Dutton’s music matters: theology and worship
The morning of Oct. 20, 2005 began like any normal Sunday at University Church (UBC) in Waco, Texas. David Crowder, a nationally known worship leader who served on the staff of UBC, was out of the city that day as Logan Walter, Nathan Jennings and Shane Wilson had been tapped to lead worship in his absence. The two opening songs had not gone especially well as Walter thought to himself that he needed to get his guitar in tune and prepare to salvage what was left of the music after Kyle Lake, UBC’s pastor, finished baptizing a young woman.
Walter and the other 800 people in the sanctuary were startled when Lake cried out for help just after he reached out and took hold of a microphone as he descended down into the water. Normally, this would not be a problem. A person can hold a microphone in water. Unknown to everyone at the time, however, the water in which Lake was standing had been electrically charged due to an electrical short in the water heater for the baptistery. As he repeatedly cried for help, he could not remove his hands from the microphone. Before their very eyes, their 33-year-old pastor was being electrocuted. Jennings immediately unplugged the cord that broke the connection of the volts that had surged through his body. Walter jumped into the water and held him up as Jennings joined him.
At first it seemed that Lake would recover. A Marine was present and helped pull Lake from the water, and a doctor (the parent of a Baylor student who was in attendance for homecoming weekend) immediately began CPR—to no avail. Lake was later pronounced dead at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center just prior to noon.
“For me, I had never dealt with something like this before,” Walter confessed as he remembered the impact Lake had on his life. “The grieving process was a long period of shock.”
The UBC community was quickly thrust headlong into questions regarding God’s power, goodness and sovereignty.
“It tends to pop into your head every couple of days,” Wilson said as he contemplated Lake’s life and death. This experience at such a young age has created a seriousness of thought and emotion in this group that is not easily missed.
A Theology of Worship
As hundreds of young people recently took their seats in the chapel of the Tabernacle of Falls Creek for a worship leadership seminar hosted by the Dutton Band (named for the street where UBC is located in Waco), Walter began the afternoon session by standing and referencing Wayne Grudem’s volume on systematic theology. Using Grudem’s text as a guide, he began to outline the motive, the means and the meaning of true worship of God Who dwells in unapproachable light. Walter punctuates the Christian doctrine of worship with texts from the Bible as eager young people take notes on what they are hearing.
“As God’s people gather together in the name of the Jesus, there is something dynamic that takes place in the room,” Walter said.
For a band that is widely known as a mix of rock and roll, country and even Reggae sounds, this group is purposefully theological in their lyrics. During their time at Falls Creek, the band leads the evening worship sessions in modern musical renditions of the hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” a highly doctrinal song discussing the Incarnation of the Jesus Christ—“when Heaven came and kissed the Earth”—and new worship hymns that have become the staple diet of young people in local churches.
Servants Not Celebrities
They are popular with students and adults at Falls Creek. Yet, rather than simply enjoying their celebrity status at one of the largest camps of its kind in the nation, each member seeks to redirect those who desire to simply question them about how to start a praise band in their youth group or how to get noticed in the wider world of Christian music toward more spiritual ideas and Bible texts.
In the often-glamorized world of contemporary Christian music, they are decidedly not anti-church. To the contrary, they emphasize that they attempt to be back with their congregation each week as worshippers and faithful members of The Heights Church in Dallas. They openly speak of accountability with one another and with a small group of men in their church. This church-based accountability is an important component of their personal lives as Christians and as leaders in the church. They also strive for musical excellence in ways that are obvious to those who watch their habits as they lead Christian worship.
“Our job as leaders of worship is to minimize distractions as people gather to worship Jesus,” Walter often says. “This involves careful planning, practice and leading in ways that makes the performance an act of worship to God.”
Josh Hicks, the bass player from North Carolina, is a recent graduate of the College at Southeastern, where he studied not only Christian theology, but also the history of ideas with his favorite professor there—Bruce Ashford. He is careful to punctuate his work in the band with his desire to learn more about God and the Bible.
“The Dutton Band represents a thoroughly biblical and distinctively theological generation,” stated Stan Norman, provost of Oklahoma Baptist University. “Many have said this generation might be the most missional generation in centuries, and the manner and method in which these young men present the Gospel of Jesus Christ is anything but dull and lifeless. They are about more than themselves. The Gospel is obviously their focus and passion.”
Norman went on to observe that the music style of The Dutton Band represents “a unique fusion of biblical theology and a contemporary context that creates a dynamic of new music that powerfully communicates to the rising generation that the Bible is true and theology matters.”
Their travel schedule is demanding and for those in the group who are married, they are quick to speak highly of their wives. They seem to understand the temptation that accompanies their particular ministry.
“When we are home, we must be home,” Wilson said. “That involves careful attention to our wives as well as an appreciation for what they do while we are away on the road.”
Jennings agrees and points to his wife as a model of both toughness and tenderness in managing their home while he attends the various dates of the group.
A Theology of the Church
Locate the band on YouTube videos and it can be quickly observed that they are serious musicians intent on excellence to the point that even chords on the guitar are to be played in a specific manner. Music styles and skills have obviously changed to the point that a person need not be a music major in college to minister through music in local congregations. Not one of them was a music major—Walter and Hicks majored in philosophy. As largely self-taught musicians and songwriters, they represent a rising generation that is eager to become and remain transparent with one another in a visible community.
“The church should be known as a hospital,” Walter said. “So often we come and try to hide our pain and suffering.”
He believes just the opposite should take place and many of their songs realize the fallen state of the world and the mandate of Christians to engage their culture with the Gospel.
The music of The Dutton Band is biblically formed even as it is musically challenging.
“We do not have groupies,” Walter says. “There are congregants, worshippers and Christians.”
These are strange and strong words from a young man who might easily slip into a less doctrinal vocabulary.
“Yet, this is the generation that actually seeks the hard places, the difficult assignments and really has no desire to manufacture a false self where Christianity is little more than a thin veneer of selfishness and pride,” Norman said. “As members of Christ’s Body, we should always be learning from one another and listening for the truth that captures the heart to the glory of Christ.”
For Logan, Shane, Nathan, Josh and guitarist/keyboardist Brian Patterson, the Dutton Band is more than a hobby—it is a vocation of service to the Church and to the Gospel they are learning to more fully love.