Why Hymns Are Better

As a result of a Facebook status that got a lot of attention, I’ve decided to write this post. It’s often the case that a status or Tweet is not worthy of the attention and thoughtfulness that certain subjects require. It became evident to me that this particular subject deserved more than 140 characters, as many people “liked” it and some others disagreed, respectfully. After talking it over with some friends and thinking about it more, I discovered there’s more I want to say.

I want to give three reasons that I think hymns are better than contemporary praise songs. I think they are better:

  1. Musically
  2. Lyrically
  3. Theologically

The third one is the one that really matters, and why I chose to write this post. You can chalk the first two up to aesthetics and preferences, but the third one is something I think deeply matters for the church, and perhaps the other two do as well.

A few side notes.

I want to say that I’m only speaking of the songs I know. That means the hymns that have survived this long, not ALL hymns, and it also means only the contemporary songs I’ve heard. That being said, I’ve worshipped in many, many congregations, and have found myself in a “worship leader” position in several churches, youth groups, retreats, camps, etc. So I am quite familiar with the common songs of today.

I’m not talking about YOUR church, and I’m not talking about YOUR songs. I’m speaking of the church generally, and what I recognize to be the popular and oft-heard songs across the evangelical world. I truly believe there are churches doing more than this.

Secondly, I want to emphasize that I don’t fault any churches, worshippers, or worship leaders, and I especially don’t want to take away from anyone’s religious experience in musical worship. If you’ve found God in modern worship songs, then Praise God for that. I wouldn’t dare limit God’s ability to function and bless even if we gathered every week and sang the ABC’s. That being said, I do think there is more to consider.

Let’s jump in, shall we?

 

(1) Hymns are better musically

If you play any instrument in a praise and worship band, it won’t take you long to realize that 90% of the popular songs are in the key of G (or can be easily converted to that with a capo), are in 4/4 timing, and follow a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. One of my favorite things to goof around with as an acoustic guitar player was to play a G-C-D-C pattern and see how many songs I could sing along with it. To name a few: Holiness (Take My Heart), Holy is the Lord, Enough, Every Move I Make, Lord I Lift Your Name on High… every single one of these songs could be sung simultaneously without the band changing a single thing.

That seems like a problem. At best it’s a lack of originality or creativity; at worst it’s an invective against the church, that we’ll accept just about any string of words that sounds worship-y.

Hymns, on the other hand, are musically rich and complex. I remember hating hymns as a guitar player, because I had to learn new time signatures, and there were these surprise chords that came out of nowhere that I had to Google. You can tell that the music took time to compose, and that the music is linked to the lyrics in a way you don’t see in choruses. Sure, you might see an “E minor” or even an “A minor” in the bridge, but in hymns you see complexity and craftsmanship to match the angst of the lyrics. And even though it frustrated me as an under-skilled musician, as a worshipper I value the originality and creativity of the music that we offer to God in worship.

(2) Hymns are better lyrically

This point takes two different forms. First, I want to talk the way they use literary “person”, and then I want to talk about the use of words for meaning.

The examples I will choose to use for “contemporary praise choruses” are the top 4 songs on CCLI’s Top 100. This is the primary resource for worship leaders to legally get lyrics, sheet music, etcetera for church worship, so  we can reasonably say that these are the four most-used songs in evangelical churches. The songs are:

  1. How Great is Our God
  2. Mighty to Save
  3. Our God
  4. Blessed Be Your Name

So for the first point, let’s use the two Chris Tomlin songs on here, “How Great Is Our God” and “Our God”. (By the way, what’s up with Chris Tomlin and demonstrative pronouns with God? Anyone else sense an anti-other-religions agenda? My theological problems with “Our God” will have to be saved for another time.) Let’s compare that to the most similar hymn, “How Great Thou Art”, and another example, “Be Thou My Vision”.

Praise chorus lyrics:

How great is our God. Sing with me, how great is our God, and all will see how great, how great is our God.

Our God is greater, our God is stronger, God you are higher than any other. Our God is healer, awesome in power, our God, our God.

Now compare that to the hymns:

Then sings my soul, my savior, God to thee. How great thou art, how great thou art!

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

The first thing most people notice is the difference in language, but there’s something fundamentally different in terms of literary “person”. Note that both of the praise songs sing “about” God in the third person (save one phrase in the middle of “Our God”), whereas the hymns are “to” God in the second person. We’ll discuss the theology of that in a minute, but it brings up a fundamental question: Who exactly are we singing to?

If the choruses of “Our God” and especially “Blessed Be Your Name” are any indication, this is not something that song writers are even trying to think about. Both songs break continuity of person within the same verse! It goes from “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (third person) to “Blessed be your name” (second person). We wouldn’t allow this in a third grader’s english paper, why do we let it slide in our corporate worship? It seems to me there has been a completely unconscious but important shift in the object of our singing.

Now let’s simply compare the word choice in describing God, and Christian experience, using the other two songs:

Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be your glorious name.

Savior, he can move the mountains. My God is mighty to save, he is mighty to save. Forever, author of salvation. He rose and conquered the grave, Jesus conquered the grave.

And now a couple hymns:

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, though hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul

Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace. Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.

Once again, we see the conflict of “person”, but more importantly, we see a fundamental difference in the way the songs talk about God. The first two are naming attributes of God. The second two are describing the attributes of God with metaphor. The difference is this: modern praise songs simply “name” attributes of God, but great hymns “describe” attributes of God.

I’m becoming convinced that contemporary artists just put the same twenty words like “holy”, “God”, “savior”, “blessed”, “awesome”, “great”, etc. into a jar and shake it and see what comes out; throw a few prepositions in between so it flows, and put it in the key of G. Boom, top of the charts. We’ve become satisfied with singing the same songs in the same ways every Sunday and just get excited at the ones we get to sing a little louder or in a slightly higher key.

Hymns, on the other hand, aren’t satisfied with saying “God is holy”. They want to talk about how God is holy, or what it means for God to be holy. They look around for things to relate God’s holiness to. You could sing an entire contemporary worship song about God being holy, great, or even Savior, and leave the song still wondering, “How is God great?” , or “What does God’s greatness look like?”

(3) Hymns are better Theologically

When it comes down to it, who are we singing to, and what are they worthy of?

Number 2 brought up the theological issues. What’s the difference between “How Great is Our God” and “How Great Thou Art”? The title tells us everything. One is about God, and one is to God. When we consider the type of songs we ought to be singing as worship, the “direction” of the songs should matter.

I’m not saying third person songs aren’t worship, or that God isn’t glorified by them. But what, over time, are we training ourselves to believe about God and about us if our songs are songs to each other about God rather than with each other to God. Because we end up believing in the way we practice, and I wonder if our theology hasn’t suffered for it.

