Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Rethinking Hymnody: "In Christ Alone"

We should re-write hymns which distort doctrines toward a Calvinist
slant. I think it's perfectly legal to do so, although I think you're
supposed to cite the hymn title with "alt." or "adpt." afterward,
which stand for altered or adapted, respectively.

For example: "In Christ Alone" (alt.)

Here's one version of a verse of "In Christ Alone" which alters the
one-sided emphasis on eternal security and determinism. The original
reads:

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath;
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Producing fruit in Christ the Vine,
Faithfully for my Christ I’ll stand.

The obviously offensive lines are "Jesus commands my destiny" and the
reference to the impossibility of being plucked out of Christ's hand.
Of course, with caveats, Arminians can affirm them. But why sing
songs which might confuse people unnecessarily?

The altered version reads:

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus, Command my destiny!
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Producing fruit in Christ the Vine,
Faithfully for my Christ I’ll stand.

The alteration about a deterministic destination is subtle. It
converts an indicative statement to an prayer of commitment. It does
so first by converting the previous semi-colon after "From life's
first cry to final breath" into a comma. Then, the utterance of
Jesus' name is converted into a vocative (as indicated by the comma
immediately after his name). Next, in good form befitting the
vocative, the first word Command is capitalised, and the final
punctuation converted to an exclamation point. Thus, the worshiper
emotively thrusts his life into Christ's control.

My resolution to the John 10 passage about plucking is to recognise
that Jesus publicly tells his opponents that no one can pluck his
sheep out of his hand, but that Jesus, in the intimacy of private
teaching, tells his disciples that if they don't continue in abiding
with him and bearing fruit, they will be cut off from the vine. The
alteration of the hymn has this in mind.

To be sure, nothing can pluck out of Jesus' hand those who abide in
Christ and produce fruit. This is reflected by the participle
"producing." The idea here is that producing is assumptive: the
promise of security is only for those who faithfully stand in Christ.

I wonder if anyone else might suggest a different alteration.

2 comments:

Ryan said...

As an evangelical, five-point Calvinist, reformed Presbyterian (and college music educator), I was interested in your post on revising the lyrics to Calvinist-leaning hymn texts...something that Calvinists have been doing with Wesley's and others' Arminian hymn texts for quite a while!

I have three comments, one practical, one theological, and one artistic.

On the practical side, you mentioned you thought re-writing hymn texts is perfectly legal, as long as you write "alt." or "adpt." I believe you are incorrect.

According to “The United States Copyright Law: A Guide for Music Educators," “Music teachers can edit or simplify purchased, printed copies, provided that the fundamental character of the work is not distorted or the lyrics, if any, are not altered or lyrics added if none exist.”

While one can simplify a piece, lyrics cannot be altered without permission from the copyright holder. Even licences from CCLI are licenses to perform a song/lyrics as licensed, i.e. as written, not "as revised." The legal thing to do is to request written permission from the copyright holder. Now, in reality, do people change lyrics all the time? Yes. But, since you specifically used the word legal in your post, I thought I'd comment!

On the theological side, I would, of course, part with you on your disagreement with the text. However, I disagree even more with your altered text than I do with you wanting to change it in the first place.

I do not understand how an Arminian can request or invoke God to "control" them. Arminians are quite fond of saying, "God is in control," but rarely do they actually believe that.

By changing the song's lyrics to "Jesus, Command my destiny!" the Christian singer can believe in one of two outcomes:

1) He can believe that Christ's command is an effectual command and that what Christ commands and wills must, sovereignly come to pass. That would be my perspective, and if that is the perspective, then there's not much difference than what the original statement said, so why change it?

2) He can believe that Christ's commands are ineffectual, and only suggestive moralisms. The fact that your suggested revised text still uses the word destiny keeps the sense that the piece is talking about one's eternal destiny. This is supported by the previous statement about guilt in life and fear in death (taken by Christ in his saving work), as well as "plucking from His hand" which again is talking about adoption and eternal standing. So...again, we are left with the topic of salvation. It makes no sense for the Arminian believer to invoke Jesus' command for eternal salvation, since Jesus has no power over that salvation if the Arminian chooses to reject the saving offer. And if that is the case, then Christ's "command" of destiny is ineffectual. The Christian is praying, "God, suggest that I be saved." It's just a hard song to easily change. And, it's a strange change for one who is a Christian to sing. The song is about God's saving work APPLIED to the Christian - introducing a request to "save me" is strange.

3) From an artistic or poetic viewpoint, the change isn't a strong one, because it changes the perspective of the poetry, one that was unified in talking about Christ's work applied to me, and introducing a conflicting or distracting personal request in the middle of the poem.

--

So...you asked for suggestions on a different alteration... I'm not sure that I should encourage an Arminian in his views! :-D But, in the spirit spreading the Gospel which this song does, my best alteration (provided that you request the author for permission to alter their lyrics!) would be:

-
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath;
Jesus works in my life to free.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Producing fruit in Christ the Vine,
Faithfully for my Christ I’ll stand.
--

Blessings!

Onesimus said...

In the original lyrics I would also question the term "No pow'r of hell".

I have tried for years to find someone who can prove to me that hell has any power. The common understanding seems to equate "hell" with the devil's dominion - as if Satan rules from hell. That is a complete falsehood based on medieval tradition that has no foundation in scripture.

Unfortunately I have a lot of trouble singing most Hymns and Chrisitan songs. Apart from a lousy singing voice - I find too many songs present a shakey theology.