Modern Hymns, Doxology & Theology & more: My Matt Boswell Interview

by Bobby Gilles

in Interviews,Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Worship Leading

Profile photo of Matt Boswell, songwriter, hymnologist, recording artist, author, founder of Doxology And Theology, and Worship Pastor at Provident Church (Frisco, TX)Matt Boswell is Worship Pastor at Provident Church in Frisco, Texas. He’s led worship and written songs for the better part of two decades, and is a well-known writer of modern hymns. He’s also the founder of Doxology And Theology, which includes, a website that promotes gospel-centered worship and provides articles and resources from worship pastors, leaders and songwriters around North America. As you’ll learn in this interview, the website is merely the beginning.

You’ll also learn more about Matt’s music, including a new EP entitled Messenger Hymns, Volume One, and his role in the upcoming Songs for the Book of Luke project from The Gospel Coalition. I’ve enjoyed conversing with Matt, listening to his music and learning from him, so I’m glad to be able to bring you this My Song In The Night interview:

Bobby Gilles: Last month you hosted the first Doxology And Theology national conference. Did it meet your expectations?

Matt Boswell: I think from the very beginning of the conference there were evidences of grace all around. Our volunteer team at the church worked effortlessly—praise God for them. We had attendees from 29 different states, and two countries (US & Canada). I was blown away by God’s goodness throughout it.

Bobby Gilles: One of the things I noticed about the conference is that you had speakers from several different networks, different denominations — how did you come up with the list of speakers?

Matt Boswell: From the very beginning I tried to plan a worship conference that I would like to come to. So, I contacted friends from around the country, guys that I learn from. Basically if you look at worship renewal and New Calvinism, I wanted to gather all those voices together.

Bobby Gilles: What is your goal in the future? Do you plan on doing a conference every year?

Matt Boswell: We won’t do a conference every year but, Lord willing, bi-annually.  So we’ll do it on the even years. It’s very similar to what Bob Kauflin does with his bi-annual WorshipGod conference. I want to do it on the opposite years that Bob does WorshipGod.

Bobby Gilles: Are there any other resources that you’re looking to develop under the Doxology and Theology banner?

Matt Boswell: Yes, it will be threefold. First, we’ll do more conferences—under that would be podcasts, interviews, blogs—so that’s all kind of in the resource part.

Second, we’re starting a record label called Doxology and Theology. I don’t know what that will look like eventually. For now, Stephen Miller is loosely affiliated, his new Hymns record has the D&T button on it — Matt Papa will do the same.

Third, books. The first book, I believe the working title is Doxology and Theology: How The Gospel Forms the Worship Leader — I’m not sure if Lifeway will stick with that title. But I want to do many other book titles, from various authors. So it won’t be all my books. It will be hopefully about ten different guys all writing under the same banner all with the same heart and passion.

Bobby Gilles: So you’re working with Lifeway?

Matt Boswell: Lifeway partnered with us specifically with this conference, and publishing the book. It’s undetermined at this point what that will look like with future music and books.

messenger-hymns-volume-one-matt-boswellBobby Gilles: You’ve got a new EP, Messenger Hymns, and I noticed it’s titled Volume 1 so I assume there will be more to follow?

Matt Boswell: This is the first of a four-part series. Each will be six hymns long and each with the doxology. So I’m writing a series of four doxologies. At Provident Church we sing the doxology every week, like the traditional old one. So I’m trying to incorporate very short trinitarian hymns that would all be patterned after the traditional doxology.

Bobby Gilles: You mentioned trinitarian—I love the trinitarian language in “How Rich A Treasure We Possess,” which you wrote with Matt Papa. It reminds me of the trinitarian song you wrote with Michael Bleecker and John Warren, “O God of Our Salvation.” Why do you think there are so few explicitly trinitarian songs in modern worship music?

Matt Boswell: I think functionally a lot of our corporate congregational worship ends up feeling unitarian. We’re scared of the doctrine of the trinity because it is steeped in mystery. Charles Spurgeon says in his commentary on Psalm 96 that

“The sacred fire of the human flame only burns where the trinity is believed in and beloved.”

I agree. I think the doctrine of the trinity informs all other doctrines. It is the self-disclosure of God. It’s progressive through the text, through the Canon. It’s a foundational doctrine for us, therefore we should be singing about the trinity regularly.

