I observed with keen interest this past week the multiple voices responding to the rejection of the hymn written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, “In Christ Alone.” I read about it first from my friend, Timothy George, who explained the issue clearly and succinctly:
Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “ . . . as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.
The Controversy Grows
So I watched the controversy grow. As a student of the local church, I was fascinated to see how far left the Presbyterian Church (USA) had moved as it banned one of the top hymns of the era from their hymnal.
I was also intrigued by the controversy because I consider Keith and Kristyn Getty to be friends. Keith, of course, is the co-composer of the hymn. And his wife Kristyn has sung the hymn countless times before audiences around the world. They are a wonderful and godly couple that only desire to bring glory to God through their music.
The Russell Moore/Washington Post Article
But it was an article by Russell Moore in the Washington Post that framed the issue for me in a powerful way. Here are his words:
As an evangelical, I would argue that it’s necessary to sing about the wrath of God, because we are singing not just from and to our minds, but to and from our consciences. There’s a reason why evangelical congregations reach a kind of crescendo when they sing out that line in the Gettys’ song. It’s not because, per the caricature, we see ourselves as a “moral majority” affirming our righteousness over and against the “sinners” on the other side of the culture war.
Instead, it’s just the reverse. When Christians sing about the wrath of God, we are singing about ourselves. Our consciences point us to the truth that, left to ourselves, we are undone. We’re not smarter or more moral than anyone else. And God would be just to turn us over to the path we would want to go — a path that leads to death. It is only because Jesus lived a life for us, and underwent the curse we deserve, that we stand before God. The grace of God we sing about is amazing precisely because God is just, and won’t, like a renegade judge, simply overlook evil.”
Wow. Those words hit me like a metaphorical two by four. I can spend time bemoaning the travesty of the hymn’s omission, or I can look at the plank in my own eye. Too often I say I believe a central tenet of the Christian faith, like the wrath of God, but I don’t demonstrate either its meaning or its application in my own life.
Mercy Compels Me to Go and Tell
You see, if I truly grasped fully the meaning of God’s wrath, I would live like a recipient of God’s mercy every moment. Once again, Russell Moore articulates the issue well:
The Gospel is good news for Christians because it tells us of a God of both love and justice. The wrath of God doesn’t cause us to cower, or to judge our neighbors. It ought to prompt us to see ourselves as recipients of mercy, and as those who will one day give an account. If that’s true, let’s sing it.
Moore is exactly right. We ought to sing of God’s mercy. We ought to grasp the grace that has been given to us. Mercy and grace we don’t deserve.
But beyond singing about it, we ought to tell others about it. If truly understand what I deserve—wrath—and what I have been given—mercy—I should be telling everyone about that good news. I should be so overwhelmed by God’s act of mercy and grace in my life that I cannot help but tell others about it.
Perhaps our evangelistic efforts are anemic because we evangelicals have become functional liberals. We cognitively accept such tenets as the wrath of God, but that belief does not become a functional reality in our lives and in our sharing of the Gospel. If I truly grasp the wrath of God and the undeserved mercy I have received, I should not be able to shut up telling others about my Savior Jesus.
For we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
May it be so in my life Lord. And forgive me when it’s not.