Bauder on Hymns

by Greg Linscott

Kevin Bauder with some invaluable observations on hymns:

Often when we think of teaching, we think of doctrines, of affirmations that tell us Who God is and what He is doing. We can learn doctrines best by reading creeds or attending lectures. Good hymnody does not neglect doctrine—indeed, the best hymns always have a strong doctrinal foundation. Good hymnody, however, reaches beyond the mere statement of doctrines: it engages our feelings. Good hymnody embodies and fosters a right emotional response toward God and His ways.

In other words, good hymns are irreducibly emotional. If the emotional element is removed, we might as well be reading some dry volume of systematic theology. The whole point of hymnody is emotion, but in saying that I wish to insert two qualifications.

The first qualification is that, while good hymns always express emotion, they are never about the emotion. They are about God and His ways. The emotion must be our response to a right understanding of Who God is and what He is doing, and never a response to our own emotionalism. If we are going to tell God that we love Him, for example, then let us sing about the perfections that make Him lovely, and not indulge ourselves in self-congratulation about how very, very much we feel.

The second qualification is that good hymns must always be careful to express the right emotions. We experience different qualities of love, of joy, of awe, of gratitude. Some of these can rightly be offered to God, but some cannot. For example, if I express my love toward God in terms that I would normally use to express my fondness for a good hunting dog or my appetite for a plate of spaghetti, then I am being worse than silly. I am taking the name of the Lord my God in vain. Whenever we open the hymnal, we ought to remind ourselves that Jesus is not our boyfriend, not our buddy, not our therapist, not our favorite star or celebrity. He is no less than the sum of all His perfections and mighty deeds, and that is why we shall never have enough good hymns.

HT: Ryan Martin