What every church leader needs to know about hymns and hymnals in the digital era

What every church leader needs to know about hymns and hymnals in the digital era

Thanks, Kent — well done!

way truth life love

NEW MUSIC IS NOW BECOMING AVAILABLE TO THE AVERAGE CHURCH AT AN UNPRECEDENTED PACE. Simultaneously, music literacy is declining. Church leaders are often ill-equipped to discern between the various sources of music that may be infiltrating the church. Worship leaders may have competing agendas regarding worship styles, new songs to introduce, and favorite arrangements. Composers and song writers may now publish or self-publish instantaneously and your church can download digital music to print and project as well as play audibly. All of this can lead to confusion, impeded worship, and in the worst cases, division. The days of buying a hymnal and coasting for fifty years are over. Church leaders must become educated on trends and equip themselves to gracefully guide the church to filter the noise and select the best worship resources for their church culture and theology. This article attempts to aid toward that end, though it is…

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A collection of sacred music

way truth life love

As a sacred music enthusiast, I have collected numerous compilations of music that has been sung in churches of Christ over the past 152 years. It is a joy to me to pour over the pages of these hymnals and to sing songs new and old. I have not listed every copy here, nor every variation. But I have largely adhered to an edited collection of major hymnals in the churches of Christ in the United States as compiled by Levi Sisemore. I also have collected various supplements, hymn story books, worship music instructional books and workbooks, and worship theology books which have served to edify greatly as I strive to serve in worship leading. I share this catalog for the enjoyment of other hymn enthusiasts.


1865     Christian Hymnbook (Alexander Campbell) – Digital only

1882     The Christian Hymnal* (American Christian Missionary Society) – Digital only

1882…

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My List of 20 Authors and Significant Books – What’s Yours?

SW Lib S-CGiving in to a fad which I strongly resisted for awhile, here’s a list of 20 books which have shaped my personal intellectual development. It was frustrating but enlightening to do the introspection necessary to accumulate and then pare down to 20. All such stand-alone lists are probably sterile, unless (as they were with me) they are integrated into broader reading in conversation with an extensive web of other classical and “Great Books” authors. But these were “first introductions” to a protracted corpus of similar works, or provided multiple significant “aha moments” in their own right. Many of the specific titles are representative of a “train” of comparable works by the same author and/or others who interacted with them in an intellectual engagement. In more or less chronological order as I encountered them, this list omits MUCH (and, yes, it has notes at the end!)

1 – Jack Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past
2 – Earl West, Search for the Ancient Order (multi-volume)
3 – E.L. Jorgenson, Great Songs of the Church
4 – Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
5 – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
6 – The Diary of Anne Frank
7 – William F. Buckley, God and Man at Yale, Blackford Oakes novels
8 – Homer Hailey, The Minor Prophets, John, Isaiah and other commentaries
9 – Ed Harrell, Social History of the Disciples of Christ, 2 volumes
10 – Bernard Ramm, The Pattern of Authority
11 – John RW Stott, Christ the Controversialist
12 – John Warwick Montgomery, Where is History Going? and The Suicide of Christian Theology
13 – Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
14 – G.A. Kerkut, Implications of Evolution
15 – Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II
16 – Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament
17 – Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, and Voyagers to the West
18 – C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and so much more
19 – Gordon Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth
20 – Ronald Numbers, The Creationists

Other “honorable mention” influences would certainly include G.K. Chesterton, Richard Hofstadter, N.B. Hardeman, James McPherson, George Marsden, Everett Ferguson, Stephen Ambrose, D.A. Carson, Mark Noll, George Will, N.T Wright, Fred Craddock, Rick Atkinson, and Fleming Rutledge, among others. This list of 20 could easily become 50 or even 100, especially if older classics were included. Three other works are significant, though in somewhat different ways.

A – The Geneva Bible – I omitted the most continuously-formative work (”the Bible”) but I’ll single out the Geneva, a 1599 copy of which (as well as several more recent replicas) has been in my family for generations. Purchased from a Chicago bookdealer by my great-uncle, who lived here following his discharge from the US Navy in WWI, it then passed to my grandfather, James Otto Wolfgang, and upon his death in 1975 to my father, James Harold Wolfgang, and thence to James Stephen Wolfgang. Not only the text, but the marginal notations, the typography, the woodcut illustrations, and even the paper contain lessons in their own right.

B&C – Two works for which I served as a “knowledge contributor” rather than simply a “knowledge consumer” are the Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Eerdmans, 2004), and the new hymnal Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (Sumphonia Productions, 2012). Working on the “other side of the page” provided new insights, and these works continue to teach me afresh.

