What Is Systematic Hymnology?

Choir Master

“I firmly believe that next to theology no art is equal to music… this is the reason why the prophets practiced music more than any art and did not put their theology into geometry, into arithmetic, or into astronomy, but into music, intimately uniting theology and music, telling the truth in psalms and songs.”
~ Martin Luther

We remember the things we sing. There’s a reason marketing experts pay top dollar for a well-written jingle, and it’s the same reason why the largest book of the Bible is a collection of songs. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see that the people of God are a singing people. We sing to teach one another—and to remember ourselves—the story of the salvation of sinners and the greatness of our Savior.

In the corporate worship service, the preaching of the Word is the central element, and the primary means by which the congregation receives doctrinal instruction. Yet the importance of corporate singing to our theological literacy is undeniable. In fact, it could be argued that the bulk of what many Christians retain in their memory pertaining to doctrine comes from the hymns we have sung repeatedly.

Systematic Hymnology is my attempt to harness the power of music as a discipleship tool.

The hymn studies that appear on this blog are sorted into categories arranged similarly to the chapters in a systematic theology textbook. This allows readers to approach a particular doctrine through the lens of familiar (and perhaps not-so-familiar) hymns, bringing fresh perspective to timeless truths. When taken as a whole, the songbook of the Church can be seen as the gateway to a rich study of the character and works of God!

This blog is intended primarily to serve as a resource in three areas:

  1. Corporate worship of the Church
  2. Maturity of the believer
  3. Family devotions

Corporate Worship of the Church

The Lord’s Day is the climax of the week for the Christian, and I believe that the gathering of God’s people should be a dynamic and deeply fulfilling experience. By highlighting great hymns (and great arrangements of those hymns), I aim to serve churches and their worship leaders as they worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. I hope as well to inspire church members to think critically about the lyrics they are singing, to aid their preparation to receive the preaching, and their reflection on it.

Maturity of the Believer

Theology, like singing, is for everyone! Yet many find both intimidating. Systematic Hymnology seeks to remove barriers to the love of doctrine and the praise of our Lord through the fascinating study of hymns. I am particularly passionate about the instruction of the children of believers, and consider music one of the greatest ways to teach them about God. In fact, the origin of this blog was in the preparation of lessons for a children’s choir which I directed at my church. They never ceased to amaze me with how quickly they were able to grasp such deep truths! One day, I hope to codify much of what is contained here into a full-featured curriculum for children’s choirs.

Family Devotions

While the Church certainly has a role in the instruction of children, the primary responsibility for their discipleship lies with parents; especially Dad. Yet many fathers feel under-equipped to lead their families in worship at home. The studies on this blog can serve as a great template for family devotions, while simultaneously equipping parents to be able to answer whatever theological questions their children may throw at them! Recordings are included on each blog post, which can facilitate families singing together even when no one feels competent to “lead” the singing.

Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs

One final question that must be answered here: What is a hymn?

The way most people seem to use that word, it connotes something antiquated… some particular musical genre with limited appeal. I use the word “hymn” here much more broadly, describing any song written to praise and honor God. And while I do believe there is a distinction to be made between “hymns”, “psalms”, and “spiritual songs”, for the purposes of this blog I take those biblical passages (Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19) as a mandate for the acceptability of variety in the worship of the Church. For this reason I include songs from throughout Christian history, and arrangements from a wide variety of musical styles.

“When I remember the tears that I shed on hearing the songs of the Church in the early days, soon after I had recovered my faith, and when I realize that nowadays it is not the singing that moves me but the meaning of the words when they are sung in a clear voice to the most appropriate tune, I again acknowledge the great value of this practice… Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin.”
~ Augustine

One Comment

  1. A provocative quote from Augustine, especially the last sentence.

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