Equipping the Saints: That Catchy Tune


I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Ravenhill, the British revivalist. Ravenhill can pack more punches in five minutes than the average megachurch pastor delivers in five years. We need more men like him.

If you listen to enough Ravenhill, the first unusual aspect of his preaching is that he continually sprinkles his messages with lines from hymns. What’s most amazing to me is that he’s probably doing this off the cuff. In other words, those hymns are deep inside him.

When we begin thinking about ways in which the Church in America can improve its education of the Body, Less drumming, more theology?most people look past music. I don’t.

“Shooting at the walls of heartache, bang, bang, I am _______________.”

If you’re over 40, I’ll bet the majority of you can fill in the blank to that lyric.  Yep, it’s “the warrior.” I have a bazillion pop/rock songs from my youth filling my head. Fact is, I wish I could get rid of most of them, but there they stick.

Likewise—and in a far more edifying way—I believe our Christian hymnody is critical to transmitting truth that sticks with people.

When I was sitting down to write this post, the first hymn that popped into my head was this one:

The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation,
By water and the word:
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

Frankly, that’s a theology lesson in two verses. If you know that hymn, you’ve got a solid base of truth in your noggin.

Compare that to what CCLI says is the number one church worship song today:

Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are before your God

One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God
One day ev’ry knee will bow
Still the greatest treause remains for those
Who gladly choose you now

It’s a good song. We sing it in our church. We played it just a few weeks ago, in fact. But you can’t escape the reality that just doesn’t say as much. In addition, it swaps the meaning of the word you between the refrain and the verse. I mean, just who is you ?

We could fisk old hymns and new worship songs forever, probably, but reading through old Methodist and Lutheran hymnals shows a far more rich theology than flipping through the average Vineyard, Integrity, or Hosanna worship song collection.

I believe there is a solid place for contemporary worship songs that are God-directed and contain more “emotional” lyrics. I remember the first Vineyard worship song CD collection I picked up. I was blown away. And honestly, it made me look at the Vineyard more seriously. It’s one reason why I spent 16 years in Vineyard churches.

But as is so common with American Christians, we pushed the pendulum so far the other direction on hymnody that we lost the rich base of hymns that were theology lessons in four verses and a chorus. Too much of what we sing today is devoid of theology beyond “God loves me.” Yes, that’s an essential truth, but c’mon…

One will argue that today’s songs are more directed toward the Lord, and while some of that is true, it’s missing a greater truth. A hymn like “The Church’s One Foundation” is like the stones the Lord asked the Hebrews to pile beside the Jordan to remember their crossing into the promised land. Hymns that aren’t directed right at God have a place because they remind us of who we are and what the Lord has done. They are the stones of memory that bolster our foundation in the truths we believe.

It saddens me to no end that my son’s generation will grow up oblivious to hymns like “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart,” “For All the Saints,” “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today,” “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” “And Can It Be,” and on and on. I might sing them at home, but if my son hears them nowhere else, they will become artifacts, just like my dad singing opera arias is an artifact to me. My son may recall a nebulous, nostalgic mood, but the hymns will have otherwise lost their intended meaning.

I will go so far as to say that music’s staying power places it above nearly every other mode of communication. I may not be able to remember the content of a sermon I heard preached two months ago, but chances are high I’ll be able to recall and sing most of the new worship song that debuted that same Sunday morning.

And that’s why this issue of theology set to music matters. If the average Joe in the pew remembers a dozen hymns packed with spiritual goodness and depth, perhaps he’ll recall their truths in the time of testing in a way that he may not have responded based on other, less sticky, sources.

If we want to build a stronger Christian, then let’s write better songs that highlight the core doctrines of the Faith.

70 thoughts on “Equipping the Saints: That Catchy Tune

  1. “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart, “For All the Saints, “Christ the Lord Has Risen Today, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded, “And Can It Be,

    Ok, you have just listed 5 of my favourite songs from my youth. I am guessing we are about the same age. But theologically I am sure that there are at least 5 (10?) songs in CCLI’s top 25 that can compete. Especially with “Spirit of God” which theologically is terrible.

