My favorite thing to do in life is to sing. At my Anglican parish in Virginia I get to do plenty of that and on any given Sunday you just might hear a mix of Bach, gospel, African spirituals, John Rutter, Taize chants, hymns, and modern worship anthems all in the same service. No, I am not kidding. Does that sound clunky and incoherent? It’s not. Don’t even ask me how it works because even after eight years at this church I still don’t know but I continue to marvel how the music and arts staff and the Holy Spirit weave it all together every week. Best of all, you can hear everyone sing, everyone to seems to love to sing, and God inhabits our worship. It’s delightful.
Here on the Patheos Evangelical Channel, Johnathan Aigner of Ponder Anew recently posted a piece outlining why 10 particular works of contemporary worship music need to be tossed. He made some solid points but the critical tone did bug me a little (and I will admit that I like the song Oceans). We can do better than that. There are some wonderful contemporary hymns and anthems being penned and sung in churches in recent years. Here are 10 modern songs I think are great that we should keep singing.
10. 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman
Love this one. The chorus is singable, it sticks in your soul, and the first lines are straight out of the Psalms. The verses tell a story of the journey of faith, they accurately describe the character of God, and they speak of the necessity of surrender. Musically there is no complex syncopation that make it difficult to sing in a congregational setting. It is an anthem sure to stick around for many years.
9. Be Unto Your Name by Lynn DeShazo and Gary Sadler
This one is a little older and is still a favorite of mine. Recorded on Robin Mark’s Revival in Belfast album, this hymn is also accurate in its description of the character of God and our human condition, and it employs the liturgy of heaven (what the four living creatures declare around the Throne in the book of Revelation) in a creative and moving way. The key change at the end does not smack of a manipulative musical trick to mess with ones emotions but something about it takes you deeper into God’s presence. It is like an escalation in the Spirit. That’s what I usually sense anyway. It is easy to imagine this song being sung in heaven as the 24 elders get so caught up in his glory that they cry out a little more enthusiastically while throwing down their crowns.
8. Power of the Cross by Stuart Townend
Ok, so I really, REALLY love this one. This song captures our faith so beautifully. I do not mean to sound trite here but we have nothing without Calvary, and without what Jesus accomplished there is no gospel and absolutely nothing to offer the world. Every time I sing this one it is not hard to put myself there at the scene at Golgotha, where the Lord voluntarily laid down his life. This anthem also builds both musically and lyrically and does not stay on the crucifixion side of the cross but concludes in the victory Christ won for us. He not only died but was raised for us! Like #10 there is no difficult syncopation nor complex rhythms making it another singable anthem for all to join in.
7. This Is Amazing Grace by Jeremy Riddle/Bethel Music
This song is a favorite from Bethel (where I was blessed to spend 3 years as a ministry school student). I especially appreciate the lines in this one that communicate the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, that Jesus Christ died in our place. It’s lively and spirited without being happy-clappy and silly.
6. Here I Am to Worship by Tim Hughes
This song is great (and popular), I believe, because of its simplicity and truthfulness, and because it is an invitation to intimacy with Him. Not only is it accessible to the masses but is also a good one to teach new believers the importance of worship. I appreciate the poetic loftiness in many hymns, but singing simple truths also has its place in corporate worship. Perhaps this one is special to me because when I was watching the Passion of the Christ years ago, the bridge of this song hit me like a ton of bricks as I watched Jesus be flogged and killed. It cost Jesus everything and we will never know the extent of his agony.
5. Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God by Stuart Townend
The Gettys are among the best of the best Christian musicians out there today. They write such pensive music that is not just beautiful but substantive. Although Stuart Townend wrote this one I love the Getty’s interpretation of it. It precisely articulates who the Holy Spirit is what the Holy Spirit does.
4. In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend
I liken this one #8 in that it also builds toward a climax (verse 3 is so epic, gets to me every time), captures the essence of our faith, and resolves in the victory of the resurrection. Great melodic lines too. Another keeper for sure.
3. The Creed (I Believe) by Hillsong
What’s great about this one is you have an ancient creed set to music. For all the accusation that gets thrown at Hillsong, that a modern songwriter thought to set to music the words of one historic declaration of the Christian faith that the saints have been saying for centuries is to be applauded. Yes, there are a few adjustments made for syntax as is usually the case when one attempts to set a passage of scripture to a melodic line, but substantively it is all there. Good songs make things stick. The ancient creeds should be lodged in our memories. Well done, Hillsong.
2. From the Inside Out by Hillsong
Do you fail a lot? God’s mercy remains. The Christian faith is a faith lived from the inside out with eternity in mind, and it requires a daily death to self. It is a life of surrender to the will of the Father. This song appropriates these nobles themes so well. Another good one from Hillsong.
1. Lamb of God by Matt Maher
This modern setting of the Agnus Dei is excellent for pre-Eucharist prayer. During my cantor days we sometimes sang this one during Lent and Advent. Matt Maher wrote a beautiful melody here and it befits the posture one takes before receiving Communion.
There are more I could list here, but here’s in praise of the good ones.