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‘Passion’ movement rolls on, draws students back to hymns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Now in its eighth year, the “Passion” movement has been faithful to its focus of encouraging a spiritual awakening among college students through its conferences and worship albums.

Founded by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate Louie Giglio and his wife, Shelley, in 1997, the outgrowth of their student ministry at Baylor University has now reached hundreds of thousands of students worldwide encompassed in the 268 Generation.

Based on Isaiah 26:8, which says, “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown,” the organization’s “268 Declaration” calls for young Christians to make knowing and enjoying God the passionate pursuit of their lives, to pray for continued renewal in the local church, to pray toward unity among all Christians on their campuses, to pray for revival on their campuses and to actively commit their lives and energy to participation in God’s global purposes in their generation.

“We’re a people passionate for God, surrendered to His glory, eager to spread His fame,” Giglio said on the Passion website, 268generation.com

And in that effort, Passion has held four major gatherings attracting tens of thousands of collegians and has sold millions of records with songs that have spun off to find their place in countless worship services worldwide. Passion is considered the leading edge in a movement that has caused such Christian music giants as Michael W. Smith, Third Day and Rebecca St. James to release what are dubbed “worship” albums.

In April, The New York Times highlighted the Passion movement after 3,000 young people were drawn to the historic Beacon Theater in Manhattan for an event called the Passion Experience, an extension of the 35-city tour the previous fall. Throughout the tour, Giglio had been asking students to contribute to a fund that would make the New York stop free of cost to the thousands of college students in the area who rarely get a chance to worship with a larger community of Christians.

The Times noted the Passion event was billed not as a concert but as a worship gathering for college students, reflecting the popularity of worship songs generated by Passion.

“The songs’ popularity comes not from Christian radio but from churches, and the musicians — who call themselves ‘worship leaders’ rather than performers — sing not about God, but to God. The audience sings as much as they do,” The Times said.

Also in the article, John Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association in Nashville, Tenn., said, “Church is the new radio. It’s where people learn about songs, and how songwriters get compensated.”

During the Passion Experience Tour, college students were led in worship by Passion artists Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall and the David Crowder Band while Giglio delivered a message about dying to self and living for the bigger picture.

At the last major gathering of Passion movement — in Nashville Jan. 2-5 — such well-known Christian authors and speakers as John Piper, Joshua Harris and Beth Moore joined Giglio and the musicians in urging more than 11,000 collegians to let God be their consuming passion and single focus.

The latest musical development in the Passion movement was the release of an album called “Passion: Ancient and Modern Hymns — Live Songs of Our Faith” last year. Though the Passion artists have written many of their own songs that helped propel a movement toward contemporary church services, they’ve never hesitated to use traditional hymns as well.

All but one of the 14 songs on the new album were written more than 100 years ago, including one dating to the 4th century called “Phos Hilaron” or “Hail Gladdening Light,” sung by those from the early church at Christ’s empty tomb. Others include “O Worship the King,” “How Great Thou Art” and “Fairest Lord Jesus.”

Giglio said he wants to draw students’ attention to the great hymns of the faith using a method he described as “wrapping the rich tradition and heritage of music of the church in the modern musical skin of our time,” which means setting the old words to newer music.

“Somewhere along the way,” he said, “tradition became a casualty in the explosion of contemporary worship that has swept the church around the globe in recent decades. Yet, we would be fools to discard the rich treasures that have guided the church through ages past just because they are old.”

Hall, a Passion “lead worshiper” and music minister at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, acknowledged that some of the songs he has written have been short on theology, therefore creating a need for hymns that contain more of it.

“The people that are older in the faith who grew up in church feel a deep connection with that in worship,” he said. “Most [younger students] have grown up without hymns, so I’m teaching them to them. What they’re getting is the depth of the faith. [Christianity] goes way back. We are part of the big story.”

Tomlin noted the importance of finding a balance between contemporary songs and traditional hymns in churches today.

“I think hymns are extremely important because you realize that you’re standing in a long line of believers that sang these songs,” he said. “So that’s what we’re trying to hold onto with Passion.

“It’s sad that there’s controversy in churches over music. There shouldn’t be. These songs are all songs of our faith, and I think to abandon one in choice of the other is a really wrong thing. This ‘hymn/chorus battle’ isn’t going on in other countries, especially since they’re just happy to get together to sing,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin added that it’s important for people to remember that some traditional hymns were not widely accepted when they were first introduced.

“In the 1700s and 1800s, some of these hymns were brand new and people were going, ‘What’s up with these new songs?’ In the 1800s, they were like, ‘I’m not so sure about this new song, ‘Amazing Grace.’ They were all new songs at some point and to say one song is better than the other is wrong,” he said.
With additional reporting by Ben Hines and Leann Callaway. For more information about the Passion movement, visit www.268generation.com.

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  • Erin Curry