and the Covenant predicated by that Model, present and demand a balance between the One and the Many, the corporate and the individual, as the most helpful and most revelatory state of being for human society, which includes the way the Church is supposed to work.
Now, the Church has very frequently been deformed in an imbalance toward either the institutional/corporate or the individual member. For instance, the State Churches that arose after the Reformation in places like Germany and England eventually hardened into moralistic, formal institutions which emphasized a doctrinal standard in terms of mental assent and outward action, but did not value (or urge) the necessity of personal inward affective experience, seeking only a similar conformity to external standards.
In response to such institutional corporate aridity, movements like Pietism and the Great Awakenings arose which emphasized the value and necessity of personal rebirth and relationship to Christ resulting in affective individual experience. This was a needful corrective for the singular over-emphasis on the corporate aspect of the Church of the time.
However, the balancing emphasis on personal relational experience with Christ, in its justifiable central emphasis in the First Great Awakening had become, by the Second Great Awakening, itself an overemphasis on personal experience (as seen in things like Charles Finney’s systemization of techniques to induce an emotional experience of “conversion”) which actually gradually overwhelmed and displaced the desire and perceived need for doctrinal boundaries and ordered corporate worship in American consciousness.
It was this new imbalance which spawned American hyper-individualism and individual orientation (a great book on this is Michael Horton’s Made In America, by the way), and this same imbalance was strengthened by (and conversely strengthened) the Romantic Movement’s subjective self-orientation which had come about as a reaction to Enlightenment rationalism.
The assumption that it was the realm of interior subjective experience which was the only absolutely vital and meaningful part of life tended to downplay the life of the mind and corporate scholarship among Evangelicals by the early years of the 20th Century, and slogans like “no creed but Christ; no law but love; no book but the Bible” began to define the attitudes and worldviews of huge numbers of Evangelicals.
Self-reliance of this sort flies in the face of the fact that Scripture teaches that we desperately need each other in terms of the varied Gifts of the Spirit given for the building up of the whole Body of Christ, of others, as 1 Corinthians 12 plainly teaches (the gifts of teaching and discernment of spirits both examples of vital gifts), or in evangelism, as when Jesus sent the 12 Disciples off two by two in Mark 6:7-13 (or the 70 disciples in Luke 10:1-20), or in worship, since Jesus is present in a way different from His Normal Presence with us when two or more gather in His Name, as Matthew 18:20 tells us. In fact, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that believers are a holy nation, not just gathered individuals who have similar religious beliefs. No, we are actually, through Jesus, members of one another, as Romans 12:5 lays out.
It is much easier in some ways to ignore all this and still think we can accomplish the same things by ourselves that we would in a corporate setting, and there’s no question that disregarding Jesus’ Command that we be servants in Galatians 5:13 as Jesus was revealed to be in Matthew 20:28. If our spiritual quest is defined by a search for quick-fix solutions and a feel-good experience, we won’t feel the need to obey the Bible’s urging toward responsibility to and for one another: we’ll simply serve ourselves individually without much regard for others.
The definition of Christian life as primarily experiential and self-driven has moved many churches to begin to model themselves on a consumerist philosophy, and become driven by parishioner/consumer desire rather than by the preaching of the Word. It is true that there have been numbers of colossal failures by churches to discipline the rebellious, help the fallen/spiritually wounded (rather than simply whisk them away quietly to avoid dealing with the hassle and pretend things like that don’t happen in those congregations.
There’s also been beaucoup abuse, emotional, sexual, and financial of people by church leaders (which leaders tend to try to avoid accountability to denominational leaders or committees so as to continue to easily perpetrate their wickedness). As a result, many people tend to withdraw from church membership/attendance altogether, and many congregations, fearing unjust denominational manipulation from corrupt or ungodly Church officers, simply withdraw from greater accountability, giving rise to a bushel of independent congregations (further fueled, of course, by the rampant individualist drive to self-sufficiency in most of their congregants).
All these abuses are real, and in this age of increasing centralization and control over so many areas of our lives, it’s easy to want smaller expressions of corporate life, Church included. But what is truly needed is a return to Biblical balance in our churches and everywhere. That alone will fulfill God’s multiple-faceted calling to us all.
...back to my interview with Kemper Crabb regarding topics brought up in his new book Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church.
