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The Doctrine They Can’t Include – Why ‘In Christ Alone’ Was Not Included In The New PCUSA Hymnal

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An excerpt from an article about compiling modern hymnals includes these observations about a decision to omit In Christ Alone.
The position that Jesus died experiencing the judgment of God on our behalf is sometimes portrayed as being one among many motifs of atonement represented in the Scriptures.
Except that when varying motifs of atonement are championed, it usually means ‘anything but substitionary atonement’.

We had voted for a song from the contemporary Christian canon, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone.” The text agreed upon was one we had found by studying materials in other recently published hymnals. Its second stanza contained the lines, “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.” In the process of clearing copyrights for the hymnal we discovered that this version of the text would not be approved by the authors, as it was considered too great a departure from their original words: “as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied.” We were faced, then, with a choice: to include the hymn with the authors’ original language or to remove it from our list.
Because we were no longer meeting as a committee, our discussions had to occur through e-mail; this may explain why the “In Christ Alone” example stands out in my mind—the final arguments for and against its inclusion are preserved in writing. 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. The final vote was six in favor of inclusion and nine against, giving the requisite two-thirds majority (which we required of all our decisions) to the no votes. The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness.

One thought on “The Doctrine They Can’t Include – Why ‘In Christ Alone’ Was Not Included In The New PCUSA Hymnal

  1. Wow, we love that hymn at our church. I can’t understand how the expression “the wrath of God was satisfied” was so controversial. Isn’t that basically what propitiation is all about? My pastor will sometimes remark that, in saving sinners, God saved them, not from sin or death, as much as He saved them from Himself. Without the electing and saving grace of God, each person would fall under his wrath and curse. Frightening and uncomfortable, perhaps, but true just the same.

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