And I really truly believe our theology suffers when we would offer up songs that sound like doctrinal statements rather than poetry that explores and marvels at the complexity of God and God’s work among us.

Yes, God is great! God is mighty! God’s name is blessed! But what does that mean for us?

For me, the song “It Is Well” is a rehearsal in really exploring what it means to call God great. For those of you that don’t know the story, this hymn was written by a man who lost his wife and children and all he had worked for at sea. When this man wrote, “When sorrows like sea billows roll”, he meant  it with every fiber of his being. He knew exactly what sorrow felt like, and used that imagery to really explore what it means for God to be great even in that circumstance. That is what our songs should say! Our songs should come from a place of reality, of experience, of angst, and should be written by poets, who have a gift for attributing words and imagery to that angst.

Forgive me for being sounding antagonistic to this song in particular, but I’m growing tired of hearing congregations of Christians tell each other how great our God is. If you’re going to tell anyone, tell God! And then, explore what that might actually mean, rather than just putting four chords behind it and calling it worship.

Worship should be provocative, not shallow. We should have to reflect upon the words we sing, not just be able to glance over them and affirm them. Essays upon essays could be written exploring “Be Thou My Vision” or “Come Thou Fount”, where the imagery could be poked at, questioned, affirmed and enlivened. Today’s songs are disembodied statements about God. And while they may be true, they don’t mean anything on their own.

If I could pick one natural gift/talent to add to myself, it would be songwriting. Because I don’t think “hymns” are the answer to the problem, they’re just among the best we have. The answer is new, great songs, that take the musicality, lyricism, and theological depth of the hymns seriously and bring that creativity and theological formation to a pen and paper. But alas, that is not me. But I can at least hope and encourage.

Our songs should reflect the depth and complexity of God. 

And they should really be sung to God. Really.

Please comment. If the status was any indication, this is something worth talking about, and while I do have strong opinions, I really try to remain open and hear rebuttals. It helps me learn, and it makes us all better people if we talk about stuff. The only comment I don’t want to see is, “Well, this song is like this, which makes your point invalid.” Because it doesn’t. There are always exceptions. There are some wonderful songs being written and sung in churches today, and there are god-awful hymns that survived containing miserable theology. But I really don’t think you can argue against the generalizations I’ve made, even if they are only generalizations. Thanks for reading, as always.

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65 thoughts on “Why Hymns Are Better

  1. Also, have you since written more on this?
    “My theological problems with “Our God” will have to be saved for another time.”

  2. Loved your article! Do you have an expanded version of what you are saying here, or can you expand more on this:

    “But what, over time, are we training ourselves to believe about God and about us if our songs are songs to each other about God rather than with each other to God.”

    Thanks

  3. Here you go people. This is what I want to be like. Excited about Jesus. Not just on Sunday, but everyday! And I want that passion, that excitement to explode in me and pour out into everything I do.

  4. My search this morning after reading hymns about God/Jesus brought me to your blog. My question has been for years “why are hymns written ‘about’ instead of ‘to’ our Father and Savior. The Lord resides within us and not far away. Thank you for your words of explanation. At age 85 I left my church when praise music left me ‘cold’. I think your blog is the only one that answered my question. But actually it’s the hymns I’ve sung all my life and never had this question come to mind until a few years ago. You answered my prayer this morning.

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  6. God Bless you for saying everything I have long hated about too much modern christian music!

    For years, I have been sad that hymns take such a backseat when they are so clearly superior to most of the stuff that I hear in your average church service. I started playing the guitar last year and realized what my musical complaint really was and it’s just as you’ve said, Key of G, 3 or 4 chords max, boring chord progressions, etc.. I wonder sometimes how much of this is because some of the musicians in church are just not capable of playing the harder stuff, much of which was really written for piano. I know they are good people and they mean well, but it is mind numbingly bad sometimes.

    I went to my parents church last month and the words so banal and repetitive, not to mention the music which is the same, that I cannot think about God at all. It is like church services are constantly playing the musical and verbal equivalent of twinkle twinkle little star. If these beautiful hymns did not exist, I could forgive it but they do! How you can ignore something amazing like ‘How Great Thou Art’ in favor of dreck? I just can’t understand it.

  7. Your blog seems to be laced with your personal likes, and dislikes, and as if this is some sort of competition. Yes, unfortunately, many churches are choosing the mainstream, popular songs, which is sad. I believe every congregation must choose music that works best, however, whether it’s new or old it should chosen carefully. By definition, a hymn is a song of praise to God and has nothing to do with the age of the composition. My personal belief is a blended format works best for most churches, though larger churches seem to have success with different styles in different services; they just build separate fellowships in their congregations. With that being said I ask you the same question others have, why does it have to be either/or? There is a plethora of Christian music being written today, and yes, plenty of poor compositions, both musically and lyrically. Our small independent church works from a variety of hymnals and a library of modern sheet music and I can tell you there are plenty of old hymns which are poor from a musical or lyrical standpoint. If someone doesn’t understand what they’re singing, how could it be true praise to God? We’re not afraid to change a word or two in an old hymn so people understand it. (Sick the copyright dogs on me…) As for repetition, there are plenty of old hymn choruses that are quite repetitious (i.e. Bringing in the Sheaves). We seldom use all the repeats nor all the verses in any music and we cut out a part that doesn’t fit (such as a “la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la,la…..). We may also use a different meter and rhythm, whether it is old or new.

    I happen to love most all music whether it’s the old hymns from my childhood (over 50 years ago) or what I heard on the radio yesterday, but I understand that everyone has different tastes. That’s why for the past 15 years we’ve used three criteria for choosing worship music. We didn’t come up with these, just stole them from another church:

    1) It must be theologically relevant. Does it pertain to the message/theme of the week or sermon series? No doubt, plenty of contemporary music might work as praise to God but also a love song in a courtship, because there is no mention of God, Lord, Jesus, etc. (We don’t use these.) But there are plenty of new hymns that fit well, with lyrics directly from scripture.

    2) It must be singable by the congregation. Much of contemporary Christian music is delivered by talented vocalists and musicians and the common person can’t sing or play it easily. It doesn’t matter if it passes No. 1 or not, don’t use it.

    3) We want it to be a lyrical and/or musical phrase that they can’t get out of their head. When we teach a new song to the congregation it’s usually done three weeks in a row and we only add a half dozen or so each year. We know a song passes No. 3 when people come back the second week and tell us they’ve been singing the song all week.