Throughout the book you, via straightforward Scriptural examples, illustrate God’s intended immense empowerment of, and working through, the church in not only the earthly realm but even the heavenly. Why is this fundamental teaching so unheard and/or unheard of in today’s church?
Hmmm. Well, that’s an important question, I think. It has, however, multiple vectors that feed any kind of answer, and this shouldn’t surprise us, since any kind of motivation to do something, especially something sinful, and you’re going to find varied motivations, frequently even within a single person.
Generally, though, I think there are three or four basic reasons as to why these truths are largely unknown in the Church today. The first, and likely the single most important, since it affects most of the other reasons on one level or another, is the creeping reductionism that has influenced the modern Evangelical Church’s doctrine and practice for at least a hundred and fifty years or so (longer in some quarters), an orientation that I call Christian reductionism. Christian reductionism is willing to posit that the central Creedal doctrines of the Bible (the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Resurrection, Creation, etc.), but remain skeptical about other supernatural aspects of Scriptural teaching, preferring to view those things in the most reductionistic fashion possible, only giving credence to any such possibility when all naturalistic explanations are exhausted, if they finally give any credence at all to them (a salient antidote to this tendency happens not infrequently when a family member or congregant ends up demonized, and there’s no naturalistic explanation).
Some believers adopt this attitude because they seek to make the Faith more palatable to its cultured despisers, and, at least theoretically, bring them to belief. Most of today’s believers, though, have simply absorbed the naturalistic skepticism concerning the supernatural promulgated in modern education and the media, and, though they will accept the far-removed supernatural events of the central Creedal beliefs, anything closer to them in time and space is subject to their background reductionistic bent. This tendency is also far too prominent in seminary training, and many pastors pass it on to their parishioners, either implicitly or explicitly.
So, when Scripture presents a teaching that we actually worship in Heaven while still on the Earth, or that the more obviously supernatural spiritual gifts exist (even though all of the Spirit’s Gifts are innately supernatural in their origin and operation, though gifts like teaching and administration seem to not be so), or that demons actively engage humans to do harm, or that God actively judges nations rather than just individuals, to a Christian reductionist these beliefs are either dismissed as untenable or filed away as irrelevant or unbelievable.
And, of course, Christian reductionist ministers just don’t teach those troubling doctrines, except perhaps to explain them away in naturalistic or lunatic-fringe categories. Not to mention that there appears to be a widely-present fear that if “controversial” doctrines are taught or affirmed, numbers might dip in the congregation (and, consequently, tithes might do the same).
Now, there are Charismatic branches of the American Church who do embrace the supernatural as a matter of course, but since many (though not all) of these branches are much more concerned with seeking experience than they are with arriving at a doctrinally-coherent and integrated Biblical world-and-life-view, they frequently misunderstand or attempt to practice these doctrines, resulting in an imbalanced and regrettably goofy way, which just goes to further marginalize and ridicule these ideas among the more doctrinally-oriented Christian reductionists.
Finally, there’s the simple truth that most of us simply don’t know the Bible, or, if we know it much at all, we don’t know it deeply, so, even if our world-view allows more supernaturalistic possibilities (which taking Scripture seriously and learning it would definitely help that gig), if we don’t know the Bible, a broader world-view wouldn’t help in engaging these doctrines.
What’s needed, of course, is a knowledge of God’s Word engaged in an attitude that will take what it says seriously and be shaped by its teaching, and the courage to teach and practice them
The purpose of church architecture is to physically symbolize the true nature of where our worship takes place, and what is happening there... Church architecture is massively helpful in reinforcing these fundamental understandings in the worship that shapes everything we are and do.Read More
“Liberation Front” by Kemper Crabb a clarion call for church renewal and revival -- a review by Jerry Wilson
Liberation Front: Resurrecting the Church is a Scriptural muscle-guided slap in the face to both individual believers and the church as a whole calling them, and it, back to the Biblically-ordained role and power the church has been divinely ordained to uphold in earth and in heaven.Read More
Both sides, in their refusals, diminished themselves, and, in so doing, diminished the effectiveness of the Church, breeding unforgiveness, bitterness, and hostility toward their own fellow Christians.Read More
...we are selfish. We want to please ourselves more than our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and even, all too frequently, than the Lord Jesus.Read More