Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hymn Sweet Hymn

I remember when the 80’s choruses swept the church. I became a Christian as a Jr. High student and remembered attending my new “evangelical” church home and being swept away by the church orchestra blasting away on songs like “Majesty”, “As the Deer”, “He Is Exalted”, “How Majestic is Your Name”, and any other song that was either released by Integrity Music or in the “Song’s for Praise and Worship” collection by Word Publishing Company. In my mind a revolution was being born. The congregation began clapping wildly for rousing choir anthems and hymns became nothing more than a concession to keep too many older folks from leaving the church.

Times seem to be a changin’. How interesting it is that you can go to most any contemporary Christian concert and the emotionally tender or climactic inspirational moment is when that chorus segues right into a refrain from some classic hymn (i.e. Chris Tomlin’s now famous “How Great is Our God” into “How Great Thou Art”). On top of this, the emerging church is blasting the trumpets calling the church to re-embrace the ancient and experiential traditions of the historic church. On top of this, Passion, Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Music, and numerous other artists are trying to popularize hymns for new generations. Before any of you “traditional types” get too excited, it’s worth knowing that these hymns aren’t packaged in nice four-part chorales for organ and SATB choir. As it’s been described to me in the past, the post-modern today is wearing his grandpa’s sweater with an ipod on his belt.

My point of this post is first, to simply highlight an interesting cultural shift and second, to celebrate the change. I am all for practicing diversity in church music and think it is often ridiculous to declare some “new and exciting” revolution in church music. The reality is that there is exciting stuff happening in every style and community and trends are almost impossible to nail down in the “information super highway” world in which we live. To be completely honest, right now my perfect evening of worship would be a cup of coffee, my guitar, and a bunch of old hymn lead sheets in D, E, G, A, or C. My only regret is that my “contemporary upbringing” has left me quite illiterate when it comes to the broad range of hymn melodies and texts. As for a practical spin on this post, I am not sure there is one. All I can say is that I am glad that what I most enjoy musically (and lyrically), just so happens to also be a culturally engaging medium within the church.


Jim c said...

Oh Scott..

You're just inspired from the 2 of 4 songs last weekend being hymns ;)

Even though "I'll Fly Away" might not technically be hymn era... I can't remember when it was written, but it wasn't all that long ago (sometime within the last 50 years).

I'm for diversity as well, but I'll be honest in saying that I personally connect more with modern worship music over hymns.

Not that I think there is anything wrong with hymns, but rather it is a combination of taste and a wanting to praise God with vernacular that I can understand.

I think the culture change that you see with hymns being brought back to life may very well be an indication of "old and new" school trying to meet, which is great in some aspects... in others you hope that in some attempt to make everyone happy we aren't in turn watering down either style.

Sometimes, like in the case of the How Great/How Great combination, it seems to work - but I've heard others that didn't really do justice to either style.

I think this is one thing that I really appreciate about the venue concept and some of the things that Parkview is doing. Allowing the individual somewhat of a decision over what helps them to be worshipful.

The good news in all of this is of course, that we aren't singing to worship ourselves... its all for God. The proper attitude makes all the difference in the world as to whether or not we consider any style to be worshipful.

scooterpastor said...

Hey Jim - great job again last weekend!! To make sure I didn't give the wrong impression in my post, I also really enjoy modern worship music. I am not sure the hymn resurgence is in effort to bring generations together again. If this were the case then we'd be singing hymns in a way that appealed more to the older generation. To me it seems like young people want to sing hymns for two reasons. One, because it gives them a sense of connection with the past. Like they are part of something that is far deeper than themselves. Two, people are wanting to think more deeply about God. I think this is evidenced in the huge rise in popularity of the reformed theology movement. Reformed theology is intellectually rich and gives us a picture of a very big God. This desire for a bigger picture in God is reflected in the desire to sing words like, "immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light, in accessible, hid from our eyes...." I think this shift has also resulted in a desire among contemporary song writers to write more songs that include lyrics about the character of God.

John Carlson said...

I like Hymns when I can actually make some sense of the lyrics. I appreciate the "flowery/poetic" nature of some hymn lyrics, but when it just doesn't allow any meaning to come through the song . . . then it leaves me kind of dry. I notice that most of the successful use of Hymns in the "Chris Tomlin" sense, use the chorus, or use ones that have real user friendly lyrics. I just listened to a great use of this on the new Brenton Brown CD where it has an original verse and melody of a song, and then the chorus is straight from "It Is Well" which is really cool.

