Friday, May 23, 2008

A New Hymnbook, A New Old Hymn

Lifeway has announced that a new Baptist Hymnal will be produced in 2008. It appears that the organizers of this new book are getting serious about the theology of our hymnody, saying "the theology of the hymns and songs is so critical, the group was deliberately made up of theologians and musician/theologians." I am especially pleased to see the inclusion of Ron Owen, co-author of Return to Worship. I count Ron a good friend, as well as his co-author, Jan MacMurry, a member and parent of three of my former youth in my previous church in Kingsport, Tennessee. The committee will discern the relative worth of each hymn - both old and new - with the following questions:
  • Does the hymn speak biblically of God?
  • Is it God-honoring?
  • Does the hymn present a biblical view of man?
  • Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology?
  • Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness, missions and devotion?
  • Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation?
  • Does it engage the whole person - allowing a person to express his deepest feelings?
  • Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian's Lord, Master and King? (the idea of total submission)
  • Does the hymn present an Americanized/Westernized gospel? (civil religion)
  • Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship? (immanence and transcendence)
  • Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?
The list above makes me wonder if twelve Baptists in a room can come to an agreement on what is the biblical view of God and man but I am hopeful. At the very least, I doubt that Hymn #20 from the 1975 edition will make the cut: "God of Earth and Outer Space." I always wanted to shout out #20 during one of the "old-fashioned hymn singin's" we used to do in other churches. Sing along with me:

God of earth and outer space,
God of love and God of grace,
bless the astronauts who fly
as they soar beyond the sky.
God who flung the stars in space,
God who set the sun ablaze,
fling the spacecraft thro' the air.
Let man know your presence there.

Excuse me whilst I compose myself!

Nathan Finn, professor at Southeastern, also notes a hymn familiar to our older generation from the 1953 Broadman Hymnal. He writes that "a student introduced me to a hymn that I am convinced needs to be added to the new hymnal. It has history. It has panache. And it is Southern Baptist to the marrow. So without further adieu, I give you 'A Million More in ‘54,' the companion hymn for the well-known SBC Sunday School enrollment campaign of the mid-1950s:

A million more in fifty-four! Enrolled in Sunday School,
To hear the gospel, read the Word And learn the Golden Rule.
A million more in fifty-four, To leave the paths of sin;
To meet the Saviour, know His grace, And find new peace within.

A million more in fifty-four! The gospel will be sown
In hearts of women, boy and girls, And men who have not known
The saving pow’r of matchless grace Provided by God’s Son
Who came and died on Calv’ry’s tree To save them, ev’ry one.

A million more in fifty-four! Depends on workers true;
Our hearts, our strength, our wills, our time, We dedicate anew.
We each must visit, work, and pray In answer to God’s call.
A work to honor Christ our King Demands our best, our all.

A million more in fifty-four, Enrolled in Sunday School;
A million more in fifty-four, Enrolled in Sunday School.

[By W. Hines Sims. Copyright, 1953, Broadman Press]

YOWZA! I'm so thankful we didn't have to hear tortured lyrics from the "Everyone Can, You're It" campaign.

Alvin Reid, SEBTS professor of evangelism, makes a valid point in the comments to Finn's post: "I have often said 'if the 50s come back, most of our churches are ready.' By that I do not mean their evangelistic passion, because I wish we had more of that as then. But I do mean our obsession with conformity of style and method, and with the obsession toward programmatic ministry that was born in the middle of the 50s. I may blog on this at some point, but if one reads CE Matthews’ Southern Baptist Program of Evangelism (appropriate name for the times) one can see a double edged sword–I love the passion I read to see people come to Christ, but the meticulous programming sowed seeds whose harvest we are still reaping, and represents much of what we must change."

This song did mark a turning point in the SBC - a quickening descent towards the idolatry of numbers and the beginnings of our bloated membership rolls, both of which continue to be the cancer that we must fight within the convention and each individual church.

1 comment:

*Hal* said...

I always found it kindof strange as a song when I was young and first came to Christ, course I was 9, and it was 1987... lol.

but I read it now and kindof miss it. And I wonder of the sentiment of it all. Do you really think the Bible really addressed the idea of astronauts?

But that God is there where ever we are in life. Beyond that, I am not sure if I am defending it so much or what... but it does foster discussion and open the door for younger ppl who may not be as apt to relate to 200 hundred year old hymns. idk, I collected a couple old hymnals along the way... and not being all that musically trained, had not clue how to sing the "ancient" songs found therein. being used to the hymnal I grew up with in the southern baptist church.... nearly none of the songs I knew were there.... not even written yet. Hymnals must evolve with time. Or we would probably still be singing songs from when our great great great greats were around. hope that makes sense. God bless. it was a very good post, I enjoyed reading it :)