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June 10, 2013

A case for the common hymnal

(Continued)

Also, while it's impossible to ignore classics from the Dutch Reformed tradition, Borger said "Lift Up Your Hearts" also needed to acknowledge the growing diversity found in today's churches, in North America and worldwide. In the age of increased contact between believers around the world -- not to mention YouTube -- it's common for suburban American teens to return from church trips to Africa or South America with notebooks full of new hymns they now cherish.

Then there is the surging popularity of pop-rock "praise choruses," which rise and fall in popularity from year to year, if not month to month. Also, the larger the modern church sanctuary, the more likely it is to feature video screens on which lyrics are constantly streamed into view. Why would digital worshippers want to tie up their hands with analog hymnals?

The pace of musical change is one reason hymnals are being now being recreated every generation, as opposed to remaining intact for a half a century or so as in the past, said historian John Witvliet, another member of the "Lift Up Your Hearts" team who leads the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Recent decades have seen a number of other factors that have caused musical earthquakes, he said, including a multimedia revolution in worship facilities, the global surge of Pentecostalism, the rise of "megachurch" congregations driven by "seeker friendly" services that value relevance over tradition and increased ecumenical contacts between Catholic, evangelical and liberal Protestant churches.

Thus, the 965 numbered selections in this new hymnal include 137 selections from its 1957 counterpart and 302 from a 1987 volume. However, it also includes at least 100 contemporary "praise choruses" and 50-plus hymns from around the world, with texts translated from 30 different languages. Every hymn in the book is annotated with guitar chords.

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