In Other News, PCUSA is Still Liberal (RE: “In Christ Alone”)

So, did you hear the one about PCUSA and “In Christ Alone”? Apparently someone got his knickers in a knot over the phrase “The wrath of God was satisfied,” wanting it changed to “The love of God was magnified.” When the writers said no, the Committee voted to exclude the song from its new hymnal. I know, right? I mean, who would ever expect PCUSA to do something like that?

Seriously, while the song is not a personal favorite and has its technical faults, both lyrical and musical, theology is certainly not its problem, and it’s a very bad sign for that to be chosen as the reason for its exclusion. As I saw one wag put it, it’s a wonder they didn’t balk at the “In Christ alone” part. Interestingly, the piece I linked recalls a quote about God’s wrath by Brennan Manning which I referred to as well when I wrote a cautionary piece about him after his death. It’s the one where he basically says he just can’t imagine  a wrathful God who punishes his own Son in substitutionary atonement for the sins of the world (gulp), because that would just be too mean. While the precise details of how the atonement accomplished its redeeming work are a rich vein for theological debate, the core truth that it was necessary to satisfy the wrath of the Father on our behalf is gospel, period.

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5 thoughts on “In Other News, PCUSA is Still Liberal (RE: “In Christ Alone”)

  1. John Situmbeko

    Have they included Rock of Ages in their hymnal? I’m guessing they haven’t, since it says “be of sin the double cure, save from WRATH and make me pure.”

  2. My biggest concern is that many Christians have focused so much on God’s love that they have forgotten the reason for the Christ in the first place….

    1. Very true. Neither should be overemphasized at the expense of the other. People seem concerned that there’s too much of an emphasis on God’s wrath, but in reality it’s the other way around. It follows C. S. Lewis’s point that the devil always likes to distract people’s attention from the truly big problem of the day by making them focus on the opposite extreme.

    1. Here we go again… I think I’m quoting myself from a couple years ago, but as Bill Gaither says, why not?

      No I’m not kidding. Even though it’s their best-known, the Gettys have themselves written much better tunes. The melody is nice but repetitive, and it gets stale quickly when it’s not professionally produced, with key changes and other bells and whistles. As I’ve written before, the test of a great tune is whether it can still sound interesting in the hands of amateurs. Unfortunately, “In Christ Alone” doesn’t really meet that test. If you’re around a campfire with friends who can’t sing that well, and your only accompaniment is the friend who knows just four chords on the guitar, you’re better off singing “It is Well With My Soul” for pure musical interest.

      Lyrically, the words have a nice ring to them in places and are obviously very sound theologically, so that’s their main strength. However, there’s a lot of pseudo-rhyming that’s distracting for those of us who are more used to the gloriously unambiguous poetry of Wesley or Watts. Furthermore, there’s an entire section that’s just a grammatical mess. Funny enough, it’s the same section that was coming under fire from the PCUSA, but I dislike it for the totally different reason that it’s the tail end of a rambling, incomplete sentence:

      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…

      Okay, so far we’ve got a bunch of parentheticals, but no subject. The first verse gave us a clear statement: “In Christ alone, my hope is found.” Not so here. Then it continues:

      ‘Til on that cross, as Jesus died
      The wrath of God was satisfied

      Okay, so is it saying that Jesus was scorned until he died on the cross? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maybe it’s referring to people like the centurion who said “Truly this man was the Son of God.” I’m stretching it though. And with that, they just abandon the attempt at a sentence altogether and start from scratch:

      For every sin on him was laid
      Here in the death of Christ I live.

      The only POSSIBLE way I could think to untangle all that would be to say “Well, maybe they’re just doing a really loooooong extension from ‘My hope is found’ and counting that as providing the necessary subject and verb while piling on more attributes of Christ.”

      The truth is, this lyric was written very quickly by Stuart Townend, in the heat of inspiration when he heard Keith’s melody. I’m not against writing quickly. When I get seized by a thought I can’t get it down on paper fast enough. But then there’s this important little step called revision! That’s where you sit down with it, you look it over, you make sure it fits together and makes sense, and you take care of things like non-sentences and sloppy rhyming.

      However, this is not to knock the Getty team, who are very talented, and as I already mentioned, have easily bested this effort themselves a dozen times over. I’m just saying that I think this particular song is over-hyped.

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