One of the problems I have with "contemporary" Christian music is that sometimes the writer doesn't seem to be able to write something from his personal abilities, so he modifies a well-beloved hymn just enough to sell the "new" song as his own. I've seen this in the past but can't remember now what some of the others are, however last week in church we sang Chris Tomlin's "My Chains Are Gone," and I've been thinking about it ever since. So this is the one I'm addressing today.
My main problem with this song is that it has totally replaced the traditional version of "Amazing Grace." Don't get me wrong -- I like the chorus. However, the chorus was apparently designed to make the old song more appealing to the younger generations. I think if we are going to use this song, then we should alternate between it and Amazing Grace.
An important, and significant, deletion in My Chains Are Gone is the third verse of Amazing Grace. However, I think it is interesting that Tomlin elected to include the last verse of John Newton's version, which I've never seen in a hymnbook before -- the books tend to replace it with O.D. Hall's verse, which doesn't seem to go along with the rest of the song!
Here are the full lyrics of John Newton's Amazing Grace:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Now, notice the importance, in the sequence to the thoughts, of the third verse; he's been through all sorts of travails but was kept safe through God's grace. This leads right into the next verse where he looks to the future safe-keeping by God.
Every hymnbook I remember singing from leaves off the last two verses (I've never sung them - have only read them in other sources), and swaps verses three and four, and then ends with this verse by O.D. Hall:
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.
Meh! It just doesn't go with the context of the rest of the song!
For those unfamiliar with Tomlin's version, his chorus comes after the second verse, and it is sung twice through after the third verse (Newton's 4th), and then ends the song after the last verse. Here are the lyrics:
My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace
One last observation is that Newton said "I once was lost, but now am found," while Tomlin says "now I'm found." Not a biggie, but I just don't like people changing an author's words unnecessarily.
So, to sum up, in case you found it difficult to follow me, Chris Tomlin drops off verses 3 and 5 of the original Amazing Grace hymn and replaces them with his chorus. I think the error here is that he interrupts the flow of the "story" being told and misses out on part of the theology Newton was getting across.
The point I want to make here is not that there is anything wrong with Tomlin's song in and of itself, rather the fact that it is directed at a younger generation is just part of the overall symptom of the church's focussing on that one demographic while ignoring the wealth of wisdom and experience from the older members. It's part of the "dumbing down" of our theology and worship to make it more appealing to the flesh.