NOTES:

1 – A part of my early teenage intellectual awakening, Finegan’s LFAP was on my grandfather’s bookshelves, and I spent many fascinating Sunday afternoons trying to wrap my developing brain around its contents. In this text, and several to follow, Finegan introduced me to the worlds of Biblical archaeology and chronology, and the world of Ancient Near Eastern texts and Biblical manuscripts.

2 – Earl West was a multi-generational family friend (performed my parents’ wedding ceremony), whose multi-volume history of the “Restoration Movement” (also on my grandparents’ and parents’ bookshelves) taught me at an early age the basic plotline and biographical storyline of the movement and its controversies – and ignited a passion to learn more.

3 – Jorgenson was one of several hymnals I sang from as a child, including L.O. Sanderson’s Christian Hymns #2, which often contained simple melodies and harmonies which sounded good when everyone sang their part. But Jorgenson took things to a new level. I was singing from his hymnal during the same time I was playing in high school and regional music groups under a very good conductor (a graduate of the world-class School of Music at Indiana University – as were several of the song leaders at church, who in turn instructed other song leaders, including my father, in the basics of leading a congregation in the worship of God in song, skillfully and with insight). Great Songs helped integrate what I was learning at school in music and English composition, including poetry, with what was happening “in church.”

4 – Began to help me confront the reality of evil, both as an act and as a power – as well as the power of story.

5 – C. S. Lewis’ classic (and others, read later) opened up new and different ways of “explaining” Christianity, as well as modeling excellent writing as the Brits do it.

6 – Ditto # 4 – Began to help me confront the reality of evil, both as an act and as a power – in other contexts outside the USA.

7 – Buckley introduced me to the world of the “public intellectual,” the confusing maze of academic discourse and pretensions, the wonders of arcane vocabulary, the importance of intellectual rigor in political discourse, and the power of fiction to expound truth with an impact sometimes lacking in non-fiction. I have read most of his books.

8 – As with other authors on this list, Homer Hailey’s influence on my life was not limited to his books, or even as a preacher, professor, and counselor, but also as mediated through other influential figures in my intellectual development, including but not limited to Ferrell Jenkins, Melvin Curry, and Phil Roberts. As with Buckley and Harrell and Montgomery below, I have consumed nearly everything he wrote.

9 – Probably the closest thing to a formal “intellectual mentor” in my life (I once called him “the surrogate older brother I never had”), Ed introduced me to the stubborn fact that theological issues are not merely theological. There are “layers of the onion” which must be peeled back to reveal how social forces, including class, race (and gender), and many other factors influence theological ideology and religious behavior, and the necessity to integrate the study of religion into the broader descriptions of political, economic, social, intellectual, military, and other aspects of the human endeavor. Ed once said that I was perhaps the only person who had read everything he’d ever written (adding, “but Steve even reads cereal boxes and the phone directories” – too true!)

10 – Ramm, whose book on authority came to me by way of Harry Pickup, Jr., (another profound influence in my life as a young preacher), was one of the bright stars in the early evangelical constellation; this foundational work led me to a string of others.

11 – John RW Stott, first encountered through his book on Christ as a controversialist, was introduced to me by John Clark, a self-educated intellectual and formative influence on my early spiritual development. In many ways, it replicates themes in Stott’s other works, expounding “Basic Christianity,” the gigantic paradox of the cross of Christ and the scandal of worshiping a crucified man, murdered by state sanction as a common criminal or worse.

12 – Montgomery, like Stott, served as both an introduction and a bridge into the worldview of evangelicalism, at once alike (not least in its rejection of both modernist and post-modernist ideologies) and different from the “restorationism” I have written about myself. As with many other works on this list, what I found most attractive was JWM’s broad, interdisciplinary background in classics, philosophy, library science, Biblical studies, history, and modern theology.

13 – Kuhn is often at the head of “Most Influential Books,” especially of the 20th century – and deservedly so as one of very few works which has had widespread cross-disciplinary impact. Read with fascination as I began a doctoral program in the History of Science at Emory University (along with his Copernican Revolution), Kuhn was, as for many, one of the most formative influences on my thinking, surpassing even many on this list and opening up a long list of related works.

14 – Kerkut’s compact but tightly argued monograph taught me not only important distinctions between “general” and “special” evolution (“macro-“ and “micro-“) but also to challenge prevailing assumptions and “received wisdom” – and that doing so is not always received well by others. To actually meet and interview him (and be “served tea”) in his laboratory at the University of Southampton while I was working on my own dissertation, was a special treat, putting a human face to a respected scientific name.

