Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gospel Choirs Come to Denmark

My sense is that God’s Spirit is at work quietly, and perhaps in ways overlooked, plowing up the fallow ground of Danish Christian culture. Can it be that “signs and wonders” are not always spectacular and immediately discernible? The comment I (Bill) made in the August 16 issue of Kristeligt Dagblad suggested that one of the indications of the Spirit’s working in Denmark is the presence and increase in the number of gospel choirs. Though at the time it was a statement not probed deeply enough, I have thought much of it since it appeared in print and have become more and more convinced of its truth.

So, what are we talking about here? When we refer to gospel music in Denmark, the essential reference is, as Pastor Lewis defines it, “the rhythmic sounds of African-American gospel with texts that convey a gospel message in English.” To get an idea of what this sounds like in a Danish context, press *Ctrl + click* on each of the following links:

The Danish Gospel Choir

Joyful Noise & Crossroads

Ringe Kirkes Gospelkor

My perceptions have recently been firmed up in the reading of a paper written by Mark W. Lewis, /“Gospel Choirs: A Meeting Ground Between Christians and New Age Adherents”/ (the paper was written when Lewis was a doctoral student at the School of World Mission at Asbury Theological Seminary). It is available on the Internet at

Gospel Choirs

Lewis, who is currently the pastor of Jerusalemkirken (Methodist) in Copenhagen, gives some excellent insights about the gospel choir movement in Denmark. I now find that the thrust of his doctoral research has been made available in a book recently published in the United States (ISBN 419-994-0535) entitled "The Diffusion of Black Gospel Music in Postmodern Denmark: How Mission and Music are Combining to Affect Christian Renewal."

No figures are available as to the exact number of gospel choirs in Denmark, but there is little question there has been exponential growth of the movement from a few choirs in the early 1990s to what must be several hundred or more at present. There can be little doubt that for Christians this is a phenomenal and not-to-be overlooked development in Denmark. While our focus is on Denmark, it should be noted that the black gospel music movement has filtered to other European countries as well.

Gospel music grew out of the long struggle of black Americans for deliverance and the achieving of justice and civil rights. It is somewhat perplexing to see “proper” Danes, who have no parallel experience originating from the effects of slavery, uninhibitedly “singing, clapping, and swaying to the energetic, rhythmic and joyful sound” of gospel music. Rather than dismiss gospel outright as out-of-character for Danes and Danish culture, it is perhaps best understood as a deliverance of another sort than that experienced by black Americans. Lewis sees its manifestation in Denmark as “a deliverance from the stodgy forms of state and folk church religiosity that have pacified the populace from deeper interaction with and experience of Christian faith in a way that appeals to a common interest that may or may not be associated with Christian meaning.”

Though largely centered in Danish churches, both Folkekirke and free, the gospel choir movement is pluralistic in that it attracts singers from the entire social and cultural spectrum. Age seems no barrier as both young and older, even the near elderly, are participating. Singers are attracted by the informality that requires very little from them other than interest and desire to engage with others in this particular musical modality. In the choirs’ rehearsals and performances, singers find themselves feeling very comfortable coming into a non-threatening social networking of the kind not usually found in churches of the Danish Folkekirke. As a general rule, choir members seem to be willing to support choir activities, even singing at worship services or other Christian events, even if they hold personal views that are quite contrary to evangelical Christianity and more akin to New Ageism. Usually, no requirement of Christian commitment is made of choir members with the result that the choirs are often made up of believers and unbelievers alike. The position of some directors is, as Lewis suggests, that “encouraging those who sing about Jesus to actually believe in the One whom they were singing about is an unnecessary imposition and is not germane to the future proliferation of the gospel music movement.” Lewis says further, “People can sing ‘Jesus is the Rock’ or ‘O Happy Day’ again and again, and be free to be moved by the message, or simply sing and sway without real regard for the intended meaning of the message.” Not a few committed Christians will shudder at this.

Not everyone in Denmark is so enchanted by gospel music and not a few consider it an abberation. However, gospel has arrived at pop status throughout the country, evidence of its wide acceptance and accessibility in spite of the fact that the gospel message in the music is as Lewis avers “image-laden and expressive in ways that do not reflect the conceptual theology of many traditional sermons and hymns.” Gospel choirs have sung on Danish radio, at the famous Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, in various festivals throughout the country, and elsewhere other than in churches. There is concern on the part of some and undoubtedly well-taken, that “gospel choirs must make the effort to insure that the music does not disengage from the message, lest the movement begin to contradict its roots and squander a unique opportunity for Christian mission and discipleship.”

One has to know something of Danish religious culture to understand how revolutionary the spread of gospel choirs has been. Danes may be for or against gospel music, but the discerning believer can look beyond and at least wonder if this may be God’s way of breaking up the ingrained, stodgy Danish religious culture so that the biblical Gospel message can be more effectively introduced in its place. Gospel music may not be great music, but in Denmark it may be the vehicle for transition to worship styles that are more in keeping with worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24, NIV). Indeed, gospel music could conceivably bring revival to places in Denmark where revival and renewal have never even be dreamed of.

* *

PRAISE God that many Danes have been moved in recent years by a lively and energetic musical form so completely different from traditional Danish church music.

PRAY that the imprint of more immediate spiritual experience that is the mark of gospel music will spill over into the too-often spiritually dry or tepid liturgies of the traditional churches, whether Folkkirke or free.

PRAY that the spread of gospel choirs will be promoted in Denmark without doing violence to the very heart of gospel music that is so deeply embedded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

PRAY that the unbelieving singer may in spite of himself or herself come to believe and personally commit to the truth of the gospel of Christ so simply portrayed and reiterated in the gospel music they are singing.


Unknown said...

I agree with you that gospel music can have a great impact on people from a wide range of backgrounds..
As one person posted on a youtube site.. the music goes straght to my heart.


Unknown said...

I agree with you that gospe music can have a real power to touch peoples lives from a wide range of backgrounds. As one person said, commenting on a youtube clip of a gospel choir.. the music goes straight to my heart.


Charlotte Roel said...

"Gospel music may not be great music"... SAY WHAT?!?