Saturday, April 14, 2012

Heresy in a hymn

I wasn’t going to look at the new Presbyterian hymnal, “Glory to God” because I have never attended a PCUSA Church that used one. I have despaired in the past at GAs and PWs gatherings of the use of hymns with the beautiful confessional words replaced by inferior words. I just didn’t want to know what was there. But then someone posted a song from the hymnal on Facebook so I looked at the list of songs. They can be found at the Presbyterian Hymnal Project.

Of course there are many well known and well loved hymns, but I think it can now be truthfully stated that the PCUSA has a written document containing heresy. The song (I can’t use hymn here) "Bring Many Names Beautiful and Good” by Brian Wren is not biblical, confessional or Christian. The second and third verses begin by using consecutively the names, “Strong mother God” and “Warm father God.” But going further—much further, the wording is:

Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil's new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!

While the author might be referring to Jesus when he uses the words, “Young, growing God,” that cannot be done. Jesus was both fully human & fully God. Jesus’ humanity does not change his divinity. One cannot ascribe human frailties’ to God. As John Flavel, speaking of the two natures of Christ, writes in his book The Fountain of Life:
Ye know he is, 1. True and very God; 2. True and very man; that, 3. These two natures make but one person, being united inseparably; 4. That they are not confounded or swallowed up one in another, but remain still distinct in the person of Christ. Hold ye the sound words which cannot be condemned. Great things hang upon these truths. O suffer not a stone to be loosed out of the foundation. [1]
God is eternal, not old and in that eternally God is not young and certainly not growing; the word growing implies that God is changing and not perfect:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.” Isaiah 40:40

“Your years are throughout all generations. Of old you founded the earth and the heavens are the work of your hands. Even they will perish but you endure; and all them will wear out like a garment; like clothing you will change them and they will be changed. But you are the same and your years will not come to an end. “ (Psalm 102:25-27)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13: 8)

Forgot to write, Hat tip to Adel Thalos

Picture by Ethan McHenry

[1] Flavel also writes, “Yet we do not believe that one nature doth transfuse or impart its properties to the other, or that it is proper to say the divine nature suffered, bled, or died; or the human is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent; but that the properties of both natures are ascribed to the person, that it is proper to affirm any of them to him in the concrete, though not abstractly.


Douglas Underhill said...

This hymn is just taking a more immanent, incarnational view of God than you prefer. It isn't heresy - it's core Christian theology. So often people back away from really acknowledging the incarnation, which is sad. It's like Jesus is just God dressed up in a man-suit temporarily, never meaningfully experiencing real suffering or human frailty. Clearly this view speaks to you - it doesn't speak to me, and I don't think Christianity requires it.

Douglas Underhill said...

Sorry, I forgot:

Doug Hagler
Dalton, OH
(though my Google account says this too)

Viola Larson said...

Ah but that is just the point. Dressed up in a man suit-no way! you can say Jesus Christ grew-that is the complete Incarnation, but you cannot say God grew-that tears the human from God. That has nothing to do with the immanent incarnational view of God. By the way, God was immanent before the incarnation, meaning he was concerned and close to creation.

Walter L. Taylor said...

This heretical hymn has been the favorites of liberals for quite some time now. It is in the UCC, Disciples, and other hymnals. It is heresy. It is not our task to "bring names" by which we may address God (that is idolatry in Scripture). It is our task to learn how God names himself, and how he wants us to address him. Our Lord Jesus Christ revealed God to us by the name of his choice, Father. Hence we are baptized and blessed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The "Bring Many Names" genre of hymns reveals how Protestant Liberalism has grown weary and bored with the God revealed in Holy Scripture.

Peter Larson said...

This idea of God being anthropomorphized as young or old is more the product of human imagination than of revelation. God is indeed the ancient of days, but this means he is timeless and eternal, not decrepid or senile. And the idea of God "aching" is not at all consistent with Isaiah 40:28: "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom." The idea of God being aching, old, puny and feeble is not Biblical at all but, in fact, shrinks and reduces the Almighty down to our size and makes God human like us - a creature rather than Creator. I think it was Barth who said of liberal theology that for them, God is just saying "man" in a louder voice. However, God is not just a larger or more powerful version of us. Far from it. Go read Revelation 4 or Job Chapters 38-41. The incarnation does not change any of this. Yes, Jesus was fully human and clothed in our humanity but at the same time he was fully God, one with the Father, the Ancient of days, the great I AM...the one greater than Moses, Solomon and the Temple...and nothing less than that. I think much of our theological decline and confusion can be traced to the fact that we have lost any understanding or knowledge of the God revealed in the Bible who is not at all like us but HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. Until we recover this truth, we will continue to stumble in darkness and confusion...worshipping a false god that we invent and imagine.

Charles Hedrick said...

eYou say that Jesus Christ grew, but God did not. Did God die? I believe you are advocating a docetic Christology, which separates the human and God so much that God did not truly experience human life.

Mary E said...

Thanks Viola for bringing this one hymn to light to expose it for what it is, and that is to say not very much. As if what you presented from the hymn was bad enough the first line of the second verse starts with "Strong Mother God..." enough said.

After the last hymnal that they changed the words to This is my Father's World to an Arbor Day tribute I have been highly suspect of all activities in the PCUSA.

