The Table Podcast

Faith Work and Music

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Todd Agnew discuss faith and vocation in the life of a musician

Timecodes
01:31
Agnew’s background in music
04:11
Agnew’s calling to seminary
07:02
Theological education enriches songwriting
13:35
Leading worship and performing at concerts
19:44
Musicians and storytelling
20:20
Life of an artist in the church
25:00
Music styles in the church
30:07
Musicians and preaching
40:43
Connecting old and the new styles in music
43:40
Letting songs speak for themselves
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I am Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at The Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary.

My guest is Todd Agnew, who is a musician and a theology student, right?

Todd Agnew
I am, yes. I do both depending on what day it is.
Darrell Bock
That’s right. You’ve been here a while now. I hear you are in your last year, so you are hitting your swan song. Is that right?
Todd Agnew
Something like that. I am starting to get a hold of a few of the ideas.
Darrell Bock
Be encouraged, because when it is all done we give you a degree called a Master of Theology. I call it the greatest misnomer of a degree that I have ever heard of in my life, to be a master of theology. But it does mean that you know a little something. So, hopefully we have done something for you there.
Todd Agnew
Yes. I definitely feel like I have started. I am on that journey and I have definitely taken a few more steps. I don’t know that “master” is going to fit quite yet, but it has been good.
Darrell Bock
Good.

We are here to talk about music and truth and beauty and vocation and all those mixtures. Let’s start a little bit with your personal story. How did you get involved in music? Give us a little outline of your background and what got you to Dallas.

Todd Agnew
I was born here, so coming back to school at DTS is a little surreal because I was born at Baylor Hospital three blocks away. So, I started life here and grew up in the Dallas metroplex. I fell in love with music at a pretty young age. I started leading worship pretty much right as I left for college and stayed in that and just really – especially youth camp, that kind of atmosphere – really loved it. I did that for a long time.

Years and years later when I would drive somewhere and play for a youth group of four people for pizza and gas money every weekend, I eventually recorded a record that I was going to sell at camp and at my church. But one of the guys who turned into a mentor for me, Dana Key, heard what we were doing and just said, “Hey, Todd. I think God has a bigger plan for this.” We prayed about it because I really didn’t think that was God was doing; He had taken a long time to break the pride of being a musician in my heart. So I didn’t assume He was going to take and do something real big with it. I thought I was where I was needed to be.

But Dana was a patient and godly man and we prayed through it. All of a sudden God opened these huge doors and I had songs on the radio and was on a tour bus traveling around. I had a great bunch of guys with me who were a great part of what God did over those years in my life, being a part of their life and how they affected me.

I have just kept doing that. I’ve had different opportunities. By now, it is, well sometimes it is jumping on a plane and playing a big band show with all the lights and sound equipment and lasers and fog and everything, and sometimes it is just grabbing a guitar and leading worship in a church,. Sometimes it is going into teaching the Bible. Sometimes it is going and training the next generation of people that are going to be doing this. It has really been a beautiful story so far.

Darrell Bock
How did you end up at The Seminary, in particular?
Todd Agnew
There were two main things that happened. One is we had started a worship leadership development program at Austin Stone Community Church down in Austin. I was part of that team and I just saw we were doing a lot of really great things and we were seeing these young worship leaders grow.

But, I was just convicted. I felt like a lot of what I had to offer them was experience, “Oh, there is this one time this happened in service,” and I had a few home run Bible verses about worship. But, a real solid foundation, biblical theology of worship; I had an idea, but like most of those things I pulled as quotes from somebody’s book and I really just wanted to be more trained, more prepared to help them build the foundation for their future ministry. That was part of it.

The other was my wife got a job offer up here and as we started talking about that I was trying to be encouraging about the city of Dallas. One of the things I mentioned that was a highlight in Dallas was DTS. She said, “Well, do you want to go Seminary?” I said, “Well, I didn’t say that. I just said it’s a really good thing in Dallas. I really respect the work they’re doing there,” and she goes, “Yeah, but do you want to go to Seminary?” I was like, “Well, if you mean in my heart of hearts, of course. I love studying the Bible. I love understanding who God is and what He is doing in our lives and in the world, but I am a musician who has not been in the academic world. I don’t think I get to do that.” I was like, maybe some day, retirement age, I’ll get to come audit some classes.

