Presbyterian Hymnal producers respond to misinformation

Unsuccessful copyright permission led to exclusion of ‘In Christ Alone’

August 9, 2013


Four entities of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) responsible for publication of the new Presbyterian hymnal, “Glory to God,” have issued a statement in response to extensive media coverage of the absence of one hymn, “In Christ Alone,” from the new book.

Media outlets such as the Huffington Post, the Nashville Tennessean (whose story was picked up by Religion News Service and subsequently by Presbyterian News Service), and radio talk show host Glenn Beck have all published stories about the absence of “In Christ Alone,” from “Glory to God.”

Mary Louise Bringle, who chaired the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song which developed the new hymnal, recently wrote an article for The Christian Century and now the committee, the Office of Theology & Worship, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, publisher of the new book, have issued a formal statement.

The full text of the statement, dated Aug. 9, 2013:

There has been a great deal of conversation this week about the absence of the Getty/Townend hymn “In Christ Alone” in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal.

The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song had hoped to include a previously published version of “In Christ Alone” that altered a line in the second stanza from “the wrath of God was satisfied” to “the love of God was magnified.”

Unfortunately, the copyright holders declined this request. After discussion and deliberation, the Committee voted and failed to reach the two-thirds majority that is the threshold for inclusion of a song in the final list of contents.

For a more detailed and nuanced account, see hymnal committee chair Mary Louise Bringle’s Christian Century article “Debating Hymns.”

Some have argued that this decision reflects a defective theology or unwillingness to reckon with the judgment of God. But the absence of one text, however popular, should not be construed as a failure to address this theological theme.

Scripture speaks in a variety of ways about what happened in Christ’s death, and a model of atonement that understands the cross as satisfying God’s wrath and saving us through the blood of Christ is already richly presented in this collection.

For instance, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” and “Judge Eternal, Throned in Splendor,” beloved hymns from the 1955 Presbyterian Hymnbook, are both included in Glory to God, as is “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris from the contemporary praise and worship canon, and a praise hymn from Korea that speaks powerfully of how Jesus “with his blood has washed and healed me / paid the heavy cost.”

Other views of the atonement are represented as well. These models do not reject the reality of God’s wrath, but they do not see the cross as an expression of it.

Finally, it should be noted that Glory to God includes an entire section devoted to “Christ’s Return and Judgment.” Indeed, this hymnal adds significant entries on the theme of judgment to material brought forward from earlier Presbyterian hymnals.

We are confident that this collection of hymns and songs shaped by the biblical story of God’s mighty acts in history — reflects the breadth and depth of Reformed theological tradition. The absence of one song, readily available through other sources, doesn’t change that. We pray that Glory to God will equip the church to sing of God’s love and justice and always and everywhere to give thanks and praise to God.

You can read the hymnal committee’s Theological Vision Statement and Statement on Language here.

Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song

Office of Theology & Worship

Presbyterian Association of Musicians

Presbyterian Publishing Corporation

  1. I was unaware that a song written in 2001 is a "historic hymn of the church". PCOCS (the hymnal committee) was remarkably transparent in all its proceedings and was made up of people from all over the denomination. I was not on that committee, but I for one am satisfied that "In Christ Alone" didn't make the cut. I personally feel it's not well-suited for congregational singing, and the way the line in question is worded raises a troubling theological problem for Trinitarians: if God (the Father) satisfied righteous wrath by taking it out on God (the Son), there's a danger we're separating the persons of the Trinity and drifting into some form of adoptionism. As noted in the article, there are better ways of expressing this doctrine in song, and those (which include classics like "Rock of Ages" and contemporary songs like "Lamb of God") which did make the cut are proof positive. "Glory to God" is not a perfect hymnal (if such a thing is possible), but PCOCS did an outstanding job.

    by James K

    May 6, 2014

  2. I applaud Getty and Townend for standing their ground, which is quite solid Biblically. It is a dangerous thing to tinker with our need for substitution and atonement. Pretty soon your Bible might start looking like Thomas Jefferson's, with all the "unpleasant stuff" excised. So thankful that Jesus Christ took His Father's wrath for me.

    by Nancy Green

    November 13, 2013

  3. It surprises me how many are ready to condemn an entire denomination for a choice to omit a particular hymn. People are acting as though the hymnal is scripture. There are many reasons that people choose the way they do, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when the committee came to a vote. But I was not, and as such, it is a sad fact for many that that song is excluded, but it is a joy that many, many new songs were included. As humanity progresses and seeks to understand God's will, we will make decisions that we pray are good and just as we interpret that will. Right now, the PC(USA) has taken this human-written line and deemed that while it may not be theologically errant, it is not a message that is conveyed in a manner that is not conveyed better elsewhere. It is the same reason that we do not sing glorious songs about the retribution after the rape of Dinah - there are far better ways to suggest the justice of God without doing it that way with those particular words. I have the hymnal, and I have chosen to read through it in it's entirety, judging its completeness and theological accuracy not through the lens of a man who has read an article about the omission of one song, but as an educated individual who has actually seen the text. I have seen it, and it is good. Great job, PC(USA). I thank God that it is neither prudent, nor theologically sound to judge God's approval of a group of believers based on the rise and fall of numbers of individuals, for if so, we would have been doomed before we finished the book of Genesis.

