Do hymns provide something contemporary songs just can’t?
Do contemporary songs provide something hymns don’t?
Hymns provide one major component that contemporary songs rarely do: lyrics. They leave room to set forth doctrine, to expound on doctrine, and to tell stories. A great example is the classic hymn “And Can it Be,” or the modern hymn, “In Christ Alone.” Both tell a story in great detail, and in so doing, provide great doctrinal training.
Contemporary songs, however, often provide something which hymns don’t: simple expressions of faith and devotion. Like our systematic theology books, hymns are incredibly important, but can often miss out on basic, emotional devotion toward God. Contemporary songs, however, in their simple, colloquial language, can communicate basic human devotion very well.
Good observations, Brian. I actually think many hymns are simple and colloquial as well:
I need Thee; O, I need Thee
Every hour I need Thee
O bless me now my Savior
I come to Thee
Okay, so “Thee” isn’t very colloquial, but it’s hard to be more straightforward and simple. 🙂
I think you nailed it when you talked about the emotional devotion which we often feel with contemporary (for lack of a better word, because, as you mentioned, there are many good contemporary hymns) songs. I wonder if that’s because music often speaks more to our emotions than lyrics do, and music helps lyrics communicate more deeply, viscerally. This is why I think there seems to be somewhat of a movement recently toward revamping hymns with updated music.
Good thoughts, thanks!
Hymns provide talent, sometimes soul.
Contemporary music is better situated at entertaining the masses, thus keeping them distracted from those pesky meaningful aspects of existence we’re all more fortunate for them avoiding.
Josh, this made me laugh out loud. I feel ya. The heart of the congregation as a whole can make the same hymn full of life or dead, can make a contemporary song a genuine offering or a fake, shiny, plastic one.
There was a really interesting interview in a series Christianity Today did recently on worship called, “Pop goes the Worship” which discussed, among other things, the folk-like orientation of hymns and how that lends itself more toward communality than contemporary, more pop-like songs do.
Good insights; thanks, Josh.
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