If the gospel isn’t in it, should we be singing it?

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So there’s a completely accurate report rumor going around that I’m pretty persnickety about music. Like, to the point that I have trouble singing most Sundays. This isn’t because there’s anything terrible with the music at our church—far from it, our church has a pretty robust music ministry (but thankfully no lasers or smoke machines)—it’s just I find myself thinking about the words we’re singing more often than not.

The reasons for this vary: sometimes it’s considering how those words line up with my own life at that moment. Other times, it’s contemplating whether or not the words are actually undeniably Christian, or if they’re just kind of feel-good gobbledygook.

Thankfully I am not alone in this.

A while back while reading Mack Stiles’ great book, Evangelism (reviewed here), I came upon this helpful bit of commentary:

My daughter-in-law, Stephanie, told me that she sang a song at her graduation that’s often sung in church services—”God of This City.” Half of her classmates were Muslims, and they had no trouble singing the song with gusto. If people from other faith backgrounds can sing a song with gusto at a secular high school graduation, we can be pretty sure there’s no gospel in the song. (85)

This is worth considering. But first, notice what Stiles doesn’t say:

  • He doesn’t equate a song’s simplicity with a lack of depth. Simple is good, provided what it communicates is faithful and true.
  • He doesn’t say “songs with first person pronouns are bad.” We should be able to sing in the first person as appropriate, certainly.
  • He doesn’t treat the song as if it’s evil in and of itself—he actually says later it’s a better song than most of the stuff on the top 40 (which is true).

But what he does say—and I emphatically agree with—is it is devoid of the gospel.

And again, this should make us think: what do the songs we sing on Sundays communicate about Jesus? Some communicate wonderful truths about God and the gospel, but far too many focus on us in the negative sense—what I’m doing, what I’m feeling, what I want, and, at best, treat God as a cosmic problem solver.

“Greater things are still to be done,” and all that.

While it may be unpopular to say, if a non-Christian isn’t deeply uncomfortable with the songs we sing because of their emphasis on Jesus, we might be doing it wrong. And if the gospel isn’t in it—should we really be singing it?

Links I like

A Hymn Worth Not Singing

Kevin DeYoung:

Can we only sing songs in church written by solid evangelical Christians? I wouldn’t say that. We may not know the precise theological convictions of some ancient hymn writers and, no doubt, popular tunes can come from a wide array of sources. But I question whether we should sing songs meaning something with the words that the author did not mean. Fosdick wrote God of Grace for the dedication of the Rockefeller financed Riverside Church in New York City (October 5, 1930). Years later when he penned his autobiography, Fosdick entitled it “The Living of these Days,” an allusion to a line in the second verse of his famous hymn. When Fosdick wrote of the church’s need for courage and asked God that the church might bloom in “glorious flower,” he had a different vision for the church than we should be comfortable with.


No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

Daniel Darling:

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.


Preach for 99¢ at Amazon

One of the most helpful books I’ve read on preaching, Preach: Theology Meets Practice by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, is on sale right now for 99¢. Go get it!


Christianity Packs Its Office and Leaves the Building

Jonathan Leeman:

Yet if I leave the public square, what will keep you from burning down my church? On what basis will you tolerate me and my so-called false god, even if he’s tucked away in the private sphere? You might refrain for pragmatic reasons for a little while. But if you can manipulate the levers of power to get rid of troublesome religious minorities like my own, why wouldn’t you?

So I guess the big question in all of this is, if I and my morality left the public square altogether, what would you be left with?


Taking God at His Word book launch

On April 25, Crossway and WTS are teaming up for a book launch event for Kevin DeYoung’s latest (and, to date, greatest) book, Taking God at His Word (which I reviewed last week). The daylong event will be held at Covenant Fellowship Church in the greater Philadelphia area. The event will feature plenary addresses by Kevin DeYoung, as well as panel discussions with David Powlison, Carl Trueman, K. Scott Oliphint, and G. K. Beale. Tickets are still available at $25 a piece if you’re interested in going. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a good time!

Sweeter Founds than Music Knows

© Gareth Weeks

Sweeter founds than music knows
Charm me, in EMMANUEL’S name;
All her hopes my spirit owes
To his birth, and cross, and shame.

When he came the angels sang
“Glory be to GOD on high,”
Lord, unloose my stamm’ring tongue,
Who should louder sing than I.

Did the Lord a man become
That he might the law fulfil,
Bleed and suffer in my room,
And canst thou, my tongue, be still.

No, I must my praises bring,
Though they worthless are, and weak;
For should I refuse to sing
Sure the very stones would speak.

O my Savior, Shield, and Sun,
Shepherd, Brother, Husband, Friend,
Every precious name in one;
I will love thee without end.

John Newton, Hymn 37

John Newton: The Wheat and the Tares

Though in the outward church below
The wheat and tares together grow;
Jesus ere long will weed the crop,
And pluck the tares, in anger, up.

Will it relieve their horrors there,
To recollect their stations here?
How much they heard, how much they knew,
How long amongst the wheat they grew!

O! this will aggravate their case!
They perished under means of grace;
To them the word of life and faith,
Became an instrument of death.

