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Upcoming H. Orton Wiley Lectures Create Space for Discussion About Praise and Worship Music

Program information courtesy of Brad Kelle.

Whether in chapel or at an independent service, the songs “Raise a Hallelujah,” “Revelation Song,” “Goodness of God” and “Battle Belongs” are prevalent in contemporary Christian settings. 

Definitions of modern praise and worship music permeate the atmosphere of Christian higher education, including Point Loma Nazarene University. Leading the discussion, the four songs mentioned above structure this year’s H. Orton Wiley Lecture Series titled, “More Than A Song: The History, Theology, and Practice of Contemporary Praise and Worship.”

In the context of PLNU, the legacy of praise and worship is gaining greater recognition as something that is not only constrained to music and chapel, but something that can transcend lyrics and sheet music, according to George Williamson, director of Worship Arts.

“A retired colleague told me once that music in chapel was often decided upon just a few minutes before chapel began, and then led with just piano and organ,” Williamson said via email. “Now, I certainly can appreciate organ and piano, especially the latter, but I do hope there is now more time invested in prayer, thought, creativity and collaboration. Every aspect of our gathered worship ought to feel connected, like each movement naturally flows out of what was before and into what comes next.” 

As PLNU navigates what worship currently looks like and will look like on campus, the Wiley Lectures present an opportunity to look at contemporary worship music in an academic space of study and conversation, according to Brad Kelle, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew.

“This series is about getting the discussion of theology, Bible and Christian faith, life and practice into the broad scope and audience of the university as a whole,” said Kelle. “I think a lot of folks think of these topics only as something that is like chapel or what they might do in church, and they don’t think of it as an academic area of study. So the fact that we have an academic lecture series shows that there are people out there who could study the possibilities and pitfalls of contemporary praise and worship.” 

The Wiley lectures have been a part of PLNU’s campus since 1951. It is the only university sponsored academic lecture series annually put on by the School of Theology & Christian Ministry, according to Kelle. 

The purpose of the lectures are to navigate the gray area of nuance that is found among Christian circles with topics like “The Revolution of Salvation” and “Rethinking the Bible as Poetry of God.”

“It’s good to go in understanding that everything has both good and bad that goes with it,” Kelle said. “Everything has possibilities and problems. What we want to do with something like this is to understand both. This is somewhat primarily what the lectures are about. It helps students and all of us to think about these types of things in balance. We want to offer an appreciative or generous critique of something that has a lot of good stuff to it, but also has some things that deserve to be thought about carefully.”

This year’s lecture topic was selected with the hope of creating space for conversations about something that is common across many Christian backgrounds, according to Kelle.

“I think this year, in particular, they [students] should expect to be engaging in something that they are very familiar with,” said Kelle. “This is something that should not be far off for students of Point Loma. We’ve heard these songs, but we may never have thought about them. And that’s what I think this is about. Students can expect to be invited to think about something that they hear and do all the time.” 

Adam Perez, this year’s speaker, got his degrees from Yale and Duke Divinity where he studied both sacred musical traditions and also newer and contemporary worship styles. He also actively leads and participates in praise and worship as a musician.

“He is able to think not just about the practice of praise and worship or the theological aspects, which are both there in the lectures, but also add the cultural and social and even political ramifications and use of contemporary praise and worship in something like our setting here in the United States,” Kelle said. “He’s got a multifaceted look at contemporary praise and worship as a movement.” 

Williamson, who actively ministers to worship arts interns and teaches courses on the subject of praise and worship music, said this event represents an opportunity to think about his pedagogy and the ways he can consider the impact of worship experiences. 

“I think any time people gather to listen, think and discuss a topic or issue together it’s a great thing,” said Williamson via email. “I’m excited for those who gather, including me, to maybe be affirmed in some practices, challenged to rethink some others, and hopefully to walk away inspired to consider more deeply the power and potential of song and music as part of our worship.” 

Bailey Pickard, a second-year biology-chemistry and philosophy double major, said she’s excited for this lecture series because of her experiences with studying in the School of Theology and in leading worship music.

“I’ve been involved in worship ministry for most of my life, and I’ve always found the theology of worship music fascinating,” Pickard said via email. “I’m excited to hear about how we can continue to use the good pieces of the contemporary worship movement while also making sure we’re staying true to good theology.”

The lecture series will run March 27-29 and will take place in Crill Music Hall. Admission is free. An open Q&A session will happen directly after each lecture. The lectures will also be recorded and available to view later. See the schedule for the times and dates of the four lectures. 

Written By: Lainie Alfaro & Claire Downey