Hymn writer is the first Christian musician to be awarded an OBE.

My friend Keith Getty was recently honored as an "Officer of the Order of the British Empire" by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. I was able to talk with him about the award, his contribution to modern hymn writing, and his new book.

Ed: Give us some background on the award you just received.

Keith: It's called the OBE and it’s an Order of the British Empire. It happens each year on New Year’s Day and on the Queen's birthday, during which they honor people who have enriched the culture of the British Empire. This is the first time it has happened for a Christian musician, so it’s exciting.

The civil servants send these very polite letters as a nomination which almost make you think you're in some kind of period drama. Then it has to go through the political channels. So after the nominations, then we just wait for a few weeks. But of course we had to stay silent about the whole thing.

Ed: You're an Evangelical Christian, which is no longer mainstream. How did they end up awarding you?

Keith: In British culture, I think there is still a respect for what they call the “classical hymn.” Our hymns toe this unusual line between being considered classical and traditional, and yet also contemporary. It’s probably the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of our music. It's never been wholly contemporary, and it's never been wholly classical. The music lives in both worlds.

In British culture, hymns are part of the tradition of the empire. Hymn singing is still more popular in Britain than going to churches. This is different than in America, where people go to church but you can't get them to sing hymns.

The hymns very much speak out of my education as a Northern …

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