Praise for Neo-Hymnody

neohymnsDue to travel I was unable to finish this week’s book on Jonathan Edwards. You can look for the review next week. Instead I’d like to share some reflections on the power of setting of old hymns to new music, I call it Neo-Hymnody.

This weekend my family and I enjoyed the privilege of attending Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, MI. It was a beautiful service and we felt encouraged and surrounded by warm, loving, people. One thing that I really appreciated, however, was the music. I am a music fiend. I find myself constantly listening to, playing, or just humming in my head some tune. So when I hear good music I pay attention, and this weekend Dr. Nathan Platt assembled a great selection of songs, including a beautiful jazzed-up rendition of the old 1890 hymn “O The Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus.” It was a powerful song set to music I could connect with.

There is a real fresh power in neo-hymnody, taking old hymns and setting them to new music. Hymn writers from back in the day knew how to communicate deep theology in succinct, poetic, fashion. Too many so-called praise & worship songs today sound more like cheesy love songs with “God” inserted where “girl” should go. They are often repetitive, redundant, and theological shallow. The old hymn writers of days gone by were often pastors as well as poets. They could communicate deep theology because they had studied deep theology. So the lyrics of “O The Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus” resound with praise for God’s boundless love and greatness. But the music too is important.

See the reason so many churches don’t use old hymns anymore is because the musical accompaniment is so often dated. “O The Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus” is a good example. The song is in a minor key, and originally had the effect of sounding like an ocean wave ebbing and flowing in its tempo. They lyrics of the song direct us to think of God’s deep love like an ocean washing over us. But set in today’s context the music feels awkward and sounds dated. Some argue that this is because our ear for quality music has diminished, I think that is debatable. But regardless we want music that speaks to us and for us in our present context, especially in our corporate worship setting where we are inviting people to sing out together. So with neo-hymnody we are getting the quality lyrical content (with rich theology) set to relevant musical styles for a combined powerful effect.

I loved the jazzed-up rendition of this old hymn we sung yesterday. Both the violin and guitar solos were beautiful and beckoned me to reflection. The addition of a melodic chorus, prayerfully sung, was a delight. And the rich theology of the original song held it all together. Neo-hymnody is exciting to listen to when done right. It calls us to remember that the deep theological truths of our God are not just for yesterday, they are for this present moment too!

For more artists doing this kind of work let me recommend that you check out a few bands: Ascend the Hill, Page CXVI, Sovereign Grace Music, and Sojourn Music.

Comments

  1. Another great band who re-present the great old hymns is Indelible Grace.

    • Pastor Dave Online says:

      Good call, Naomi. IG is a great band. We use to sing their versions of old hymns at the church we attended while I was in seminary. Thanks for the reminder

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