    There have been good hymns for congregational singing written throughout the ages and to exclude them because of when they were written makes no sense to me. The tradition of using only those from a 500 page hymnal is largely because churches weren’t going to buy new hymnals every decade and/or we were only going to use the one our denomination chose.

    Pray about God’s leading in your church and choose wisely. Don’t put fences around your congregation if you want them to grow.

    1. How does singing classical hymns prevent those in a congregation from growing? Growing in what area specifically?

      1. Nicole: To clarify, I did not mean that singing old hymns prevent a congregation from growing. When one person ( or a small group of people) make music selections based only on their own likes and dislikes, it is usually representative of the same situation in other areas of the local church. Every congregation has a unique composition and to make judgements for all congregations is legalistic and selfish. A congregation that sings only from a hymnal can grow in faith, servitude and numbers just as well as one that uses only contemporary hymns if that is what fits their character. But making the choice to use only one style can create barriers. Choose wisely.

  8. I think we’re missing something here. It’s too easy to pick out today’s contemporary songs and compare them against classical hymns but that’s not really a good comparison. Each group of songs must be evaluated on their own merit. It’s too easy to take the worst of one group (contemporary) and compare them against the best of another (classical), then calling the later the better. In my opinion, the classic hymns that have lasted have done so because they are theologically rich but I’m sure there were plenty of hymns from that era that were not. There are hymns today that have theological depth as well. The song “How Great Is Our God” actually has some verses/stanzas that are theologically deep but your blog curiously didn’t quote the verses but chose instead to quote the chorus while comparing it to a verse of “Be Thou My Vision.”

    But that as it may, we do need theologically rich songs for worship. But what we need more is for the church to gather in worship with a heart that passionately wants to worship God and that is something that neither classic nor contemporary hymns can produce. Whether we sing contemporary or classical hymns, formation will happen when we gather with hearts that desire to dwell in the presence of God.

  9. Let’s keep in mind something important for all born again believers . Discussions such as these, regarding “gray areas”, are good to work through and realize different points of view. However, we must remember two important things:
    ~~. God’s command to us is to share the Gospel, silently or vocally to a dying world around us. We are to be light to those in darkness and hopefully see them commit their hearts to Jesus’ work on the cross. Discipleship is also important to help new Christians grow.
    ~~. Secondly, we are here to glorify God in ALL WE DO!

    Worshipping our Lord and Saviour is crucial. Just as reading and searching His word and praying daily are also crucial. Once we “know” our God and understand what He did for us, our worship isn’t only crucial, but desirable!

    Now for my point as pertaining to worship through music: the Holy Spirit in dwells us and if we are (to the best of our abilities as human flesh & born sinners) close to God daily, I believe he will lay on our individual hearts, what music is appropriate for worship.

    For me, I lived many years as a saved Christian disobeying God and lived a worldly life. When conviction finally got a hold on me, by God’s grace alone, I immediately found conviction over the songs I worship God with! The CCM only reminded me of the worldly secular music I listened to for many years! Therefore, it was no longer an appropriate way to worship and serve An Almighty God!

    Recognizing that by claiming to be saved, while walking the path of worldly folks, was not only hypocritical, but probably confusing to my worldly friends. Once I recognized that I may have hindered the potential of any of them getting saved (keep in mind, I know only God’s grace can win them, not me!!!!), it prompted me to write letters to all of those friends sharing the gospel & asking for forgiveness that I lived a worldly lifestyle, while professing salvation.

    All this being said , I want to worship, serve, minister to needs, disciple new Christians, etc….while in obedience to God’s word! So, where there is a “gray area”, I choose most conservative actions (not legalistic).

    In regard to lights and salt in the world, controversial conversations between Christians, send one signal to the unsaved. That is a bad signal! One which tells them, those Christians can’t come together in types of church music & other “gray area” topics…what makes them so different than us? Their CCM sounds like my pop music, words repeated over and over and the words tell me nothing about salvation! What is salvation anyway? Sure, if their heart is ready, anything can bring them to Jesus. However, if a seed is being planted, it might very well never come to fruition and enjoy the precious gift of Salvation.

    Worshipping God, IS ALL ABOUT HIM AND HIS ATTRIBUTES AND CHARACTER AND WHAT HE DID FOR US ON THE CROSS! It is our responsibility to “draw” people to Him, through prayer, evangelism, actions, words, etc.

    However, it IS NOT THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH to draw people in by appealing to their wants and likes. Music should not be a factor to lure younger generations into church! It is the Holy Spirit, sometimes using us, which draws them! If you take away your “appealing” Music, what do you think will happen? Younger generations will leave just as quickly as they came in! Is this the reason for attending church and worshipping God in our church? EMPHATICALLY, NO! Salvation, discipleship, teaching new Christians to love, know and serve The Lord is the reason!

    I imagine I am in Heaven, bowing down at Jesus feet and the music, most edifying music I hear playing, is anything but contemporary!

    This is my personal conviction, coming from experience living in a sinful state most of my Christian life. I do not condemn or disapprove of CCM, I simply wanted to point out why we are here on this earth and incorporate how music plays a significant role in showing Christ to others.

    Do the words of your songs, teach you more about your God? Do they help you remember over and over what God has done for you? It’s not about you…..that statement is true. But we need to reflect on who God is and what He’s done for us….this is true worship. If your excitement and emotions get riled up while you worship Him, you are making it about yourself, not Him! Emotions do come, dear Christian, in the form of tears (sorrow or joy) reflecting on our Saviour and God, not to make us “feel good”. Simply having a daily relationship with Him, will bring all the joy you need!

    1. Suzie – I couldn’t agree with your sentiments more! I, too, lived a worldly life for many years before God granted me His spirit of repentance, opening my eyes to my wretched state of sin. I, cannot in good conscience, worship a Holy God with contemporary worldly music. He is so much more worthy than that to me!

  10. I loved your article and the examples given to where you illustrated the difference between old and new. I’ve been starting to write down songs/poems that come to my heart while reading His word or reading/ singing a hymn. I went back to see what I was doing compared to your article. While writing some, I would look at my hymnal and see the breadth of imagery contained in hymns I’ve been impacted by and I’ve tried to incorporate praise to God with His attributes because of the hymns. But, since I don’t know how to read music, I’m just trusting God to help me either learn an instrument or learn how to read music so that I can remember the melodies. If it’s His will, to use any of this, it will be for His glory! Thanks, Kevin Nye

  11. I’ve never stopped to really think about why I enjoy traditional worship and the hymns instead of the contemporary. I think you have pretty well nailed it. To me, it just seems and feels more “worshipful”. It’s not because I grew up with these hymns. I have joined the Episcopal church because I like the liturgical worship although the hymns are different than the ones I grew up singing. But the feeling is the same for me. I do still sing my old Baptist hymns when I’m cleaning or driving or just “feeling” them.

