Music and Theology

Bonus Episode: The Hillsong Movement Examined, Part 2

In this bonus episode of Music and the Church, Dr. Tanya Riches continues discussing The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me Out Upon the Waters, a new collection of essays that she and Dr. Tom Wagner co-edited.

Earlier in Episode 8, Tanya talked about Hillsong’s music, how women lead worship in the church, and how she and Tom approached Hillsong as scholars working on the inside and outside of the church.

Today, she’s giving an overview of the book’s 15 essays, and discussing her chapter on women’s ministries at Hillsong, especially the Sisterhood (starting about 14 minutes in). She shows how many Hillsong women internalize an identity that doesn’t reflect their own experiences. Contrary to a so-called “princess theology,” the women Tanya interviewed said that they had empowering experiences of leadership and training in the church.

Continue reading →

Posted by sarah.bereza in Contemporary Worship, Music and Theology, Podcast, 0 comments

Ep. 8: The Hillsong Movement Examined, with Tanya Riches

Try This At Church: We follow up on last week’s suggestion to play from a binder of an entire service’s music (instead of swapping out books throughout a service). Kathy suggests making copies of hymn harmonizations and organizing them alphabetically in binders, so you can see your entire collection at once instead of thumbing through many different books.

In the Field: What theological issues are at play in the great debate: do organists and choir members really need to pay attention during the sermon, especially if other people in the congregation can’t see them?

Interview: Theologian and musician Tanya Riches discusses the new book, The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me Out Upon the Waters, which she co-edited with Tom Wagner. This collection of 15 essays is the first scholarly book about Hillsong Church, a Pentecostal church with roots in Sydney, Australia.

In our interview, Tanya discusses music at the church, as well as her essay in the collection, which deals with women’s leadership in the church.

Continue reading →

Posted by sarah.bereza in Contemporary Worship, Music and Theology, Podcast

Ep. 5: Bringing a Researcher’s Mindset to Music Ministry, with Carrie Allen Tipton, and the 4 Sundays of Advent

Try This At Church: If your church serves alcohol at functions (like a Christmas choir party!), make sure there’s something non-alcoholic that’s equally festive to drink.

In the Field: The Four Weeks of Advent—have recurring themes! Crawford and I discuss what hymns fit which each Sunday’s themes, including one that delighted my son in utero.

InterviewDr. Carrie Allen Tipton is a musicologist who hosts the podcast Notes on Bach, sponsored by the Bach Society HoustonNotes on Bach is a monthly series of interviews with scholars and musicians who work with Baroque music and issues around music like theology. Today, we discuss the benefits of bringing a researcher’s mindset to the ministry of church music.

Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Church Music Administration, Congregational Singing, History of Church Music, Music and Theology, Podcast

Ep. 4: Who Listens to Contemporary Worship Music, with Mark Porter | How Your Church’s Acoustics Can Work For You


Try This at Church: Invite people to join the choir for just Christmas or Easter. They get the opportunity to sing without a long-term commitment, and you get a strengthened choir on days of the year when many regular choir members are likely to be traveling.

In the Field: The acoustics of a church building can make or break your music. Crawford and I discuss ways to embrace the space you have, change it to suit your preferences, or, you know, just throw up your hands and say, I want to do the music I want to do.

Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Contemporary Worship, Music and Theology, Podcast

Ep. 3: The History of Contemporary Worship with Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth

Interview: Dr. Swee Hong Lim and Dr. Lester Ruth discuss their new book Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship.

It’s an exploration of the origins of contemporary worship—including contemporary worship music. In our conversation, we discuss the implications their research has on church music today: What should traditional church consider if they want to add a contemporary service and will it attract young people? Can blended worship services have integrity? And how do different theologies of worship shape church services?

Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Contemporary Worship, History of Church Music, Music and Theology, Podcast

A Moment: Being the Church Through Music, with Jonathan Dueck

In this Music and the Church Moment, Dr. Jonathan Dueck discusses the relationship of congregational music-making with being the Church together. For the rest of our conversation with Jonathan, check out Episode 1.

Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Contemporary Worship, Music and Theology, Podcast

Ep. 1: Canadian Mennonite Worship Wars with Jonathan Dueck | Responses to National Tragedy

Try This at Church: Does your church like brass on Easter Sunday? Don’t wait to book your musician(s)—schedule them now!

Interview: Jonathan Dueck, Vice President Academic and Academic Dean at Canadian Mennonite University (Winnipeg, Manitoba), discusses his new book, Congregational Music, Conflict and Community. It’s about the worship wars in three Canadian Mennonite churches—and how statements of belief (“I believe this so I sing that“) turned into reflections on beauty and relationships, a perspective he describes as an aesthetics of encounter.

In the Field: What responses to national tragedies can music leaders incorporate into services? Crawford chose different hymns and untexted music with a solemn association, and I introduced my prelude by inviting the congregation to pray the hymn with me as I played. Let us know what music you have found helpful in times like these—we are preparing a resource document that we’ll make available in a few weeks.

Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Church Music Administration, Contemporary Worship, Music and Theology, Podcast

Can Music Communicate Faith?

I’m always amazed when I read this:

“Bach’s art and his religion are but one and the same. … Bach…uses music as a medium to present the Lutheran doctrines of Christianity. His music thus leads to the Gospel.”—Gerhard Herz

That statement is from the mid-twentieth-century, but plenty of present-day scholars make similar arguments. For example, Eric Chafe argues that J. S. Bach’s cantatas reflect Lutheran beliefs through their melodies, style, instrumentation, and overall tonal design.

Many non-scholars share this perspective on Bach’s music. At a church service the other day, the liturgist followed up my prelude (a Bach chorale prelude) by commenting on Bach’s faith—essentially saying there is something particularly meaningful in Bach’s music because he was a devout Christian.

So, can you really hear Bach’s faith in his music? Can you hear specifically Lutheran beliefs in his music? Or, if you can’t, could his contemporary listeners?

The answers to these questions matter because if you think a composer can communicate their beliefs through their music, then you are more likely to think that church music should be written only by Christians.

Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Music and Theology

Authenticity—Is It Worth the Hassle?


“Authenticity” can mean a lot of things—as I’m using the word, authenticity is where leading musicians sing true words that convey their personal beliefs and and, in so doing, express their inner self.  For example, while singing the true words “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!” the musicians convey their personal belief in the words and that they are truly worshipping God in the moment of singing.

(Some churches require musicians to be Christians on the grounds of “authenticity,” but that’s a different meaning for “authenticity” than how I’m using it. I’m talking specifically about conveying the reality of your faith in ways that other people can perceive, not just having faith.)

There are specific things musicians can do to appear authentic. For example, vocalists can use cry breaks, bent notes, and strained facial expressions. In some churches, relaxed/peaceful faces, closed eyes, and uplifted hands can also read as authentic.

But these common practices just indicate what may or may not be actually authentic to a musician’s heart. Continue reading →

Posted by Sarah Bereza in Music and Theology