11 June 2011

Church Music part II

I recently wrote a post on a historical topic that I find of quite a bit of interest, church music.  In that post, I pointed out that some considered Jonathan Edwards a bit radical for his use of hymns in church in an eighteenth-century society that emphasized only the singing of psalms from the biblical book of Psalms.  This topic brought to mind an article I recently read in Baptist History & Heritage on the topic of Baptist hymnody and revivalism.

Baylor University professor of Music (somewhat ironically named) David W. Music wrote on "The Baptist Influence on Revival Music/The Revival Influence n Baptist Music" in Baptist History & Heritage's Summer/Fall 2010 edition.  In this article, Music argued that the wave of revival music from the Second Great Awakening failed to move most Baptists, who as staunch Calvinists tended to view the revival with a bit of suspicion.  However, as this strict Calvinism waned, so did Baptist opposition to revivalism.  During the era of Dwight L. Moody, many of the new "gospel songs" found their way into the Baptist repertoire.

One of the interesting passages in this article on Baptists and revival music, was the definition of the gospel song: "The gospel song became the 'typical' revival music of the late nineteenth century because it contained a simple text that avoided theological sophistication in favor of direct appeal for salvation or renewed commitment, linked with a popular musical style that appealed to the masses." (40)  Some of the songs cited by Music include such "traditional" standards such as "Nothing But the Blood," "Shall We Gather at the River," and several songs by Methodist Fanny Crosby that had music supplied by Baptist William Howard Doane (among the titles mentioned were "To God Be the Glory" and "Rescue the Perishing").  Other popular gospel songs written by Baptists were "Bringing in the Sheaves" and Throw out the Lifeline." (40-41)

What makes this article so interesting is the similarity in the argument against many "contemporary" songs: i.e. simple lyrics put to popular music.  Few would argue that the songs listed above should be removed from the hymnal, but it raises the question of whether newer songs, such as "Shout to the Lord" and others of its style and provenance will make the hymnbooks of the future.  If they do, there is also the question of whether the more traditional element in churches will protest.  Music also pointed out that Baptists have tended to be more open to gospel songs and contemporary songs (although they have kept such old hymns as "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," while more liturgical denominations have tended toward traditional hymns.  This was definitely an interesting article on a very interesting topic.

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