  12. I agree with much of what you said, but some commentators here have made some excellent counterpoints. My main disagreement is with your statement that hymns should be TO God rather than ABOUT God. Traditionally, one of the primary functions of hymns was to teach theology. A much loved hymn for many congregations is “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” which teaches great theology about the Trinity. It sings about attributes of God in Three Persons but does not sing directly to God. Still an example of the great hymns of the faith. There are also numerous others. I don’t think these make for a few exceptions to your generalization, but rather, are common to hymnody.

    One of the reasons you like hymns is that they tend to teach deeper theological truths than contemporary praise music. I think this is often true, but fortunately there are modern writers such as Stuart Townend that seem to get this, and have been writing contemporary songs that are more hymn-like in both use of solid lyrics/theology and decent, singable melodies. One of my favorites is “In Christ Alone.” Songs like this will be a great bridge from traditional, older hymns to new congregational songs with more “pop” influence.

  13. Yes! I had a roommate my freshman year in college that listened to a lot of contemporary christian music, a style of music that was new to me. As a student of music, I’m pretty open to different styles, and as a devout member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I’d expect to enjoy anything that glorifies His works and His name. Unfortunately I really didn’t care for it. While there were a few songs I thoroughly enjoyed (my favorite was “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble”), it all started to sound the same to me, and the repetition drove me absolutely crazy (particularly “We Want to see Jesus Lifted High).” This article perfectly explains why.

    Also, one of my favorite things you said is “I especially don’t want to take away from anyone’s religious experience in musical worship. If you’ve found God in modern worship songs, then Praise God for that. I wouldn’t dare limit God’s ability to function and bless even if we gathered every week and sang the ABC’s.” Anyone criticizing your views should read that statement again. I think the main reason someone might take offense is if they’ve felt the spirit touch them through modern worship music, and they feel this is somehow mocking or lessening their experiences. You haven’t claimed that CCM isn’t a legitimate form of worship. You’ve simply given a well thought out explanation for why singing more hymns (or other music with a similar musical/lyrical/theological structure) could help us worship in a deeper, more meaningful way. Amen!

  14. It makes me sad when people make prescriptions for how people should “best” worship or experience God. I think there is a certain beauty and depth in singing hymns, and a certain beauty and depth in singing contemporary worship songs. I’ve played piano for and sung hours and hours of both and love each kind for what they are. It actually makes my heart hurt a little to think about what it would be like to make people feel like the very sincere and deeply-felt way they are (and enjoy) worshipping is inferior, and for reasons such as “other ways of worshipping use loftier language and more complicated chord progressions.” It would be similar to me saying that someone who is daily runner is an inferior fitness enthusiast, and then listing out reasons that – really – just show why I prefer weight lifting over cardio, rather than demonstrating objective superiority of weight lifting as the premier method of physical activity and path to optimal physical health (to say nothing of how personal enjoyment factors in). Also, you seem to make a lot of assumptions about the internal states of worshippers, based on the syntax of the songs. That doesn’t make much sense to me. Like people singing hymns never “phone in” a worship experience.

  15. If you boil all this down, you have 2 basic arguments from those who favor hymns.
    1) the songs I grew up with are better than the songs I am unfamiliar with.
    2) the absolute best and most beloved 0.000009% (roughly estimated) of worship songs written in the past 1000 years are better than all the worship songs written in the last 30.(which is the one this author makes)

    I really think this is like discussing whether D minor is better than A flat or whether God is more appropriately worshiped and understood in churches that have red carpet than those that have blue.
    We can subset and break this argument down in all sorts of ways, Organ Vs Piano, Piano vs Guitar, Music vs A Capella (because there are churches who believe that ALL instrumental worship is bad) Orchestra vs Ensemble, Live music vs Recorded, whether or not clapping is of the Devil( I actually attended an rural southern baptist church that believed that) Psalms vs Hymns( a raging discussion of the Reformation very similar to the one we are having now) and so on and so forth exetera until Jesus returns as the front man of an Angelic heavy metal band and raptures us all to the Great Mosh Pit in the Sky.
    ( I think King David was a serious headbanger).

  16. This has been very interesting to read. I am struggling with CCM vs. Hymns. There is a whole bunch of CCM I don’t like. Some of my favorites are when they take hymns and make the music more contemporary. Or the ones that are direct quotes of scripture.

  17. First, read psalm 150.

    Now I will argue against your generalizations.

    1- musically (using the hymns you chose)
    —-how great thou art
    ——-chords: G C D, 4/4 time
    —-be thou my vision
    ——-chords: D G A – 2nd most popular key
    Structure of almost every hymn is v, c, v, c, v, c.
    No bridge, no prechorus, tag line. That would make “contemporary” songs more creative, original by the article’s very premise.

    2- lyrically
    Anyone can cherry pick songs to compare to make a point. Instead, let’s compare these points to songs of scripture.
    Point 1 – demonstrative pronouns – “our” God
    —- psalm 18 (verse 31)
    —- psalm 20 (verse 5)
    —- psalm 50 (verse 3)
    Point 2- third person perspective
    —- psalm 11,18,19,20,23,24,27 ….. 149,150.
    Point 3- switching 2nd to 3rd person
    —- psalm 40, 43,48,52,…
    Point 4- attributes of God without metaphor
    —- psalm 146, maybe more?

    3- theologically
    Point 1- about God vs To God
    —- the psalms above should give plenty of reference material that both are scriptural.
    —- there is also psalms that seem to sing to self
    ——– psalm 42
    Point 2- the seemingly alluded to point that the best so gs are based on experiences (aka story behind the song)
    —- truth trumps experience. While there are many modern songs that are simple and shallow, the songs you chose from contemporary lists are full of scriptural truths, ripped straight from the bible itself. I would also add that what seems shallow to some May be the most heart felt emotional words of worship a song writer can muster. He may not be interested in teaching theology in song (psalm 119) but may simply be interested in uttering a few words of simple praise (psalm 117).

    And singy-sing songs? Psalm 150.

    Please please please please please…. Don’t draw lines in the sand over opinion and preference. And if you are going to try to make a point about the church or biblical topics, try to find some bible to start from and to back it up.

