Hymnal Review - Hymns Modern & Ancient

Conservative, Traditional… and New!

Hymns Modern & Ancient is a short collection of hymns and songs (133 in all) in a volume intended to supplement, not replace, more comprehensive hymnals already on the market. The collection is compiled by Fred R. Coleman and includes several of his hymns. Ruth Coleman, his wife, provided most of the arrangements.

Quality over quantity

I’m reviewing this collection as a non-professional musician. Though I play the piano a little, lead singing often and have sung in choirs most my life, my musical sight-reading skills are not sufficient to sit down an play hymns and songs I don’t already know—at least, not in any reasonable length of time. As a result, the large number of unfamiliar songs in HMA are difficult to evaluate musically. If the half dozen or so I’m familiar with are a good indication of the quality of the rest, the music throughout is fresh but—relative to where we are in musical history—conservative.

The collection consists mostly of work from the last few decades, with a smattering of undeservingly-neglected work in the more “ancient” category. The collection manages to avoid the chorus genre almost entirely (“I Worship You, Almighty God” may be the only song in the chorus category). I’m encouraged that it’s even possible to gather more than a hundred conservative, traditional and new hymns and hymn-like songs of good quality. The existence of this collection suggests that something like a revival of serious hymn singing may be in progress.

I use the category “hymn-like” here to describe songs that differ enough from traditional hymn form to make their hymn status debatable. Two examples come to mind, both of them composed by Bob Kauflin. Kauflin’s “The Look” is a remake of the John Newton hymn, “I Saw One Hanging on a Tree.” Though the original is a fine hymn, “The Look” has a far more soloist-oriented melody and rhythm and includes a chorus. Similarly, Kauflin’s “A Debtor to Mercy” restyles Augustus Toplady’s “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.” While Toplady’s work (and the music usually paired with it) was true hymnody, Kauflin’s remake moves substantially into “song” territory.

In my view, both of these songs are still good work and suitable for worship, but I would rather have seen them paired with fresh arrangements that preserve the hymn form and make only minimal adjustments to the original texts. (But this is the opinion of one whose notion of ideal worship singing would be 98% pre-19th century, stately hymns sung passionately in a somewhat small space with lots of hard surfaces and no microphones—and a grand piano, acoustic guitar and violin for background. But how often do we get to have our ideals?)

True hymn form has the additional advantage of avoiding the rhythmic complexity that makes many contemporary songs difficult for congregations to sing together (unified in melody, tempo and rhythm—as with one voice). Of course, this advantage assumes that the congregation actually ought to be heard, and to hear one another, above what’s happening on the platform (or should I say “stage”?).

The majority of songs in the collection are in traditional hymn form or very close to it.

As for themes and lyrics, the quality of the texts of these hymns and songs appears to be unimpeachable.

Authors and composers

The mix of authors and composers represented in Hymns Modern & Ancient is interesting. The collection includes eight titles by the compiler, Fred Coleman. That’s no surprise. But one pair of author-composer statistics highlights the shift that has occurred—and is occurring—in many fundamentalist (and fundamentalist-heritage) ministries. Songs by Ron Hamilton: 1 (“Bow the Knee”). Songs by some combination of Keith and Kristyn Getty or Stuart Townend: 30.

The collection also includes 5 titles by D. A. Carson, 10 by Bob Kauflin and 1 by Steve Green. I was glad to see 4 by Chris Anderson included as well.

The spectrum of authors and composers may be of concern to some ministry leaders. Sadly, a few will see the numerous Getty, Townend and Kauflin contributions as reason to put the collection on the books-to-avoid list. To these, I suggest a project: work through any hymnal of the 20th century and compile short biographies of the hymn authors and composers. You’ll discover that, right or wrong, we’ve been singing songs and hymns from theologically diverse sources for a long, long time. The case can be made that we should only sing hymns and songs from sources virtually identical to us in doctrine and practice. But this would be a new idea, a departure from the long-standing tradition of Christian hymnody (but our hymnals would definitely not be so thick and heavy!).

