My favorite thing to do in life is singing. In my Anglican parish in Virginia I can do a lot and every Sunday you could hear a mix of Bach, gospel, African spirituals, John Rutter, songs of Taize, modern hymns and hymns of praise. all in the same department. No, I’m not kidding. Does it sound awkward and inconsistent? It’s not. Don’t even ask me how it works because even after eight years in this church I still don’t know, but I continue to marvel at how the musical and artistic staff and the Holy Spirit weave it all together every week. . Best of all, you can hear everyone singing, everyone seems to love singing, and God lives in our worship. This is delicious.
Here on Patheos Evangelical Channel, Johnathan Aigner of Ponder Anew recently posted an article explaining why 10 particular works of contemporary cult music should be discarded. He made some solid points but the critical tone bothered me a bit (and I admit I love the song Oceans). We can do better than that. There are wonderful contemporary hymns and hymns written and sung in churches in recent years. Here are 10 modern songs that I think are great that we should keep singing.
10. 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Matt Redman
I like this one. The chorus is changeable, it stays in the soul and the first verses are straight out of the Psalms. The verses tell a story of the journey of faith, they accurately describe the character of God, and speak of the need to surrender. Musically, there is no complex syncope that makes it difficult to sing in a congregation. It’s a hymn that will stick around for many years to come.
9. Be in Your Name by Lynn DeShazo and Gary Sadler
This one is a bit older and is still my favorite. Recorded on Robin Mark’s Revival album in Belfast, this hymn is also precise in its description of the character of God and our human condition, and it employs the liturgy of heaven (which the four living creatures state around the Throne in the book of Revelation) in a creative and moving way. The key change at the end doesn’t sound like a manipulative musical trick to play around with your emotions, but something about it takes you deeper into the presence of God. It’s like an escalation in the Spirit. This is how I usually feel anyway. It’s easy to imagine this song being sung in Heaven when the 24 elders are so engrossed in its glory that they shout a little more with enthusiasm as they throw their crowns.
8. The Power of the Cross by Stuart Townend
Ok so I really, REALLY like this one. This song captures our faith so well. I don’t mean to sound trite here, but we have nothing without Calvary, and without what Jesus accomplished, there is no gospel and absolutely nothing to offer the world. Every time I sing this one, it is not difficult to put myself on the stage of Golgotha, where the Lord willingly gave his life. This hymn is also constructed musically and lyrically and does not remain on the side of the crucifixion of the cross but ends with the victory that Christ won for us. He not only died but was raised for us! Like # 10, there is no difficult syncope or complex rhythms, making this another singable hymn that anyone can join in.
7. This Is Amazing Grace by Jeremy Riddle / Bethel Music
This song is a favorite Bethel song (where I was fortunate enough to spend 3 years as a student in the ministry school). I especially appreciate the lines in it that communicate the doctrine of the substitute atonement, that Jesus Christ died in our place. It’s lively and fiery without being cheerful and silly.
6. Here I am to worship by Tim Hughes
This song is great (and popular), I think, because of its simplicity and truthfulness, and because it’s an invitation to intimacy with Him. Not only is it accessible to the masses, but it’s also a good way to teach new believers the importance of worship. I appreciate the poetic height of many hymns, but singing simple truths has a place in collective worship as well. Maybe this one is special to me because when I was watching the Passion of Christ years ago, the bridge in this song hit me like a ton of bricks as I watched Jesus being whipped and killed. It cost Jesus everything and we will never know the extent of his agony.
5. Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God by Stuart Townend
The Gettys are some of the best of the best Christian musicians today. They write such thoughtful music that is not only beautiful but substantial. Although Stuart Townend wrote this one, I love the Getty’s interpretation. It articulates precisely who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does.
4. In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend
I compare this one # 8 in that it also heads for a climax (verse 3 is so epic, happens to me every time), captures the essence of our faith, and resolves into victory over the resurrection. Beautiful melodic lines too. Another keeper for sure.
3. The Creed (I believe) by Hillsong
What’s great about this one is that you have an old creed set to music. For all the accusations that are leveled at Hillsong that a modern songwriter thought to set to music the words of a historic declaration of Christian faith that the Saints have been making for centuries, must be applauded. Yes, there are some syntax adjustments as is usually the case when trying to put a passage of Scripture on a melodic line, but basically it’s all there. Good songs make things stick. Old beliefs should be lodged in our memories. Well done, Hillsong.
2. From inside to outside by Hillsong
Do you fail a lot? God’s mercy remains. Christian faith is faith lived from the inside out with eternity in mind, and it requires daily death to oneself. It is a life of surrender to the will of the Father. This song appropriates these noble themes so well. Another Hillsong voucher.
1. The Lamb of God by Matt Maher
This modern setting of the Agnus Dei is excellent for pre-Eucharistic prayer. During my days as a cantor, we sometimes sang this one during Lent and Advent. Matt Maher wrote a beautiful melody here and it suits the posture one takes before taking Communion.
There are more I could list here, but here is a praise of the good ones.