She really just encouraged me and said, “I really think that God is doing something here and you need to call them.” So I did and got lots of help and all the pieces got to come together. So, I’ve had a great three years here.

Darrell Bock
That’s great.

You know, normally I guess one of the challenges of doing music, and particularly writing music, is thinking through the contents of what it is that you are engaged with. I would imagine that one of the challenges is thinking about what you are writing and what it is saying and how it can be understood – that kind of thing. Have you found your time here to be enriching in that regard, in terms of opening up the possibilities of what it is that you can write and sing about?

Todd Agnew
It has been. It has been a long process, though. I was always very serious about what I wrote, and I tried to be very careful with the theology that we present because it is very easy to say something not quite right, and if you put a catchy tune to it a lot of people suddenly might know something that is not quite right. So, I was always very cautious about that and it was very important to me.

I thought I would come here and “boom” and explode – Isaac Watts, writing all these great, rich things. Instead, I did the opposite. I got here and I stopped writing songs altogether. At first I thought I was afraid of it. I thought that I had gotten sort of stage fright of, “Oh, now I see how much there is to know. I know how little I know, so maybe I just shouldn’t even risk writing a song.”

But fortunately I had a great community around me. We started talking and wrestling this idea and what we came to was that fear is a little bit of it, but that a majority of it is that my writing process is really long. I song write usually over about 18 to 24 months.

Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
Todd Agnew
The seed kind of gets planted and I would start wrestling with it scripturally, then theologically, then communally. Then we start talking about it. Then say, “Okay, how do we live that out.” Once it has been in my life for a while, that is when it turns into music. Once it is a natural part of life I write a song out of it.

What happened here was I had so much going into the front end of the pipe that nothing was getting to the end of the pipe.

Darrell Bock
There wasn’t time to process what you were getting.
Todd Agnew
Not at all, and unfortunately we got to have those conversations and I realized that during my time here I am going to have to be intentional and take some of those things and say, “I’ve got to drag this one to the end.” That is kind of the approach I have taken for the last year and a half now, is starting to go: Okay, this one, we are going to get it through the process. I’ve got to keep drinking out of the fire hydrant, but we are going to get some of these things through.

The things that have come through have been really rich and really beautiful and I am honored to be a part of it.

Darrell Bock
It is interesting because as you were talking about this – I actually and honestly had never thought about this before – is whether you write first and then go to the tune, or do you have a tune and work words into it? Do you have a set way that that works?
Todd Agnew
I was going to say that I don’t, but I probably do. I’ve found that the great thing about being a musician and being a writer is that you get to be friends with other musicians and other writers. One of the beautiful things about being a song writer, as opposed to a book writer, is that song writers then you get to play your songs, then you go on tour with your friends who play songs and write songs.

So you build that, whereas a lot of time some of my friends that write books do that all by themselves. But I get to see everybody else’s creative process and see how they operate.

The honest truth is I know guys who work all those different ways. Some of them have tunes and carve out the words to be on top of them. Some of them are more poets and then put the music to it. I am this long process person. So for me it is always the scripture; it is always the theology that is the real inspiration, the real seed. As it grows through life, eventually as a musician that is just the language it comes out in. When it does for me, it comes out almost done. It is the tune and the words come out together for me in one moment.

But like I said, as we have been taking this a little more seriously, looking at what songs can be written for the church in the last couple of years that has – “This is what it is going to be like.” So now we need to stop. We’ve got the vibe. Here’s where the song is going to go, but let’s not just throw words in it. Let’s find what is the theology, what is the best thing that can be said in the third line of verse two, where normally by the time I’m at the third line of verse two I’m just going, “This kind of rhymes. Here we go.”

Now we’re saying, “No. We’re talking about redemption. What happened on the cross? So, what can be said in these seven syllables? What is the best thing that can be returned as an offering to the Lord in that moment?” It has really been challenging and a beautiful kind of new season.

