In my fundamentalist upbringing, hymns were the bread and butter of our church services. The sermon may have been the meat, but it was always sandwiched between a hearty helping of hymn singing. And for as much about my upbringing that I now disagree with, I have no regrets about having sung all those hymns.
To this day, the words of hymns come as easily to mind as the many KJV verses I memorized. They play an integral part in my internal liturgy. They are even the music I default to when singing my own children to sleep.
I appreciate contemporary music as well. And—unlike in my upbringing—I certainly have no objection to modern music with guitars and drums! (In fact, hymns today are best served with such an accompaniment, in my opinion.) Yet very little of worship music written today can hold a candle to the depth and the beauty of those classic hymns.
But all that being said, hymns are problematic. As much as I love them, they are often filled with some really horrible theology. Or worse, they contain fairly beautiful theology, while being subtly laced with harmful ideas that may not be as immediately apparent.
“Amazing Grace” comes to mind as one that is lovely on the whole, and yet it throws in that insidious idea that we are but a “wretch” in God’s sight, undeserving of God’s grace. It has other problems as well, but we won’t address those right now.
For the moment, I would like to hear from you. Assuming you, like me, are a progressive Christian who retains an appreciation for hymns, what hymns still work for you? What are those hymns that—even if problematic in areas—still hold some place in your worship? Have you had to modify the lyrics of any hymns? If so, what are some examples? And finally, what hymns would you still love to sing if not for the problematic lyrics?
I look forward to hearing your responses!
Update: I’ve tallied your responses and shared them here: “Top 25 Favorite Hymns of Progressive Christians.”