It happened again on recent Sunday. I was in church — a congregation I’ve faithfully and contentedly attended for nearly a decade now — and as we sang several songs of worship, I couldn’t help but think of the book “In Christ Alone” by Sinclair Ferguson. In the foreword, the Rev. Alistair Begg writes about three things that concern him when it comes to the present generation of Christians.
First, Begg describes his experiences addressing students at Christian colleges across the country. “Their enthusiasm and creativity spur me on,” he writes, “but an accompanying uncertainty and lack of definition in basic Christian doctrine are causes for genuine concern. Some cannot, for example, explain why Mormonism is not Christian because they are unsure of the doctrine of the Trinity. Many appear to be uncertain about the exclusive claims of Jesus” (especially considering what Begg calls “the prevailing emphasis on ecology and poverty”).
Second, Begg considers the contemporary believer’s favored reading material. “Books on self-improvement and ‘how-to’ texts on all matters earthly sell in abundance. We are reading about our bodies to the neglect of our souls …”
Finally, Begg laments what he calls the loss of focus on the Gospel in our songs:
“This is no comment on musical styles and tastes, but simply an observation about the lyrical content of much that is being sung in churches today. In many cases, congregations unwittingly have begun to sing about themselves and how they are feeling rather than about God and His glory.”
Sometimes I wish I had never read Begg’s words, because that morning in church I could not get them out of my mind. I saw very clearly that he was right, that many evangelicals today have unwittingly embraced songs about themselves at the expense of those focusing their gaze upon Him.
Now, I want to make it clear that the church I attend is not overly “contemporary” or “seeker-sensitive” or any of the other words used to describe congregations that seem to favor (forgive the cliche’) style over substance. No, my fellowship is known for its committment to expositional, systematic, verse-by-verse teaching. It’s simply the case that we sing many of the same worship songs as thousands of other churches, and that the same theological vagueness Rev. Begg sees in Christian students and books is also apparent in our songs.
So what, then, is the antidote? Part of the answer, Begg concludes, is the need to consistently focus on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.
“We are helped in the process by the work of Gospel-saturated hymn writers. Over the centuries, Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and many others provided the church with biblical theology in memorable melodic form. Today, men such as Keith Getty and Stuart Townend are doing the same with compositions such as their contemporary hymn that shares its title with this book: ‘In Christ Alone.’ We should be encouraged by the fact that ‘In Christ Alone’ has become something of an anthem for the church in the first decade of this century. As Alex Motyer has rightly observed, ‘When truth gets into a hymnbook, it becomes the confident possession of the whole church.’ Perhaps all that is necessary to expose the shallowness of our songs and to cause us to praise God as we ought is for pastors and poets and musicians to drink from the same fountain. Then biblical exposition will issue in song and our hymns will be full of the Gospel.”
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.