Hymnal Theology

Hymnal Theology December 12, 2018

What’s so great about all the old hymns? Maybe it was the fact that they were theologically sound.


So, what’s so great about all the old hymns? Aren’t they outdated or old fashioned? Or, are they more theologically sound than many contemporary Christian songs today? In our day, it’s not always theology (study of the “Word”) you hear in Christian songs but a “me-ology,” or Jesus is the lover of my soul, Jesus is my friend, and so on. When did we begin to separate from theology into the “me-ology” of “What can God do for me,” and not “What can we do for Him?” Cleary there are many contemporary Christian songs that are biblical in their lyrics, but sometimes the show and the sound is more important than the words. Don’t misunderstand me, there are hundreds of rock-solid Christian songs out there today, but the great hymns of the past were, for the most part, much more aligned with biblical principles. Here are a few old hymns to show you what I mean.

Amazing Grace

John Newton, by Joseph Collyer

It is said that more people were moved to trust in Christ with this song than with any other, even rivaling Handel’s Messiah, although it is God alone Who saves, but this hymn is the most recognized and perhaps the most beloved of all Christian songs or hymns we have. Few are more biblically sound than this one. Grace is so amazing because none of us deserve it, so it is “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch; like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.” It’s so amazing because it’s a free gift (Eph 2:8-9) that came at an enormous cost to God (John 3:16).

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

This old hymn nails the gospel by asking, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Only the blood of the Lamb of God “makes me white as snow,” and there is absolutely “No other fount I know” than the blood of Jesus. There is no other way but than through Christ and His sinless life, death, and resurrection that we can be saved (1 Cor 15:1-4; Acts 4:12), for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22b), so it truly is, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” that can wash our sins away…forever.

Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

One man called the church today so much less evangelistic than the church of the 1st Century, calling them the “frozen chosen,” but the old hymn, “Stand up, Stand Up for Jesus” was very evangelistic in nature. We sing, “Stand up for Jesus. Ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, It must not, it must not suffer loss.” When you hold up a banner, you are telling others about the cross of Christ, so lift it high in word and in deed, so that they might recognize who Jesus’ disciples are, and that most vivid banner for the Lord is love, for it is by our love for one another that others will know we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).

Standing on the Promises

Standing on the Promises is one of those old hymns that give us hope in our old age, when we are sick, or when we’ve experienced a great loss (perhaps all three!). God has never let one precious promise ever fail, and neither will He for eternity. Our hope is in God, so when the trials and tribulations come, we can be “Standing on the promises that cannot fail,” even “When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,” so “By the living Word of God I shall prevail,” while “Standing on the promises of God.”

There is a Fountain

William Cowper by William Blake

This old hymn, written by William Cowper (1731-1800), was among the favorites of the 18th Century, and no wonder because this hymn is one of the most vivid displays of the gospel, and just how salvation works in the individual. For example, it says that “sinners, plunged beneath that flood,” that is “Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” enables sinners to “Lose all their guilty stains.” Without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, a person will not confess their sins because they won’t admit there is sin. That means they will have no guilt over sin, but one man said “A man’s morality determines his theology.” A sinner doesn’t want to come to God and confess their sins, even though God’s wrath is abiding on them (John 3:36b), but only the Spirit of God can show them their need for the “fountain” and to be “plunged beneath that flood.”

They’ll Know We Are Christians

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent ascension, He gave the disciples a new commandment, telling them to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). This love will be such a love that “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). It will not be by our persuasion of biblical manuscripts, archeological evidence, or even apologetics that will convince others about Christ. It will be by our love for one another that people will know who are, and who are not His disciples (1 John 3:11-24). That’s why the world needs to see that “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” and only then will they “know we are Christians by our love, by our love.”


What old hymn or contemporary song would you put in the class of being biblically sound? I know there are hundreds that I could not possibly have space to write about. I’d love to know what you think and if you see the point that there is such a thing as “hymnal theology,” and that all hymns are not created as equally or biblically. We are told by Jesus to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Worshiping God in spirit alone with no truth is vanity…worshiping God in truth alone but not in the spirit is legalism.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

"Psalm 115:1, New American Standard BibleNot to us, O Lord, not to us,But to Your ..."

