Last week, I went to Sydney to attend the Australia and New Zealand Early Modern and Medieval Scholars conference. Alongside my role as Head of Worship Studies at Nexus ICA, I am doing a PhD where I study the hymns of Isaac Watts. Watts was a hugely influential hymnwriter, and his legacy exists to this day. In my research, I’m looking at the theology of Watts’ lyrics. Watts was convinced that more songs needed to be sung about the person and work of Jesus, while allowing the singer to express their personal love for Jesus. Because he did this so effectively, his hymns were extremely popular and are still sung to this day.
And so to Sydney. Scholars from all over the world converged on Sydney University for the ANZAMEMS conference to hear one another’s works. As well as attend the conference, I had the opportunity to present some of my research on Watts’ hymns. Specifically, I was looking at how Watts described the Trinity in his hymns, and then how others adapted his hymns to express their own understandings of the Trinity. The eighteenth century, when Watts lived and wrote his hymns, was a time when Christians divided over their understandings of the Trinity, and they used hymns to establish their boundaries.
It might not seem obvious, but this kind of study has a direct influence on my work here at Nexus:-
- Firstly, it’s important to understand our history as the people of God. When I’m teaching students what the Bible says about worship, it’s vital to see how this has been understood throughout history. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and the wisdom of those that have gone before us can continue to shed light onto the Bible for us today.
- Secondly, the words we sing matter. When we declare truths about God, as revealed as Father Son, and Holy Spirit, we can either say wrong things, vague things, or clear things. If a hymn has lasted for hundreds of years, it’s probably because it continues to be clear. In the case of the Trinity, it isn’t a doctrine which is reserved for theology geeks, but it’s a truth which is at the core of who God is. If we are to worship God in spirit and truth, then it is vital that we know the God we are worshipping.
- And thirdly, it’s important that I demonstrate to my students that I’m engaged in research and scholarship, just like they are. I might be a bit further down the road than they are, but we are all doing the same thing. Nexus is a learning community, for staff and students, and we operate a “come here” approach to teaching, where we try to model what we want our students to achieve.
Sydney is a beautiful city, and the conference itself was amazing. I came away having learned so much, and am excited to not only continue studying this subject, but also to bring some of what I am learning into the education we offer here at Nexus.