Essays on the most ecumenical books in America

Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: Hymnody in the History of North American Protestantism
by Edith L. Blumhofer

Collections of essays have a reputation for being forced and uneven; this book contributes to that reputation. While some of these essays were quite good, others were forced and unnecessary.

My favorite essays were by Stephen Marini (on the history of Evangelical hymnody as a whole) and Darryl Hart (on American Presbyterian hymnody), but the entire book presents a tapestry of hymn traditions from various denominations. I was disapointed that there was no essay on the sacred harp tradition in the American South, a vitally important element of Southern Appalacian hymnody until the 1940’s. There was only one essay on Baptist hymnody and it was on Jesse Mercer and the influence of minorities (African-Americans, women, and Native Americans) upon his hymnal. This could harly be called an essay on Southern Baptist hymns as a whole. Seeing as how Southern Baptists make up the largest Protestant denomination in North America, it doesn’t stand to reason that their influence on the book’s subject would be neglected. There is an essay given to Latino-Pentecostal influence on hymns, and another on German-Mennonite hymnals. These are interesting but don’t contribute as much to the overall study of the book.

The best part of the book was how many authors come back to the same theme: hymnody changed as the religious views of people changed. You can document the loosening of doctrinal integrity by looking at the hymns printed in various hymnals. This was made by several authors in several essays. From the colonial days until now, there as a distinct change from God-exalting hymns to shallow me-and-Jesus gospel songs. It doesn’t take much imagination to finish the historical journey and guess how we went from gospel songs in worship to the praise choruses of today.

This would primarily interest those who enjoy church or music history, but it is written at a level that most of us can understand.

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