Darrell Bock
Do you write your songs on your own, or do you have a team that you interact with? How does that work?
Todd Agnew
For a long time I wrote by myself. I have pushed myself in the more recent years to write with others. One, I think the body of Christ does beautiful things together. But also, selfishly, it’s: What if you have a better idea for this than I do.

It is kind of a little bit that I have to know what my songs are going to do. I’ve done this a long time. They are going to lean in this direction and they are going to say kind of these things, and I am going to push myself. When you bring somebody else into that it can really spark something that I would have never thought of and never tried. That is a lot of fun.

Darrell Bock
You have both led music in a church and done the concert thing, and now you are doing a little bit of both?
Todd Agnew
Yes. I probably have too many hats on right now, just looking at life in general. I am a husband and a father.
Darrell Bock
Oh by the way.
Todd Agnew
Yes.

So there is my primary package and then I am trying to do all these other things on the side. So yes, I still go out and play concerts. I don’t do a lot of the big crazy shows anymore just because I don’t know that I need to. There are a lot of other great bands that can do that just as well or better than I can. So I try to be home with my family and then take the shows where I think what they are doing ministry-wise I could really be a part of and I could really add something to.

Sometimes that is by playing my songs, more concert stuff. A lot of times it is by going and leading worship. In fact, almost all the time it is some kind of combination of those two – even concerts. I am a worship leader; that is going to be a part of what we do. But I am also a Bible teacher and a story teller so by now I have got the freedom. I’ve done this long enough and people have believed in me long enough that they kind of come in and say, “Hey look, we want you to be who God has made you to be and just share with us.” It is a really fun time right now.

Darrell Bock
So, you’ve lived in Houston and you’ve been here in Dallas. I think I heard you were in Austin for a time?
Todd Agnew
Yes.
Darrell Bock
How much – I’m just asking odd questions here – how much does the city that you are in impact what you are? If you are talking about three cities in Texas – Austin, Dallas, and Houston – they are pretty different places.
Todd Agnew
Yes they are. Very much so. The other big chunk of life in between all that was I spent six years in Memphis. So there is another really iconic-sounding place.

Dallas is metropolitan enough that I don’t know how much it really affects me. But at the same time it is home, so I might not notice the influence that it has on me. I didn’t really notice as much in Houston either, but when I left Houston and went to Memphis it changed how I listened to music, how I played, and how I understood some things. It really shaped. That happened.

The Grace Like Rain record, the big one that started all this for me, I recorded while I lived in Houston but I was doing ministry weekly in Memphis, flying back and forth. In between the time I recorded it and the time it came out I had moved to Memphis to play in a church.

Those first record is just, “Hey, this is me growing up in Texas. This is kind of who I am.” Even just by the second record you can already hear Memphis and the effect it has had on me just kind of going, “Ah, this is kind of home.” There is something about this that resonates with me that nothing else has, and I loved the music there. You can see the effect it had.

But then getting married and turning around and coming back to Austin had a big effect too. Kind of for the first time, Texas and its style of music wasn’t something that’s, “Hey, that’s how I grew up. I don’t want to be that.” It was a, “Hey, this is home and I want to embrace this,” and I grew into Texas music being a Texan. It was a lot of fun.

Darrell Bock
I am a University of Texas graduate so I’ve lived in Austin myself and I was living in Austin when Willie Nelson was kind of “the icon” in the city. Although I am not a big country western person, there is so much country western feel to some of Christian music that we hear. I would assume that that would be a pretty big influence.

I actually was going to ask you if you had spent much time in Nashville, as opposed to Memphis, just thinking about the southern roots and how many Christian artists do gravitate, at one point or another, to Nashville.

You have a sense that at least two of these cities really did impact the way you’ve ended up writing your music?