  18. Reblogged this on Moco De Bebe and commented:
    I have been thinking about worship music a lot lately and this post from Liturgy at the Edge of Uncertainty fit write into the theme. A very interesting and thought provoking argument in favor of hymns over contemporary praise songs. Enjoy…

  19. I’m a hymn lover and writer. Most of this sounds good to me. But the point about to whom we sing doesn’t quite make sense. Many hymns are written in the third person, as are many Psalms, which should be our example. Amazing Grace is in the 3rd person. Psalm 117 is in the 3rd person, the Magnificat is in the 3rd person. Many praise songs are addressed to “You.” Think of the wonderful hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” We’re encouraging ourselves and each other to praise the Lord. And the beloved hymn, “It is well,” changes person – sometimes telling about Christ, sometimes addressed to God. http://www.hymnary.org/…/when_peace_like_a_river…
    I also think it is good to sing creeds as well as Psalms and hymns. They are about God rather than to God, but are most helpful in worship as well as keeping theology from straying.
    Facebook, in it’s wisdom, recommended the following to go along with this post.

    I saw this when it was posted on Facebook by the Hymn Society of the U.S. and Canada
    I hope I write hymns that are useful in worship. http://www.scoreexchange.com/profiles/maryrosejensen

  20. I absolutely agree, I want to sing TO GOD not about his random generic unheartfelt qualities. My church currently does not sing the cheesy let’s sing singy songs thing. We do a lot lf hymns and we do a lot of new theological (whether in agreement with yours or not) song material. I love singing to my Jesus but the other songs don’t make sense to sing to him it’s almost as If I am singing to the believers to the left and right of me
    I know Kevin also has the opinion of a lot of music in the church is very sexualized…. Or should I not start that campaign…. I want to know you, I want to touch you I want to feel you….MOOOORE.
    Gross.

  21. There has been a variety of musical types used in the history of the church.

    The only way that any could be considered as BETTER … is in HOW EFFECTIVE they are in EDIFYING THE CHURCH, and BRINGING the UNSAVED to Christ.

    In this sense, EVERY TYPE of music has its time and place, depending upon WHAT CONTEXT and CIRCUMSTANCES the church is dealing with.

    I thank God for ALL those who have given their time and talent in helping to provide MUSIC to the church.

    Ephesians 5:18b … but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

    1. Your comments, I believe, demonstrate why some folks fall on different sides of this issue; I don’t believe the effectiveness of church music is rightly determined by it’s capacity to edify the church or to bring the unsaved to Christ – I believe music, in the weekly corporate worship service, is to be a part of genuine worship, not a utility to make us feel worshipful or even to bring the lost to salvation. There is much the church can do to edify it’s members and to bring the lost face-to-face (so to speak) with Jesus, and there is a time and place of all manner of music and for whatever it’s used for among God’s people – but in the Sunday worship service our interest and attention should be to offer God authentic worship (whether it feels all emotionally like worship to us or not) – so if we’re going to include music as part of that weekly worship service, it should be music that is in itself (not in our ‘hearts’) genuinely worshipping God.

      This, I believe, is why there are two different camps on this issue, not because we all like different kinds of music – but because some see music as a tool to help us feel like we’re worshipping and some see music as either genuinely worshipping God or just making us feel like we’re worshipping God.

  22. Something of which you may not be aware: many hymn lyrics were written to be sung to existing tunes. It was the way a congregation could easily sing new lyrics offering new theological ideas as the Church progressed. In many ways, it was their equivalent of our 4-chord, v, c, v, c, bridge, c, tag structure of today. Both are nothing more than systems kept simple to help ease learning for the congregation.

    There is also the reality that hymns have had 250-300 years to allow the best to rise to the top and the others to fall away. Since we are really only about 35 years in praise chorus writing, we are still finding our way through that. The good will stay and the mediocre or bad will wear out their welcome and fall away.

    As far as the other complaints about contemporary songs I see in the comment sections: perhaps the biggest draw-back to contemporary worship is that it takes greater skill to make them work, and they were coming into fashion at the time when churches were moving away from full-time trained worship leaders to part-time or lay worship leaders. There was a fallacy that, because the songs are guitar driven, we could hire anyone who could play the guitar to lead and it would work. But it actually takes a lot of knowledge to take what Chris Tomlin does on a recording intended to be played in a concert or on the radio, where repetition gets dull, and massage it to become something singable for the congregation. Keys often have to be changed, rhythms have to be standardized, and some melodies may have to be adjusted if they stray outside of normal singing range for the average voice. There are services which can help with these (offering songs in different keys, for example), the worship leader has to at least have enough knowledge to know when a key is not singable for the congregation. Some simply don’t have this awareness and sing/play it in whatever key is most comfortable for them.

    But that does not necessarily imply that the songs are bad, not useable, or even less desirable than hymns. When paired together or with the right hymns, the totality of the musical worship can be very effective. But again, achieving this takes a skilled musician or an especially gifted layman.

    If a part-time or lay person is all the church can afford, then the entire congregation should come behind them, know they are doing their best and support that those efforts are done to the glory of God. But if the church could afford a full-time, trained musician, you might find your opinions of some of these songs changing.

    1. YES! Thank you for this comment. Regardless of one’s opinion of the song, there is nothing easy about writing a hit worship song. As a worship leader of both “traditional” and “contemporary” music, I constantly witness the snobbery of classical musicians toward pop musicians. Four chords and a jar of words… It’s just rude.

  23. Hello,

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post. As a worship pastor who is trying to plot a way forward, a third way past “traditional” and “contemporary,” I experienced your post as quite offensive, divisive, and overly reductionistic. You are feeding the fears of people who are convinced that anything not written between 1750 and 1950 (or roughly 10% of the church’s history) is not worth singing. Western white European hymnody is a culturally and historically contingent set of genres of sacred music that must and will evolve in the 21st century into something new.

    It is incredibly unfair to judge anything written after 1950 by the standards of what makes it to the top of CCLI. That is rather like judging the best contemporary filmmakers by the latest Marvel superhero film. And you cannot say “well this is just a sampling,” because people will then follow your lead and lump *everything* written recently in with the commercial drivel coming out of Nashville. I say this because I am continually talking to people who lump everything contemporary under the post-U2 pop rock worship umbrella, which is unfair to all of the wonderful contemporary composers who are writing liturgically and theologically rich music that happens to not feature a quatrain poetic structure or secondary dominant chord changes.

    In a way, I found your comparison of “How Great is Our God” and “How Great Thou Art” immensely helpful: it showed me just how similar those two refrains are! If you take out the antiquated language of How Great Thou Art, it is almost the same refrain. (For the record, I have nothing against antiquated language, though I think we are not honest enough about how much antiquated language functions in the same emotivist way for some as new contemporary lyrics do for others.)

    Lastly, your theological point about “person” simply does not hold up against the tradition of Western hymnody itself. (Take, for example, “All Creatures of Our God and King.” In that hymn, “let all things their Creator bless” is a cohortative imperative phrase, which you claim is not acceptable, but this very stance of third person speech about God is drawn from a rich tradition of scriptural song, such as Psalm 148 or Psalm 150.)

