Brian McLaren – An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters



Brian McLaren is a leader in the emergent church movement and author of several books, including The Story We Find Ourselves In and the newly released A Generous Orthodoxy. anewkindofchristian.com.

Brian McLaren is a great Christian leader and thinker of our time. NEW WINESKINS has reviewed his writing, I’ve interviewed him, and asked him both to speak at our ZOE Leadership Conference and write for the magazine. In the most recent NEW WINESKINS piece, “An open letter to Worship Songwriters,” McLaren set forth a bold vision and challenge for worshippers to write songs that embody ancient truths and speak to emerging culture today. Here is a sample of his letter:

Let me offer a list of Biblical themes I think we would do well to explore in our lyrics:

1. You’ll be surprised to hear me say “eschatology” first—by eschatology (which means study of the end or goal towards which the universe moves), I mean the Biblical vision of God’s future which is pulling us toward itself . . . What joy I can imagine being expressed in songs that capture the spirit of Isaiah 9:2-7, 25:6-9, 35:1-10, 58:5-14! Who will write those songs? Dig into those passages, songwriters, and let your heart be inspired to write songs of hope and vision, songs that lodge in our hearts a dream of the future that has been too long forgotten—the dream of God’s kingdom coming, and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven . . .

2. We also need songs of mission. Many of us believe that a new, larger sense of mission (not just missions, and not just evangelism, but mission—participating in the mission of God, the kingdom of God, which is so much bigger and grander than our little schemes of organizational self-aggrandizement) is the key element needed as we move into the postmodern world . . .

3. You may be equally surprised to hear me recommend that we re-discover historic Christian spirituality and express it in our lyrics. As Robert Webber, Thomas Odin, Sally Morgenthaler, and others are teaching us, there is a wealth of historic spiritual writings, including many beautiful prayers, that are crying for translation into contemporary song. Every era in history has rich resources to offer, from the Patristic period to the Celtic period to the Puritan period. On every page of Thomas á Kempis, in every prayer of the great medieval saints, there is inspiration waiting for us . . . and when we look at the repetitive and formulaic lyrics that millions of Christians are singing (because that’s what we’re writing, folks), the missed opportunity is heartbreaking . . .

Read the full letter at www.wineskins.org. The letter was first published in Worship Leader.

By Greg Taylor Posted in General

2 comments on “Brian McLaren – An Open Letter to Worship Songwriters

  1. Amen, and Amen. One of the things I look forward to most about our work in Belgium is the creation of new hymns in Dutch, to help replace many of the old, translated hymns from English. I think the incorporation of these themes, in addition to having them be in our audience’s native tongue, can only help make our worship times missional and evangelistic.
    Can’t wait to read this new issue!

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  2. Our experience in Uganda was that a hymnody had been established by Anglicans and Catholics based on transliterations of songs and the same tunes. Have you ever heard “Happy Day” in Lusoga sung very slow and farther from the beat and natural rhythm and joyful playfulness of Ugandans? I’ll have to tell you about it some time!

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