Top 13 Bible Verses About Virtue
"You are so encouraging my friend. It is all about Him (Psalm 115:1) for what ..."

Top 13 Bible Verses About Virtue
"I'll gladly deconstruct this mess for you...1. Demonstrate that any such "creator" exists. You cannot ..."

Top 13 Bible Verses About Virtue
"P.S I would reject that "god" you imaged as well."

Top 13 Bible Verses About Virtue

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Matthew 22:37

    I believe the intention behind Christian Contemporary Music to be divinely inspired. The world needed a spiritual response to the music of the world and the more you can inspire people to know Jesus through any form of music the better.

    Christian Contemporary Music gives people today an alternative to listening to rock. One doesn’t really listen to music to learn theology. The purpose of it is to praise God and strengthen the holy familial bond that God shares with His people.

    Perhaps, nothing in this day and age will introduce more people to Jesus than mainstream spiritual rock music and the praise of Jesus does need to be mainstream on radios and television not closed behind church doors.
    But out on the airwaves so all can become aware of Jesus.

    Every generation and people is going to have it’s own way of expressing their love of God won’t it and CCM is a lot more purifying to listen to then other mainstream types of music like rock ‘n roll, rap or pop.

    Christian Contemporary Music wikiquote:
    Larry Norman is often remembered as the “father of Christian rock”, because of his early contributions (before the Jesus movement) to the developing new genre that mixed rock rhythms with the Christian messages. Though his style was not initially well received by many in the Christian community of the time, he continued throughout his career to create controversial hard-rock songs such as “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”. He is remembered as the artist “who first combined rock ‘n’ roll with Christian lyrics” in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Though there were Christian albums in the 1960s that contained contemporary-sounding songs, there were two albums recorded in 1969 that are considered[by whom?] to be the first complete albums of “Jesus rock”: Upon This Rock (1969) by Larry Norman initially released on Capitol Records, and Mylon – We Believe by Mylon LeFevre, released by Cotillion, which was LeFevre’s attempt at blending gospel music with southern rock.Unlike traditional or southern gospel music, this new Jesus music was birthed out of rock and folk music.

    Pioneers of this movement also included Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, Andraé Crouch and the Disciples, Evie, Benny Hester, and The Imperials, among others. The small Jesus music culture had expanded into a multimillion-dollar industry by the 1980s. Many CCM artists such as Benny Hester, Amy Grant, DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Stryper, and Jars of Clay found crossover success with Top 40 mainstream radio play.

    The genre emerged and became prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. Beginning in July 1978, CCM Magazine began covering “Contemporary Christian Music” artists and a wide range of spiritual themes until it launched online publications in 2009.

    It has certain themes and messages behind the songs and their lyrics including Praise and worship, faith, encouragement, and prayer. These songs also focus on themes of devotion, inspiration, redemption, reconciliation, and renewal. Many people listen to contemporary Christian music for comfort through tough times. The lyrics and messages conveyed in CCM songs are aimed to evangelize and to worship Jesus. One of the earliest goals of CCM was to spread the news of Jesus to non-Christians.In addition, contemporary Christian music also strengthens the faith of believers.-End quote

    All gospel oriented music revolves around worship and the person of Jesus whether it be modern or traditional.

    The culture in the West is so poor right now that CCM may be one of the most potent responses against it.

    If you can’t beat them then join them but supply a better idea to play as the music in people’s hearts which presents people with a spiritual music alternative to the poor lyrics people are exposed to today.

  • pud

    “Worshiping God in spirit alone with no truth is vanity…worshiping God in truth alone but not in the spirit is legalism.”

    LOL!! There’s not one single true thing in ANYTHING you’ve ever babbled! You don’t even know the definition of truth or how we arrive at it! The LAST thing you care about is what is actually demonstrably TRUE! Truth has probably NEVER crossed your lips.