    I would encourage you to do the work and find all of the incredible contemporary church music that is being written right now. We desperately need to move past the old tired arguments about old good songs and bad new songs. Those categories have been and always will be false. There are incredible old hymns and horrible old hymns. There are incredible new songs and horrible new songs. This isn’t about the best of the old versus the worst of the new; it’s about not fostering hate and mistrust amongst the diverse musical cultures of the body of Christ. Can we please instead pursue reconciliation in Christ between old and new?

  24. I’m going to be so bold as to say you are entitled to your OPINION, but it is exactly that. You are digging deep to come up with some of this and I think Satan has given you the shovel. You are stirring up conflict in the body of Christ and it’s nothing more than that. Many verses in the new testament refer to this.
    My husband is a song leader and he has lead in all types. I’ve watched people get mad at songs and sit there and refuse to sing. Now I ask you, who are they refusing? Not any one but God. Here is my conclusion after many years of seeking God in this matter. God commands us to praise Him and sing a joyful noise. I don’t care the genre or if the song is from a hymn or new or old – you better sing it to God for His glory with every thing that is in you. If you only sing songs you like then it was never about God to begin with. So to answer you Hymns are no better or worse. It’s all about God no matter what “person” the song is in.

    1. C ~ “You are stirring up conflict in the body of Christ and it’s nothing more than that.”

      Coach ~ I will be so bold as to say that it seems you are acknowledging Kevin is sharing his opinion on this, while you then use your own opinion as an accusation, a charge against him. It is not nothing more than stirring up conflict, it is a genuine concern for many who don’t need ‘stirred up’ in the least. When you say “God commands us to praise Him and sing a joyful noise. I don’t care the genre or if the song is from a hymn or new or old – you better sing it to God for His glory with every thing that is in you.” you totally miss the point. We all agree that God calls us in His word to sing praises to Him and make a joyful noise, etc – how we conduct our weekly corporate worship service is a whole other matter.

      I would never assert or suggest how another believer praises God making a joyful noise, tell him what type or style of song he should or should not sing, etc – but the Sunday worship service is unique in itself and must be ordered in a manner that promotes genuine worship and hinders emotional enthusiasms and personal prejudices as much as possible. You say “I don’t care the genre or if the song is from” but I doubt the validity of that assertion – can we use The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”, can we use AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell”, can we use some old sailor’s raunchy ditty? If we acknowledge that the actual music does matter, that it’s not all and only about the sincerity of those singing, then there is nothing wrong or bad about Kevin’s question – we should be always considering and examining how we do the Sunday morning service and what we offer as worship.

      1. I’m sorry that I assumed that most people would understand that I was referring to Christian based lyrics only. I forget that people like you will twist and turn anyone’s words. I believe that everyone has an opinion and that is ok. What I don’t believe in, is people trying to stir up trouble were there should be none. No matter the song (christian), it the heart/worship that matters.

        Honestly I could tear up every line of your response, but what good would that do? Would it lead others to Christ? Does when a song is written or the beat of the music make a difference when you are worshipping God? It shouldn’t, but to you it sounds like it does, and I feel sorry for you. True worship is awesome. I pray you find that in you’re life whether it be a hymn or a contemporary song.

    2. Coach ~

      C – “I assumed that most people would understand that I was referring to Christian based lyrics only’

      I, of course, did assume you were referring to specifically to church music – my point is, if there is any discernment employed, if any attention and then discretion is exercised (as in, you personally would be favorable to any and all church music but would be opposed to secular music), then observably discernment and discretion in what music best serves as worship music is not at all an unreasonable course . . . just because their own discernment and discretion brings some to conclusions other than your own conclusions doesn’t at all indicate that they are reasonably charged with “stirring up conflict in the body of Christ and it’s nothing more than that”.

      There is some music presented as “Christian” that consists of repeated refrains of how much “I” love Jesus and how faithful “I” will be over and over, that gives no attention to God’s greatness and holiness and forgiveness, only to “my” faith, etc – personally, the fact that such a song is published under a “Christian” banner, doesn’t in itself suggest worship to me . . . I can more properly worship God singing a fully secular song about a beautiful day and taking my wife on a picnic.

      But to me, done of that is the real issue here – the real issue is . . .

      C – “people like you will twist and turn anyone’s words”

      You don’t know me, but you are very free with accusations, it seems charging those who see things differently than you do with fault comes very easy to you. Why do you so instantly get so personally judgmental? Who are people like me? You don’t know me, at all. I’m not interested to twist anyone’s words, I posted here because I am interested to learn from others and to share what God has taught me. It doesn’t harm me that you accept any and all music so long as it’s presented as “Christian” music, I don’t think that makes you a bad person, I have nothing to fault you for – but I disagree, I see things differently than you, I think some “Christian” music is very good and some “Christian” music is so not very good that it’s kind of bad . . . why do you get to decide that your view is the right one and mine is wrong and that I am bad for having it?

      C – “Does when a song is written or the beat of the music make a difference when you are worshipping God?”

      Not at all, there is good old music and not so good old music, and there are good songs with the same beat as some bad songs. I don’t like or not like a song based on when it was written or the beat or tempo or instrumentation, etc, etc – but, if I just want to spend time singing in a happy sing-along then I’ll sing ~

      I love Him I love Him
      I love Him I love Him
      praise praise praise
      I love Him I love Him
      praise praise praise
      I love Him I love Him

      . . . but, I’m sorry, your arguments and hostility do not convince me otherwise, when I want to worship God, I will sing something like this ~

      Long my imprisoned spirit lay
      Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
      Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
      I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
      My chains fell off, my heart was free,
      I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

  25. Although I agree with you that hymns are better, I’m not really convinced by your arguments about musical quality. In many cases, I find that contemporary worship songs are more difficult for the congregation – with repeats and second endings, rhythms that vary by verse, accompaniments that don’t contain the melody (or obscure it or rise above it) – all of these issues make these songs unsingable for those who are not musically literate.

    In my experience the vast majority of hymns also use 4/4 meter and they tend to be in simpler keys. I don’t think these factors are relevant to the quality of the music. High-quality music can be written in any meter, and the key should be one that sets the melody within a good range for amateur singers.

    I do agree with you 100% about the chord progressions, though. It’s a tragic dumbing down of the musical language.

    Incidentally, I was referred to this post by a facebook group.