Todd Agnew
It did. Just seeing how those people expressed themselves and expressed their lives. In Memphis it is obviously a blues heritage. Coming back to Austin fortunately it was still a blues heritage, and kind of the Texas country – not the pop country. Both of those are really honest and authentic musical styles. They are both fairly raw. Lyrically they both are kind of “put your heart on the table,” which is really who I was. So, getting comfortable in both of those really kind of opened the door for me to write in those styles and to find ways I was comfortable being me as a musician.
Darrell Bock
Again, these questions are just hitting me as we are talking very much. Do you find yourself writing ideas, stories, mixed together? How do you view that part of it?
Todd Agnew
It kind of depends. I think at heart I am a story teller and I would love to be the clever singer-songwriter that writes those songs that David Wilcox – you just go, “That line, that expressed everything I’ve ever felt.” But I am just not that writer. I would love to be that guy. I write a song like that every once in a while, but most of my stuff is honest. It is, “Here is where I am, and there is where God is, and He is with me in this.” Something about that combination, that interaction, is where most of my stuff comes from. It is not life-changing. It is not brilliant. It is not something that somebody goes, “God, I’ve never thought of that before.”

But I’ve found that over time a lot of people have said, “Yeah, but I’ve felt like that.” So, I think God has allowed me to be a part of peoples’ stories in that way.

Darrell Bock
It is interesting to hear this kind of up close and personal as you wrestle with it. Some people think that the songwriter just gets up there and they are gifted and they play a tune and the words pop in their head and it kind of all happens all at once, and that great moment of what – two minute inspiration. That doesn’t sound like that’s your world.
Todd Agnew
It is not, one just because my writing process is so long it’s not like that. I don’t know that it is really like that for anybody. Even if you write quickly, it’s still this is part of you, part of your heart and your walk. It is not really, “Hey, I made this and I wanted to see if you liked it.” You’ve sown part of yourself into that, which is the difficulty of it being a business. You do a hit record and you come back and it’s like –.
Darrell Bock
We want more.
Todd Agnew
Yes. It is like starting junior high for the second time with no friends. It’s like, “Well, I had friends last year but I don’t know if they are going to like me this year.” You have written yourself into that, and your story into it, so it is a wonderful and beautiful thing but yes it can be difficult as well.
Darrell Bock
How is life as an artist in the church? Is it inspiring? Does it sometimes feel confining? It seems to me you would be bouncing back and forth to a certain degree in terms of what you can do and what maybe you can’t. How does that sort out? Maybe I’ve got that completely wrong.
Todd Agnew
It is a complicated issue, and I think like most issues it varies from church to church and from person to person. Really, as I have been looking at it recently, it varies from art form to art form.

I spent some time last semester with a lot of visual artists and their experience in the church they would share, like, “Oh, this is what I kind of struggled with in church,” and I had to finally tell them. I’m like, “I feel for you. I’m listening. I understand the words you are saying, but you also need to understand that you are not talking to somebody in exactly the same position because music is much more integrated into church life than visual art is.”

Todd Agnew
That’s true.
Darrell Bock
So, where some things you can say, “Well, people don’t understand; they don’t support,” I have hit records. I am sympathetic to you but I don’t want to be pretending that I am in the same spot as you because I am not.

We got to have some really great conversations and it did make me look back at music additionally as art. It is a different, an unusual circumstance. I don’t remember if you just said it right now, or earlier, but there is this kind push-pull relationship with the church that sometimes, “The love. This is the best thing. God did something I’ve never seen. It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced.”

But then you can go one step farther or just somewhere a little different and it’s, “Well, hey, I am not sure if we can do this.” The thing is, theologically and methodologically as a pastor you say, “Hey, that is a fair question.” If something is new you should test it and ask questions.

But it has been good to be at the Seminary for me for the last year, really, and having conversation of risk and creativity versus theology where we kind of have a tendency to minimize risk, where we are trying to dial it down to what is actually right. In creation we are usually trying to expand and see what is out there. They are really different process and they are both valuable.

Darrell Bock
The variety of expression that is available on the one hand versus the base that you are dealing with in theology can bump into one another pretty easily. I imagine, Todd, looking at you that you were in the church and beginning to do your music in a time in which – and we don’t talk about that as much as we used to – the worship wars were going on and the choice between styles of music was a big deal.

