Just like the venerable “Blue” Trinity Hymnal was revised into the “Red”, it is necessary for me to revise the T. David Gordon hymnal. Due to some discussion coming out of Hoagies & Stogies, I have some new information that casts a different light on The List, the 150 hymns that survived the Gordon downselect. Dr. Gordon has updated his online version of this list, with some caveats (and I probably failed to read closely enough the first time!):
This list is both imperfect (my judgments are imperfect) and incomplete (I keep discovering more hymns). It is also “local;” I designed it for use in the church I pastored in New Hampshire. Some congregations sing better than did mine; some worse. But some of the hymns I excluded were excluded because I judged them to be too difficult for our congregation to sing, even though they were otherwise fine. A more adventurous or talented congregation could have employed those. But this is at least a starting point; a list of hymns that I judge to be appropriate to corporate worship, theologically sound, edifying, and singable by most congregations. If I had time, I would love to write a paragraph about each of these hymns, explaining what I regard to be its literary, theological, and/or musical merit. This list has been misunderstood more frequently than it has been understood: many people mistakenly assume that if a hymn is not on this list that I disapprove it, despite what I say in the earlier part of this paragraph. That is entirely false. I could easily add another twenty to fifty to this list today, if I had time and occasion to do so; especially including those that I judged simply to be beyond my own congregation’s ability to sing.
So the list is not as scandalous and controversial (nor Dr. Gordon as crotchety) as my earlier post may have suggested. And while that last post was muckraking in nature (“He left out what? Unpack the torches and pitchforks, folks!), I’d like to quote here a couple paragraphs that set forth some of the criteria Gordon used to taxonomize hymns, in the areas of revivalism, and Christmas.
There are many well-known revivalist hymns from the late 19th century that are not on this list. This is intentional, if misguided. I’m not sure I believe any revivals have ever taken place; the historical evidence is quite ambiguous (e.g., church-attendance rose for a decade, then returned to its earlier levels). Further, the notion of sudden conversion strikes me as unsound; the biblical teaching on how God’s preached word works does not support the notion that sudden conversion is the norm. So, if you like Fannie Crosby’s hymns, and others like hers, you will need to supplement my list with yours. I may appear to be the only person on our planet who excludes “Amazing Grace” from public worship, though I do not object to it in private devotions. The “hour I first believed” has little or no place in corporate worship, in my judgment, but my judgment is evidently idiosyncratic, and therefore probably wrong (Though Robert Foote’s list also excludes it; and in his discussion in Christianity Today he explains briefly why it was not on the list of hymns found commonly in thirty hymnals over a century). I should also clarify that I do not object to the first-person-singular pronoun (“I/me/my”) in hymns; Paul Gerhardt employed them routinely and I include many Gerhardt hymns. Rather, what I object to is celebrating the individual/idiosyncratic experience of faith, rather than the objective events or realities that are common to everyone’s faith. “When I survey the wondrous cross” is a fine hymn, because what is “surveyed” there are the realities of Christ’s passion that are pertinent to every believer; the “I” in that line is “everyman,” as it were.
My selection of Advent and Incarnation hymns will also disappoint many, because I have excluded those well-beloved Christmas hymns that, in my estimate, romanticize the birth of Christ at the expense of appreciating that this act constituted a great humiliation for him (“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men,” Phil. 2:6-7). Such hymns tend to celebrate his birth as a happy occasion (like other births) when, in reality, it was Christ’s initial act of identifying with sinners by taking on our flesh, an identification that wold take him to the cross. When we consider that in his earthly life he was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” it is improper to say such things as “all is calm, all is bright” or “the little Lord Jesus no crying he made.” So, you will just have to supplement my list with your own on this point. “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor” (#230, below), on the other hand, really “gets it,” and is a lovely incarnation hymn. Further, since my Session embraced the Puritan understanding of the calendar, my church did not celebrate Christmas (we did celebrate the Resurrection, but we did it fifty-two times annually…), so there was little liturgical need in our setting to have a large list of such hymns. I’m sure many of the others that are not on my list are fine (e.g. Watts’s “Joy to the World”).