  26. I agree that hymns are musically and theologically more complex, but I say balance in everything. I love what some contemporary artists have fine with hymns, playing the traditional music and then adding a bridge or second chorus, like Amazing Grace with the added chorus “my chains are gone I’ve been set free, my God my Savior has ransomed me, and like a flood His mercy rains, unending joy, amazing grace”. Or with Come Thou Fount the added chorus, “Come Thou Fount, Come Thou King, Come Thou Blessed Prince of Peace, Hear our cry to Thee we sing, Come Thou Fount of All Blessing”.
    I think the danger in using only hymns is that they can become rote and meaningless, especially for those who grew up in a very conservative, or even legalistic denomination. I like a good mix of both hymns and contemporary choruses because while I think deeply, I also feel and worship deeply and personally. There is a need for both in my opinion. That said I enjoyed your article challenging us to consider what and especially, to Whom, we sing.

    1. Thanks for the dialogue, Annie! You’re definitely right about balance in everything. I certainly don’t want to only sing hymns in churches. I more wanted to point out the radical difference between those songs and our contemporary ones, so that we can write new songs with the same musical, lyrical, and theological beauty that the hymns used to have, and that I fear many of us have lost.

      How did you come across this article, may I ask? I wrote it well over a year ago and it’s all of a sudden exploding. Trying to figure out what I did to get all this traffic.

  27. I think you are exactly right! I have been trying to figure out why I preferred hymns and you explained it. The praise music is about getting am emotional response in us and for that can be useful. But when they are the only songs sung Church can become much more about us telling each other about God rather than singing to God.

    I also think it is important to think about when many of these hymns were written. There may not have been much outlet for music aside from writing hymns so a lot of musicians would do that. Today only “Christian” musicians write praise songs. Which means there are less writers and they are tailoring to a very specific theology and audience.

    My Church (an Episcopal Church) sings almost all traditional hymns. But we have a interlude after the sermon where we listen to one or two secular songs that often have profound messages about God. This gives us some of the modern music that is being created today which speaks about the modern trials and tribulations without having to resort to using praise songs.

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I like the idea of listening to secular songs… if you’ve perused my site, you’ll notice that I’m very into finding God in pop culture, though I tend to look toward film.

      Curious how you found this article? It’s been blowing up in the last few days, but it’s almost a year old. Wondering what I’m doing to get all this traffic?

  28. Good thoughts. You have articulated well what I have been feeling.

    Just little correction for you…Horatio Spafford lost his possessions to the Great Chicago Fire and his wife Anna survived the shipwreck. He did lose four daughters at sea and wrote some of the lyrics to It Is Well during the journey that took him over the area where his daughters died.

    1. Thank you for the corrections! I’ve heard so many different versions of that story by preachers who don’t fact check, and yet I’m afraid I’m guilty of doing the same think. Appreciate the feedback!

  29. Personally, I think it actually might be best if music is removed from the Sunday worship service, for one reason, because of the ongoing debate over form and style. Music is so very cultural, it speaks to that part of us that is so of this world that we all see it differently depending on the where and when of our experience in this world . . . older Christians like older music, Asian Christians like Asian melodies, 16th century Christians like 16th century music, etc, etc.

    Today, it seems to me, when we talk about ‘worship’ many folks are simply talking about music . . . the ‘worship team’ is kind of specifically the ‘music team’ – and actual worship seems lost, congregational singing simply and exclusively equals worship and other means of worship (Scripture reading, prayer, offering, etc) just become rote.

    I know I’m way out there and no one is going to agree with me on this one, but I genuinely do think song after song is fine for music get-togethers or scheduled hymn sings or whatever – but I think music in the Sunday worship service introduces too much cultural conflict and takes over the ‘worship’ part of the worship service.

    1. Can’t say I agree with your conclusions in full… though I think we share some concerns. I think music taps into something transcendent, and when we do it as a congregation it’s beautiful. And we can never get away from culture. Even the spoken language in prayer, the design of the church, the clothing we wore that day, all of it is culture. And I personally don’t think that’s a bad thing, but to each his own.

      I think you bring up a great point that when most people say “worship” they really mean “music”. I’d love to see more “worship leaders” take ownership of more liturgical matters than just the songs, including service planning, more types of prayer, congregational reading/response, communion, etc.

      By the way, how did you come across this article? I’ve been surprised to see it getting lots of traffic the last few days despite it being almost a year old. Just curious to see where the sudden resurgence came from?

      1. I agree, we can never “get away from culture”, but music, particularly currently trending music (and especially so when it’s song after song after song) inserts so much cultural specificity into the worship service that, for me, it becomes a hindrance rather than an act of or even aid to worship. As I said, “I know I’m way out there and no one is going to agree with me on this one”.

        I recognize mine is an uncommon experience; I was not raised with any church background or reference to God at all, and no one chased after me – I simply began reading the Bible on my own in my late teens, and believed. So, I have no connection, I enjoy no heritage of ‘church music’, I come at this as someone who wants to participate in corporate worship, and is kind of blank as to how that goes. And, I love music, music has always been a significant part of my life – most church music leaves me cold.

        As to how I came across your article; do you know Linda Tedford? She’s the Artistic Director, Founder, and Conductor of The Susquehanna Valley Chorale here in Central PA (I believe they’ve bested The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in national competitions) . . . she posted a link on her Facebook page to this article – last I checked there were 40 ‘shares’.

        Also; I posted excerpts from your article here on my own Facebook page, with my own commentary – if you have any issue with this do let me know and I will remove the thread instantly.

  30. Sort of off topic, but I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I am not on board with the white-hipster-in-a-beanie-reciting-spoken-word trend that’s happening right now in worship music. It makes me cringe.

  31. :-) I liked this very much for many reasons that have been covered. Many from my home church back in Searcy, AR find it odd that I adore the hymns so much when I’m twenty something. Thanks for such a great reflection.

  32. Yes, this discussion has been going on for some time, and I myself attended an entire seminar this summer on the topic. But nevertheless this is one of the most thoughtful and insightful writings I’ve read on the subject. Thank you for that.

    I’m sure you must be familiar with the works of the Gettys and Stuart Townend (of “In Christ Alone” fame). Their stated goal as song writers has been to create “modern hymns,” by which I think they mean exactly what you’re talking about here: taking deep theological lyrics and putting them with music that, while more complex than most worship music, is still “contemporary” enough to appeal to a younger audience (although that last part may be an unintended consequence rather than a specific goal).

    My church has started doing many of the Getty/Townend songs and loves each one of them. I’ve been worship leader at my church for 8 years now, and I’ve noticed that people do seem to worship more deeply and sincerely when the lyrics and music are more complex and rich.

    1. I’ll have to associate myself with more of their stuff. I do enjoy In Christ Alone, apart from a theological hangup over the “wrath of god was satisfied” line. It’s certainly a song that takes musicality and lyrics seriously, and that is to be celebrated.

