‘Hymns are the folk-song of the Church militant.’
When people with very different backgrounds, cultures and languages come together to worship, they are united in the singing of hymns. It is true to say, in fact, that hymns are generally better known than the Bible itself. Why then has their power and potential never been fully realised?
Sing a New Song to the Lord, using hymns from the First and Third Worlds, explores the power of hymns, their relationship to culture, and their potential for communicating theology. It argues that sharing hymns enables people to feel affirmed in their understanding of God and helps promote empathy between, and within, different cultures. Lay people should have a say in the worship they attend and a voice in the theological debate taking place outside it: a creative use of hymns is one way of allowing those voices to be heard.
Brian Castle goes on to examine the development of hymns and considers the last thirty ‘explosive’ years, when a phenomenal hymn output has coincided with an unsettling time for the Church and the world at large. He discusses the place of hymns both within worship, and outside it as a means of communicating and discussing faith. Finally, he appraises the future direction of hymns, reflecting on the thorny issue of how we assess them, and predicting what the implications would be for the Church, theology and mission if their potential were to be taken on board.
At the heart of this book is a conviction that although everyone has some insight about God, not everyone has the means to express it. Song is a universal medium of communication: hymns, used creatively, offer a universal means of communicating the faith. We may not always understand, but we can always listen.