I intend to go though this "book" with a fine tooth comb and if it contains to much politically correct, gender neutral nonsense then we might end up with another denominations hymnal in our pew.

Gallatin TN

Peter Larson said...

Charles: To say that God grew or learned from his earthly life and ministry is to deny and obliterate the distinction between the Creator and his creation. We are constantly learning and growing, but what orthodox Christians have always believed is that God is eternal, all-knowing and unchanging. He is the same "yesterday, today and tomorrow." The fact that God became one of us and was fully human is, indeed, a great miracle. However, the incarnation cannot be understood apart from the reality that Jesus was also fully God, not something less that or other than God. The docetists denied the human nature of Jesus, but your argument seems to be denying the divine nature of Jesus. The first Chapter of John's Gospel is a good corrective to any notion that Jesus was not fully God. The Nicene Creed is also worth a read in terms of affirming the orthodox, historic doctrine of the incarnation.

Viola Larson said...

Charles just the opposite of docetic Christology. One must keep the two natures together in order to say anything about death or growing. Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God, died. Jesus Christ fully human, fully God, grew. But one cannot separate out God and say God grew or God died.

It is Wren who is writing in a docetic manner.

Reformed Catholic said...

FWIW ... the church I attend did not move from the Red hymnal when the Blue one came out.

The reason, the way they made the PC(USA) more P.C.

Removed Onwards Christian Soldiers because it was too militaristic, even though the thought was that we are evangelists warring against evil.

Changing other hymns to remove references to the Kingship of God.

However, it didn't move into heretical hymns or songs. I fully suspect that this new PC(USA)will be ignored here also.

We are going to have to get a new hymnal in a year or so, but we'll probably go for the Celebration Hymnal.

Dave Moody said...

*sigh*... thanks Vi. Why is it we can't learn from all the things the church went through in the first three centuries of her existence? We've been here and done that. It isn't new or bold or creative. Its just lame. Whoever said something about Athanasius is right.


Dan Saperstein, Greeley, CO said...

This thread is reminiscent of Reformation era discussions of transubstantiation in which people were condemned as heretics for daring to interpret Jesus' statement "This is my body... This is my blood" in any other than a literal way. The hymn in question was the product of a class at a Presbyterian seminary on hymn-writing in which students were invited to explore unconventional metaphors of God. To say "Old, aching God" isn't to say God is old and tired. (Obviously it can't be taken literally because the next metpahor is "young, growing God"!) Hymns are poetry and poetry is metaphor. A metaphor is an invitation to a deeper understanding of something by juxtaposing it with something that it both is and is not. Just because Jesus said "I am the door" (John 10:9) doesn't mean he is made of wood.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for letting us know the history of the song.
Several thoughts: hymns are meant to be more than poetry-they are praise to God, often also prayer to God. Poetry isn't so much metaphor as it contains metaphor. It is meant to be very concrete, that is there should be nothing that is extra but what takes you to exactly the thought of the poet. And metaphor allows the hearer to grasp some fuller understanding of the subject. One can’t use everything that comes with the metaphor.

But notice these metaphors. “Old aching God.” There is nothing there to hang the truth of God’s word on. The words do not expand our understanding of who God is on the contrary if they lead them in the wrong direction.
And young growing God—here the noun is misplaced. We know that the adjectives would be right for Jesus Christ, fully human, fully God. But not for just the noun God. Once again there is nothing to hang biblical truth on. The words “young growing God” is a god of the process theologians, the god of Whitehead and Cobb but not the God of the Bible.

I once started a paper for a Fuller class with “Death is all metaphors, shape in one history.” The lines are by Dylan Thomas a wonderful poet who had no belief in Christ or heaven. He expressed exactly what he believed with dark but beautiful words. But a Christian song writer, poet or those who publish hymn books must use their metaphors carefully—they must be biblical not pagan images.

dennistheeremite said...

I love poetry and think these "lyrics" are more a poem than hymn lyrics; but, having said that, this thing, as poetry, doesn't really make sense. It is a kind of heresy, not only against the Christian faith, but against reason. The best poetry is not only a work of imagination but also of sense.

Chas Jay said...

At one service this past Christmas season we sang the carol Good Christian Men Rejoice, which is now called Good Christian Friends Rejoice. When we had finished singing, the man sitting next to me turned and whispered, "They took out the men and left in the ass."
That appropriately describes most of the changes in the PCUSA and the hymnals.

Betsy said...

I completely disagree with your analysis of this hymn and what it intends, but I'm actually commenting just to clarify that the reason you haven't seen any Presbyterian churches using the hymnal Glory to God is that IT HAS NOT BEEN PUBLISHED YET. The fact that you haven't seen it doesn't say anything about its popularity or level of acceptance among congregations. No one is singing from it because it's not yet out. I, for one, serve a church that sings from the 1955 red hymnbook, but am a fan of the 1990 blue hymnal and am excited about the variety of music, songs, theology, and images contained within the forthcoming Glory to God hymnal.

If you would like to know more factual information about this hymnal, please see

Viola Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Viola Larson said...

Hi Betsy,

Perhaps I wasn't clear what I meant about not attending any church that used a Presbyterian USA hymn book was those published before the latest one. I have already looked at the material offered at that site.