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Thursday, September 02, 2010 

Another Way To Evaluate Hymns

Just so ya’ll don’t think it’s just me… here’s Pastor Tom Chryst’s excellent list on evaluating hymnondy to be sung during the Divine Service:

Words:

1. Is it Christian? If a Jew or Mormon or Buddhist could sing the song without pause, it is likely not a Christian song.

2. Does it mention Jesus (Christ) by name? Titles such as Savior and Lord are not wrong, but songs/hymns are most clear when the proper name is used. It leaves no room for confusion.

3. Does it mention the cross? Or does it speak nebulously about God’s love apart from this central teaching?

4. Does it balance Law and Gospel? (Especially troublesome is if Gospel is absent)

5. Does it suggest salvation has to do with my work, decision, commitment or heart, or does it rather make clear that we receive everything as a gift from God alone?

6. Does it rightly show our good works as a response to God’s good work in Christ, or does it leave the impression God justifies us in response to our action? Could it give such an impression?

7. Does it specifically teach some false doctrine (like the Rapture, for instance)?

8. Does it refer at all to the Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments of Baptism and Communion)? Or does it suggest we receive from God apart from such means?

9. Does it make prayer into a sacrament (which offers grace)? Does it suggest a certain prayer must be prayed to invite Jesus into our hearts? (Decision theology)

10. Is it scriptural? There should be a strong scriptural connection, rather than lofty and abstract concepts tied to no particular text.

11. Does it present a corporate view of the church, or does it overly emphasize the importance of the individual? (Us/We vs. I/Me) “Me-and-Jesus” music should be avoided.

Music:

1. Is the music beautiful?

2. Is the tune appropriate to the text? Does the “mood” fit?

3. Is the music inappropriately difficult for the singers?

4. Does the tune carry “baggage” (i.e., a familiar Christmas tune should not be used in Lent. Likewise certain secular tunes have strong associative ideas we might want to avoid)

5. Does the music “play on the emotions”? This should be avoided.

6. Is the music reverent?

7. Does the music have a timeless quality, or is it too strongly associated with a narrow style?

Pastor Chryst, who is an associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, WI, is an excellent and faithful preacher whose sermons and general musings can be found at Preachrblog. His blog has long been favorite read of mine as are his appearances on Issues, Etc.

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I wonder what the real difference b/w "mood" and "playing to the emotions" is. "Not All the Blood of Beasts", it could be argued, textually and musically "plays to the emotions" by being appropriate in "mood".

Although I do come from a non-liturgical church, I have completely embraced the historic liturgy and hymns of the Lutheran church. I do, however, find this a particularly tricky point in debating this topic.

I think that music that "plays to the emotions" includes stuff that is heavily reliant on pop sensibilities that are calculated to elicit an emotional reaction. Particularly, if a song is rather weak in other ways. Of course, songs should convey a particular and appropriate mood. If they leave you primarily remembering the "mood" and the "feel" and warm feelings stirring up in you because of the music, in ways reminiscent of that concert you went to last month, then there may be problems afoot with emotional manipulation.

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