Thoughts On Hymns


I would not even attempt to tell you how many hymnbooks are piled up in my study. God listens while I sing to Him the old French hymns, the old Latin hymns. God listens while I sing the old Greek hymns as well as the beautiful psalms done in meter and some of the simpler songs of Watts and Wesley and the rest.

–A.W Tozer, Whatever Happened To Worship?

I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music…

–C.S. Lewis, Answers to Questions on Christianity, from The Grand Miracle and Other Selected Essays.

Two of my favorite Christian writers, with polar opposite views on hymns. Just like most Christians I know.

I was raised in the church. I know the hymns backwards and forwards. They’re part of my upbringing, my legacy, my fabric. But what are they now?

I guess the most pragmatic way to answer that would be to examine the musical contents of my iPhone. Out of my 367 total songs, 18 are hymns. Among my favorites are David Crowder’s version of “Come Thou Fount,” Sara Groves’ “Softly and Tenderly,” Selah’s “There Is A Fountain” and Carl Cartee’s “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” I’m also partial to tunes like Ashley Cleveland’s “Revive Us Again” and “Rock of Ages” by Amy Grant/Vince Gill. As I take time to walk/jog each day, they help usher me into God’s presence.

There’s also my dad’s version of “And Can It Be” (his favorite hymn). It’s not on my iPhone. But it will forever remain in my heart and mind.

Of course I can’t forget my own adaptation (co-written with my sisters) of “Bringing In The Sheaves” which we spontaneously sang as little kids when mom asked us to go get the bedsheets off the clothesline.

Bringing in the sheets
Bringing in the sheets
We will come rejoicing
Bringing in the sheets

We liked our version better.

What is the impact and influence of hymns today? Depends who you ask. In traditional and blended circles, they continue to be the foundation of church music. In contemporary circles, they seem to be coming back around—both in their pure form and also as a foundation for all the modern rewrites that now seem to be the wellspring of inspiration for today’s worship songwriters.

What about outside the church walls? Here’s a single anecdote, for what it’s worth. The other night, I was watching a particularly gut-wrenching episode of Without A Trace. In the show’s final minutes, the strains of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” wrapped up the story with absolute perfection—creating one of most poignant, powerful moments of storytelling I will ever witness.

Does the soundtrack of your life include hymns? Did it ever? Do you want it to? Please let me know by your comments.

My Bible tells me that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn after the Passover meal, just hours before his crucifixion. I can’t help but wonder what it was.

As a songwriter, worship leader and a member of the marketing team, Paul is connected to CCLI in every possible way. Paul serves as CCLI’s Content Creator in the U.S. Service Center in Vancouver, Washington. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from George Fox University and has served as a marketing/communications specialist and a worship leader for a number of churches and ministries.


  1. Well… you know MY answer is a resounding YES!!! Hymns are core to the fabric of my life and remind me of Truth about God that my soul needs… So much so that I have at least 2 Pandora stations just for hymns. That said, while l like when contemporary christian artist release hymns, I DON’T like when they mess with the words or the familiar tune… Then they take an old friend and give them a facelift making them all but recognizable to me. I know others may like the newer version, but I always feel a little sad. The truth and the richness are still there, but…

    That said, Lewis’s quote about the fifth rate poems has SOME truth in it because not all hymns are created equal. And about the sixth rate music… I don’t know what was being put forth in christian circles at the time. I BELIEVE it may have been when christians were not encouraged to excel in music and the arts…. What we have today is very different…

    And I can’t sign off brother without bringing up another of our “adaptations”. The one to Rock of Ages while picking cucumbers… “Empty Bin Cleft for me…. Let me hide myself in thee… While the others work and toil…. In the dirty stinky soil…” Oh yeah… GREAT content there!!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here