Are we entering a “post-hymnal” age? As strange as it may seem, the answer for now appears to be a qualified yes.

It was Martin Luther who capitalized on the development of print and gave the German people the Bible and the hymnal in their own language. And it was this that allowed Reformation believers to hear God through his Word and speak to him through the hymnbook. Today, however, the hymnbook is being increasingly discarded as part of the church’s accommodation to the video revolution.

Many church leaders say traditional hymns are too hard to understand, too theological in language. Some have discarded their hymnals in favor of simple worship choruses sung from memory or with the help of an overhead projector. But these uncomplicated songs may in fact mirror the video age in which they were born: as short and encapsulated as news stories, and as repetitive as fast-food commercials.

Let us take a closer look at these “tiny hymns”—miniature both in length and in content—that threaten to replace our historic hymns. Their very title—“praise and worship” music—suggests they are principally texts of adoration and praise. This is surely commendable—despite their obvious limitations—and we should be grateful the movement has revived the ancient practice of singing Scripture verbatim. But labeling this new form suggests “praise and worship” texts are new, and that is surely not true—our hymnals are full of worthy “praise and worship” words.

These new pieces are short, often no longer than two lines. Their main characteristic is simplicity; usually only one idea is stated, and it may be repeated many times. Those having more ...

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