    by Brandon

    November 4, 2013

  4. It's my understanding that "on that cross, as Jesus died, the covenant with Abraham was satisfied." Genesis 12:2-3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Galatians 3:7 “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” The cross fulfilled a prophecy stated in the Old Testament. God is keeping His prophetic word, and extending salvation to all nations, not just the Hebrew people. If you ask me, that is Love. Hebrews 2:14 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—“ This year I left the PCUSA church after 31 years of membership. I left because, I finally took time to study the theology of John Calvin. I came to conclusion that I see scripture differently than Calvin. For many years I have been deeply saddened by the changes taking place in Presbyterian Church USA.

    by Brenda Page

    October 2, 2013

  5. When will "Glory to God" be shipped?

    by Palma Camren

    September 2, 2013

  6. So, as the denomination nose-dives into the dust of history, we want to purify what is left by re-writing the historic hymns of the church. Then, we are surprised when ultra-conservatives use this as fodder to promote fear of loss of identity? Well-intended efforts sometimes merely hasten our descent into irrelevance.

    by Darryl Goldman

    August 15, 2013

  7. I agree with some of what the author stated. The Hymn project is not incomplete because of one song, no big deal. The question I do have is then why is the song omitted for any reason at all. If it is for the phrase then it should not be omitted because it is truth, it is biblical. If it was not biblical then it should be omitted but why were two-thirds against including that song because it has biblical words in it. So I would just question the reason why two-thirds don't want that song included? Apparently if the words stay the same then it can be included. What happened, who is against those words that are biblical. If the reason was that they simply did not want the song, then fine but not because the copyright did not want to change the words to hold to biblical truth and the full gospel. I see too many issues within the church that shouldn't have been an issue at all if everyone simply held to scripture. We'll see if any other songs have issues in the future. Hopefully in Christ Alone is the only one. I am sure you can tear my e-mail apart but I am just thinking out loud. Thank you for your time and God Bless.

    by Lee

    August 14, 2013

  8. Why does a dying denomination think that it needs its own new hymnal, when there are many other good ones already available (many of which include "In Christ Alone")? The fact that it thinks it needs it's own new private hymnal is proof the theological wreck the denomination has become. Forget the hymnal, turn to Jesus!

    by DB

    August 12, 2013

  9. So if the "wrath of God was satisfied" view of the atonement is not a problem for the hymnal committee, why did they not include that version of "In Christ Alone" in the hymnal when they were unable to obtain the other version? That still needs an explanation.

    by Debbie Berkley

    August 11, 2013

  10. No one is buying the argument. Yet another epic fail by the PCUSA.

    by Carolyn George

    August 11, 2013

  11. So Glen Beck is notorious? You might not like his conservative views, but I wonder how fair it is to apply that adjective to him.

    by Larry

    August 10, 2013

  12. The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song had hoped to include a previously published version of “In Christ Alone” that altered a line in the second stanza from “the wrath of God was satisfied” to “the love of God was magnified.” Unfortunately, the copyright holders declined this request. After discussion and deliberation, the Committee voted and failed to reach the two-thirds majority that is the threshold for inclusion of a song in the final list of contents. THE UNFORTUNATE PART IS THE FAILURE BY THE COMMITTEE TO INCLUDE THIS HYMN AS WRITTEN. Yes, it is readily available from other sources, including but not limited to other worship opportunities where Reform Theology and The Whole Gospel is manifest. Sad decision that does not inspire confidence in the direction of the PC USA. One of many small things that Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders and Serving Elders and Deacons must ponder upon and pray about in the days ahead.

    by Joe Teague

    August 9, 2013

  13. This is why we stopped ordering new hymnals and instead project words on screens. Why should a committee determine which songs should be sung by our churches or which lyrics should be changed for the whole church? We choose to sing whatever old hymns, praise songs, gospel songs, choruses or new hymns like "In Christ Alone." This type of top down "censorship" or direction is not helpful.

    by Mike McClenahan

    August 9, 2013

  14. This will not stop people from singing the song. We will simply continue to have more than one hymnal to use, project the words, or have a bulletin insert with the words. What's really sad is that the Reformed body isn't big enough to allow for various theological positions on the Cross of Christ, and have them expressed in "official" ways.

    by Paul

    August 9, 2013