You know you are at a worship conference sponsored by David Crowder when a fog machine kicks in and gobo lights wash the stage in color while the Welcome Wagon sings an exquisitely spare version of "Hail to the Lord's Anointed." It makes you wonder what the Moravian James Montgomery (1771-1854), author of the hymn, would have thought.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending Crowder's Fantastical Church Music Conference in Waco, Texas. Presenters included folks like Louie Giglio and Francis Chan. The songwriters spanned a broad range of musical styles: from the "liturgical" BiFrost Arts group to the R&B sounds of Israel Houghton, from the hard rock tones of Gungor and Paper Route to the minimalist soundscape of The Civil Wars. Never heard of them? Mostly neither had I.

I had, however, heard of Charlie Peacock and Matt Redman, second and third generation songwriters of contemporary worship music respectively. I had seen Derek Webb the "firebrand" live in 1993. I had watched Jars of Clay on David Letterman in 1996. I knew many at Duke Divinity School did not think highly of Hillsong music. I knew Rob Bell was persona non grata in certain Reformed circles. And I knew that this lyric might cause near cosmic eye-rolling: "So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss," courtesy of North Carolinian songwriter John Mark McMillan. Oh, the sentimentalism of it. Did it have to be sloppy? Could it not be transcendently circumspect?

For the two thousand of us in attendance, one question occupied our minds: What do all these musicians have to do with each other? The easy answer is nothing. According to David Crowder, however, much. For me the conference represented an exercise in subversive hopefulness.

But since it's more fun to ...

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