Fanny Songs: Thinking about Fanny Crosby Hymns and the Contemporary Music Debacle

On Hymnody, folks have asked about the Fanny Crosby comment – she is by far the most influential American hymn writer, she was a theological and political liberal that would make Hillsong, Elevation or Bethel blush with embarrassment.

Let’s be careful to say and to recognize this.. the hymns are not different in type, kind or composition from “contemporary” christian worship songs. They are for all intents and purposes identical. Some are better, some are worse, but all are merely cultural adaptations set to familiar cultural phrases, notes, beats, rhythm and form. One is not holier than the other and there is little reason to think that hymnody is essentially different. Someone might say that the hymns are older but older than what? Just a little older at best. The mere fact of their age doesn’t say anything very interesting about them. Some might prefer the form of the hymns but that is simply saying they like older sounding music; that was new sounding music in the 1920s, or the 1880s, or the 1790s. They are the contemporary Christian songs that were put into books we call hymnals in the last generation. Does the method of printing make them holier? Holier than what? A hymn is by definition a song in a hymnal. There is nothing more complicated to it than that.

Still, Fanny wrote:

Praise Him! Praise Him!
Blessed Assurance
Redeemed How I Love To Proclaim It!
Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior
Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross / In The Cross
I Am Thine Oh Lord / Draw Me Nearer
He Hideth My Soul
Tell Me The Story Of Jesus
Close to Thee
He Hideth My Soul
More Like Jesus
I Am Thine, O Lord (Draw Me Nearer)
Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home
Many many more…

These are the big favorites because they tend to be the more orthodox ones; the less weird ones but they were not the only kind.

But she was the vanguard of the contemporary worship movement of her era. 100 years ago her name was synonymous with the downgrade of conservative theology.

Also, I think this is true, her work was a primary force behind the feminization of the church in America that led to the exodus of the American male from church attendance and church membership. Ladies, your men love you, so they put up with some songs because you love the songs. But your men know Jesus does not ‘walk with you and talk with you’ and his voice is not “so sweet that the birds stop their singing”.

The men know that God is the all powerful king of heaven and earth that destroys his enemies and will destroy theirs in due time. He is a warrior God of a warrior people that loves a sharp sword and a strong sword arm. He conquers nations and reduces entire civilizations to ashes should they oppose his rule. We can’t “feel” him and he doesn’t seem to like soupy love songs. That’s why we don’t like contemporary worship songs; it’s not because they’re so different from the big, famous hymns – it is because they are copies of them.

If you’re willing to sing Fanny songs you might not have a serious theological opposition to singing any other contemporary Christian songs because the hymns are generally from questionable and liberal sources. The hymnals are seldom a preserving force toward the integrity of the faith (they can be and should be but there’s no reason to think that’s an uninterpreted truth) but more often an opening door to liberalism and theological compromise.

For hundreds of years theological aggressors have manipulated the average well intentioned church goer into bad spirituality through the use of popular music, poetry and art.

That doesn’t make any of these things wrong.. It’s just a historical truth. Good music is good music. The church should have high standards and great music. I can sing many of them in church without regret or any feeling of compromise but we do have to be conscious of these things. We need to know our own story and that all the hymns are historically sound and perfectly safe is not the story.

Frankly, some of the Fanny Songs are great. Some of the Wesley songs too, but when the Bible wasn’t going their way on a heavy theological matter they could always write a song to the contrary.

It might have been a great benefit to the church but it also poses a great danger.


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