    As for your list of five, I think you will find that many (most?) churches will still sing the last three around Easter, I know that the four churches that I have been involved in in the last 15 years did.

    • Michael,

      How is “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” theologically terrible?

      I think you have been operating in too small a circle of churches too. Many churches, especially “community” churches based on the Willow Creek model and those churches with Third Wave affiliations are not going to be singing the songs you mentioned. I know because I’ve been in such churches.

      • Hi Dan,

        A number of hymn books exclude verse two of “Spirit of God”

        I ask no dream, no pro-phet ec-sta-sies,
        no sud-den rend-ing of the veil of clay,
        no an-gel vi-si-tant, no open-ing skies;
        But take the dim-ness of my soul a-way.

        So to paraphrase, Spirit fill me, but be careful that you don’t do too much.

        Or how about verse 1: stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art, and make me love thee as I ought to love. Make me love thee? I must admit I struggle with the word “make”. Does God “make” us love him? Maybe if you are a hyper-calvinist.

        And then in verse 5: Teach me to love thee as thine angels love. Is angel love better than human love? We could get into a long theological debate about that one, but I would say that God desires a heart that chooses to love God out of free will.

        • Michael,

          I guess I’m a bit looser with the lyrical interpretation of “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (which is my favorite hymn lyrically).

          The lyricist isn’t discounting the great experiences of the Spirit’s power in dreams, ecstasies, etc. Only in humility does he see how far his own soul is from that state, which is why he asks for a mere brightening of his dim soul. I see this as akin to the bleeding woman saying, “If I only touch the fringe of His garment….”

          I believe that God must act to help us love Him more. I know that I don’t love Him enough. Nor can I always gin up that love.

          As to the angels, they are perfect, so I would suppose that what they do is always perfect. This is not to say that a human can’t love in quantity more than an angel can love, but I think you can only deconstruct something so far before it falls to pieces, no matter who wonderful it might be.

          So, honestly, I don’t find anything here theologically that bothers me one iota. But that’s me. YMMV.

  2. Dan,
    I make a pointed effort to use the timeless classics in our musical worship times. “The Church’s One Foundation” is one of my faves! Nice to hear another modern extoll its virtues. I think it would be a shame to break the chain of transmission of those mighty psalms that have stood the test for so long.

    I find that the younger generation is not nearly as dismissive toward hymns if some effort is made to update the lyrics, NIV as opposed to KJV, if you get my drift. Projecting lyrics is far more effective than having heads buried in hymnals too. That said, let’s be honest, many of those old hymns play like funeral dirges. They are dour and sour, and lack the personal connection of a song like, “You Are My Strong Tower.”

    For worship to tap what it must to be effective, the personal connection is needed– people need to talk with God, to sense his presence, to know the fullness of joy in those his holy hands. That cannot be achieved by talking about God, we must talk to him, and be talked to by him (yes, I still love the ever cheesy, “In the Garden”). Doctrinaire essays just cannot carry that load.

    So, I think not every song is worthy just because it’s in a hymnbook, or that it is great catechetically. Congregational worship, at least from my Pentecostal perspective, is not about education, but edification and interaction. It is good to engage the mind, and confess the truth, but talking about God “in the third person while He’s still in the room” is not likely fill the spirit.

    • slw,

      I guess the sub-point I was trying to make in the post was too subtle: We can write modern, upbeat worship songs, but let’s imbue them with heftier content.

      Many of our best hymns talk about us or about God rather than talk to Him. As I said in the post, memory songs that remind us of truths are powerful. Yes, if that’s all we sing, then we’re missing something. But still, let’s not dismiss a hymn like “Amazing Grace” because it isn’t directed to God.

      • No argument from me about “Amazing Grace,” or even about the general point you make in the post. I’m Pentecostal, dedicated to the normativeness of 1 Corinth 14, my concern is that we get too third person, too didactic, and end up missing the value of participation in the Spirit by the whole congregation. The church went into the Spiritual dark ages for nigh unto 1800 years the last time we did that.

