In this “Behind the Song” episode of the TGC Podcast, Brett McCracken interviews Tenielle Neda about her journey to faith and writing music that can influence other people’s faith. From a farm in Australia to Australian Idol to a church internship and a very unusual day job (teaser), her uncommon story has shaped her perspective on writing devotional music to nourish the church. Tenielle discusses her deeply gospel-centered songs and the role they might play in pointing people back to the glorious truths of Scripture.
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Music reminds us, it reminds us of what we’re prone to forget. And we are forgetful people. In my experience the best Christian music is the music that reminds us of the fundamental truths of Scripture, who God is what he’s done for us the miracle of our salvation and him. Tenielle Neda is a Christian singer songwriter, who I think beautifully reminds us of these miracles. Consider her new song miraculous salvation. Here’s a clip
So much of Christian music today takes the miracle of the Gospel for granted. It’s sad to say it but straightforward songs that just celebrate the doctrines of grace. And they just celebrate the simple beauty of salvation. They’re not the norm. That’s one of the reasons Tenielle’s music is so refreshing to me. In a cynical world, her delight and God and her gratitude for the gospel is so sincere. This is not music about deconstructing Christian doctrine. It’s music that celebrates it.
Tenielle’s musical perspective is an earnest devotional embrace of the gift of God’s grace. And we need more music like this. I’m Brett McCracken, arts and culture editor at the gospel coalition. I love pointing people to quality gospel centered music like that of Tenielle Neda. I’m so excited to share some of Tenille story and music with you.
In order to understand why it’s Tenielle Neda, makes such gospel centered music, it’s helpful to know a bit about her own journey to discovering the gospel, Tenielle grew up in a rural part of Western Australia on a farm. And her parents separated when she was eight. Authentic faith wasn’t really a big part of her life growing up,
I would say that I was like a theist and I believed in God and I kind of had an idea of Jesus and we went to church on like Christmas and Easter. And that was kind of like, yeah, and I sort of would pray to God, but I didn’t understand really what it meant to follow Jesus or have like a relationship with him, or what it meant to be Christian or Yeah, so I kind of just went through life. But I guess I always had a sense to maybe it’s because of like what I experienced with my family, that people weren’t good. And that even in myself, like I have this sense of my own sin and unworthiness, I suppose. And actually, when I became a Christian, it took me like, intellectually, I accepted the gospel, but I think it took my heart some time to catch up just because I really struggled with the concept of grace I think because it’s so counterintuitive to Neil’s encounter with the true gospel would come after a season of looking for purpose and affirmation in other places, namely, in her music career in her early 20s, to kneel had a fairly successful run on Australian Idol, the Australian version of American Idol, and then she won first prize in an artist development contest that led to a record deal. Tenielle spent a few years pursuing music full time in Sydney and Melbourne. eventually getting signed to Universal Music Island Records Australia. But while she learned a lot during these years, her career and secular music didn’t satisfy and she became disillusioned ultimately leading her to take a break from music. I think all my identity was kind of like in my music at that point, or maybe my relationships and so I kind of Yeah, it was lonely and dissatisfied and realized that it didn’t didn’t satisfy me the way that I thought it would. Um, so I ended up back in Perth, and during that time, I had a few like, key Christian people in my life that were like so loving and gracious and patient. I look back now and I’m like, astounded.
So yeah, just Yeah, so um, yeah, I moved back to Perth and started, like exploring Christianity more seriously
At the time to Neil’s brother was part of Wilson Christian church, a Christian Reformed Church in the suburbs of Perth. And he invited her to attend. She ended up starting an internship with a church that would change the trajectory of her life and faith.
I kind of had that sort of moment, maybe like, a quarter into my internship, I just was grappling with some things still, like in my personal life. And my pastor said to me, do you really believe that God loves you? And I was just broke down. I was like, I just don’t know how he can love me. And instead of giving me his opinion, he opened the Bible and read it all those passages like Romans where it says, you know, Christ died for the ungodly and all that his love. And so, I think that moment for me was pivotal, I suppose, because I guess I felt a real heart acceptance of Christ from that point onwards.
At this point, Neil started studying at Trinity Theological College in Perth, and she began to write songs with a distinctly Christian devotional tone. The song person in Christ was one of the first she wrote and what would eventually become her mercy EP. It’s a song that beautifully testify as to how radically Tenielle’s concept of the self shifted when she truly met Jesus.
In 2019, Tenielle released her Kickstarter funded EP mercy with running club records. This is when she first came onto my radar, particularly the title track Mercy, here’s a clip. Like many independent Christian artists to kneel balances for music with many other things. She’s a wife, she’s a mom of two boys. And also wait for it. She’s a part time train driver. Tenielle is probably the only Christian singer songwriter in the world who also spends 12 hour shifts driving iron ore trains, some of the longest heaviest trains in the world. But for Tenielle is just one of the many things in her life that makes finding time to pursue music to write songs, a bit of a challenge.
Like my phone has, like, you know, 10,000 voice memos with ideas that I just never get time to follow up like most of my writing happens spontaneously and usually like at night when the kids are in bed like dreaming of Aiden which was a song off the new EP. There was like a bit going on. It just sort of felt like heaps of people in my life. Were going through hard things. And the kids went to bed one night was like 830 and I just went in the room and wrote it and I just pretty much wrote it from start to finish.
