Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mush Mouth Hymnody

Back when I was a rabid Reformer (instead of a regular Calvinist), I was told by the TRULY REFORMED that to say nice things about John Wesley was just "speaking peace" to the Arminians. Well...having grown up a bit (and grown into Christ's love), I now side with George Whitfield and speak admirably of the evangelist who founded the denomination into which I was born (even though he himself was buried as an Anglican priest). In 1761, John Wesley wrote "Directions for Singing" - a short set of instructions that continues to be printed in the front matter of many hymnals. Apparently, he should have added something about enunciation.

You see, classic hymnody may draw people because of it's majesty, its history, or simple innate conservatism. But the real power of the great hymns are their ability to convey the faith in fullness - through an appeal to the emotions and an appeal to the mind. The doctrinal content is, for me, one of the enduring contributions of classic hymnody. And when it is sung poorly (such that the words muddle together), then we lose its greatest gift. (And when the words are changed or muddled deliberately, that's worse!)*

This tradition of mixing good theology with good music continues in a variety of genres. Michael Card is one of my favorite composers for modern Christian music. Keith Getty makes some incredible songs for congregational singing. Vicar's son, Stuart Townend, is also an excellent composer and worship leader, as well as practical/musical theologian. Let's get past the worship wars of style and move back to Christ-honoring content!

*Concessions can be made for inclusive language regarding humanity without having to muck up the rest of the song.


Dave Moody said...

Ok, it took me a few bars to get the singing... then I read your blog and it actually made sense. Should read before I watch, I guess.

Amen to your blog post!

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I also know a couple guys named David and Asaph who (with a little help from a buddy named HS) wrote some good hymns and spiritual songs.


Anonymous said...

Cradle Calvinist here -

I've been doing a sermon series since 1 June walking through what the moldie-oldy hymns are telling us about the God revealed in Scripture. It's gone over VERY well. I've gotten "Amens" from the pews of a traditional (as opposed to evangelical) western PA Presbyterian congregation. I've even been surprised that giving and, more importantly, attendance haven't gone down during the usually slow summer months so far.

Chris said...

Dave - Any idea what the hymn is?

Ben - David Crowder? ;p

Cradle - Sneaking the gospel in through music. What a novel concept. Where'd you pick up that sneakiness? The Blue Hymnal? (Blue on the outside, red in the middle...)

Thomas Goetz said...

Just in case anyone wants to know the actual words to the hymn in the video with the "alternate text" on the screen, it is "Blessed City, Heavenly Salem." Stanzas one and two are included in the video. It is a 7th-century Latin text, translated by John Mason Neale.

Anonymous said...

I was saving a new version of the sermon on "Blessed Assurance" over top of an older version. When I did this, the computer popped up and asked me, "Blessed Assurance already exists. Are you sure you want to replace it?" And, sadly, albeit typically, I had to click "yes."

Cradle Calvinist

Chris said...


I hope you replaced the old standby with something new and exciting and untested - say from 1967 or 1983.