Keith Getty Explains the ‘Different’ Purposes of Modern Hymns and Worship Songs


Every songwriter hopes their songs will stand the test of time.

But for Keith Getty, this goal has special meaning. Keith and his wife Kristyn are modern hymn writers – songs that by definition are meant to be more than a radio hit.

The Gettys recently released their new album, To sing! Irish Christmas, which was recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

“Is the purpose of a hymn – first – to teach some aspect of theology?” And, second, could this song be sung for the duration of the hymnbook? – 20 years, 30 years, indefinitely. So it’s just a whole different target [than contemporary worship]. In a sense, there is no scientific definition. In another sense, it’s a totally different goal.

The hymns generally use “more classic forms” to “try to teach the faith,” Getty said. By comparison, a modern worship song – in general – “must sound contemporary” if it is to be played on the radio.

“Only time will tell” if a hymn will be sung by future generations, he said.

“I don’t think there is a feeling of right or wrong,” Keith Getty said of the comparison between songs of praise and modern hymns. “It’s just different artistic goals. “

Getty was the co-author of In Christ alone – one of the most popular modern anthems of recent years.

To sing! Irish Christmas is a collection of Christmas carols – both ancient and modern – performed by Irish and American musical group The Gettys. It includes the Gettys but also guest artists such as Matt Boswell, Pedro Eustache, Ellie Holcomb, Phil Keaggy, Trip Lee and Matt Papa.

Christmas carols, according to Keith Getty, are “masterpieces of hymnology.”

“There is usually a dichotomy in church music between ‘we speak the truth’ or ‘we expose our humanity.’ And because [carols are] incarnational, they actually do both, ”Getty said. “We want parents, children and grandparents to know the great songs of faith because they teach us about Christ. And they teach us his gospel. And so it’s really to memorize them and learn them and understand them. And so that’s what was at the heart of the new album.

Singing songs from the past, he added, has a unique advantage.

“CS Lewis said you should always read two books from a dead author for every book from a living author,” Getty said. “And his reason was that the wisdom that has endured – that has stood the test of time – is more worthy of our investigation than speculation. And I think if it’s true for wisdom, then I think it is even more true for art. If the songs have stood the test of time, they have beauty and quality. “

The Gettys will perform songs from their new Christmas album on a 14-city tour in December.

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Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog,

Photo courtesy of Keith and Kristyn’s Facebook page


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