Of course you talk about running into people with different tastes, and particularly communities; that becomes important. Were you in the middle of that? How did you negotiate your way through that issue?

Todd Agnew
I was a kid through that so I watched it happen not really knowing it was happening, going, “Hey, we used to sing four hymns – the first, second, and last stanzas.” I never knew why we skipped the third stanza.
Darrell Bock
You just don’t sing number three.
Todd Agnew
Right.

Then all of a sudden, now we’re also going to sing, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God,” while we’re shaking hands, but that is the only place for it. So I watched it move as a kid to the point where I was in high school and Word released a new hymnal that had some of the choruses in it. For the young people we’re like, “Yeah. This is awesome.”

Darrell Bock
“This is ours.”
Todd Agnew
“This is the ‘rock’ hymnal,” which it wasn’t at all. It was a company saying, “The church is changing and we want to include that.” But as a kid I didn’t understand what was going on nationally on that. I became part of it at the end of it as I started leading and took a band to camp. They went, “Um, drums. How about if we just don’t mic them,” and they kind of stay off the stage.
Darrell Bock
The thing I get a kick out of – I actually have an introduction to some of my sermons where I talk about the drummer who is caged because I was behind this glass thing. I’ve heard the explanations for why that’s done for the sound, and all that. That may all be true, but I think it is a wonderful metaphor for the way we view drummers.

In the church that I am in – I am very close with two churches, but in one of the churches that I am in they have drums, but it is all electronic and it is all very controlled and muted. Sometimes I’ll begin and I’ll talk about this caged person that is back there in the band who we like to see but we’re not quite sure what to do with – that kind of thing.

Todd Agnew
We can control with a fader exactly how much impact they can have on the service. We can turn him up and down a little bit.

We actually played at a church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee one morning. We’re just going along in our first song and all of a sudden the drums just went away. Then they came back in but they didn’t sound quite right.

I trust my drummer, he’s one of my best friends and so I just kind of kept going. Then I finally cut my eyes to look over there and he was in one of the cages and the roof had caved in on him and he’s holding up the roof still just playing.

Darrell Bock
The roof of the cage?
Todd Agnew
The cage, yes.

It was this hilarious moment. But it is one of those things that you don’t see in other environments. Part of it is sound. But I think you are right, it is a great visual metaphor for: How do we really do with this; how does that fit into what we have always done. These are the things we are comfortable with and know; that we are fairly confident that all of this is right. We think we probably should be adding this but we don’t know quite how to mix those. I think we are still taking that journey to some extent.

Darrell Bock
You are an artist and you obviously go into a lot of different venues. One of the things I can tell you from doing the preaching side of this is different venues are different. Different communities are different. Their expectations are different. How do you negotiate that part of interaction with worship in the church as an artist as you move from place to place?

I’ll tell you what I do as a speaker. I do spend some time talking to the staff that I know, or the people who have invited me, about the makeup of the church before I ever get up to speak so I have some sense of what the audience is about. Is it similar for a musician?

Todd Agnew
It is. For us, we got thrown from being always the worship leaders to all of a sudden we are on tour with all these guys, and big bands. It was a really abrupt change for us, and me and my guys really had to talk through it and pray about it. Fortunately we kind of walked through it and said, “Well, who has God made us to be? What were we doing before all of this happened?” Well, we were pastors. We weren’t “the” pastor, but we were shepherding people. And we went, “Oh, okay, we can do that out here.” It is a really different environment and a different way to do it.

Once we made that shift, it really helped us a lot, and it helped me now, still going from church to church because now everybody knows different songs and has different ideas of what it should be and what styles. But just to go in and say, “Hey look. My job is to help shepherd these people, so that is what I want to accomplish more.” I am going to use whatever art can accomplish that the best today.

Darrell Bock
So it is adopting a mentality that says that the music that we do is ministry in a very real sense, and we need to think about it that way. I don’t know how you put the yarn that is the entertainment or the attraction of it around that, but it is interesting. Speakers have similar choices. Do I just, “Just the facts, ma’am,” kind of the old Dragnet think, “Just give me the facts. Just give me the raw Biblical data,” and how much do you rhetorically dress that up and make it engaging for people so that there is something for them, to hook them and draw them in?

