The PCUSA Saves Future Generations from “In Christ Alone”

July 30, 2013

In Christ Alone wordleIt’s likely that Stuart Townend and Keith Getty would have made some coin if their hymn “In Christ Alone” had been included in the new hymn book being produced by the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church) but they turned down the offer for it to be included. Why? The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song could not abide the reference to God’s wrath in the song’s second stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied.”  They requested that the line be amended to:  “and on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.”  Getty and Townend refused. The committee voted on the song with the original stanzas intact and by a vote of nine to six ejected it from consideration.

I’m grateful.

Like a number of other denominations, the PCUSA is liberal in their theological teaching and the doctrine of Christ’s propitiation of God’s wrath finds no welcome. In a post on the Christian Century, committee member Mary Louise Bringle reports the process as follows:

“People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history: the view of Anselm and Calvin, among others, that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim. While this might not be our personal view, it was argued, it is nonetheless a view held by some members of our family of faith; the hymnal is not a vehicle for one group’s perspective but rather a collection for use by a diverse body.

Arguments on the other side pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.

Obviously the committee understands the power of song in the church to inform and shape Christian faith and understanding. While it was noted that some of the less enlightened held the views of “Anselm and Calvin” it would be a terrible disservice to future generations to perpetuate such a crude way of thinking.

How tragic.

The problem is that the gospel presented without God’s wrath is a gospel half told. The late Francis Schaeffer said, “There is no real preaching of the Christian gospel except in the light of the fact that man is under the wrath of God, the moral wrath of God.”* It is in light of that great and terrible reality that God’s love shines with blazing light! Certainly the love of God was magnified by the death of Christ on the cross and that magnification becomes it’s most radiant when seen against the backdrop of God’s settled wrath against all that falls short of His glory. An astounding thing indeed! A Holy God, bearing just wrath against rebel man, makes a way to remain just and yet be man’s justifier! Never shrink from the cross! Never minimize God’s wrath! Go deep into that awful darkness and there discover the diamond of redeeming love in the face of our suffering Savior and let our songs exalt God in the fullness of all that He is and the wonder of all He has done.


* Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press: 1969) 93

6 responses to The PCUSA Saves Future Generations from “In Christ Alone”

  1. Jeff,

    As a non-voting member of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song, your take on the committee’s discussion is generally accurate. The discussion on this question was thoughtful and highly respectful of all opinions. As with all of the committee’s deliberations, decisions were made (in very Presbyterian fashion) by a 2/3 majority of the voting members. Non-voting members were invited and encouraged to contribute to the conversation. (I am an ex officio member of the committee by virtue of my position with the Presbyterian Association of Musicians.) I do take issue with your statement ” While it was noted that some of the less enlightened held the views of “Anselm and Calvin” . . . . ” Having been in the loop of discussion on this topic, I can assure you that the idea of some theories of the atonement being more enlightened than others did not enter the conversation. The discussion was lively and passionate, but never dismissive or uncharitable. The suggested emendation to the text was actually published in the 2010 “Celebrating Grace” hymnal. The change wasn’t an original idea to this committee. Someone approved the change at some point. The theory of atonement elucidated in “the wrath of God was satisfied” is not absent from the collection. I hope you will get the opportunity to review the list of contents of the hymnal available at and to also look at a complete copy of the collection when it is released in September. Having been involved in several rounds of proofing and many discussions of content, I think that Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal will be something that Presbyterians and others will be using and appreciating for several decades to come.

    • Bill McConnell July 30, 2013 at 11:04 am

      I just realized that my name didn’t get attached to the response above. I wasn’t hiding, just blog-posting challenged. This is Bill McConnell.

    • You may not be able to answer this question but I’m curious.

      You say: “The theory of atonement elucidated in “the wrath of God was satisfied” is not absent from the collection.”

      So why the push to remove/change the line from In Christ Alone?

    • Well stated Bill. I appreciate your input and the work you have put into to hymnal. I trust that much in it will be used to nourish the church. My sarcasm that you point out flows directly from the comments made by voting member Mary Louise Bringle. If you must protect a future generation from a particular theological construct, are you not suggesting it is a substandard or outmoded construct that the church as evolved past?

      “…does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations…”

      The movement away from Christ’s substitutionary death towards a mere example of love sacrificing itself for others or that the incarnation itself was the redemptive act is troubling to say the least. I have struggled in vain to find the historic view on the PCUSA website. In the 1967 Confession of the PCUSA the following appears:

      “God’s reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery which the scriptures describe in various ways. It is called the sacrifice of a lamb, a shepherd ’s life given for his sheep, atonement by a priest; again it is ransom of a slave, payment of debt, vicarious satisfaction of a legal penalty, and victory over the powers of evil. These are expressions of a truth which remains beyond the reach of all theory in the depths of God’s love for humankind. They reveal the gravity, cost, and sure achievement of God’s
      reconciling work”

      Further on…

      “God’s love never changes. Against all who oppose the divine will, God expresses love in wrath In the same love, God bore judgment and shameful death in Jesus Christ, to bring all people to repentance and new life.”

      Works for me! Has the church “evolved” beyond that?

  2. PCUSA, like so many liberal-minded organizations of whatever denomination, has no conscience about omitting what they do not like about the Gospel as recorded in the Holy Scriptures. This view actually negates what the original Presbyterians recognized in forming their denomination (Calvin, Knox, The Westminster Confession, inter alia). Thus the double error–Scriptural and historical. The Scriptural error of post-modernists is much the more serious. My respect for Townend and Getty has grown since they demonstrate in their refusal to downplay what Scripture says of the first of two critical concerns about the terrifying ugliness of sin: a just God must condemn it and separate from sinners forever (Jesus calls that “hell”). The equally important second matter is that the God who loves even the worst of sinners demonstrated His love by sending His only-begotten (monogenes) Son to die a sinner’s death after having lived a perfect life on earth, and their song demonstrates that two songwriters are far superior Bible-theologians to nine members of that committee.

    Samuel E. Schnaiter Ph.D.
    Prof. of NT Language and Literature