Ponder Anew Mailbag: Which New Hymnal Should a Baptist Church Purchase?

Ponder Anew Mailbag: Which New Hymnal Should a Baptist Church Purchase? May 17, 2018

Dear Jonathan,

“Enjoy your posts on Worship. I pastor a small traditional Southern Baptist Church that sing only the hymns and do responsive readings every Sunday. We are hoping to replace our aging 1975 Baptist Hymnals. Is there any Hymnal that you could recommend? Any thoughts will be appreciated. Thanks!”


Wise Baptist Pastor

Greetings, o wise pastor friend.

First of all, I’m elated that there are Baptists who are still singing hymns, and even more elated that you are looking to buy a new volume.

Secondly, what a great question!

My thoughts are certainly not authoritative, but as always, I have an opinion. I love the 1975 Baptist Hymnal. My mom had a copy we kept on our piano growing up, and after I begrudgingly finished practicing Bach or Chopin, I would play from it for hours. It’s how I perfected my abrasive, octave-chord-octave-chord hymn-playing style. I grew up and away from my Baptist tradition, so I rarely use it anymore, but that worn copy sits within arm’s reach from my desk at work.

For my money, it’s the best hymnal the Baptist Sunday School Board has ever or will ever publish. It came along at just the right time before SBC began drifting away from more intelligent, stately corporate worship, and a good while before the charismatic influx really reached mainstream evangelicalism, when the SBC officially married a young Thris Comlin.

I would strongly consider keeping it as the main hymnal as long as possible, but perhaps that is no longer possible because of wear. And it is wise to update every so often, after another generation of hymns and songs have been vetted and the good stuff has been mined from the piles of crap.

The SBC has offered its solution in the 2008 Baptist Hymnal. I don’t know if you still belong to the SBC proper, but my advice is the same regardless. Save your money. The ’08 Hymnal is terrible, and seems to have never caught on in popularity. This makes perfect sense, of course, as most SBC churches wouldn’t know hymn tunes from iTunes, nor would most Southern Baptists know what a hymnal was unless it was found under the short leg of their grandma’s card table.

The ’91 The Baptist Hymnal was excellent, but at this point, it doesn’t represent enough of a difference from the ’75 Hymnal. And even though it’s very good, it wasn’t an improvement in the first place, just an update.

The best (by far) from the various strains of Baptists that have departed the SBC is the 2010 Celebrating Grace Hymnal. It’s a solid volume in the same vein as the ’75 hymnal: scholarly and thoughtfully-vetted.

Whatever you choose to do, and even if you choose to purchase a great hymnal like Celebrating Grace, I would keep the 75 hymnal in the pews to use as a supplement. It’s not a huge book as hymnals these days go, and it will retain more of the folk influences in hymnody from the 60s and 70s, the emerging social witness of the Baptists from that time, and the strong gospel song tradition that Southern Baptists have sung for well over a century, while eliminating much of the fluff that could be found in the Broadman or ’56 hymnals.

I wish you and your congregation well. Thank you for not singing Hillsong.

Sing On!


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