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Open jars

"Open jars" Continued...

Issue: "MS-13: Criminals next door," June 18, 2005

Not that Redemption Songs is just contemporary singers doing the old-time hymns. Of the 12 songs on the CD, only five use arrangements of the traditional melodies. The other seven use new music, composed either by Jars of Clay or other current artists. But the music, for the most part, is at the service of the text. What we hear are the classic words of John Newton, John Wesley, Paul Gerhardt, and others, in a new idiom. Sometimes hymns have become so familiar that we stop paying attention to the words and no longer notice just how powerful they are. With these new treatments, we hear the timeless lyrics as if for the first time.

"I Need Thee Every Hour" and "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus" come across with intimate intensity. The traditional musical structure of "It Is Well with My Soul"-with its metrical stanzas, rhythmic refrain, and stylized repetitions-has the same simplicity as a rock tune and adapts perfectly to the new style with hardly any change.

Some of the hymns here are so traditional that, ironically, they will be new to many Christians today. The album's first cut is Psalm 51 from the Reformed Psalter of 1912. (Band members belong to the Presbyterian Church in America, and the liner notes include "special thanks" to Reformed University Fellowship.)

Other less-familiar hymns, all put to new music, include "God Will Lift Up Your Head" by the great Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) and "Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder" by John Newton (1725-1807), better known for "Amazing Grace." The emotional range and lyrical beauty of such nearly forgotten hymns are evident from the titles: "O Come and Mourn with Me Awhile" by Frederick W. Faber (1814-1863); "Thou Lovely Source of True Delight" by Anne Steele (1716-1778).

Many churches, trying to be more relevant, have thrown out hymns in favor of "contemporary" music, by which they mean praise songs written back in the 1970s in styles that have been out of date for three decades. Leaders of churches trying to reach today's young people need to realize that vapid sentimentality is currently out of fashion, even in pop music. They might do better to employ songs that have a darker but honest recognition of suffering, that express more complicated emotions, and that are grounded in an objective reality. Like hymns.

-Gene Edward Veith

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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