Thinking Out Loud

January 4, 2018

Redemption Songs vs Modern Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:01 am

One of the luxuries — and they are few these days — of having ownership in a Christian bookstore is that if there is a title you wish to examine, but not necessarily purchase, you can always bring it into the store as inventory. Such was the case with Redemption Songs, a words-only collection of 1,000 hymns published a century ago. Somewhere in the house we have a much thicker version which contains music, but I wanted to see how the book looked in its present form, given that it’s still in print. As far as the store is concerned, we do get (older) people asking if we can get their hands on resources like this so they might enjoy some memories.

Although I’ve written about this before, I was once again struck by the difference in the lyrics — not the vocabulary, which is superficial — between the songs congregations once sang and what the modern church is singing today. Mostly I was seeing:

  • songs of testimony; reflecting conversion and then an experience of God’s deepening presence
  • songs of proclamation; declaring the life and teachings of Christ and the history of the church moving into a new era; as well as the doctrinal underpinnings of faith

Today, this is referred to as horizontal worship — we are speaking these songs to one another — as opposed to the vertical worship which is directed to God. Don’t get me wrong, there were

  • songs of worship and adoration

but they were part of a healthy balance of faith expression through music.

I keep thinking the present (and the next) generation is getting shortchanged.

My wife has a rather generic description of many women’s Bible studies she has attended.  They read a passage and then the group discussion question is, “How does this make you feel.”

People go around the circle giving answers which are rather subjective, personal, and sometimes rather ridiculous. I know how those exercises in group discussion make her feel. It’s all about me.

That’s how I feel about these worship songs. A few decades back, writers warned of worship songs that could easily be about “my boyfriend” than about God. I think today’s writers are more cautious because of this, but we still get songs that reflect a rather shallow understanding of the basics of faith, or who God is.

Writers often produce articles and columns like this with little regard to saying something encouraging about the songs which have been popular in the modern worship era. Let’s look at a few:

  • Shout to the Lord – the verses are vertical and personal, but the chorus is reminiscent of the Psalms
  • Here I Am To Worship – the only modern worship song I am aware of which was an answer in the New York Times crossword puzzle, the song is vertical but speaks of incarnation and God’s attributes
  • In Christ Alone – more modern hymn than contemporary worship, the song is personal (“my hope” “my strength”) like Shout to the Lord, but it’s rich in doctrinal substance.
  • Majesty – The Jack Hayford classic chorus is, like the hymn O Worship the King, an invitation to join in worship
  • How Great is Our God – A song of declaration of God’s attributes. I’d place this one in the modern hymns category as well because of its content and structure, and it will probably endure equally well.
  • Open the Eyes of My Heart – The Paul Baloche chorus is personal and vertical, but contains allusion to scripture which helps it break out of subjectivity.
  • Good, Good Father – This one is more recent, but resonated with congregations around the world. It shows how vertical and declarative can be blended in a single song.
  • 10,000 Reasons – This very Psalm-like song has a vertical chorus but a more horizontal set of verses.
  • One Day – This is a remake of an old hymn and a rather good one at that. The verses tell the wider story arc of Christ’s incarnation and look forward to his return.
  • Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) – Again, a remake of a horizontal song of testimony.
  • You are My King – A partial hymn remake of the classic Amazing Love, but also a declaration of personal conversion. Horizontal verse, vertical chorus.
  • Come, Now is the Time to Worship – An song of invocation which looks forward to Christ’s return. Horizontal, though vertical in an optional additional section.

In your church, do you think there is thought given to the horizontal-vertical dichotomy? Or the distinction between “I” and “we”?

I trust that, even as you’re reading this, there is a musician or two composing songs that are worthy of making a list of the best in the next five or ten years.


Redemption Songs may be ordered by vendors having a connection to HarperCollins. It comes from the UK, so allow 2-3 weeks.


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6 Comments »

  1. Not an answer to your question – but I have always felt it important to specify in hymns and songs just exactly WHICH God we are worshiping. In our multicultural age/society, where multiples of ‘gods’ are worshiped, it’s quite conceivable for someone of another faith/religion to come into our church for the first time just as we are singing a song with no mention of the name of Jesus, only ‘God.’ Jesus may be implied, but that’s not sufficient for those who don’t know Him. They need to know that the song’s message applies to Jesus, the Saviour. They need to know it is Jesus we are worshipping, not just any god. Out of your list of 12 hymns/songs – so inspiring for those of us who know Him and love Him – if my calculations are correct, 9 do not explicitly mention Jesus’ name.
    Just a thought!

    Comment by Kaybee — January 4, 2018 @ 10:44 am

    • Wow! Never thought of that. This is a rather insightful observation. Now what do we do? Are there enough of those songs available to us? I know that, as a writer yourself, you’re very busy, but I’d love to see this fleshed out into a blog post of its own.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 4, 2018 @ 10:59 am

    • Hi, Kaybee. Ruth here (aka “my wife”). I agree to a certain extent, but as a “worship leader”, I have to embrace and acknowledge the whole personhood of the Trinity. Choosing songs that only speak of or to one of the three seems lacking. This is part of the challenge we face: touching on the multi-faceted nature of individually and corporately singing to and about an ineffable and complex God. No song is ever going to be theologically complete and no Sunday service is long enough, so it falls to the “worship leader” to choose wisely and lead well.

      Comment by Ruth — January 4, 2018 @ 8:34 pm

      • No argument from me on that one, Ruth. It no doubt takes divine wisdom, and direction from the Holy Spirit to lead a congregation in worship….it’s a huge responsibility!

        Comment by Kaybee — January 5, 2018 @ 8:04 am

    • The whole subject, in my mind, is so multi-faceted that I wouldn’t even know where to begin! Maybe in my ‘retirement,’ Paul! But I’m sure you could do a good job on the subject 🙂

      Comment by Kaybee — January 5, 2018 @ 8:08 am

  2. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

    Comment by Vincent S Artale Jr — January 4, 2018 @ 12:28 pm


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