I like to talk about speaking this way. I don’t know if music works this way, but I say, “There are 20 percent of the people who it doesn’t matter what you do or what you say. You’ve got them. They are there and they are highly motivated. There is another 20 percent probably sitting on the edge and you are going to have to work pretty hard to get those people.” But it is that bulk in the middle, the 60 percent that can be swayed to be engaged or be disengaged; that is the major part of your audience that you are playing with.

I imagine in music where you’ve got these different tastes and styles that, it is almost you can think about an audience in that kind of a way in some ways.

Todd Agnew
Yes, definitely. As an artist, I have built a relationship with a guy – I don’t even know what his job title really is, but he teaches people how to do the big shows of music. “Okay, if at this point in the song if you lean back-to-back with your guitars and you play this then everybody is going to go crazy.” We actually got to be friends because he walked up to me and he goes, “Todd, I really enjoy what you are doing. I really like your music, and I know you probably hate what I do.”
Darrell Bock
That is a great introduction.
Todd Agnew
I’m like, “All right.” Good, that’s kind of fraudulent; it seemed a little weird. But I got to know him and saw how much thought and learning he had put into how you connect.
Darrell Bock
With the audience.
Todd Agnew
Especially that 60 percent. How do you draw them in? Where do you find connection points? He’s like, “Your first song, they are not there. Your second song they are thinking about it, so you want your big song to be third.” I was like, “You want your big song to be wherever the Holy Spirit wants it to be.” That’s how I felt. Then over the years I was like, “Yeah, probably most of the time a third slot is pretty good.”

He had put so much learning into this and really understood how to connect with those people. I learned a lot from just watching his understanding of connecting to people.

In preaching we do the same thing. If I have to connect this truth, I have to get them to listen to it.

Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Todd Agnew
At some point in time I have to help them receive that – whether that is with a story. In our classes it’s “the need,” why do you need to hear this. All that is true.

Then, as a worship leader this is what – we’re just kind of – in the last year I have started taking these things with my team in Houston now and saying, “Okay, let’s start having these conversations.” We use the phrase “access points.” Where are the places in our service where we can help people who may or may not be connected yet to connect into what is going on rather than say, “Hey we are going to start, and good luck. You can either come with us from the beginning.”

No, that is not how you lead. There are different people coming from different places and different stories. We are having those conversations even now, just looking at a Sunday and saying, “What is this?” Well, we’ve got a lot of these great new songs, but if we do Amazing Grace right here because that allows this generation and these kinds of people, that only come sometimes, a way in. “Oh, I know what to do here.”

Darrell Bock
Exactly.

I remember. I’ll tell the story. This goes back to my first day in class at Dallas Seminary. We are in Prof. Hendricks’ “Bible Study Methods,” and he breaks out a song: “My hope is built on nothing less. Jesus’ blood –.” I came to faith in college. I didn’t go to a Bible college or anything. I didn’t have this hymnal of hymns that I knew. There were no words. There was nothing to guide me. I didn’t know the song, and I felt totally disconnected to what was happening in the class. I was really a newbie.

I think that sometimes we are slow in our construction of worship. This can be, again, music or in the way we talk theologically – I often tell my audiences. Theology is a foreign language to a lot of people. You’ve got to do a lot of translating to do really good connecting.

I think sometimes we are tasked in the church to help – I like that word “access point – people get onboard because they look at it and they go, “I don’t recognize that train.” I don’t know if I want to step on it.

Todd Agnew
I think that is really true. That is one of the things that we are looking at right now; how do you connect with all those people who are coming from so many different places. The song that blew all the career up for me was a song called “Grace Like Rain.” It is just Amazing Grace with a new tune and a chorus. I wasn’t doing a lot of theological groundbreaking work here.

I wrote it with one of my best friends who, like you, didn’t grow up with that body of work, those songs. So as I was teaching hymns to seventh graders at our church, helping them, going, “Okay, so when you say ‘Here I raise my ebenezer’, this is what that’s about.

