Hymnology

September 05, 2008

Bob Allen has a very interesting article at Ethics Daily today that considers the changes made between the 1991 and 2008 Baptist hymnals. He looks at the songs that were dropped in the latest version and then groups them to find what themes were being cut. Topics that the cut songs covered include social ministry, tongues and healing, environment, peace, and priesthood of the believer. Other changes suggest a greater Calvinist influence. The oddest change is probably the addition of "O Canada" (yes, songs like "Whosoever Meaneth Me" and ""Low in the Grave He Lay" were cut, but "O Canada was added!). The analysis is a good reminder of considering one's priorities by what is included or not.

3 comments

  1. I was heartbroken to see that "All Things Bright and Beautiful" was jettisoned. According to the Nashville press release, the hymns that made it into the new 2008 hymnal are those deemed "most theologically sound" by a committee of expert "musician/theologians."

    I can't help but ponder why it is that Southern Baptist leaders can vet the suitability of songs for the hymnal but can't manage to vet the safety of ministers for the pulpit. And if they can compile a committee of expert "musician/theologicans" to assess every hymn, why can't they compile a committee of expert sexual abuse experts to responsibly assess every abuse allegation against a minister? More of my thoughts on this here.

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  2. The Baptist Hymnal Committee didn't just examine theology when looking at what Hymns to use, they did extensive surveys aimed at seeing what Baptist Churches who used Hymnals were singing. If Churches didn't use certain Hymns, they didn't retain them - simple as that.

    What I found most egregious about Bob Allen's article was that he suggested that LifeWay dropped Hymns simply on the basis of whether they spoke of aiding the poor or of the environment or other agenda items he felt he should address.

    What Allen left out was that there are plenty of songs that focus on these things in the Hymnal. "Make Me a Blessing" (380) is very clear:

    Out in the highways and byways of life
    Many are weary and sad;
    Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
    Making the sorrowing glad.

    That's just as good if not better than most of the songs Allen mentions. Also, Allen suggests that LifeWay "jettisons" hymns based purely on one or two lines with absolutely no proof that this was the case.

    For example, Allen writes,
    Calvinism gains ground in the new hymnal. "O Zion, Haste" (No. 583), with "he who made the nations is not willing one soul should perish" isn't in the new hymnal.

    Seriously? When was the last time you sang this hymn? Have you ever sang this hymn? Couldn't there be legitimate reasons to take this out other than Calvinism.

    And what's even crazier is that when you look at the Committee that examined the theology of these songs, two noted non-Calvinists - TW Hunt and Hayes Wicker - (and in the case of Wicker, you could even say anti-Calvinist) jump out at you. Clearly these men didn't seek any song's removal because it wasn't Calvinistic enough.

    Allen also wrote,
    On the heel of controversies including missionaries' use of "private prayer language," songs associated with themes associated with charismatic churches like "filled with the Spirit," "tongues" and "healing" were also jettisoned.

    Yet, Allen failed to how any of those songs relate to speaking in tongues and additionally failed to show how new additions like "Pentecost Hymn" (370), "Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome" (327) and "Holy Spirit, Rain Down" (335) are any different from the previous hymns about the Holy Spirit.

    And what is even more ironic is that either Allen doesn't know or he failed to mention that many of the new songs were copyrighted by Sovereign Grace Ministries (formerly PDI Int'l), a Charismatic (though they prefer to be "continuationists") ministry. Artists like Keith Getty and Mark Altrogge have songs listed in the New Baptist Hymnal.

    But, I guess Bob Allen doesn't want to let a few facts and some serious research get in the way of his agenda. What I don't get is how you can call his work "analysis" with a straight face.

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  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Christa: Interesting observation.

    D.R. It is analysis even if you disagree with its conclusions. You also make some good points.


    I should also add that it turns out the "Low in the Grave" is in there but that they used a different title.

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