Monday, October 3, 2011

Hymns Aren't Better, part 2

The nice fellow (also named "Jonathan") to whom I responded in my last post has responded on his blog, and I would like to follow-up again.  Feel free to join in the discussion if you are so moved.

“Honestly, I have never been to a church that had a “vital traditional congregation.” My comment about the hymns was based on flipping through the thick book and realizing that there are songs that are no good lyrically in there. The point being that modern songs fall into that category. I’m pretty picky and would argue that some modern songs would fall into the once-done-but-now-thankfully-forgotten category, just as those unsung hymns.”

Again, my guess is that not being familiar with the standard repertoire is a real problem here. My guess is that some of the best hymns are those you’re not familiar with, such as those by Wesley or Watts. There are vapid hymns (though most of them are gospel songs by definition), though most of them have fallen out of use prior to the publication of any modern hymnals. “In the Garden” is the best example of one that has remained, and without apparent reason that I can see.

“Point one shows lack of knowledge when it comes to modern songs. There really is nothing wrong with that. If I was only familiar with poor modern songs, I’d stay away too.”

Point taken, and though I certainly don’t keep up constantly, I’m around the scene enough to here what’s happening. I am occasionally impressed by a text, that’s for sure.

“So, if they are music driven, it isn’t what drives me to those songs. To address the last sentence: the way a song is crafted is neither right nor wrong. It is.”

Well, I think we need to think more deeply about this, and I won’t go on and on here, other than to say that music matters theologically, as does everything else we do. There are theological connotations to musical setting. [What I mean is, music is not amoral, even if it is contextual.  It does have ethical, moral and theological connotations.]

“Point three I think is partially true. Because of the limitation by modern song form one cannot write as much theology into a song. But the same truth should resonate when singing the less verbose modern song. Songs like Hillsong’s “Desert Song” touches on good theology.”

You’re right in that not every song needs to be a deep theological treatise, but they should be a) correct, b) well-crafted, and c) solid.

“To address the last sentence I’m not arguing for CCM, I’m arguing for modern worship songs. Most CCM I can live without. I don’t even listen to it because after hearing a few songs there is nothing to draw me to it lyrically or theologically.”

I use the term to abbreviate. If it’s more inclusive, we can use “modern.”

“If you have looked at the songs I mentioned in this reply I hope you can come away encouraged that not all modern songs are bad, just as all hymns aren’t good, which was the main point I was trying to get across.”

You’re right. Not all the texts are bad. But there is more to consider. First, the best of hymnody is better than the best of “modern” and reflects a deeper theological concern. Second, never in the history of congregational song has it been the practice to only sing new songs and in a new style. New hymns were always being written and added to the ranks of the previous years. Now, the practice is to only sing new songs and to sing them in a vernacular style. There is, quite simply, no reason for this.

“If we search “new” and “song” in the Bible we will find we are commanded to sing a new song. Continually singing old songs is disobedience. If hymn style is important than more songs like Stewart Townend’s “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” should be undertaken. It is our duty to obey Scripture and write new songs. Thankfully, God didn’t demand a style.”

When we are told to “sing a new song,” it most certainly doesn’t mean songs that are chronologically “new.” That is a complete “uninterpretation.” It means that we are to rejoice afresh in the love and grace of the Lord. And the traditional format, again, does not mean just simply “old.” There are new hymns being written all the time, as there always have been, in a classical or neutral style, instead of a vernacular, fleeting style.

:BTW just to give it a shot I found the article mentioned and looked at the list and read the lyrics to “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” It’s truth, but it’s not worship. It is us singing to us to remember truth. There is nothing wrong with that (as we are commanded to so by Paul), but I wouldn’t sing it call it a worship song. ”

Sorry, friend. This statement demonstrates the influence of contemporary understanding of “worship.” Worship is “reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign, in response to his gracious revelation of himself, and in accordance with his will” (Daniel I. Block). The contemporary definition is something like “speaking directly to God in a church service with simplicity and felling.” That is completely unbiblical and erroneous. Singing songs about God are concise reminders of God’s self-revelation can be very worshipful. Humbly listening to Scripture is worshipful. Reciting creeds is worshipful. These are all worshipful acts. Additionally, whatever we do in a service can only compose a tiny piece of worship, if that much. We are to encourage each other and listen to God’s self-revelation, so that we can spur one another on to actual, life-consuming worship.

In fact, there are some who would suggest what we do in a service is not worship, because it doesn’t demand anything out of us. I’m wouldn’t go that far, but words, even if we mean them honestly and authentically, cost us next to nothing. It’s the same thing if I were to tell me wife all the nice things I think of her, but I do nothing to actually show it, the words have no meaning.

It’s time we get this straight. You, me, and everyone. Singing songs about God, that draw on concrete knowledge given to us by revelation, are as worshipful as songs can get.

Here are some examples, if you'd like:
Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand
O Worship the King
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
There Is a Fountain
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
The God of Abraham Praise
The Church's One Foundation
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
Be Thou My Vision


  1. Great discussion! Our church sings a good balance of hymns and "modern worship songs". I would say that on any given Sunday at least half of the songs we sing are hynms. I can relate to some of the arguments the other Jonathon has made, even if they are not good ones. I think that my flesh desires to be entertained during a church service and modern songs cater to that perfectly, appealing to my emotional side. (As in, evoking an emotional response.) Our church just started a new project for the corporate body to memorize a hymn each month. In September we memorized the hymn "In Christ Alone" (I was a little confused why they picked something I think of as "modern"). This month we are memorizing "Before the Throne of God Above." I think it is a great project!

  2. Hi, Jonathan. After perusing your blog a bit, I'm convinced we have a lot in common in the realm of hymnody (although I'm still a complementarian!), and I'd love to connect with you. I don't see any way to contact you via the blog other than commenting -- could you email me at chuckbumgardner at Look forward to hearing from you.

  3. Chuck. Please feel free to email me at You can also add me on facebook, if you like. I would guess that if you searched "Jonathan A. Aigner" I would be the only one you'd find.

    Nice to hear from you.