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Hymnals, Theology, or Christ Alone?

August 6, 2013

An interesting controversy seems to be erupting on the edges of the PC(USA).  As if we needed another black eye.  This one revolves around the editing of a new hymnal.  The conversation seems to have hit “viral” status at this point.

The last hymnal the denomination put together generated its own controversy in the dropping of some traditional hymns such as “Stand Up!  Stand Up, for Jesus” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” due, reportedly, to political correctness maneuverings such as “people in wheelchairs can’t stand up” or “we need to avoid militant images.”  So too, many of the hymns reference to God as “Father” were changed or had footnotes appear suggesting alternatives as a means of appeasing those who would prefer to avoid the Trinity, or who ignorantly suggest the offices of “Creator,” “Reedemer” and “Sustainer” would serve as an acceptable substitute.

The reports are that the new hymnal committee recently decided not to include one of the contemporary greats, “In Christ Alone” due to the theology contained therein; on the surface making it appear to be a good decision.  But that whole theology thing has become quite a mess in our denomination.  Whose theology?  That of the scripture; that of the Princeton theologian, that of the confessions?  Which confessions?  It is hard to tell what the actual issue was.  Commentators seem to disagree on just what the reasoning was.  One points out it was the word “satisfied” in reference to Jesus atonement for sins, implying that it was God who killed Jesus, but it is unlikely that anyone familiar with the theology of the atonement would confuse God’s acceptance (being satisfied) that Jesus’ willing sacrifice of himself (the One perfect life) for the sins of the world constitute God’s taking action to kill his own Son, or to coerce his obedience thereof, robbing Jesus of the willing nature of his obedience.

Others seem to infer that it has to do with the wrath of God… but there seem to be other hymns which are to be included that refer to that.  The offending verse apparently was this one (see bold face type):

In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;

For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.

 Apparently the hymn writers were contacted by the committee and asked to approve, but rejected, the following substitution which, interestingly enough, the PC(USA) Hymnal committee had found in a Baptist Hymnal (Baptists not generally known for being soft of God’s wrath)…

The love of God was magnified

Was God’s wrath satisfied?  Absolutely.  Was God’s love magnified? Certainly.  Both are acceptable theologically.  The broader question is why do we feel a need to continually “tweak” such beautiful pieces of work?  The simple song, boldly and unapologetically proclaiming the reformed cry of Solus Christus ought to be in the hymnal.  And I thank God every day that God’s wrath was satisfied for me on that cross.  Could it be that some who haven’t come to that conclusion yet are simply threatened by the thought that maybe, just maybe they’re missing something?   I can’t help but wonder how many greater theological issues we might confront in the new hymnal like we do in our new form of government than this current argument suggests…

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