This post the other day by Fernando Ortega about modern hymnwriting scratched me where I itch. Money quote:
It took some real thought to craft those lines. They’re timeless. They set a standard for all of us who write music for the church … Be specific when you write songs about God. Avoid cliché. Avoid convenience. Avoid an obsession with the consumer. Avoid the temptation to make commercial success your central goal. Write with intelligence, employing all the craft, skill, and experience with which God has endowed you.
Too many worship songs today suffer from convenience — they’re cheap and easy and won’t last. Ortega came up with a quick modern example of what he calls “convenient” songwriting — “God, you are a holy God/I need your grace to see me through/I need your mercy to make me new/Let me live each day for you” and then points to an old hymn as an example of how to do it right (plus you get to hear him sing it — score!).
Posted the link on Facebook and got a lot of agreement, but a little discussion saying old isn’t always good and new isn’t always bad, etc.
Agreed, but I don’ think that was the main point. As I said there, I don’t think something has to be old and hard to understand to mean something. I think Ortega is arguing for modern hymnwriting, but in a way that actually means something.
People like the Gettys and Stuart Townend do a good job — with modern language and music — of what he’s talking about in the post. But doing that is a lot harder than the more “convenient” type of songwriting, so it’s more rare, which means that in the name of modernity and relevance, we end up with a lot of stuff that isn’t wrong or sinful, but also isn’t really that good and leaves you unsatisfied.
We still sing the old songs that we sing precisely because they’re good and have stood the test of time. I’m sure there’s a lot of 1600s-era hymns that they sang back in the day that haven’t survived.
To use a modern example, I’d bet $100 that in 100 years, our great-great grandkids are a lot more likely to be singing “In Christ Alone” than “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” But maybe that’s just me.