Musical aesthetic

Hymns Modern & Ancient clearly aims to avoid the musical aesthetic of contemporary pop-culture. Opinions will vary somewhat as to how well it succeeds, but I expect most would characterize the selections as musically conservative and traditional.

In addition to avoiding contemporary pop-culture, the volume appears to be blessedly free of the bouncy-weepy tunes of the Second Great Awakening era and the ball-room inspired tunes of the golden age of movie musicals (1930s-1950s). Whether some of the included melodies and harmonies will sound like 90s or 2000s cliché to future generations remains to be seen. I suspect that a few will become conspicuously dated but that most will age well.

Testing the waters

The preface to the volume explains its relationship to the venerable Anglican collection Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and provides interesting history of the divide between hymnody of the “stately stream” and that of the “evangelical stream.” Coleman writes,

Like the compilers of Hymns Ancient and Modern and generations of Christians before them, I affirm congregational singing as both prayer and creed. I am convinced that congregational singing is the best musical venue for accomplishing the purposes of gathered Christian worship. Modern congregations ignore too many great hymns of the past and shun too many great hymns of the present. (preface, p.3)

The preface also expresses hopes that a full-hymnal project may eventually come from Heart Publications in Milwaukee. No doubt, the likelihood of that project reaching completion depends in part on how well-received Hymns Modern & Ancient turns out to be.

For my part, I’m glad to see this collection in print and hope it will prove to be an encouragement to churches looking for fresh, poignant and meaty expressions of our faith paired with music that reflects a sober and thoughtful (rather than popular and sensual) aesthetic.

One of my favorite selections is John Newton’s “Approach My Soul, the Mercy Seat” set to a Fred Coleman modified (and improved, I think) version of the tune MORNING SONG. A few archaisms in the text are modified as well (though I think Newton’s “be Thou my shield” is better than “You are my shield.” The latter merely states; the former seeks).

Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat
John Newton

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Your promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
You call all burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to You for rest!

You are my shield and hiding place,
and sheltered near Your side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him You have died.

O wondrous love, to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Your gracious name.

“Poor soul, now tempest tossed, be still;
My promised grace receive.”
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.

I look forward to getting to know the hymns in this collection better and hope to introduce many of them to the congregation I serve. (The collection is not available on Amazon, but can be obtained from Heart Publications.)

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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There are 69 Comments

KevinM's picture

Oh, all I'm really suggesting is that the "royalty" part is the smallest piece of the pie.

Having grown up in the era of unfettered Commercial Christian Music (Corporate Christian Music?), I'm no fan. But I'd rather not project these concerns onto Fred's project. His collection and song choices interest me for other reasons, but the money angle seems (to me) like a rabbit trail of sorts.

Personally, I'd rather not express formal hymnody as a regression from the altruistic motives (and high culture) of Watts...down, down...to the supposed "commercial endeavor" (popular culture) of current church musicians.

In reality, money has always been part of the equation. I think the trick is to make sure it remains the smallest piece of the pie.

Bottom line? Hymnals almost never make money. Hymnal production is still driven by ideas--groups of people with a specific ideological agenda. Depending on which hymnal we're discussing, those ideas might be really bad ideas, and a valid way to evaluate a particular movement. I'm just questioning--in this case--whether money is the fundamental issue at stake.

rdl's picture

I am usually a lurker who doesn't have enough time even to be a good lurker, but this post and the comments caught my eye this morning. I thought as a member of the church where Fred Coleman is the music pastor, I could add a few comments. We appreciate Fred and Ruth Coleman very much. They work very hard, and the music ministry in our church is richer for their efforts. For several years now we have had frequent handouts/inserts in our church bulletins - handouts that look remarkably like the printed pages of the HMA hymnal! Most of us in the congregation did not know until nearly the point of the actual publication that Fred was working on this hymnal. I have not gone through the whole stack of bulletin inserts to see if everything we have been singing made its way into this collection. What's been amazing is how Fred comes up with songs that none of us knew, but that go perfectly with our pastor's message of the hour!!! I guess it really shouldn't be because Fred is probably one of the most knowledgeable men in the country when it comes to hymnology. Believe me when I say, we have sung some really old songs not found in the hymnals that most of us have access to. And we've sung lots of modern songs as well, as Greg put it, that are "fundy-friendly." My wife, who will readily admit that she is not a musician, has commented more than once, that it seems as if we are singing more and more songs that are either modern or "Gregorian chants."

