With these words, Timothy George points us to a hymn rejected by the Presbyterian Church USA's rejection of a hymn text not because it is poor poetry (that could not be said) or because it was empty of content (though many of its genre can rightfully be accused of this) but because the authors would not allow the committee to exchange the pointed, Biblical language of the text with something more innocuous.
As some of you may already know, I am not fond of most modern contemporary Christian music. Typically, the praise chorus style is shallow and superficial, preferring to sing seven trite and man-centered words seventy times seven rather than seventy words that expound the full Biblical content of the faith. Though I am still not a great fan, I grudgingly admit that In Christ Alone can be criticized for some things but not for lack of serious and solid Biblical content.
Sin, judgment, cross, even Christ have become problematic terms in much contemporary theological discourse, but nothing so irritates and confounds as the idea of divine wrath. Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: "Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied." For this they wanted to substitute: "…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified." The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that "In Christ Alone" would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal. . .
Indeed, in his brilliant essay, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” British scholar Tony Lane explains that "the love of God implies his wrath. Without his wrath God simply does not love in the sense that the Bible portrays his love." God's love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy. It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.
Even though you can't find "In Christ Alone" in the new Presbyterian hymnal, you won't have any trouble hearing it sung in numerous churches all over the world. In fact, you can listen to it right now by clicking this link. Keith Getty and his wife Kristyn belong to a new breed of contemporary hymnists who want their music to reflect the reality of a full-sized God, the awesome God of holiness and love.
As I said, I remain a fan of the solid content and faithful character of historic hymnody and I believe that the great Lutheran chorales and their authors have taught us how to sing God's praise best, but I find it hard to fault the content of the hymn In Christ Alone. You read for yourself. It is a shame when we have no room in our hymnals for hymns such as these though I find it sadly predictable how hard the modern mind finds the Biblical imagery of God's wrath. Perhaps it is more true that we have not rejected the hymn as much as we have rejected the God of Scripture. If for that reason alone, now is time for the Church to come to repentance and confess our greater love for self than for the God whom we know in Christ Jesus by His Word!
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
“In Christ Alone”
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music