My good friend Lester Ruth is a super nerd. As a super nerd, he dissected the language of our Christian Music’s Top 40 list over the last 50 years, and compared it to the language of the hymns of our faith over the last 4,000 years. He found many striking and almost sickening realities, but I will share just a few that may help us in our study here.
First, he found that Trinitarian language has all but disappeared from our TOP 40 singing, whereas in hymnody, Trinitarian language is a must. Today we tend to generalize God’s name, or highlight Jesus, but we rarely, if ever, do we remember and name all three person’s of the God-head. He also noticed that the language for “humans” in today’s songs are “Me/Myself/I,” whereas the hymns often use more a language of “we/us.” This is very intriguing when we think about the language used in the Garden of Eden “pre-Fall.” If you read Genesis 1–3 before the Fall, the language is “us/we” and communal language. Individual language started being used after the Fall.
Lastly, Lester also notes that sophistication in poetry has disappeared. Our lyrics are sparse, non-descriptive, and often don’t tell stories richly and deeply, whereas hymns, like the one below—one of the most famous hymns that is unknown to many—is so beautiful in its imagery and description.
In the next few days, we will include a hymn text or two. We would like you to read through the words thoughtfully, prayerfully, and slowly. Consider their beauty of language, Trinitarian thought, and how they address things that are uncomfortable to us, but surprisingly more honest than many of our “happy-happy-joy-joy” songs of today. Consider today the importance that hymns have in shaping our souls to love beauty, excellence of language, the history of our faith, and the preservation of glorious doctrines like the Trinity.
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
All I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.
Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like them, untrue.
O while Thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me,
Show Thy face and all is bright.
Man may trouble and distress me,
Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me;
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, tis not in grief to harm me
While Thy love is left to me;
Oh, twere not in joy to charm me,
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
Come disaster, scorn and pain
In Thy service, pain is pleasure,
With Thy favor, loss is gain
I have called Thee Abba Father,
I have stayed my heart on Thee
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather;
All must work for good to me.
Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o’er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
Think what Father’s smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee,
Child of heaven, canst thou repine.
Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
Part of the challenge of this study is to commission and call more modern-day hymn writers to rise up, so that the church can be blessed, enriched, and taught in deeper Trinitarian ways as a global Body.
*For further reading in the Bible: 1st Corinthians 14:26; Exodus 15:1-15:19
Accompanying this study is over 300 hours of video footage from 150 of today’s top Christian thinkers on culture, creativity, innovation, and invention at www.makejesusculture.com and www.gardencityproject.com. We aim to help churches develop grass roots culture formation for their contexts. Go now!