From Mr Christopher Smith
Sir, - I was disappointed to read that the Presbyterian
Committee on Congregational Song in the United States has rejected
the wonderful hymn "In Christ alone" on the grounds that they would
not be allowed to alter "Till on that cross as Jesus died The wrath
of God was satisfied" (
News, 9 August).
There seems these days to be a sentimental approach when it
comes to expressing the Christian faith - an approach that does not
take account of either the holiness of God or the "total depravity"
of mankind. Thus, the biblical doctrine of the atonement, which
required the sacrifice of Jesus the Lamb of God, has been
This, of course, is not new. Several hymns by Charles Wesley and
others have been "sanitised" for similar reasons.
God does not ask us to feel comfortable about what happened at
Calvary: he asks us to believe it. Choirs all over the world sing
in Handel's Messiah "The Lord hath laid on him [Jesus] the
iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53.6). Our sin, and God's judgement of
it, fell upon Jesus.
Bishop Tom Wright is quoted as referring to "John's and Paul's
deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God". Yes, that is
included in their theology, but let it not be forgotten that it was
God's love that placed Jesus on the cross, and the fact
that the triune God offers this as the way of salvation
makes it all the more remarkable. While it was God who required a
sacrifice, it was the same God who provided that sacrifice.
It is a mistake to accept only one side of God's character.
Besides writing of the love of God, John's theology also includes
God's anger against sin (John 3.36). The same apostle also tells us
(1 John 2.2) that Jesus is the propitiation (the satisfaction of
God's righteous anger by way of sacrifice) for our sins.
Paul, too, is at pains to teach the whole counsel of God and not
just bits of it. Besides telling us of God's generous love, he also
speaks of God's wrath (Romans 1.18 and several other references in
The wonder of the gospel is that Jesus bore all of that anger in
our place. The seemingly conflicting ideas of God's just
requirements and his self-giving love are brought together
eloquently in Psalm 85.10: "Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed." This sums up what happened on
By all means let us sing with all our might about God's love;
but, at the same time, let us not draw back from expressing in our
worship the fact that our salvation came at great cost, when Jesus
paid the price for our sin on the altar of Calvary. To my mind, the
original words of Stuart Townend's and Keith Getty's song bring
these complementary truths together perfectly.
71 Barnham Road, Barnham
West Sussex PO22 0EP
From the Revd Stephen Southgate
Sir, - It was nine years ago that the stirring hymn "In Christ
alone" was included in the final worship at our diocesan clergy
conference, and I noticed that several of us stopped singing in the
A short time later, I was with a well-known speaker and
hymn-writer, who was saying what a really nice guy Stuart Townend
is. When I queried the lyric about God's wrath, he declared: "Och,
that's just bad theology." There lies the problem: really nice
Christians, faithfully reiterating really bad theology.
When St Anselm of Canterbury offered his analogy of what Jesus
accomplished on the cross, he was the faithful subject of a brutal
Norman overlord, whose honour had to be maintained for the fabric
of society to remain intact; so his punitive theology seemed to
Selective proof-texts and a fundamental misreading of, for
example, Hebrews can seem to support his view - except that it
flies in the face of Jesus's core teaching about God's mercy and
Tweaking bad theology for continued consumption is rather like
picking broken glass out of an otherwise decent meal; so I wrote a
complete alternative second verse (which a number of my colleagues
The power of the cross does not have to cast God as a tyrant,
nor his Son as a mere offering, even if the idea is deeply embedded
in certain of our worship texts, ancient and modern; and we can
celebrate the wonders of Christ alone all the better with his own
theology in the proper context.
S. M. SOUTHGATE
The Vicarage, Grove Road
Mollington, Chester CH1 6LG
From the Revd Jonathan Frais
Sir, - You report that the new Presbyterian songbook rejects "In
Christ alone" because the song suggests that "the cross is
primarily about God's need to placate God's anger". Nevertheless,
your readers might consider that this rejected view is anticipated
by the Passover (the blood of the substitute lamb turns aside the
angel of death, Exodus 12); accepted by Jesus (cup of punishment,
Gethsemane); apostolic in teaching (propitiation, 1 John 2.2);
Anglican in doctrine (satisfaction, BCP prayer of consecration);
and allows sins to be forgiven (God in Christ reconciling us to
himself; see The Cross of Christ by John Stott). Let's
keep the gospel in our songs!
The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue
East Sussex TN39 4TY
From Mr Richard Ashby
Sir, - So "In Christ alone" has been dropped from the
forthcoming US Presbyterian hymn book because of the inclusion of
the lines about the satisfaction of God's wrath. By and large, this
is a hymn that Evangelicals of a certain stripe sing, and it
doesn't appear in the mainstream hymn books of the Church of
England. How many of us, though, realise that the same pernicious
doctrine is being propounded in these verses?
He died that we might be forgiven.
He died to make us good;
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
This favourite hymn is sung by everyone and everywhere. I see
that the 1933 edition of The English Hymnal asterisked
these two verses as optional, although that was not repeated either
in the 1950 Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised or in The
New English Hymnal.
The Church has never settled on one meaning and definition of
the "atonement", very wisely, but this definition creeps in via our
hymnody and we need to be aware of it.
Should we stop singing "There is a green hill far away"? I don't
really think so; but we ought to be aware of what we are singing,
and realise that, while hymns may well contain truths, they are not
11 Jubilee Mews
Emsworth PO10 8EA