15 – Braudel demonstrated with staggering breadth how much of the human enterprise can and should fall under the historian’s gaze and pen, describing it in a single (and yes, again, multi-volume) work. Despite its title, this work surveys everything from demography to warfare to numismatics to zoology and nearly everything in between, from the Bronze Age to modernity, as well as confronting concepts of stasis and change over time with which every historian must grapple.

16 – From AO&OT to his “magnum opus” On the Reliability of the Old Testament, the breadth of Kitchen’s output is stunning, ranging from the scholarly translation of ancient texts to academic works on Egyptology and “popular” books on Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical history. I first encountered his work (in the library but not on the reading lists) at the seminary where I earned my MDiv. There, his “conservatism” was ridiculed and snickered at by small-minded faculty and grad students – none of whom could carry water for Kitchen, intellectually. Legends in their own minds, they seemed intent on demonstrating their own snobbish “superiority” – which attracted me to his work, first out of curiosity and then with respect.

17 – Bailyn is one of the the most influential American historians of the 20th century, not only for his own Pulitzer- and other prize-winning works, but also as the advisor of a long train of Harvard PhDs who became influential (on me and many others) in their own right, including other Pulitzer Prize winners like Gordon S. Wood (my favorite and, yeah, the guy Matt Damon cites in Good Will Hunting), Mary Beth Norton, Richard Bushman, Jack N. Rakove, Pauline Maier, Philip Greven, Michael Kammen, and MANY others.

18 – Woodward, the dean of a whole corps of Southern historians, introduced me to the thicket of questions of how race, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, and a host of other related issues have played out in American history – at a time when this Midwesterner, recently married to a lovely Southern lass, engaged in graduate studies at Emory University in Atlanta, was preaching for a church in a racially “transitioning” neighborhood in the midst of racial tensions only three years following the King assassination. An intriguing and challenging read, it was not only formative in its own right, but lead down numerous other worthwhile rabbit trails.

19 – It is difficult to single out one book in a whole cluster of important works on crucially important questions of hermeneutics and interpretation of texts, but this one stands out and has become a classic.

20 – A path-breaking, even-handed, award-winning monograph on an important subject previously ignored by historians and other segments of academia (and an area I’ve worked in, and published a bit myself), this is a model of following the evidence where it leads. If there is “a book I wish I’d written,” this might be it.

Which Hymnal or Song Collection Should We Choose?

Thanks, Tim! Very carefully considered and logical explanation!

Get them singing

hymnals
Selecting a hymnal or collection of songs for a congregation is not an easy task. Oh, it’s easy to grab a book with songs that I like, but choosing a hymnal for a congregation carries the daunting responsibility of providing a primary source of the spiritual language of the congregation, and a couple of generations to come. The average congregation changes hymnals far less often than its ministry staff, about once every 20-30 years. That’s a long time to be singing from a collection. All the more reason to choose wisely.
Our theology is shaped by the hymns we sing–for good or bad–and it should be as we “teach and admonish one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3.16). How often we hear the cross referenced in prayers and meditations as “that old rugged cross”, or someone refers to our “blessèd assurance” in Christ. In a well-edited collection…

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Why Are Our Camp Songs Older Than the Campers?

by Matt Bassford — Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, the Joliet church held our annual youth day. We invited young people from across Chicagoland to come to Joliet for a Saturday to participate in Bible classes intended for their age group, sing, and hang out at the homes of various members. As we typically do, Josh Collier and I divided up the songleading between us, and we solicited hymn requests from those in attendance. Here are some of the requests I remember:

· We Bow Down

· Here I Am to Worship

· As the Deer

· We Will Glorify

· You Are My All in All

· How Deep the Father’s Love

· Glorify Your Name

On a surface level, these hymn requests appear to justify a point that is often made during discussions of contemporary hymns. Even in cases where the content of a contemporary hymn is lacking, brethren often defend its use in worship because “It’s what Our Young People like to sing.” Clearly, that’s the case. All of the hymns on the list above (some good, some not-so-good) come from a contemporary/camp strain of hymnody.

However, that answer merely invites another question. If Our Young People like to sing those hymns, why do they like to sing them? It could be that this is an example of popular, contemporary Christian music forcing its way into the kingdom. You have Christian teenagers who encounter these songs online or at a friend’s house and demand that they be introduced into a camp setting.

I think there’s some value in that, provided that it isn’t carried too far (I don’t think you want the least spiritually mature members of the congregation setting the worship agenda), but it doesn’t appear to be what’s actually happening. The praise songs in question are too old.

