Thursday, January 05, 2006

Are we misguided when we modernize hymn texts?

In this article, Gary Parrett suggests that we are wrong to modernize hymn texts. My church, the Christian Reformed Church, has altered the text of a number of hymns (including eradicating the puzzling "Ebenezer" from "Come Thou Fount") when they published the latest edition of The Psalter Hymnal and I have wished the editors (some of whom are friends of mine) had not done that in a few examples. I want to quickly point out that most of the changes were excellent. But I always wish that "let every creature rise and bring peculiar honors to our king" had been left alone in "Jesus Shall Reign."

I'm unsure of where I stand on the issue. I find many of Parrett's arguments less than compelling. The purpose of songs in worship is to help us worship - the artistic intent of the author is secondary to that. And, frankly, sometimes the theology is just wrong (or at least in disagreement with ours) and needs "fixing". Also, "Good Christian Men, Rejoice" is blatantly sexist - I much prefer the Psalter Hymnal's revision - "Good Christian Friends Rejoice." I think that clearly there is a time and place for revision. The question is, of course, how much and when.

I'd love to hear comments from readers on this!


dean reusser said...

I'm old school, and for no changes, but I'm not the type to throw a fit either, just love to sing. AT my church I'm lucky if I get to a hymn in the first place with beautiful parts, instead of the sort of boring repetitive "praise songs".
nice blog entry, DTR

Huisj said...

I've been particularly thrown off the last few years at Christmas when I've sung "Angels we have Heard on High" and suddenly get hit with "singing through the night" and "echoing their brave delight." What was wrong with the joyous strains they sang over the plain?

corniel said...

i think it is all about balance

i've been part of the christian reformed church when i lived in holland for too long and traditional hymns and the traditional churches' conservative stand on it makes me want to puke sometimes

i've seen the most evangelical worship during my time with YWAM australia and sometimes just wanted to walk away

i'm now an evangelical anglican near Manchester in the UK and the balance i find here is the key for me .... not stopping God's spirit from bringing new things and not throwing away the baby with the bathing water when it comes to the old stuff

when it comes to the key question that started this little discussion of:

biblically there is no reason not to change hymnal words and modernise them .... as long as they don't go against the Bible

and the biblical argument is the only one that does for me