New Fad: Let's Sing Hymns
What with Phil Johnson's blogging (and excellent) critique of an "evangelicalism" given to fads, this Billboard story seems quite timely. Apparently, the new "thing" for Contemporary Christian Music is to emphasize the old complete with millions spent on making sure we know CCM is emphasizing the old. :-)
Billboard's Deborah Evans Price writes: "With so many hymns albums being released this year, Word Distribution created a special marketing program for Christian retail. The "Hymns & Stories" promotion runs through Monday and features 11 titles, including albums by Grant, Cleveland, Greene, Fernando Ortega, Randy Travis and Gordon Mote, as well as several compilations."
Price quotes Amy Grant who says "...the lyrical depth and theological content found in the hymns are providing a source of renewed inspiration for artists and fans. "The lyrics are the things that are so phenomenal about the hymns," Grant says. "You might forget every sermon from your childhood, but you remember the teaching because it was in the songs." Michael Horton agrees: "The average Christian will learn more from hymns that from systematic theology..." (Michael Horton, In the Face of God, p. 195).
Ashley Cleveland sees hymns as a uniting force. "There is a mindset that they represent antiquity, [that] they are dusty old relics that aren't relevant, but to me nothing could be more relevant," she says. "There is so much division in our culture and even within the Christian community, but when you pull out a hymn that everybody knows, we are all unified." And here I thought it was truth that unifies and error that divides. All we need is a little Kum-ba-yah to give peace a chance.
I'll grant (no pun intended... well maybe) that we have a new generation of Christian kids who really don't know the classics. But it would be interesting to make up a list of all of the hymns that are being "re-introduced" to a new generation. In one of the great treatments of the inherent gnosticism of American Revivalism and its children, In the Face of God, Michael Horton points out that many of the hymns we grew up singing are grounded in the Romanticism and subsequent Revivalism of the late 1800's. Many of these hymns, "claiming a direct, immediate, secret, mystical, and indeed unique experience with God...represent the romantic shift from the objective to the subjective, from the person who is known to the person who is knowing (knowing in the gnostic sense, viz., experiencing)." (In the Face of God, p. 197).
Horton continues: "'Victory' and perfect peace, perfect joy, perfect surrender are prominent themes in these songs, heavily influenced not only by Romanticism, but by the Keswick 'Higher Life' movement, which B. B. Warfield characterized as 'Protestant mysticism'... the God and the Christ outside of us (the Reformation emphasis) is replaced with God and the Christ within the indvidual's heart (the medieval and gnostic emphasis)... the mystic's love for Jesus is romantic; the orthodox believer's love for Jesus is filial and is always linked to his saving work. We do not love Jesus 'just for who you are', for apart from his saving acts we do not have any reason to love him any more than we love any other historical figure." (Michael Horton, In the Face of God, pp. 197-199).
Horton is reminding us that just because something is "old" and "sentimental", doesn't mean it has value. Some of these hymns that are being "reintroduced" to a new generation are best forgotten.