  3. Just a couple of insights as I have been absorbed in two of those who helped lead the transition into contemporary Christian music. Keith Green and Matthew Ward (2nd Chpt of Acts) wrote and sang prophetically challenging songs that could stand alongside hymnody as an essential part of the songs hymns and spiritual songs that are all such an necessary part of Christian community living. We seem to have lost that cutting edge of the Word as song. Many of the new songs are a bit like pabulum and their sound alike tunes dronish.

    Good points Dan.

  4. Brian

    I like what some groups are doing, taking the old hymns and redoing the music (some of Chris Tomlin’s work, Rain City Hymnal from Mars Hill in Seattle, Matthew Ward’s rework of A Mighty Fortress, Todd Agnew’s reworks in “Grace Like Rain” and “It Is Well”).

    Petra was my main group through junior/high school and college. I think Bob Hartman worked doctrine and theology into a lot of their songs pretty well.

    • Brian,

      While the habit of assigning existing tunes to existing lyrics is as old as hymns themselves, I still get flustered when I have to play a newer tune on an older hymn and the older hymn won’t get out of my thoughts. We did Sovereign Grace’s retune of “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and I could not push down the old tune for the life of me, which as the drummer is a big problem, especially since the two tunes have different beats!

  5. Garrison Keillor, during a Prairie Home Companion broadcast at Abilene Christian University, made a classic and incisive observation about what he called “7-11 Hymnody:”

    “The same seven words repeated eleven times.”

    Obviously God knows the song and understands it without its meager lyrics having to be repeated ad infinitum.

    Is that what’s required for us?

    • In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” 9Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
      11″You are worthy, our Lord and God,
      to receive glory and honor and power,
      for you created all things,
      and by your will they were created
      and have their being.”

      Sounds like we are going to be doing a lot of 7-11 worship. Might as well get used to it. 🙂

      • Maybe you’re right, bro.

        But I’m never sure how much of Revelation to take literally!

        And the song you cite happens early on in the narrative of the vision (Rev. 4), before mighty events interrupt this worship to provide other kinds of worship (“a new song,” Rev. 5:9-14; the elders’ song, Rev. 11:17-18; the song of Moses and the Lamb, Rev. 15:3-4; the shouted Hallelujah Chorus, Rev. 19; et al).

        So after Jesus appears in the narrative, there’s a LOT of variety in the worship.

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  7. Brian

    OK, this may be only tangentially related to this topic, but it’s something that’s been bugging me. I hear this chorus sungs at a Spanish church a lot (I’ll provide the English translation):

    David, David danced in the presence of the Lord
    And the people rejoiced
    David, David danced in the presence of the Lord
    And the people rejoiced
    Because David walked after the heart of Jehovah
    Because David walked after the heart of Jehovah

    David, David fought against the bear and the lion
    And the people rejoiced
    David, David fought against the bear and the lion
    And the people rejoiced
    Because David walked after the heart of Jehovah
    Because David walked after the heart of Jehovah

    Saul killed a thousand, David killed ten thousand
    And the people rejoiced
    Saul killed a thousand, David killed ten thousand
    And the people rejoiced
    Because David walked after the heart of Jehovah
    Because David walked after the heart of Jehovah

    It’s a real up-tempo number, most of the kids and several adults are down front or in the aisles dancing. But to me it just seems theologically empty. It’s not talking to God, or really about God that much. It’s just a feel-good, dance-in-the-aisles tune.

    Any thoughts?

    • Sulan,

      There is a place for songs like your example. In fact, you’ll see similar songs in the Bible. I remember “The Horse and Rider Song” was a big one when I was younger, and it was pretty similar. That it was taken from the song sung in Exodus after Pharaoh’s army was drowned shows that not all short, simple songs are bad in small amounts. That’s the key: small amounts.

    • I have only the slightest contact with Hispanic culture – which is to my shame – but I have to wonder if lyrics in general are just not as important to the music in that culture. I’m thinking of “La Bamba,” “Los Peces en El Rio,” etc. – songs that have wonderful tune, rhythm, harmony; but are really light on lyric. I may be forming an opinion from too small a sample!