  33. Kevin, I have had this discussion with Jared on more than one occasion. At times of difficulty in my life [even when backpacking up a steep hill!] the lyrics of hymns have given me strength and joy in the midst of struggle. More disturbing to me is the abandonment of hymnals and use of screens that do nothing to teach the melody. I see many in services [particularly men] who stand and do not sing; I can’t blame them.

    1. That’s another interesting point. Having the music is valuable, but I would also wonder if a much lower percentage of people today know how to sight-read music than in the days of hymnals. Would a congregation benefit from the sheet-music today as much as then? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.

      1. I would posit that far more people would /learn/, or at least acquire a vague understanding of sheet music, if it were available to them. While the days of most folks having a general understanding of reading music are long gone (they started dying back when electronic entertainment replaced live participation at parties, I believe!), at least repeated exposure to the format would familiarize folks.

        It is so frustrating to me to be presented with a new song in church and have to rely completely on guesswork – particularly as nearly ALL contemporary songs are in the same key and share similar melodies. Almost as frustrating as the fact that said key is always written with a tenor worship leader in mind, leaving no place for your average second soprano – who either has to sing an uncomfortably low alto, try to pick out a harmony (which would be easier with sheet music!), or sing the melody in an octave that does not at all lend itself to the style of contemporary music. But that is a personal rant and, perhaps, irrelevant to the legitimacy of praise choruses!

        I do think there is some value to viewing a screen, in that it pulls people’s heads upright instead of leaving them mumbling into books. But I’d still love to have the sheet music. Then again, I’m so happy to have found a well-written article defending hymn-singing that I’m ready to agree with any point made.

        1. And of course, probably the real reason sheet music doesn’t get printed is that your average contemporary song only has a shelf-life of a few months to a year. Waste of paper and ink.

          This is another point that deserves being made. The hymns that cling to life in those churches that still sing them do so because they have stood a rigorous test of time. They are still worth singing, and over the lifetime of a Christian they have a long-term impact simply because of their staying power. I can’t tell you how many old hymns I can still sing to this day because I sang them over and over again, over the course of years, growing up, and I’m sure my experience is shared by many Christians my age and older (those who grew up within the faith, of course.) The words often come to mind in relevant moments and I find no greater comfort or joy than to sing them to myself and my children.

          Meanwhile, even the most meaningful and beautiful examples of modern worship music seem to fall off the radar long before the point they can be said to have an impact on the collective consciousness of the church. I have met young people (and I use that word loosely – I’m only in my early 30s myself) who have never heard, say, How Great thou Art, Crown Him with Many Crowns, The Church’s One Foundation, or A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Not only that – they can’t tell me a single song that they’ve “grown up with” – at best they’ve memorized some of the better songs of the last five years or so, and then only because they’re from families who purchase the albums put out by Sovereign Grace or what-have-you, because even in church these songs aren’t repeated often enough for the average joe to memorize. (Which brings me to another, perhaps cynical, point – I resent that in order to be truly familiar with what we’re singing in church, I have to purchase something. It’s not pushed, of course, but doing so seems to be a part of church “culture”, if you will, and those who do not participate run the risk of feeling left out during corporate worship, when everyone /else/ seems to know the song you’ve never heard.)

  34. “And I really truly believe our theology suffers when we would offer up songs that sound like doctrinal statements rather poetry that explores and marvels at the complexity of God and God’s work among us” Amen. Maybe that is one of the biggest problems in Churches today. So many people want to be fundamentalists relying solely on beliefs and statements. But all that makes us is idolaters who worship beliefs not the God they are supposed to point to. To worship Yahweh takes leaving space for question and interpretation. Worship is being invited into the dialogue of the Biblical and Christian tradition and letting it become a part of you. When all we sing is “Our God is Greater,” I think we are missing that invitation.

  35. Well written and good arguments. I agree with Mike about this being something that maybe we just come to mature into an understanding of. I wonder if it’s out of our selfish nature as young people that we would rather sing about how great OUR God is rather than sing to God about how great God is. In those cases we’re more or less praising ourselves for rolling with a great God in the same way a young man might brag about his big brother or father being able to beat up someone else’s.

    1. That’s an interesting point. I didn’t really consider too deeply “why” we might enjoy singing Our God instead of You, God. Your analogy is spot-on.

    1. A part of me appreciates it, as it is the way I first heard many of the hymns. But leaving that aside, I think that the music was as pain-stakingly written as the lyrics, and sometimes the songs are done a disservice. I think it also stifles creativity of new songs. There are ways to “update” old songs with instrumentation or style without necessarily changing the music. I think it also alienates our older folks when we do that, because we sing words they’ve sung for 50 years but we don’t sing them the same way. It’s worse than introducing a new song, because we’ve basically said “You now have to unlearn the way you sang these words and sing them our way”.

      I do support, as I said, updating them stylistically but not musically, if that makes sense. I especially support when worship teams will do a blend, like singing “How Great Is Our God” (if they must…) and breaking in the middle into the words of “How Great Thou Art”. I think that fusion is a beautiful way of uniting the congregation in a similar theme/song. There are better examples that don;t involve a song I just bashed, but that’s the first that comes to mind. We really ought not to lose those old songs for historical and “catholic” reasons, but we also don’t need to only play them with organs. You know what I mean?

  36. I like. [bringing facebook to the blogosphere] I definitely appreciate the depth and history behind hymns and consider them to be much more meaningful [to use your word, provoking] to me in worship. However, maybe “provoking” is something to think about.

    Because I’m so much of a thinker, a hymn in which I have to mull over the words and get to marvel at the vocabulary used is provoking. But to a person who identifies herself as a feeler, feeling is where she views her worship lies, rather than in thinking. To that person, emotion is provoking.

    Goodness, it’s hard to appreciate the other sometimes.

    1. Good point. It’s got to be a balance I suppose. But not every hymn is as intellectually stimulating as “Come Thou Fount” or “Be Thou My Vision”. Even “How Great Thou Art” or “As the Deer” are pretty straightforward, but still have some great musicality and “direction” to them. You’re very right though, having a bunch of songs that you have to think about would be exhausting, even to those of us that really enjoy thinking all the time.

  37. Well written and how timely that you have arrived at a conclusion other adults arrived at years ago. P&W songs/choruses mass appeal to teenagers and other emotion driven creatures is well documented and well enough received by the tolerant of us who have arrived at the same conclusion…good enough, as God inhabits all our praise, but theological and musical comparisons are more like graffiti is to real classical art. 7-11 songs are what they are. Chanting and you can get the same emotional rush from group chanting about anything really…

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