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Traditional hymns & contemporary tunes could cool worship wars, minister says
March 19, 2003
By Michael Foust

Kevin Twit, a college minister from Franklin, Tenn., has an idea: setting traditional hymns to contemporary music.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--College minister Kevin Twit thinks he has a solution to what many call the "worship wars." Instead of arguing over traditional versus contemporary styles, Twit combines both and comes up with a new twist:

A traditional hymn set to contemporary music -- guitars and drums included.

Twit says the music has so influenced his students at Christ Community Church in Franklin Tenn., that many of them prefer these "new" hymns over contemporary music. Twit sings in a band, Indelible Grace, that travels the country performing its brand of music. The group has released a handful of CDs and has a website -- igracemusic.com.

Indelible Grace recently held a concert at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where Twit spoke. His lecture Feb. 20 was part of the seminary's Institute for Christian Worship speaker series.

"I want to challenge the idea that we have to lose the church's tradition if we want to be relevant in our age," he said.

Twit said he once saw an antique store sign that summarized his position: "My grandmother saved it, my mother threw it away and now I'm buying it back."

"What I'm seeing from my vantage point working with college students is a real hunger and desire to buy back the tradition that the baby boomers said that we could dispense with," he said.

While not criticizing the use of contemporary music -- such as praise choruses -- Twit said that hymn lyrics offer elements not seen in other styles. Among them:

-- Hymns are mini-meditations on the "paradoxes" of the gospel.

"The gospel is so much bigger than we think, and it's so much more mysterious than we think," he said. "... When you sing a hymn, you actually have four or five minutes to just sit in the mystery."

One example of this mystery, he said, is Charles Wesley's famous composition, "Amazing Love." Twit pointed to one particular line written by the 18th-century hymnist: "How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

"We should never get over that," he said. "That should never cease to amaze us."

Praise songs, Twit said, generally contain one thought repeated several times. While there are times praise songs can and should be used, he said hymns tend to go deeper.

"Hymns tend to actually start somewhere and go somewhere," he said. "They take us through a progression. They will actually allow us to sit in this mystery that the judge of all would suffer death and set his prisoners free."

-- Hymns offer a wider range of emotional expressions.

This is surprising to some, Twit admitted, because churchgoers often relate hymns to dullness and boredom.

But hymns don't simply dwell on the positive, he said. For example, Anne Steele, who lived in the 18th century, wrote a song titled, "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" following a series of family deaths and tragedies.

Such songs can help comfort those in the church who are suffering, Twit added.

"They cover this huge range of emotions," he said.

-- Because they were written centuries ago, hymns remind Christians of the rich history of their faith.

"It's one of the most important reasons we need to keep the hymns -- kids need to know that the church is bigger than their generation, that's it's not faddish," Twit said. "... It's been here and it will [continue to] be here."

Pastors and church leaders wrote many of the hymns, he pointed out.

"The reason we sing hymns is because they resonated with people and they have gotten a wider hearing," he said.

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