To be honest, we have had people leave our church because they are not sure about the music or because they are certain that we're on the proverbial "slippery slope." But we've also had many new people come, no where near the majority of whom are young people. I'm a man who's on the verge of turning 60, and so I'll admit that the musical changes at church have been an adjustment for me. I appreciate that we can enjoy the spiritually enriching and challenging musical texts set in a style that does not distract someone of my age and background from focusing on those rich texts. The newer songs and, even as my wife puts it, the "Gregorian chants" point us to Christ, remind us of the greatness of God, and call us to seriously worship Him. That is a huge blessing in itself.

BTW, it's no surprise to me that Sam Horn has chosen to include HMA at Central, given his affiliation with Northland and Steve Pettit.

rdl's picture

I meant to add to my comment that I am glad that the songs we've been blessed by are now available to others through this new publication.

Shaynus's picture

rdl wrote:
I am usually a lurker who doesn't have enough time even to be a good lurker, but this post and the comments caught my eye this morning. I thought as a member of the church where Fred Coleman is the music pastor, I could add a few comments. We appreciate Fred and Ruth Coleman very much. They work very hard, and the music ministry in our church is richer for their efforts. For several years now we have had frequent handouts/inserts in our church bulletins - handouts that look remarkably like the printed pages of the HMA hymnal! Most of us in the congregation did not know until nearly the point of the actual publication that Fred was working on this hymnal. I have not gone through the whole stack of bulletin inserts to see if everything we have been singing made its way into this collection. What's been amazing is how Fred comes up with songs that none of us knew, but that go perfectly with our pastor's message of the hour!!! I guess it really shouldn't be because Fred is probably one of the most knowledgeable men in the country when it comes to hymnology. Believe me when I say, we have sung some really old songs not found in the hymnals that most of us have access to. And we've sung lots of modern songs as well, as Greg put it, that are "fundy-friendly." My wife, who will readily admit that she is not a musician, has commented more than once, that it seems as if we are singing more and more songs that are either modern or "Gregorian chants."

To be honest, we have had people leave our church because they are not sure about the music or because they are certain that we're on the proverbial "slippery slope." But we've also had many new people come, no where near the majority of whom are young people. I'm a man who's on the verge of turning 60, and so I'll admit that the musical changes at church have been an adjustment for me. I appreciate that we can enjoy the spiritually enriching and challenging musical texts set in a style that does not distract someone of my age and background from focusing on those rich texts. The newer songs and, even as my wife puts it, the "Gregorian chants" point us to Christ, remind us of the greatness of God, and call us to seriously worship Him. That is a huge blessing in itself.

BTW, it's no surprise to me that Sam Horn has chosen to include HMA at Central, given his affiliation with Northland and Steve Pettit.

1. Rob, you're almost 60? That makes me feel really old, my childhood neighbor. Smile
2. Your point about how we're singing really new songs ore really really old songs is a great one. I feel like it's a good thing that fundamentalism is moving away from a certain era of hymnody that was hyper emotional or just not very doctrinal. Believe it or not, but I visited Hampton Park for the first time in my life a few weeks ago and got to look through the hymnal and talk to Dr. Coleman and was very encouraged by it. If people really are leaving over this hymnal, then that's just sad. But from what I've heard you have a lot of young people, which is unusual for many fundamentalists churches these days. The future is there.

Shayne

Ron Bean's picture

I'm very conservative in my preferences in Christian music. I was introduced to "How Deep the Father's Love" and "In Christ Alone" within the past year. (What can I say? I've been living in a cave.) My first reaction was one of an increased appreciation for what my Savior had done for me.

