It’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.
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.
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