We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Appealing to the "Me" Generation

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.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
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.


Karen said...

My brother, Steve Bricker, & I have discussed contemporary "worship" several times over the years. He brought up the same thing you did in this post..."The lyrics are written to tell a particular story. Who are we to change them or eliminate them when we sing those hymns". I've got to agree!

Joe said...

In my years of studying hymnology, I had never seen those two "missing" verses. Thanks for educating me.

While I have no particular yearning to include them, they do fit the style and narrative of the rest of the song.

One really has to think of Tomlin's song as virtually completely different, even though to say it borrows heavily from the original is quite an understatement.

I have no issues with modern music as long as it is Christ directed, doctrinally sound, makes musical sense and the words actually fit the music.

I hate (maybe too strong a word) songs that try to put whole sentences in a short musical phrase that doesn't have the room, so they just say them faster.

I also have disdain for contemporary songs that are "me" songs and "what He's done for me" songs. He HAS done much for me, but the emphasis should be on the "He."

The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

See, it mentions me, but it is about Him.

Anyway, thanks for the post. It is full of truth.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I fully agree with your complaints about CCM!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I had never seen those two "missing" verses of Amazing Grace, either. Seeing the song in its entirety, it's a priceless gem. Why aren't churches singing the full hymn as originally penned by Newton?

Glenn, you remarked that the problem is "that it [worship music] 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."

You are so very correct. I could say more right now about my every growing disdain for CCM and irritation with how modern worship teams operate, but I fear I would end up sinning in my speech because I'm currently very frustrated.

Nonetheless, thank you so much for this informative post! I'll have to start singing the "missing" verses to Amazing Grace.


Susie said...

I am in the process of reading through the book, 'The Battle for Christian Music' by Tim Fisher. I'm curious if anyone else has read it. He makes a compelling case against CCM.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I have an interesting book that I got 11 years ago, "Contemporary Christian Music Under the Spotlight," by David W. Cloud.

I know Cloud has a lot of legalistic teachings, and some of what he says in the book reflects that. However, he cites lyrics and actions by the entertainers, which demonstrate some of the problems with CCM overall.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Another example of abusing an old hymn is "The Wonderful Cross," also by Chris Tomlin. I addressed this almost 4 years ago:

He again puts in a trite chorus while removing the very important 2nd verse.

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn, I see what you're saying about Amazing Grace and When I Survey being altered by CCM artists, and you are right, some rich theology and meaning is being left out for far less substantial lyrics.

I think one of the things I'm struggling with right now is how most modern CCM praise & worship music can be confusing to the congregation. Since most worship leaders no longer use sheet music or hymnals, the congregation is left with nothing more than words on a screen, with no indication of melody, timing, and/or musical transitions. Adding to this, the familiar hymns are being rewritten and/or set to new tunes, or the worship leader puts their own spin on a song, which requires the congregation to learn and follow an entirely new melody. To me, this takes away from worship, because the congregation is having to work harder just to sing along. That should not be so. The worship team's job is to facilitate worship, not make it more difficult for the average musically untrained congregant.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Exactly some of my problems. They expect everyone to know the melody because the songs are on the radio, but so many of us older generation don't have time to listen to the radio, let alone even have a desire to do so!

Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn, yes, though I don't think it's just the older generation who is not interested in most of the offerings on contemporary Christian radio... :)


Anonymous said...

Congrats to all of you who have actually heard the original Amazing Grace sung in church!

I have found myself with two options: services featuring CCM to the absolute exclusion of anything written before 1990; OR going to a church that values the old hymns but also freaks out if a woman dares to wear pants and doesn't cover her head.