I grew up in a church that sang hymns, so when I was first exposed to contemporary worship in college, it was new, and exciting. I found myself able to participate and understand the simple choruses. Sometimes it was a trade—off. The deep theology of the hymn that was hard to understand for the simplicity of the chorus that perhaps didn’t even begin to have any depth. Most of the time, though, we found some great songs. Songs with depth and theology. And then new ones came along and the old ones from the year before were set aside for the new ones and this cycle continued.
I love contemporary worship, but I am also rediscovering a love for old hymns. I used to always want to change the rhythms and style, but I’m rediscovering the beauty of singing them the way they were always sung.
The beauty that I’m discovering is not that these songs are superior. There are many hymns that are just as weak theologically as some of the worship choruses of past years. It is not an issue of hymns being better (or worse) than choruses.
I’m discovering the beauty of the shared history and shared faith these hymns represent. In the “Letter to the Reader” at the beginning of this book, the author writes, “While soaking in these hymns, I was struck with the instant connection I felt to the Church… The men and women who wrote these hymns felt the same longing in 1600 as I feel today; the same adoration that I melt into a service, and the same need to confess their sins…”
The beauty of congregational worship is that it is a shared experience. Sometimes that shared experience may be had best with the latest from Chris Tomlin or Bethel Worship. Some of us need to be challenged in that way. But, I think in today’s modern and active church, a rediscovery of shared faith includes rediscovering hymns and this book allows us to do that starting with what is most important, the lyric.
Then, following each lyric, are some questions that encourage the reader to dig into God’s Word and understand what the hymn-writer was writing about. After that, there are personal reflection questions to help us grow deeper, and each section ends with a prayer to challenge us and seriously seek God to use these lyrics through the ages for our own current, contemporary and alive faith today.
There are ninety hymns included. Some were very familiar to me and some less familiar. My biggest criticism of the book is that I wish the author had chosen ninety hymns that were best because their lyrical and theological content. There are many great hymns that are included, but also some that are flowery and perhaps just there for the emotional and even nostalgic feeling as opposed to declaring God’s truth. #37: “I come to the garden alone, where the dew is still on the roses…and He walks with me…” comes to mind.
Despite this weakness, I still find this book very helpful and I recommend it for the thoughtful questions and Biblical foundation for each song. Even #37 gives us some good things to think about as it highlights Genesis 5:24 and Enoch walking faithfully with God. My hope and prayer are that it will be used to build a connection with people who worship in many ways rather than fuel debates about worship style.
You might want to check it out and rediscover the shared faith we have with many generations past.
I received a copy of this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review.