Darrell Bock
Right. What in the world is that?
Todd Agnew
It is not picking up an old guy. So, I’m wrestling with all this stuff trying to help enrich their understanding of worship. But Chris came in and said, “I really like some of these songs but I didn’t grow up in church and the music – I just don’t connect with it at all.” So, he’s like, “I took that Amazing Grace song,” and I put a new tune to it.” I was like, “I don’t know if you can do that. It’s probably not a good idea.”
Darrell Bock
Isn’t that in the New Testament?
Todd Agnew
He played it for me. I was like, “There’s something special there.” So I wrote the chorus for it and we used it and we saw that the words were still so powerful, but people that had never been to church connected to the music in a different way because they’re like, “Oh, that’s my kid of music.”

But, people that had been going to church actually had to pay attention to the words because they couldn’t sing it on automatic anymore and it made them have a new experience with this great lyric and this great truth from years ago. It was really this wonderful experience that we got to be a part of.

Darrell Bock
You know, you are putting your hands on something that I hadn’t thought about before until you’re talking about it now. That is: There are now lots of hymns that are handled this way where you take the words that are well known, sometimes reflecting in English that we never speak anymore, and putting them to a different tune, and sometimes even weaving the old style of the new style of the music so that you are connecting the past with the present style and keeping the words.

Another genre that we’ve seen more recently – and I think some of this has softened some of the tension – is taking a well-known hymn and singing it and connecting it to a chorus, or something like that, that has the same theme but expresses it in a little different way, and using the two as almost a medley on and off of each other in such a way that the demographic issues that sometimes come with the different styles of music; both sides get their time, if I can say it that way.

Todd Agnew
Yes, I think it is. I think it helps one generation feel that the next generation isn’t disrespecting their heritage, but they are also trying to find their own way in their own expression. I love those songs.
Darrell Bock
I do too.
Todd Agnew
I played almost all of those songs just because I love for the church to be able to sing together. The only time the church can sing together nowadays is at Christmas. It is the only time we all know the same songs. Otherwise, you go from church to church and, “Well we’ve picked up these new songs.” “We’ve picked up these new songs.” “We don’t do any new songs.” “We do these.” It is hard because there is not this unified – there used to be a hymnal that would change denomination to denomination, but the core songs were all still in all of them.

Somebody like me can come in and play these songs and everybody is going to know them, but it is not like that everyone. So, one, I just love the heritage of those songs, intentionally connecting to those. But also there is a reason that they have been effective for so long. It is the same as the creeds. There is a reason that they were repeated for so long. It is because a ton of Godly work went into putting them together and they are brilliant expressions of our belief in who God is.

Even now we see this, “I believe,” a new song by Hillsong, which takes the creed and puts it to music.

Darrell Bock
Absolutely. It’s powerfully done.

We are almost running out of time. I want to ask you one more question. I want to be sure and ask this before we get done. It is this: How much commentary do you give to linking together what you are doing versus just letting the songs speak for themselves? I’ve heard different approaches to that question as well. What is your thinking on that?

Todd Agnew
I have a vast range of what I do. I am a teacher, so I naturally will do a lot of linking and teaching.

A number of years ago we just had a summer where the band guys and I really felt that we needed to lift Christ up and let Him reveal Himself and we needed to not do anything else. That was a really special year for us. It taught me that I don’t have to force everything, that God will woo the hearts of those that He wants to worship him.

So, now I do a kind of combination of always trying to ask, “Hey, is there something I can say there that will really exhort the body, that will really help us?” If not, I can trust them and trust Him to accomplish what He wants.

Darrell Bock
Todd, I really do appreciate you taking the time to come in and just talk and chat a little bit with us about art and music and truth and beauty and how that all goes together and how the church sometimes hugs it and sometimes wonders what to do with it. It is amazing to see someone with your talent put together the gifts that God has given you and use it for positively for the church.

We appreciate that very much, and we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about it. We thank you for being a part of The Table and hope you will be with us again soon.

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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Religion
Feb 20, 2018
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Ministry
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