    What’s a “spirit” jack? Tell us…show us that something such as “spirit” exists.

    What is “truth” jack? Tell us..show us how we as human beings arrive at a truth.

    Silence, cowering, hiding, ignoring…..You sure spend a lot of time shrunk down behind your pulpit jack.

    “gods” do not need adoration, worshiping, praise, prayers, hymns or any of the other infantile rubbish you’ve made a living from as you peddle this nonsense on credulous, gullible simpletons. By definition all powerful, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient “beings” CANNOT have “needs” “desires” or have a snowflake tender ego that needs affirmation by infinitely lessor “beings”

    OH WAIT! That was some common sense logic! It burns! Run away! run away!

  • Ellen EJ Lefavour

    “Give me the Bible” by Priscilla J. Owens (1829-1907), “Whiter than Snow” by James Nicholson (1829-1876), “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” by Vernon J. Charlesworth (1839-1915) and “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960) to name a few. I agree, give me that old time religion and the old time hymns because they are more than good enough for me. I have been to some me-ology churches, and encountered a different spirit there—not one I care to be around.

    • Jack Wellman

      wonderful choices are these…and all rock-solid in theology. I believe certain hymns teach us theology, but of course, their source is Scripture. Thank you Mrs. Lefavour.

      • pud

        No they are not. They are simple minded indoctrination tools with no intelligence behind them whatsoever

  • I thought that Christian theology and ethics was meant to be based somehow on Jesus Christ and the biblical witness to him. Of course, much of the bible is mythology including some of the things that are alleged to have been recorded about Jesus. The hymns that you quote seem to be based on the now outdated view that Christian theology and ethics are based on a historical-grammatical interpretation of the bible. Much of Christian hymnody seems to be based on an archaic theology called Conservative Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism

  • Matthew 22:37

    Music to God is more important than mere theology.

    Music is always self expression and there are many individual forms and styles in which the grateful soul can pour the glory onto God to demonstrate their love and thankfulness to Him.

    The way you express yourself to Him may be different from the way someone else does so don’t lose the substance of true worship in a battle over it’s many forms.

    Me-ology? What kind of manmade crap idea is that?

    God is above all personal.

    Because He first loved me.

    Who is any man to judge the way another person loves God back?

    Go watch Carrie Underwood’s soulful singing of How Great Thou Art on youtube. She almost breaks down in tears when she sings it because she means she loves God with all her heart.

    Some people really do love God. Is that love suppose to be merely orthodox or genuinely heart felt?

    Heart felt makes all the difference more than getting theology all right.

    Here’s one of those Christian Contemporary Music songs:

    Steven Curtis Chapman, When Love Takes You In

    Best CCM song I know for Christmas:

    Avalon, Don’t Save It All For Christmas Day

    God uses music to start a love revolution in people’s hearts. Too bad so many are scared of change. God’s love change brings freedom from fear among many other things.

    Let others pretend to look for the evidence which God already provided. I prefer experiencing the love change. That is where all the most meaningful evidence lies. In the changed human heart.

    Sorry the cowards can’t see my personal evidence. But most were already told more than enough to make the leap.

    Somethings have to be experienced to be known more precisely and someone else’s lack of experience doesn’t trump another person’s heart knowledge.

    So don’t let people meddle with your personal knowledge, Christian. Those people have to seek to get their own. Their meddling is unwarranted and ignorant. If they won’t stop meddling then leave them alone. It is hard to stop a meddler from meddling.

    A heart change is profound and has to be experienced to be understood so don’t share with those who refuse to understand but want to wreck your inner life anyway.

    • pud

      Demonstrate that ANY invisible undetectable “god” agent/being etc exists or ever existed.

      Fail. But carry on “believing” whatever make believe crap you like

      To “worship” and “love” something that only exists in your head is delusion.

  • Melissa Lopez

    Love reading about these hymns and the theology behind them. I have a heart for worship in every genre, for every generation, and in any region. My favorite worship song is “At Your Name” by Phil Wickham and my favorite hymn is “Blessed Assurance.”