“We Bow Down” was written in 1984. “Here I Am to Worship”, in 2000. “As the Deer”, in 1984. “We Will Glorify” has a copyright date of 1982. “You Are My All in All” was copyrighted in 1991. “How Deep the Father’s Love”, in 1995. “Glorify Your Name”, written in 1976, is older than I am.

The most recent song on that list, “Here I Am to Worship”, is 15 years old. I remember when I first started getting interested in pop music, back in 1989. A lot of the music I started exploring came from my brother, who is 13 years older than I am. Even with his help, though, the very oldest bands and albums I started listening to came from no further back than 1980, about 10 years in the past. Anything older than that, I would have identified as “oldies”, coming from a musical era different than my own.

This suggests to me that whoever is pushing the body of contemporary hymns and praise songs (and I think somebody is), it isn’t Our Young People. I think it’s their parents. A few months ago, when various Joliet kids returned from summer camp, “Sanctuary” (copyright 1982) made a couple of Sunday-morning appearances, which thankfully have not been repeated. Afterward, I overheard one of the brethren in my age cohort talking about how “Sanctuary” was to him one of those core Bible-camp experiences.

Here’s how this works. 40-year-old camp counselor is preparing an evening devotional. He thinks back to the time when he was a teenager at camp, and he remembers the praise songs he loved to sing then. He introduces them into a spiritually and emotionally charged setting. Forever after, the campers associate those praise songs with the spiritual high they felt that evening, so they ask for them to be led (or lead them) whenever the opportunity arises. Other Christians observe this pattern, conclude that Our Young People really like contemporary hymns, and push for their inclusion everywhere.

In reality, the driving force here is not progress, but nostalgia. Contemporary praise songs are benefiting not from their innate appeal to Our Young People, but from the camp devotional experience. I suspect that any hymn introduced into such a setting will quickly become a camper favorite, even if it’s 300 years old.

Counselors, then, have a golden opportunity to spiritually shape their young charges. There are good, emotionally powerful hymns from every era of English hymnody. Introduce those. Don’t lean on the mixed body of contemporary hymns, just because they’re contemporary. Singing a spiritually pointless praise song from the early ‘80s is a waste. Admittedly, it does reflect a certain set of preferences, but those preferences don’t belong to the campers. They belong to those who are supposed to be instructing them.

http://hisexcellentword.blogspot.com/2015/10/why-are-our-camp-songs-older-than.html

A Hymn For Today – Forever With the Lord

FOREVER WITH THE LORD

“Forever with the Lord!”
Amen, so let it be!
Life from His death is in that word –
‘Tis immortality.
Here in the body pent,
Absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home

My Father’s house on high,
Home of my soul, how near
At times, to faith’s foreseeing eye,
Your golden gates appear!
Ah! then my spirit faints
To reach the land I love,
The bright inheritance of saints,
Jerusalem above.

“Forever with the Lord!”
Forever in His will,
The promise of that faithful word,
Lord, here in me fulfill.
With You at my right hand,
Then I shall never fail.
Uphold me, Lord, and I shall stand;
Through grace I will prevail.

So when my latest breath
Breaks through the veil of pain,
By death I shall escape from death,
And life eternal gain.
That resurrection word,
That shout of victory:
Once more, “Forever with the Lord!”
Amen, so let it be!

SMD (6.6.8.6.D) – James Montgomery, 1835                                                                                                                    Tune: TERRA BEATA – Franklin L. Sheppard, 1915                                                                                                                # 695 in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, 2012

A HYMN FOR TODAY – God of the Living, In Whose Eyes

I posted this on March 27, 2013 — almost 2 years ago — and it seems appropriate to reblog it now.

ἐκλεκτικός

A HYMN FOR TODAY

God of the living, in whose eyes

Unveiled, Thy whole creation lies;

All souls are Thine; we must not say

That those are dead who pass away.

From this our world of flesh set free,

We know them living unto Thee.

Released from earthly toil and strife,

With Thee is hidden still their life;

Thine are their tho’ts, their works, their pow’rs,

All Thine, and yet most truly ours;

For well we know, where’er they be,

Our dead are living unto Thee.

Not spilled like water on the ground,

Not wrapped in dreamless sleep profound,

Not wandering in unknown despair,

Beyond Thy voice, Thine arm, Thy care;

Not left to lie like fallen tree –

Not dead, but living, unto Thee.

Thy Word is true, Thy will is just;

To Thee we leave them, Lord, in trust;

And bless Thee for the love which gave

Thy…

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