In my life, I’ve learned and come to love some great hymns. But in the circles in which I mostly move nowadays, except for my immediate family, hymns are rarely sung, with only a few exceptions: one hymn in a service (invariably called a “great old hymn” even if it’s only late-19th-century, and rarely dating from earlier than 1850, let alone 1800) so as to avoid the criticism of “never singing hymns”; a hymn that’s been made a (usually small) part of a “chorus”; one that’s fairly recently hit the Christian pop charts in a “retuned” version (adding a refrain that’s given greater emphasis than any of the verses, for example); a few perfunctory hymns on “major holidays” (except for Christmas, when the carols are essentially always the same but are hardly “perfunctory”—but with “major holidays” including far more civil holidays than liturgical ones); and so on.
In this, as in many things, my instinct is toward conservatism in the Chestertonian sense (Chesterton said a conservative is one who “stands athwart History yelling ‘Stop!’”): our ancestors have given us, in hymnody, a vast wealth of glorious music and edifying verse (amid an even vaster quantity of merely pedestrian verse and less-inspired tunes, it must be admitted), so I see no good reason to abandon it all in favor of the merely new. This is not to say that nothing new is any good; there are several recent Christian artists whose work I’m very fond of, a few songs from the last few generations that I’ll admit as hymns (though, like “folk music,” I’d tend to say that in general nothing very recent should go in that category yet, as it hasn’t been through the “folk” or “hymn” “process” yet), and some quite recent “retuned” versions of hymns that I prefer to the traditional or original tunes. (I’m grateful to Greg Scheer, minister of worship at what was my “home church” while I was in college, for pointing me to the Cardiiphonia project.)
So I’m beginning a new series of posts here on this blog. In the coming months, on occasion (about once a month, I hope), I’ll give you a hymn I’m fond of, accompanied by some of my thoughts about (and sparked by) it.