This thesis tries to answer the question what Christians should be singing in worship and why. The situation in many congregations is one of conflict around music and worship styles. The question is how these can be bridged and how worship leaders can be guided to make responsible choices about what is sung in Sunday worship. It is argued that what is sung, strongly influences the theology and faith of congregants.
The thesis locates the discipline of hymnology within a hermeneutical approach to practical theology and tries to develop a theory to answer the question how to determine quality in Christian songs. The current discussions in practical theology and hermeneutics are examined for their relevance to hymnology, particularly some of the insights of Habermas, Gadamer and Ricoeur. Here particularly the idea of “dialogue” and “fusion of horizons” becomes relevant for bridging the divides in the conflicts around worship music. The dissertation examines biblical and church historical answers to the question of whether and what Christians should be singing. It becomes clear that the answers have varied widely during the course of church history, sometimes swinging between extremes. The next chapter looks at songs in the context of the worship service, their function within various parts of the service, and particularly looks at the dialectical poles of worship which should be kept in balance. Musical perspectives are discussed looking at ways to help people not formally trained in music to evaluate tunes.
This theoretical section leads to a catalogue of criteria for “Good songs”:
These are criteria for quality, for “Good Text”, such as biblical and theological value, how easily it is understood, whether it takes human experience seriously and its poetic value. Criteria for “Good Tune” include its level of difficulty, how heavily it depends on accompaniment, and its balance between the familiar and the interesting and new. The third category of criteria evaluate the match between text and tune in mood, rhythm and climax. The last category looks at the balance in the song between different polarities, such as, amongst others, the balance of past and present, cognitive and emotive elements, between challenge and affirmation, and between universal and particular emphases.
This list of criteria is then tested on three songs each of four different songwriters: two traditional and two contemporary: Paul Gerhardt, Charles Wesley, Graham Kendrick and Noel Richards. In each case a background is given, an overview of their work as a whole and a detailed analysis of each song.
In the end the criteria themselves are evaluated as to their usefulness and user-friendliness. Suggestions are then made how these criteria can guide worship leaders in their choices of songs for the Sunday service.