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 our 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 give thanks for poets and composers in every age who help us to offer new songs to the Lord.
You can read the hymnal committee’s Theological Vision Statement and Statement on Language here.