Last Sunday, I was preaching in a conservative church and quoted a stanza from "In Christ Alone" to illustrate a point. I was told afterward that some people were concerned that I was being exposed to "bad music". SIGH.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

KevinM's picture

Ron--I'll be this sort of thing has happened to many of the readers here.

I was interested in the HMA hymnal because of the editorial choices, which seemed to ignore the old "association" rule. In previous eras, we would evaluate the quality of a song based on the connections that the composer potentially had with various (new) evangelical movements.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but a BJU music prof of the 1970s would not have compiled a hymnal chock-full of songs that had "associations" with organizations and movements outside of fundamentalism. I forget which degree of separation that was, but whatever it was, we wouldn't have done it back in the day. If our position on musical associations is changing, and I feel it is, I would welcome the opportunity to evaluate songs on some basis other than who wrote it.

I'm with you--I was intrigued by the editor's choices, and found many of them to be useful in the context of church ministry. Granted, I would not use all of the songs in this book, but I would say that of any hymnal. Though I can understand how a Baptist church might value the traditional hymnody of Cantus Christi, I'm going to guess that such churches would not use every song in the book, especially in the section of (Reformed) baptismal hymns.

rdl's picture

Shaynus wrote:
1. Rob, you're almost 60? That makes me feel really old, my childhood neighbor. Smile
2. Your point about how we're singing really new songs ore really really old songs is a great one. I feel like it's a good thing that fundamentalism is moving away from a certain era of hymnody that was hyper emotional or just not very doctrinal. Believe it or not, but I visited Hampton Park for the first time in my life a few weeks ago and got to look through the hymnal and talk to Dr. Coleman and was very encouraged by it. If people really are leaving over this hymnal, then that's just sad. But from what I've heard you have a lot of young people, which is unusual for many fundamentalists churches these days. The future is there.

Shayne

Yes, indeed, I will turn 60 on the 30th of this month. Cool

The people who have left over music concerns have not been just since the hymnal appeared in our pew racks. We've been singing these same songs for several years from inserts and on the screen, and the "leak" has been slow. You're right that it is encouraging to see a lot of young people in our church. Our demographics is/are (?) very balanced - we have people from all across the age spectrum.

Ron, I was in Christmas Carol last year with your son Dave. What a fine young man! I think very highly of him and Lindsay and wish I were able to be in the production with them again this year, but alas, I can't. I hope I can get tickets!!! Maybe "original cast members" might get to go at least once.

Rob

Ron Bean's picture

Thanks for the kind words about my son, Rob. God has been good to us. (BTW, I'm older than you!)

Re: the "association" thing. How come I'm not an Arminian Methodist after all those years of singing Wesley's hymns? (TY to Jeff Straub.)

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

Kevin wrote:
I would welcome the opportunity to evaluate songs on some basis other than who wrote it.

I'll second that.
I wouldn't go so far as to say the author/source is irrelevant, especially if he/she is currently famous or is part of some organization that is famous. Sovereign Grace would sort of qualify as "a really trendy group" (though I think recent events have put them more on the "just human after all" list--or maybe, for some, the "no longer hip" list).

So the trendiness of a composer/author or his hangouts would be a meaningful factor in my evaluation, but not at all the main factor. That factor would rarely make a difference to me if all the other factors are solid in the work itself.

A counterargument I often hear kind of goes like this: if you use songs by these people, Christians will think these sources are on the "OK people" list and get into their doctrine, etc. The problem with that is that I've never met anyone who actually thinks that way.... that people are either "OK people" who can be trusted to be right about everything or "not OK people" who are highly suspect about everything.

Anybody I meet who does think this way, I'd immediately and strongly encourage to recognize that there are no "OK people" who are perfect in every way. You have to evaluate all leaders and ministries by the authority of Scripture, not by the authority of whether they are accepted or rejected by certain fundamentalist leaders you trust.
(We are not free as believers to delegate discernment to a handful of leaders)

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