The Composer

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For yesterday’s post, I wrote about an audience I was in on Saturday morning. When you count church on Sunday, I was in three audiences last weekend. The first was Friday night.

Our daughter Bethany’s father-in-law is a thinker. He directs a ministry that encourages people to think through issues, helping them answer the question, “What does it mean to follow Jesus in contemporary post-Christian culture?” One part of that ministry is bringing speakers to our area. On Friday night, we were blessed again to be in town for one of these lectures.

We heard Irish composer Keith Getty share his message, “In Christ Alone: Hymns for the Christian Life.” Ray and I were spellbound by his powerful message spoken with humor and a great Irish brogue. Getty grew up in a Christian home in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was educated at the University of Durham in England. While in England, he befriended a mathematics professor from Oxford who helped to mature his faith in Christ.

While in his twenties, Getty worked in theater, composing music for plays that allegorized Christianity. Now he has turned his life focus to composing hymns that can be sung by church congregations. He and his wife Kristyn also record albums and do concert tours. Three years ago, they moved from the British Isles to Nashville, Tennessee.

Keith Getty collaborates with Kristyn, who is also Irish, and with Englishman Stuart Townend. The threesome is passionate about their work, writing three types of hymns: songs that teach doctrine, songs useful in church worship, and songs about the Christian life. Examples of their songs that teach doctrine are “In Christ Alone” and “By Faith,” a song useful in church worship is “Behold the Lamb” (The Communion Hymn), and an example of a song about the Christian life is “Before You Kneel” (A Worker’s Prayer). During the lecture, Getty led the audience in singing each of these hymns. The words and music inspire worship and convict hearts.

Keith Getty asserts that we are what we sing. He also believes that songs should be beautiful because people made in the image of God love beauty.

Though Getty writes new songs, he also respects old ones. He talked about the use of hymnbooks and about the modern practice of projecting the words of songs onto a screen. He sees advantages to each. Projecting words gives people the opportunity to sing new songs, while using hymnbooks gives them the opportunity to sing songs from history. Ironically, in a day when technology has given worship leaders the opportunity to choose from a very broad range of songs, Getty believes that congregations who sing from projected words often sing the same songs much more often than ones who sing from hymnals that have hundreds of songs from which to choose.

I love congregational singing. From childhood I have been puzzled by people who sit in church and do not open their mouths when the congregation sings. What a precious opportunity they miss. We are part of a small church in our small town. We don’t have a choice between contemporary worship and traditional worship, but my personal preference is for a combination of both. Many (but not all) contemporary songs have lifted my heart to the Father, but I hate to think that children are growing up today having never heard “How Great Thou Art” or “Blessed Assurance” or “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

I believe that music is important to the human heart and that we bless children when we introduce them to beautiful music. I also believe that many of our beliefs come from the words of the songs we hear and sing. Christian songs and hymns are powerful teaching tools. Unfortunately, other songs are powerful teaching tools, too. For example, many people’s mistaken views about romantic love originated in love songs from the popular culture.

I am thankful for Keith Getty and his collaborators and thankful that I got to hear the heart behind his beautiful work.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you,
with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another
with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16

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  1. Charlene, I agree! In fact, one of the reasons I use Notgrass curriculum is that you feature the great hymns as poetry. I attend a church that sings mostly contemporary songs (such as one of my favorites, In Christ Alone!). But the older I get, the more my appreciation grows for the beautiful language and deep insights in many old hymns. I have enjoyed introducing them to my children and teaching them to melodies. Often I’ll say, “oh, here’s one you really need to know!” So thank you for including these in your history curriculum! I haven’t memorized too many poems, but the hymns… those are poems I know and consider worth knowing!!