Dreaming of Eden is one of the five songs on Tenielle’s What Is My Hope EP, which just released earlier this year, and takes its title from the first question of the new city catechism. What is our only hope and life and death? Answer that we are not our own but belong Body and Soul both in life and death to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ. Listen to how to kneel puts the Catechism to music in the EPS titled track.
The What Is My Hope EP is definitely well timed. Every time I’ve listened to it in the last few months, I’m personally reminded of the hope I have in Christ, a needed reminder in a world and at a time when so much around us just seems to be falling apart.
I’m not sure whether it is just this time in history that we’re living in with always uncertainty and with COVID. And so I think, this idea of our future hope, our present hope as well in what Jesus has accomplished for us now, but then also our future hope. And I think that concept, and then how that speaks into everyday life was probably in the back of my mind a lot when I was writing the songs. So even like, perfect peace, like that’s a song about Yeah, giving all your concerns and your worries to God. So yeah, a lot of it was sort of flying from that concept.
One of my favorite tracks on the EP is miraculous salvation, which you heard briefly at the beginning of the episode, Tenielle was inspired to write this song after hearing a sermon on Jonah.
I was also thinking about God’s mercy to me, and how, I guess my experience of coming to faith was very much I can see God’s hand in that and I think that shapes my faith convictions as well. So yeah, I was literally just astounded at God’s mercy and His mercy to me and that story in Scripture. And just the way that he works in the world and how it’s surprising and he uses the most unexpected people.
You know, like the reference of the psalm actually came later, when I was working on the song with John Dara, that a broken humble heart you would not despise. It actually had another line in it. And we we changed it later. But even just it’s the same sentiment, though, it’s just that we don’t offer him anything. And it’s just purely His mercy when we come to Him. And then the bridge part actually, the you keep your covenant of love when I was at Trinity study, also an Old Testament and we’re doing Deuteronomy, and I remembered being like, amazed that for a book of law or so much the Old Testament is law that God referred to his covenant and the covenant of love. And I just remember thinking that was amazing and so it was always in the back of my mind and I thought I really want to write a song of that covenant of love
And then there’s a reference to I think it’s the third verse where it says, Take a heart of stone and replace it with one a flashlight from Ezekiel and I always thought that was just the most beautiful picture as well. So yeah, I guess I was just trying to incorporate those passages that spoke about our salvation in Christ and getting a new heart and new power it’s just all messy and all the gift of grace and that’s it was personal and it was outward as well like looking at what and seeing God’s work in the world and his work in other people’s hearts.
The gospel is insufficient. Like Jesus is fully sufficient. We don’t. It is miraculous. And I probably stole that from my lecturer at Trinity he I’m not on purpose. But this lovely, older gentleman at Trinity that taught New Testament he used to always say that salvation was a miracle.
Salvation is indeed a miracle. And Tenielle has done a great service to us by putting that reminder to music. If you want to watch a new video performance of miraculous salvation recorded in a beautiful old Australian church, head over to TGC his YouTube page or find it linked in the show notes, though Tenielle describes her music as devotional music, in contrast to church worship music, her songs definitely serve the church by helping beautiful doctrines sink in.
Like I wouldn’t necessarily say that any of my songs would necessarily be songs you’d see in church on Sunday, but I want them to like nourish people and teach people still and I’m conscious of that. And I, I try not to write anything that is untrue. Even in a devotional song where there can be ambiguity. I’m, I try to be intentional about what I’m saying, to not mislead people or, you know, so I do feel that burden the responsibility to some degree, but you might remember parts of the sermon but you’re seeing a song and they’re all the lyrics. So it’s, it’s a privilege to write music that might influence people’s faith.
Tenielle is right that music can influence people’s faith. We can read books about God’s attributes, we can hear lectures about theological truths, and we shouldn’t do that. But hearing these truths put to music, put to beautiful sounds, chords harmonies, it can help them move from the head to the heart. Music can help tune our hearts to sing God’s praise, reminding us of what the chaos of life leads us often to forget. So much in the world can lead us to forget God’s goodness. The Internet sometimes feels like one big conspiracy to get us to forget to forget our God to forget our hope to forget the miracle of our salvation. And in a world of forgetting the songs of artists like Tenielle Neda to help us remember and for that I’m grateful.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Behind the song with Tenielle Neda. Be sure to check out Tenielle’s video for miraculous salvation linked in the show notes or on TGC’s YouTube channel. And I do encourage you to check out her music on Spotify, Apple music wherever you stream music. I hope it’s as good of a reminder to your soul of God’s attributes and goodness as it has been for me. This episode of the TGC podcast is written and hosted by me Brett McCracken. It’s produced by Heather Ferrell and Josh Diaz, edited by Robbie Herrera artwork by Gabriel Reyes. The TGC podcast is part of The Gospel Coalition’s Podcast Network. Its executive producer is Stephen Morales and our editor in chief is Collin Hansen. Special thanks in this episode to Tenielle Neda and to Andrew Laparra for production assistance.