  8. Dan, I agree that the songs are shallow because they come from shallow people and appeal to the shallow masses. My friends and I have been lamenting this, and are working to rectify this, since we’re all musicians. It’s a sad state of affairs when the only music you like listening to is your own (tongue in cheek).

    It’s all inter-woven, IMO. If the church continues raising shallow, baby Christians, eventually some will go on to become shallow, baby worship leaders and artists. Of course, it doesn’t help that the few that are truly talented musicians and lyricists face opposition if their music sounds like it’s less than 10 years behind the mainstream curve. My worship team’s lead guitarist just left the team because if he dares to hit a distortion pedal, several members of the church complain “it isn’t worshipful”.

    • Chris,

      Then they won’t be coming to my church. Sometimes our lead guitarist’s solos sound like something Nigel Tufnel would dream up. He’s great on everything else, but some of those solos on rockin’ numbers—man…

  9. What about the new hymns like “In Christ Alone” by Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend? They’re solid theology and singable, too. And they’re not wall songs.

    • Kat,

      Ironically, I suggested that song to our worship leader earlier this year. A couple weeks ago, we attempted it in practice and…well, it wasn’t good. In fact, it went so poorly (which is not common for us, as we pick up things very quickly), something tells me that we may never add it to our our standard set. It’s tricky to play because of its beat pattern (it’s a march, but with a serious stutter step), nor does it lend itself to tab playing. You almost need it written out, which we don’t have access to.

      • “In Christ Alone”, tricky to play? Maybe they just need to listen to it again. It’s in 3 (marches are usually in 2), so maybe that threw them off. The lyrics are so theologically rich and tremendously worshipful I hope your worship team will give it another try. We’re singing it at my church this Sunday (I’m playing piano, along with a couple acoustic guitars, bass and percussion).

        I agree with you about the value of hymnody for transmitting truth. I also play organ (pipe or electronic). I know few things more powerful and worshipful than a good hymn (e.g., “And Can It Be”, “The Church’s One Foundation”, “All Creatures of Our God and King” or “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”), sung with gusto by a large congregation, and accompanied by a great organ (played well).

        • Wyeth,

          The style of “In Christ Alone” is a slow processional march, a type that can work in 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8.

          When counting in the song’s 3/4 time signature, you see the beat problem occur between the second and third measure on the verses. The lyric anticipates the next beat and gets “off” by coming in on the 3, not the 1. (This problem abates somewhat, but does not go away, in a 6 count.) In the first verse, the issue arises in the lyric “He is my light, my strength, my song” and repeats several times throughout the song. As a processional, it would require the dancers to stutter step in that spot. On every recording of this song that I have heard, the rhythm section corrects for the lyric stutter or else the snare drum lands in an awkward place within the lyric. And if the rhythm section corrects, everyone else must too. While this stutter makes the song more interesting, it also makes it a tricker song to play than your standard 3/4 processional march.

          • Wow, I never knew “In Christ Alone”, by Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend, was that difficult for anyone. Granted, I’m a university-trained musician & music teacher, but in the several years I’ve known and played the song, whether alone or with others, I’ve never before heard of anyone having any difficulty with the words or rhythms. I’ve never heard it performed in 4/4, either, and can’t even imagine it in 6/8. It’s always been in 3/4 in every score I’ve seen and whenever I’ve heard it. Are there more versions than one?

            At any rate, I highly recommend the songs by Keith Getty and/or Stuart Townsend. The lyrics are substantive, and the music (usually) very singable.

            • Wyeth,

              I didn’t mean that “In Christ Alone” was in 4/4 or 6/8, only that processional marches can be. Sorry, I guess my writing skills left me for a second!

