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'In Christ Alone' Didn't Make the Cut

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According to a recent Christianity Today online report, the worship song “In Christ Alone” didn’t make it in to the new Presbyterian Church USA hymnal.

Apparently, mention of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s vicarious death was the sticking point.  The hymnal committee initially wanted to include the song, but asked authors Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend for permission to edit out the offending line.  Instead of “’Til on that cross as Jesus died/ the wrath of God was satisfied,” the committee wanted “’Till on that cross as Jesus died/ the love of God was magnified.”

Despite the fact that the new version still rhymed, the authors refused to grant permission.  Committee chair Mary Louise Bringle told The Christian Century that the “view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger” would communicate the wrong message to worshipers about the meaning of Christ’s death.

The CT report referred to its cover story in 2006 on how a growing number of evangelicals “believe Christ’s atoning death is merely a grotesque creation of the medieval imagination.”  According to critics, it relies on the theory of the 11th-century  theologian, Anselm, who argued that Christ’s death satisfied God’s offended dignity.

The good news is that “In Christ Alone” is widely sung—in its original form—and that the authors refused permission to edit out its heart.  Yet the best news of all is that we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3:24-25).  To propitiate is to make satisfaction, to appease.

It is true that the 11th-century theologian, Anselm, emphasized Christ’s death as the satisfaction of God’s offended dignity, reflecting a more feudal concept of a king’s majesty needing to be defended.  However, the Protestant Reformers grounded satisfaction in God’s justice, righteousness, and love.  This is precisely how Scripture describes it.

So it is wide of the mark even historically to suggest that the doctrine of Christ’s suffering in the place of sinners, bearing their guilt before the face of the holy God, is a legacy of the medieval imagination.  Not only is it evident in the word “propitiation” (Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10); it is evident in the numerous references in the Gospels and epistles to Christ’s death for/in place of sinners.  Furthermore, this meaning is obvious in the sacrificial system at the heart of the old covenant, of which Christ’s work is the fulfillment.

There are many other things that Scripture says about Christ’s death.  For example, he disarmed the powers of Satan, death, and hell and purchased immortality for his co-heirs, as we are told in Colossians 2:15.  In the sentence immediately before it, Paul explains that is true only because in Christ’s saving work he has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (vv 13-14).

A lot more can be said, but perhaps the most important point is this: If Christ’s death is not a propitiatory sacrifice—that is, if its purpose is not to turn away God’s wrath toward us by his own bearing of our guilt in his body on the cross—then Golgotha cannot be the place where “the love of God was magnified.”

The majority on the PCUSA hymnal committee apparently favor the subjective or moral theory of the atonement: Christ died on the cross to show us how much God loves us.  Surely this display would persuade us to repentance.  To illustrate this view, Leon Morris used the analogy of a person responding to a drowning friend by jumping into the river and drowning himself. The demonstration might express one’s love, but it doesn’t do anything to actually save the friend.

Strictly speaking, Christ’s death has no significance for God according to this view.  He loves and accepts people regardless of their guilt. God has no enemies.  We may need to be reconciled to God, but God does not need to be reconciled to us.  We simply need to be reminded how much God loves us.  Thus, the death of Christ could only serve as an object lesson.  And what a cruel one indeed!  After all, if Christ’s death was unnecessary for satisfying God’s righteous law, then it is the symbol of senseless slaughter.

The Apostle Paul says that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:8-9).  Christ’s death manifests God’s love for sinners only because it actually propitiates God’s wrath.  He took our place— fulfilling the law, bearing our sentence for violating his law—and thereby removed every legal basis for our condemnation.  It is this point that the committee voted to omit, and yet it is precisely what makes the cross the manifestation of God’s amazing love.

In other words, God’s love is manifested and magnified in Christ’s death only if it is more than a demonstration or object lesson.  Christ’s cross can be a demonstration of God’s love only because in it God reconciled enemies to himself forever.  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). Now that’s good news!

 
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  • Guest - Rayn

    Aime, a good reason as to why the change of lyrics was necessary is required to acquit this project. I doubt they can provide one.

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  • Guest - Charisse

    "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Proverbs 9:10

    Unless and until God's utter Holiness is understood, we can not appreciate Christ's sacrifice on our behalf and will never understand His righteous wrath.

    May God's in His grace grant us the ability to begin to know Him. In the endless compassion of Christ, charisse

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  • Guest - Wayne Roberts

    A friend of mine brought this editorial to my attention yesterday. Imagine my surprise as a fellow Southern Baptist. Apparently there was quite a backlash, so he has written a clarification which I don't really think help him any. http://www.thealabamabaptist.org/print-edition-article-detail.php?id_art=28401&pricat_art=10

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  • Guest - Dave Sarafolean

    This is a sad story but it isn't really new. I remember talking with a former PC-USA member who left nearly 20 years ago because traditional hymns had been edited to soften the theological concepts of atonement, propitiation, wrath, etc. Since that time there have been more edits to make hymns politically correct. They are maintaining the form of traditional worship while the substance has been substantially altered.

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  • Guest - Dante

    I believe when Amie posted the link to the Presbyterian Hymnal Project Blog she is calling attention to the fourth paragraph ("the information about why the hymn was left out and a list of all the many songs in the new hymnbook about the blood of Christ and propitiation."), not the second paragraph, of which perhaps a number here have unfortunately focused on as being the main reason why the song was excluded.
    I believe if you would read that paragraph, it explains quite clearly that the problem isn't with "wrath", but with "satisfied". "Other views of the atonement are represented [in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal] 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."

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  • Guest - Jeff Haldeman

    It's BIBLICAL ! Get Over it !

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  • Guest - Ginger

    The following is an excerpt from an interview with Townend regarding Music in the Church....

    http://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/10-questions-with-stuart-townend-1202207.html?p=2


    "S4W.com: What does 'worship lifestyle' mean to you?

    Townend: A worship lifestyle for me means being 'God conscious' in the daily routine of life. It's something I'm really trying to work on at the moment because so much of my time and attention is devoted to the context of the congregational worship meeting. And yet when I read the New Testament, it has very little to say about our worship services, but a lot to say about a worshipping heart in the other six days and 22 hours of each week! So I'm trying to learn to give thanks in everything, appreciate his daily mercies, hear him speak as I work through the day, bless others with acts of kindness and confess my sin when I lose my cool or act selfishly. This, I believe, is the sacrifice of worship that God requires."

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  • Guest - Ginger

    More from Townend and his opinion that words are insufficient in to proper Worship...

    S4W.com: How do you explain the powerful connection between music and worship expression?

    Townend: Music is clearly a powerful way to express yourself, not only in augmenting the impact of words, but in communicating on levels that words cannot. As such, it's ideally suited to the expression of truth in a memorable way, the expression of emotions that words can't contain and the dynamic of the Holy Spirit touching us in ways that words can't express.

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  • Guest - pb

    Isaiah 30:9-11 demonstrated here

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  • Guest - Tom

    The Methodist Church of Great Britain tried to change the lyric in a similar way for their latest hymn book, "Singing the Faith". Townend refused to allow a change at that time as well.

    There was a big debate within the denomination about it with many liberals stating that it was horrible theology, etc. In the end though the committee decided to add it to the hymn book unedited because of its popularity with young people.

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