Bobby Gilles: I love the work you’re doing in bringing that back in to the church.

Matt Boswell: Isaac Watts included a whole series of doxologies at the end of his Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. So basically you take those and move words around and you’ve got new doxologies. They’re very easy to write but I think they’re a kind of forgotten song in the Church today.

Bobby Gilles: I mentioned a couple guys that you’ve written with. You do a lot of co-writing — you also wrote with Jennie Lee Riddle on her new project People and Songs, Opus One. When you’re co-writing, are each of your co-writing relationships different or are you primarily the lyric guy, the melody guy or the hook guy?

Matt Boswell: I’d say historically it’s been across the board. Early on I would write with anybody because I was learning to write. As I’ve gotten older, I only write with a handful of people. What I’ve chosen to do is develop those relationships both theologically and on a friendship level and write primarily with those people.

I just started writing with Stuart Townend — that’s a new relationship for me but we work really well together and are trying to write the same kind of songs. I do feel called to write a specific kind of song and it’s not for everybody, so therefore I can’t just write with anyone. What I’m primarily trying to do in song is teach theology — I’m trying to write sermons in song. Not everyone is writing that way. And also in an extremely congregational fashion — so the hymns I’m writing I want my grandmother to love, and I want my four year old twin daughters to love. So I’m trying to write a very specific kind of a song in all the hymns I write.

Bobby Gilles: So when you’ve got that kind of comfort level with your co-writer, I would imagine it becomes a more organic thing because you’re on the same wavelength.

Matt Boswell: Yeah, so for me, doctrinal unity is the most important thing. So if we have that unity then collaboration comes very easily.

Bobby Gilles: Another thing that you do is revise a lot of old hymns, in addition to writing new songs in hymn meter. And you’ve written in the verse-chorus-verse format before as well. Is this a conscious decision to vary your writing template?

Matt Boswell: Early on—when I first met my wife, her biggest complaint on seeing me lead worship was that I did no hymns. This is nine years ago. I felt like traditional hymns were outdated and I attached the same kind of stigma that many people would attach to them. But I learned to listen to my wife.

So that kind of set me on a venture. Also what really solidified my pursuit of and love for modern hymnody was a guy in my church made an offer to pay for me to record a modern hymn record. I said “No thank you,” but a year later he made the same offer again so I said “Yes,” and did the Vintage record. I really had no idea what I was doing at that point. I just picked hymns that I liked and I wrote a couple in that same genre. I wrote “Endless Mercy of God” and one called “Rise Up and Sing” that I don’t even like at this point.

I wrote those for that project and then the more I did that, I didn’t want to sing other kinds of songs. I started not liking songs with choruses and prechoruses. So I tried writing “verse only”. I think it can be confusing to say that “verses only” is the definitive assessment of what a hymn is, although that is a version of what a hymn is. But other guys are writing in a modern format that is “hymnish.” I’m specifically trying to write in a more traditional format, though.

Bobby Gilles: What are you doing here in Louisville? Tell me about this project.

Matt Boswell: As a student of Southern Seminary and at the invitation of Mike Cosper, I’m here in Louisville to work on The Gospel Coalition record The Songs Of Luke. Many songwriters are a part of this project, from many different streams of evangelicalism. We all wrote hymns responding to the Gospel of Luke. I wrote two hymns — Luke 15 with Matt Papa, and Luke 24 with Don Carson. Both of those are on the project and I’m excited about the Church hearing them.

Bobby Gilles: So is this D.A. Carson’s first song?

Matt Boswell: No, Don has written before; just not on a project with this visibility.

Bobby Gilles: Well, that sounds good — so you’re sort of bringing him into the world of writing hymns.

Matt Boswell: Yeah, I do feel a passion to try to get the guys that I read — to pull them into writing songs for the church. I think the greatest hymnwriters could be Dever, Packer, Piper, Carson. I do hope that those guys would take what the Lord’s given them in commentary and in theological aptitude, and put it into poetry.

Bobby Gilles: Just like many of the old hymnwriters like Isaac Watts — pastors who write poetry?

Matt Boswell: That’s really all I’m trying to do. I’m trying to communicate, in song, the truths of God and man as revealed in Scripture, so that all those doctrines resonate in the hearts of the people.

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