In 10 or 20 years, it will be REALLY hip to go back and do "Shout To The Lord" - just think of it!! (grin)

- J

jim c said...

I definitely think there is a desire in the "modern" church to dig deeper once again. Although, I think a key distinction in this desire is that it seems to be based on wanting a full picture of God. IE - its not a generation asking for something *different* as much as it is them asking for something *more*.

Does that make sense?

For example, you might have the traditional conservative, expository church that focuses on equipping people with head knowledge, but offers little toward prompting its congregation to seek the heart of God. You might also have a more charismatic church where outreach and involvement is key, but structured deep Biblical learning is limited. What I see the current desire as being, is a want to combine solid, deep Biblical teaching with God-centered worship and a desire to be active rather than passive.

Perhaps I'm way off, but I can certainly tell you over the years of meeting with people in various churches that there is definitely a rising desire to take God outside of the box and get a better understanding of who God is and who we are to be in Christ.

A desire to know better God and the freedoms/responsibilities we have as Christians as they stem from Biblical study rather than church doctrine.

My comments about "old and new" school music weren't necessarily related to new hymn style worship being written or the desire for people to dig deeper in their faith, as I totally agree. I was more commenting on the use of OLDER hymns brought to a contemporary style. There is a familiarity for hymn lovers and there is an edge for the modern worship music lovers.

One thing I'm personally cautious on is believing that hymns hold any greater or lesser spirituality, purpose or content than modern worship songs.

Yes, you can find some pretty weak modern songs that are shallow and even Biblically in error, but the same can be said about hymns. I have a hymnal right here beside me and there are plenty that are shallow or full of pomp and circumstance.

All this to say that its a wonderful thing for our culture to desire to dig deeper... as long as there is intent to do something with that deep knowledge other than sit on the couch, get fat and say "wow.. look what I learned!" Hahaha

scooterpastor said...

John, yes that is a great point and I agree. The "old English" component of hymns is always a bit of a problem in that regard. The other side of that issue is that hymns speak more deeply of God. For the seeker or in the young believer what do you do about this? I guess the key is to educate as you prepare to sing. Perhaps offering a few lines to clarify the direction of the song, etc... This is also why it is important to balance the songs you do so that you are worshiping both intellectually and with your affections more simply.

Jim, I totally hear you on the old hymn vs modern worship song. I think it is actually quite hard to distinguish between the two. Though I deviated from this definition in my post, I define a hymn to be something that is "strophic" or "multi-versed" and tends to have more theological content. I've seen brand new songs have this and songs as old as the hills have this. I definitely agree that there are as many cruddy hymns as their are new chorus type songs.

Brian B. said...

I just wanted to write a little about the meaning of the word "hymn," which has had a handful of different meanings and implications over the years. And the word means different things to different folks today. Augustine defined a hymn as "a song of praise." That's it. It's a pretty broad definition that says nothing about musical style.

To some people (especially in academic circles) "hymns" are the text only, the poetry only, without the music. "Hymn tunes" are separate entities, often with a separate history. For example, the book "Panorama of Christian Hymnody," a great collection by Erik Routley, one of the 20thC's best hymnologists, contains only texts and no music.

Also, hymns are not just the old stuff...they're still being written today, and I'm not talking just about the occasional piece from someone who normally writes in another style (like Chris Rice's "Untitled Hymn"). There are many contemporary hymns, but the evangelical world usually isn't exposed to them because the bulk of contemporary hymns are happening in mainline and liturgical churches. Also, these contemporary hymns are not coming from Christian bands (for the most part), so they're not going to be heard on Christian radio. But they are ending up in new hymnals and hymnal supplements.

Now I'll qualify all that by saying that much (though not all) contemporary hymnody, coming as it does from mainline churches, reflects a moderate to liberal theology. But there is some stuff out there that we evangelicals could learn from.

Well, a lot of that just boils down to semantics.

Thanks for your good comments on this, everyone...enjoyable reading!


scooterpastor said...

Brian, I don't know if you'll check back, but I do appreciate your points about what a hymn is. I certainly was throwing around the term rather loosely.

I think it would be interesting in some post to discuss how people define a hymn. I tend to not associate it with a musical style per se, rather I see it as a multi-versed song that is poetic, theological, and often telling some kind of story or instructing along some kind of theme. I am sure this is not the most intellectual interpretation. Simply the definition that I have personally adapted.