Ever since I became a Christian (about 13 years ago) I’ve had some sort of involvement in church music. In fact I think I even played guitar a few times in church long before I became a Christian. And although I don’t think I’m particularly gifted in this area I do have something of a keen interest in church music and keeping up with trends in contemporary church music. A fairly well documented trend in recent years has been the “revival” of hymn singing in contemporary churches. Several groups have set about either re-arranging old hymns or writing contemporary hymns for the church. A lot has also been said about the need to inject deeper theology into our singing in light of the poverty of theology in much of what passes for “contemporary worship music”. I’m grateful for the rich theology that the Hymns Movement has re-injected into our corporate gatherings.
While I’m very positive about these developments they’ve caused me to ask questions about church music and not so much the theological depth of the music but the artistic depth and quality of the lyrics, and the writing of lyrics. The more I read older hymns the more I’m thoroughly impressed by the way in which saints of old wielded the English language to not just include rich theology, but also to so impress that theology upon the heart. There are some groups today who basically sound like they just ripped a page out of Grudem’s Systematic Theology and put a four-chord alternate rock tune to it. What a lot of old (not all) hymn writing got right was that it expounded the rich theology with equally rich use of language. I long for more artistic and creative use of language in conveying deep theological truths, I long for lines like this:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
(The Love of God – Frederick M. Lehman 1917)
Have many of our contemporary artists lost this ability to write, to craft lyrics? Are congregations just prepared to settle for far less in terms of lyrical quality? I’m not quite sure where the fault lies? It would be amiss of me not to mention that there are a few contemporary artists bucking this trend. I’ve been really impressed with the music coming out of Sojourn Music based in Louisville, and in particular the lyric writing of Jamie Barnes. I’m also crazy about the music of Sandra McCracken. I just wish that these people weren’t just the small exception in what has become the enormous industry of contemporary worship music.