We seem alike when thus we meet,
Strangers might think we all are wheat;
But to the Lord’s all–searching eyes,
Each heart appears without disguise.

The tares are spared for various ends,
Some, for the sake of praying friends;
Others, the LORD, against their will,
Employs his counsels to fulfill.

But though they grow so tall and strong,
His plan will not require them long;
In harvest, when he saves his own,
The tares shall into hell be thrown.

John Newton, Though in the Outward Church Below, Hymn 86 in Olney Hymns

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: Amidst Us Our Belov'd Stands

Amidst us our Belov’d stands,
And bids us view His pierc’d hands;
Points to His wounded feet and side,
Blest emblems of the Crucified.

What food luxurious loads the board,
When at His table sits the Lord!

The wine how rich, the bread how sweet,
When Jesus deigns the guests to meet!

If now with eyes defiled and dim,
We see the signs but see not Him,
Oh, may His love the scales displace,
And bid us see Him face to face!

Our former transports we recount,
When with Him in the holy mount,
These cause our souls to thirst anew,
His marr’d but lovely face to view.

Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts,
Thy present smile a heaven imparts:
Oh, lift the veil, if veil there be,
Let every saint Thy beauties see!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Communion Hymn (Published in Till He Come)

Go to Dark Gesthemane

The grotto of Gethsemane, where it is believed that Jesus was arrested following Judas' betrayal. Photo by Gary Hardman

Go to Dark Gesthemane is a hymn written by James Montgomery that takes us from Christ’s “dark night of the soul” in the garden of Gesthemane through His death, burial and resurrection.

As Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus today, these lyrics serve as a potent reminder of why the gospel truly is Good News.

Go to dark Gethsemane, ye that feel the tempter’s power;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour,
Turn not from His griefs away; learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

See Him at the judgment hall, beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall! O the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame, or loss; learn of Christ to bear the cross.

Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay;
All is solitude and gloom. Who has taken Him away?
Christ is risen! He meets our eyes; Savior, teach us so to rise.

HT: Challies

Vintage Saints – Fanny Crosby

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American hymn writer Fanny Crosby was born on March 24, 1820, to John and Mercy Crosby. At six weeks old, she caught a cold and developed inflammation of the eyes. A botched procedure to treat the inflammation left her blind. A life-long Methodist, Crosby is reputed to have written some 8000 hymns, many of which are mainstays of today’s American hymnals.

Recommended reading:

Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography
by Fanny J. Crosby

From the publisher:

Frances Jane Crosby (1820-1915), usually known as Fanny Crosby, was an American lyricist best known for her Protestant Christian hymns. She was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing over 8,000 hymns, despite being blind from shortly after birth. Also known for her preaching and speaking, during her lifetime Fanny Crosby was one of the best known women in the United States.

To this day the vast majority of American hymnals contain her work. Some of her best known songs include “Blessed Assurance,” “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home,” “Praise Him, Praise Him,” and “To God Be the Glory.” Since some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person in their hymnals, Crosby used nearly 100 different pseudonyms during her career. [Read more…]

Amazing Grace for a New Year

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Amazing Grace is perhaps the best known hymn by English poet and pastor, John Newton (1725-1807). Although first published in 1779, the hymn was written as an illustration for Newton’s New Year’s Day, 1773, sermon. Its lyrics are a powerful reminder of the mercy of God, who alone offers salvation to ill-deserving sinners—to a wretch like me.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

We have already come;
And grace will lead me home.
His word my hope secures;
As long as life endures.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Vintage Saints: Charles Wesley

On December 18, 1707, Charles Wesley was born–the 18th of Samuel and Susanna Wesley’s 19 children. His brother John was the 15th. 

Wesley was born in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, where his father was rector. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, and formed the “Oxford Methodist” group among his fellow students in 1727. John joined in 1729 and soon became its leader, moulding it to his own notions.

Charles lived and worked in the area around St Marylebone Parish Church. Just before his death, he sent for its rector John Harley and told him “Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard.” On his death, his body was carried to the church by eight clergymen of the Church of England, and a memorial stone to him stands in the gardens in Marylebone High Street, close to his burial spot. One of his sons, Samuel, became organist of the church

During his lifetime, Charles would author of some 6,000 hymns. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, Jesus, Lover of My Soul and And Can It Be That I Should Gain? are among of the most famous of his works.

Mars Hill provides a nice overview:

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Justin Taylor also points to an essay by Bernard Manning providing a good analysis of the quality and value of Wesley’s hymnody. 

HT: JT

RE:Sound – Rain City Hymnal Now Available

UPDATE: Read my review of Rain City Hymnal (Posted 06/18)

Rain City Hymnal, the first release from Re:Sound is now available.

Tim Smith writes at the Resurgence blog:

[Rain City Hymnal is]  a collection of modern arrangements of 12 hymns by 5 different Mars Hill bands and represents our most ambitious project to date. These old songs represent the essence of our task in corporate worship: combining an ancient message of truth in music for a particular people, time, and place.

Thursday Night Hymnal: Psalm 25

Some music for a Thursday night; enjoy.

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