A lot has been written bemoaning the lack of doctrinal precision or content in much modern Christian song composition, and the concentration on directly arousing feelings, rather than stimulating thought, with explanations of truth that will stir up praise and holy emotion.
Some want to stick with the wonderfully rich old hymns, maybe trying to modernise their language so that their stimulation is as immediate as it would have been when they were originally written. Some would prefer to have new material written. This latter should presuppose God’s leading on the writers, and that it is freshly ‘inspired’, not a poor attempt to copy the gems of the past. The same standards, and the same aim to teach and communicate simply but clearly (without ambiguity) is needed. Such should lead to worship, and remind in helpful ways constantly of the richness of biblical exposition heard, and penetrating application of God’s Word to our daily living. Theological accuracy is essential, and some ‘poetic’ skill (not meaning sentiment or complexity, but poetic devices eg metre, rhyme, alliteration being used to aid impact, communication and memory).
My own concern originated over thirty years ago to attempt to encapsulate Christian teaching in an interesting way for my children, and to help them and me to remember the explanations we had tried to formulate to answer questions biblically. This was followed by many years endeavouring to summarise in song or verse helpful ministry received, and later to start to do the same thing from Bible study notes when reading more difficult passages of scripture eg the prophets.
As a child, long before I really came to know the Lord, I had a fascination and admiration for what I learned in primary school of the work of Vicar Pritchard (1579-1644). He composed simple jingles to present the Christian message and way of life from scripture. For these are most easily absorbed, retained, and accepted, when heard in shorty, pithy, sayings, usually stated in metre with rhyme when appropriate. I sought to employ this idea in my revision notes in lower secondary school, with some very odd results, but they proved a help to learning difficult dates, as well as providing some relaxation! These are days when most of us are getting used to reading and assimilating information in brief concentrated bites (bytes?) at a time, and for those to catch the eye in a good visual, advertisement style arrangement. Verse as a concise summary of doctrine is surely needed when little lengthy reading is being done, and singing can be enjoyment, edification and worship. This seems to have been the aim of John Newton in the hymns he composed to accompany his weekly prayer meetings.
I am sharing some of my writing now in the hope that it will stimulate thought about what is helpful, both in reading and singing.
What I am presenting first is:
1) a selection of songs and verse directing to the essentials of our faith and life, many of which started off as summaries of sermons heard at different times (here I will interpose some more simple children’s songs). These I intend to gradually add to, from stock I already have;
2) key notes to the Psalms. These are not intended as paraphrases, nor to be sung necessarily. They are notes of what I have found helpful to remember as I start to read the Psalm [gleaned from sermons, Bible study notes, books], summarising what seems to be the main message(s), and guiding through difficult parts. Again I will insert these gradually starting with Pss.1-10.
3) notes on some of the prophecy books and Job (much of this will need some editing as I add it in)
4) a synopsis of biblical history done as a saga. [under the category, button on the right entitled ‘True: overview of history‘]
5) verse/songs about family life and women’s issues.