              For volunteer-based worship teams comprised of folks used to playing rock songs in 4/4, any other time signature can get confusing! 🙂

              Listen to the versions of the song that are out there and notice how the drummer switches to a counter beat then back again in the section I was talking about. On the third beat of the second measure, most drummers omit the snare then double the bass drum to provide a counter beat until settling back into the snare on the third beat of the third measure and the regular bass drum pattern. If you count the verse on a straight 3-beat, you don’t see this, but that’s not how it’s sung, and if nondrummers clap the snare beat mentally according to the lyric, they’ll get off the real beat—and that may include the band, especially at the point the drummer goes counter to the typical 3/4 snare pattern.

  10. merry

    I believe there’s a place for all songs written to and about God. As an English major, the lack of depth (and grammer!) to recent worship songs drives me nuts at times. But I do remember a time when we attended churches that only sang the old style hymns, and I felt that a lot of church members I knew were lifting up the values of these hymns as high as (if not higher) the value of Scripture. A lot of the words are beautiful poetry, but let’s face it, there are some pretty wacky hymns out there! That is not a place I want to go back to. My feeling is that it’s time to drop the distinction between “hymns” and “choruses”. Seeing as how the word “hymn” means “worship song to God” or something to that extent, technically all church songs could be called “hymns”.

    The only distinction I see is that old hymns focus on theology (which is naturally going to be deep) while modern worship songs focus more on our personal relationship with God–songwriters DO attempt to be deep while using this approach, and sometimes take things way too far–(we sing the Casting Crowns song “Your Love is Extravagant” during worship, and it just makes me uncomfortable for some reason…)

    I believe depth and approach will come back around. I think cycles tend to happen (I had a theory once that rock-style church music will evolve into rap, and in a couple hundred years we’ll be back to Gregorian chant–ha ha!). Theology set to music is a beautiful idea, but sometimes so is just focusing on our relationship and just singing “thank you, God.” I love having a balance.

  11. Try the songs of Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. They are probably my favourite hymn writers at the moment. And they’re largely writing doctrinally solid stuff, a lot of which is emotionally very powerful too.

    “In Christ Alone” is probably the best known one, but something like “Oh to see the dawn” is amazing…

  12. Sulan

    *We could fisk old hymns and new worship songs forever, probably, but reading through old Methodist and Lutheran hymnals shows a far more rich theology than flipping through the average Vineyard, Integrity, or Hosanna worship song collection.*

    How very true the above statement is! I have always enjoyed hymns because, to me, they were testimonies put to music. Look at Amazing Grace! When you sing those words, and you fully realize he didn’t expect to live through the night — how awesome that testimony.

    As a young person, and as an old person, I can begin to sing a hymn when going through tough times, and it reminds me that He is there in all things!

  13. Sulan

    Each time I hear the following song, I weep from way deep within myself, at the grace and mercy of God. The song is The Lighthouse.

    There’s a Lighthouse on the hillside
    that overlooks life’s sea.
    When I’m tossed it sends out a light
    that I might see.
    And the light that shines in the darkness,
    now will safely lead us o’er.
    If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
    that ship would be no more.

    Everybody that lives around me says,
    tear that lighthouse down,
    The big ships don’t sail this way anymore,
    there’s no use of it standing ’round.
    Then my mind goes back to that stormy night,
    when just in time I saw the light,
    Yes, the light from that old lighthouse,
    that stands up there on the hill.

    And I thank God for the Lighthouse,
    I owe my life to Him,
    For Jesus is the Lighthouse,
    and from the rocks of sin
    He has shone a light around me
    that I can clearly see,
    If it wasn’t for the Lighthouse
    where would this ship be?

  14. DC

    One of my top three tunes is ‘I Boast No More’. Great lyrics.

    ‘The best obedience of my hands dares not appear before Thy throne,
    But faith can answer Thy demands by pleading what my Lord has done.


  15. connie

    Well, until the Christian music business demands deeper lyrics instead of what they think they can make more money off of, we’ll have what we have.

  16. Now that I’m thinking of it, there are some CCM songs that really touch me, but they aren’t worship songs, per se. Todd Agnew’s My Jesus, for example…that song brings me to tears everytime, but not exactly something you play in church. Todd did, and they kicked him out lol. A lot of Casting Crowns stuff too, but most of it is more daily life stuff than worship music. Perhaps the ones capable of deeper lyrics are more concerned with writing confrontationally about issues they see in the Body than with worship music? Just musing, but it could just be a by-product of the state the Church is in. Perhaps the ones that “get it ” are too perturbed by what they see to just use their music for worship.

