New doesn’t necessarily mean improved.
This is certainly the case for “The New Doxology” by Gateway Worship.
The first verse of the new one is the same as that of the old one, but they’ve added a chorus.
This recent fad of taking some of the greatest hymns of the Christian faith and adding a little ditty of a chorus, presumably, to make it more palatable to a contemporary audience, is not bad in itself (unless, of course, as the cynic in me wonders, it’s just a cash grab–to produce a popular song without having to go through the trouble of writing one). We like to sing choruses these days, so it’s fine to write one for the ol’ classics.
But at least make it a good one! By “good” I mean that it ought well crafted poetically and it should be Biblical.
This is where “The New Doxology” misses the mark. It has us singing bad, or at least weak, theology.
The original song, published in 1709 by Thomas Ken, emphasizes the extent of the praise that the Triune God deserves as the source of all blessings. It is a call for all “creatures . . . below” to praise him. Importantly, “creatures” doesn’t mean animals, but all things that were created. “Creatures here below” is the entire physical creation–which he called “very good.” The inclusion of the “heavenly hosts” in the injunction emphasizes that there is nothing that is not called to praise him who made it. The scope of this particular line is cosmic.
With man’s sin, everything fell, so the Fall is cosmic too. But God set into motion his plan to redeem everything–a Cosmic Redemption. Jesus said as much in Matthew 19:28, where he speaks of the “the renewal of all things.” In Colossians, Paul says that God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20). We see the consummation of this Biblical theme in Revelation 21:1, with the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. Genesis to Revelation point to a Cosmic Redemption–not just of human souls, but human bodies as well; not just of humans but of trees and mountains as well.
All this is packed into the old doxology. But to make the new doxology we’ve added this:
Praise God, praise God, praise God, Who saved my soul
Praise God, praise God, praise God from Whom all blessings flow
In the light of the original hymn, which talks of creation in it’s broadest possible sense, the new chorus speaks of redemption in it’s most limited sense–God is the saviour of a single soul. If it was a single believer, perhaps we could argue that, as we move from verse to chorus, we move from cosmic to individual. That’d be kind of cool, but this chorus is not talking about a whole believer, but a piece of him. The cosmic nature of God’s redemption has been reduced to a single human soul, simply so that we could use it as a rhyme for the word “flow.”
Christ Tomlin is up to much the same thing. He added a ditty to one of the greatest (and most popular) hymns of the faith, Amazing Grace. Besides the new bridge showing a complete lack of understanding of how metaphors are supposed to work (the line, “And like a flood His mercy reigns” is a mixed metaphor; floods don’t reign, kings do), he brought back the sixth verse of the song, which had been dropped from hymnals, presumably because of its theology.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Here again salvation is limited to the individual; the rest of creation will “dissolve” and “forebear” to do what it was created to do. It seems to me, if God is only able to redeem human souls from all that he made and called “very good,” the devil will have won and “all creatures here below” can give up their praising, for they are all doomed.
The idea that God saves only human souls to live with him in a spiritual heaven is contradicted by the Bible. So where does this idea come from if not in the Bible? Plato. Plato believed that the physical world was distinct from and inferior to the rational world of Ideas. When Christianity interacted with Greek culture, the ideas of Plato became Christianized. The world of Ideals sounded a lot like heaven and we accepted the idea that physical and spiritual things are separate, and we took on the idea that the physical world is evil. These are Greek ideas, not Biblical ones.
To sing of “The God who saved my soul” we are in danger of reducing God to a mere saver of souls. Are we perpetuating the pagan idea that material things are not “good.” If so, we are reducing God’s concern, and consequently ours, from all things to just some things.
It was my impression, from listening to many sermons and podcasts of several different denominations, that the reductive “souls only” redemption was fading out. After all, we no longer sing the old hymns that promulgated the idea. But we’ve got song writers stepping in to mess up the theology of a new generation of Christians.
If the good folks at Gateway actually believe that Christ redemption is for individual human souls then my critique still stands for the chorus still contradicts the verse. For those congregations that believe in a cosmic redemption, please, let’s just use the “old” doxology, or write a chorus that represents the greatest of all blessings–Redemption–in its cosmic scope.
For more on this vision of holistic salvation: