Q&A: Keith Getty Criticizes Contemporary Worship Music

Keith Getty says modern churches should stop mimicking mainstream trends with their praise music.

The Irish songwriter has inspired audiences worldwide since debuting in 2001 with New Irish Hymns. Since then, Keith and his wife, Kristyn, have championed hymns that adore God and amass the genre's rich congregational history in equal measures. In keeping with that mission, the duo recently dropped Joy – An Irish Christmas, a holiday praise album that pulls from Celtic lore to produce a new collection of hymns, carols and jigs.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Getty provides insight on his Gaelic heritage, musical history and married life. More importantly, the man behind the modern hymn movement makes clear that we should sing God's praises with our most somber songs.

CP: You were born in Northern Ireland and now live in the U.S. How would you describe the similarities and differences between the two?

Getty: Ireland as a whole is a very small and beautiful country. Everything is green. All of its art, religion and culture have had much influence on me. I go back about twice a year.

America has a faster pace of life here and it's a newer world. There are also more opportunities for musicians here. We enjoy it very much.

CP: You play music with your wife Kristyn. How do you like performing with your spouse, and how important is she to you?

Getty: Kristyn is the most important person in my life. That rises far above music. She's my biggest priority every morning I wake up. We've been together every night since we were married seven and a half years ago.

Performing together is brilliant too. Both performing and practicing with her is very professional.

CP: Your music is renowned for its goal of bringing back hymns to modern church life. How do you think that mission is going?

Getty: I think it's been going well. I think the modern worship music movement has been driving the church down a dangerous and sinister path. I think it’s because of the move away from theology and the fact the music itself isn't congregational. It doesn't bring people together anymore and the art form itself has been degraded completely.

Alternatively, I'm encouraged by churches that still emphasize the Gospel in what they sing. I've seen changes, but artistically and congregationally we have a long ways to go. It's not converting people to a hymn but confirming them to rich theological truth. That affects music, art and everything beyond it.

CP: What would you define as a "modern" hymn?

Getty: Everyone defines hymns differently. We try to write things that are theologically rich but bring congregations together. We also strive for the highest possible standard.

It's not that hymns are always good and other songs bad. A great song always communicates to people. People will always sing a well-written song and it will cross over many different boundaries.

CP: Where do you find the most inspiration for your songs? Is it after Bible study, church or your personal faith?

Getty: There's nothing new under the sun. We constantly strive to create. I learn a lot from historical church music and its incredible liturgies. The Gospel is of course a wealth of inspiration.

To be relevant to the future we have to know our history. Part of the reason the entire modern church music movement is so vacuous is that it ignores the entirety of church history. We can be naïve and we don’t always know what to do with music. Today it's become a way of getting the most people into church for the short term. It's almost a PR and marketing tool to grow numbers as fast as possible.

CP: You recently released a collection of holiday standards titled Joy – An Irish Christmas. How do you celebrate Christmas in Ireland?

Getty: It isn't incredibly different to be honest. There is a much broader, wider and longer tradition of carol singing there than there is here. It gave us a chance to explore our country's musical history. Irish music is much happier than most happy music and much sadder than most sad music when it's sad.

CP: What do you consider the true meaning of Christmas?

Getty: The story of Christmas is about God coming to Earth as a child to save mankind and to bring them to a new life. The truth is we should remember that all year round.

In one sense, Christmas isn't that different. I believe that the Church has historically tried to remind people of all the stages of Christ's life across the calendar year through various festivals and holidays. Christmas is merely the most important as it celebrates Christ's birth.

CP: How has Christ made a difference in your life?

Getty: I'd say the forgiveness of my sins is above all else. I never want to lose the joy of that. Beyond that, it goes against every human inclination to live for something greater than ourselves. Conversely, it's the only way to be fully human. We can know love and community and art on our own, but we love it more deeply in Christ.

CP: What's next for the Gettys?

Getty: In 2012 we'll be doing a new collection of hymns on the aspects of Christian life. We're going to record it in the style of bluegrass music. We're going to look at the character of God and how he teaches us. A major focus will be the apostle's creed and we've drawn a lot from liturgical history.

We're switching from the style of our home of Ireland to that of our current home in Nashville. The band we have is a unique blend of Irish and bluegrass musicians, so at the end of the day we just like keeping things fresh.

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