    • Chris,

      We need more challenging songs, stuff that makes us squirm a little. Sadly, “family friendly” radio translates into “we ain’t playin’ the stuff that make you—or anyone—even slightly uncomfortable.”

  17. Don Costello

    I like some of the old hyms, probably my favorite is “How firm a foundation”. But I have to say as much as I like doctrinally sound lyrics in music, I prefer, and will be moved greatly by a few lines from the Psalms with an anointed tune. I am a great fan of the Hosanna cassettes from the eighties and nineties, worship leaders like Kent Henry, Paul Wilbur, and others put out some very powerfully anointed worship and praise. We use to do many of those songs at our church during those same years. I believe an anointed praise and worship time can raise the spiritual level of a church.

    • Don,

      Calvary Chapel churches have the “Scripture set to music” thing down. We should be investigating more of their music at our church. But then, there’s a lot of things about the music that we could be doing better. 😉

    • Dave,

      I love the line “And each accusation is drowned by His blood….”

      The best thing fans of the Puritans can do is read some solid charismatic books, while the best thing charismatics can do is read some Puritan books. We have got to break out of our ghettos because they only limit us for the Lord.

  18. bob pinto

    Interesting topic.

    What should we sing in church?

    I always felt contemporary, the GOOD aforementioned examples, should add to, not replace traditional hymnody that has stood the test of time.

    I speak as a musician who has also studied music theory and have written , the original hymn tunes were singable by the average public. Usually, there is a range of notes of about an octave. We’ve already discussed the lyrics.

    A great deal of contemporary Christian music is formula-matic. The 1, 5, 6, 4 chord progression, or C- G, a minor, F sounded well in Matt Redman’s Blessed be the Name or Trading My Sorrows.

    But that chord progression has been used to DEATH! Other songwriters use it again and again and again.

    Then there is the Country music songwriting formula- write the verse and bridge with dull two or three notes and then the chorus is supposed to carry the musical weight of the whole piece.

    If it sounds the same to you it’s because it is the same!

    • Bob,

      As a drummer, it bugs me to no end that the drumwork in most contemporary Christian music, worship or otherwise, is deadly,deadly dull. Nobody writes things that call for unusual beat patterns. “Mighty to Save” in the verses has a fun, funky beat (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwWYfwuTeaw), and I enjoy playing that song. But for every one of those, there’s a ten with a standard boom, chick, boom chick thing going on and that gets maddening after a while.

      I just got back from worship team practice, and we’re going to do one of the lead guitarist’s compositions, which features a Ginger Baker-ish, Cream-style drum part. Thank goodness for something different.

      Earlier, I was listening to The 77s’ song “Unbalanced,” which is in 11/8 (verse and instrumental bridge) 4/4 (chorus and later post-chorus), and 7/8 (primary bridges and modified verse), and I was just shaking my head at how few Christian bands are willing to do something that complex.

    • Eddie Manes

      I always wondered how many people out there were sick of 1, 5, 6, 4. I actually googled 1, 5, 6, 4 chord progression and it brought me here, because I thought there had to be a discussion about this somewhere.

      When I run across a song that uses this chord progression, I actually hesitate to use it as a result, because I have a hard time getting past it’s common usage. I actually think there’s some method to it’s effectiveness. I try to listen to Christian radio now and again to hear what’s going on, but anytime I hear another song with this progression, I just sigh and change the channel.

      I can name about 5 David Crowder songs that use it. And they’re many of his most popular.

      I know a lot of people are introduced to Christ through it, but it sure seems like many songwriters in the church are sacrificing their best and most creative work for something easy.

  19. David Moscrip

    How about “No Other Plea”, and old, forgotten hymn…

    My faith has found a resting place,
    Not in device nor creed;
    I trust the Everliving One,
    His wounds for me shall plead.

    Enough for me that Jesus saves,
    This ends my fear and doubt;
    A sinful soul, I come to Him,
    He’ll never cast me out.

    My heart is leaning on the Word,
    The written Word of God,
    Salvation by my Savior’s name,
    Salvation through His blood.

    My great Physician heals the sick,
    The lost He came to save;
    For me His precious blood He shed,
    For me His life He gave.

    I need no other argument,
    I need no other plea;
    It is enough that Jesus died,
    And that He died for me.

    —Lidie H. Edmunds

    • This is one of those songs that I alluded to above– it’s great lyrically but it sounds like a dirge. A song that celebrates what these words celebrate should be written to music that matches that feel. This, imho, is why so many hymns have lost their lustre, the lyrics don’t match the emotional elicitation of the tune (see Dan’s comment to me above concerning Ps 23). What we need is more thoughtful, artistic composing, that takes the whole piece into mind– lyric, melody, rhythm, etc,– and makes sure all is on the same page, so to speak. Should not music meant for use in worshipping God be done well instead of being slapped together and excused because is doctrinally deep?

  20. Don Costello

    I love the word as much as any Christian, but its not the deeply theological hymns that draw me into the heavenlies, it is the songs like “Come now is the time to worship”, “Better is one day”, “Say so”, and “I could sing of your love forever”. Honestly, much of what you guys are talking about choruses, and chords, I am clueless. But I do recognize the anointing and that is the main factor with me, if it is anointed, and I’m not talking about goosebumps, I’m talking about my spirit being lifted into the presence of God, being in the heavenlies. After experiencing the presence of God in worship I am hungry for the word of God.

    • I hear so many different types of Christians use the word “anointing”, I’d be interested in knowing, Don, what your definition of “anointing” is.

      Also, have you considered preaching as worship? Worship is not just singing.

      I think personal preference plays a bigger role in our choices of worship music than we realize or are willing to admit. Because, for nearly every style of Christian music, you’ll find a believer who considers it worshipful, and is blessed by it.

    • Don,

      I never stated that the type of songs you mentioned were somehow unworthy, only that they have fully ousted more theologically deep songs that help people remember the essentials of the faith. I believe in a mix of music. But that’s not how most church work today.

  21. Folks,

    I think we’re starting to lose my main point that songs can be used to teach people theology—and that they used to be better at doing this long ago than they are today.

    If you want to set deep lyrics to a rumba beat, that’s great. I’m just saying that too much of our music today avoids reminding people of the deep truths of the Gospel. How many modern songs talk about the sacraments? How many talk about dying to self at the foot of the cross? We’re not getting enough of these.

    • Oengus,

      I hate to think that way, but in the world we live in now, it’s a reality. I don’t think any of the Christian labels are free of big corporate owners. Sparrow was one of the last. I hope they are still privately owned.

  22. We have a senior music ministry that features Southern Gospel music and one of our members just forwarded this email to me. I so much agree with what was said here. Southern Gospel music really tells the stories, the word of God, all the while teaching. It’s easy to listen to and fun to sing, but most of all it reaches the seniors that we minister to. Last Sunday, as we started into “Softly and Tenderly,” I saw tears in the eyes of our seniors and I realized the importance of the words, what they teach, and the memories that they invoke in the elderly. Will all of that be lost to our young people? I sincerely hope not. As a songwriter myself, I want to see young writers writing the kind of music that will teach a new generation a deeper message that goes beyond just “Jesus loves you.”

    • April,

      In it’s day, some churchmen complained that “Softly & Tenderly” was the equivalent of what people say today is a “God is my boyfriend” song. It’s funny how what was once scorned is today embraced. I wonder what “classics” my grandchildren will be singing…

  23. Hi Dan, thanks for this post. Matthew Smith from Indelible Grace came to our church last night for a solo concert–Indelible Grace sets new music to old hymns and all I can say is that it’s wonderful, good stuff. From their website: “Our hope is to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace. This site is designed to nurture this movement by offering resources and a place to interact with others about hymns and worship.”

    You can listen to samples and read about them at http://www.igracemusic.com/

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