Music for the Church: Mark Dever Interviews Keith Getty

Mark Dever recently sat down with hymn writer and musician Keith Getty to talk about his hymn-writing, the effects of technology on church music, and more.

Note: “We’ve received a number of questions regarding which hymnals are most used at CHBC. The top ones we use are The Baptist Hymnal (1991); Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (Founders Press), and the Presbyterian Trinity Hymnal. Also check out Hymns Modern and Ancient by Fred and Ruth Coleman, and the new Hymns of Grace from Master’s Press for more modern-style hymns. Hope this helps!” — Matt Merker

Editor’s note: Below, we’ve copied the letter that Mark reads at the end of this podcast.

Dear Mark,

I just wanted to take the opportunity to encourage and thank you for your selection of Puritan Hymns in service. It has been a continuous source of encouragement and a powerful vehicle for God’s comforting grace in my life and the life of my family. Just as God has used the doctrines of grace to change my thinking, He has used these hymns to change my emotions and build new affections for the truth. It is a joy for me to sing these songs!!!

…and here is why.

Music is and always has been a major part of my life. Music has always effected my emotions and thoughts (for good or bad). I am a 27 year old black male, who was born and raised in the Washington, DC area. My Pre-conversion taste for music consisted of mostly Hip-hop and R&B artists, some local bands, and a sprinkling of more eclectic artists. Regardless of the genre though, I had a particular affinity for the most outrageous and vulgar lyrics and artists in those categories. Secular music often times set the tone for sinful thoughts that would lead to sinful actions.

I also grew up in a church where much of the music I remember fell under the category of gospel music (contemporary gospel, negro spirituals, and some uptempo or updated renditions of old hymns). I place a small “g” in the word “gospel” because the actual Gospel of God, while it may have been the inspiration of most of these songs, It is all to often not expressed or explained clearly, but merely alluded to (or purposefully avoided), by the people who sing them. So while many times in the past I was able to join in the emotional and energetic explosion that the music encouraged, i truly had no sense of the gravity of the subject matter. By the grace of God my current condition is much different. That’s partly due to God changing me receptive, but also because the Word of God is central in the music. In this sense, the music at Capitol Hill has been an adjustment….but a wonderful and refreshing adjustment.

Don’t get me wrong. These songs often make me deeply emotional, and I believe God wants me to be emotional (He created me to be so). But if my emotions are attached to a distortion of the truth or an outright lie, what good does that do me and what honor does that do God? Now do I think songs sung in church have to be Puritan Hymns sung to acoustic guitar are the only songs that glorify God? No! I love Shai Linne and Trip Lee, and other solid Christian Hip-hop artists as well. And I imagine that songs from Shai or Trip will either somehow be sung by congregations or read as poetry by Christians 100 or so years from now in the same way. Not because the style of music is  appealing, but because the theological integrity and substantive doctrine that they share will always be useful to guide the hearts of saints towards Christ and the Gospel. That’s why I  absolutely LOVE the music we sing at CHBC!

But there is even something sweet to me in the STYLE of singing. It’s in the fact that it sounds radically different from anything else.  I come from a very “soulful,” black Christian background, and many of my friends, coworkers, and relatives look at me like a crazy person because i like the music at CHBC. To me its a good thing that the music that I sing to God and to my own soul has nothing in common with other music, in terms of sound. To my ear, It’s nothing like the music from my former life,  nothing like the music I hear at work,  and nothing like the shallow feel good music that sometimes passes as gospel. Far from being superficial, I think that this difference has been healthy and helpful.  There is a sense of great reverence in this distinction. God is Holy and not at all common. It forces me to soberly approach the subject of the song (God), and simultaneously delight in the rich and dense theological truth that my lips and heart are singing. When I hear a person humming a song from church in the hallway, I immediately recognize it and have a different appreciation for that than if I heard them humming a song that I enjoy from the radio.

These songs have helped me anchor my soul in the Gospel! How awesome is it to take some of the most complex and mind-bending truths of the Bible, and put them in something as organic to the soul as a song! I have read and memorized Bible verses and learned a lot about the doctrines of the faith. And these things have been invaluable to me and nourishing to me. But there are times when I am struggling, and my mind is foggy, my memory is cloudy, and my thinking is skewed. In the moment when the feelings of doubt suffocate me, or the feeling of guilt over my sins crushes me, or the anxiety I feel DAILY troubles me, The Lord uses these songs to softly and gently remind me of the beauty of the truth.

When I look at my prayers, and I get the feeling that my words aren’t even going past the ceiling, and I’m distracted, and there’s so much sin, and my prayers are so feeble, and only minutes have gone by at this point; I could remind myself of Hebrews 4:14-16, and Christ’s role as High Priest, but what a comfort it is to hum…

“Before the Throne of God above,
I have a STRONG and PERFECT plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me!”

Or when I’m wondering if I’m a Christian at all, thinking “how is someone like me actually going to make it in to heaven? I’m so weak! I have nothing good, even when i do good it stinks, and even my faith seems too small!” Or when I’m anxious, or that heavy feeling in my chest hits me. I might have the clear head to rehearse 2 Cor 5:21, or remember the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. But when I’m crying and too tired to think clearly, what a comfort it is to sing to myself and to God…

“Jesus paid it all!/ All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow! “

Or if my mind gets me thinking that “Christ couldn’t (or doesn’t) care about me, I’m on my own”, or even that “Christ will save me, but He doesn’t love me in particular.” The words of Christ in John 14 or 17 will often show me the truth

But when my emotions won’t budge I can sing to my heart…

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

God gives me a song from CHBC for every doubt and doubt feeling in my head, and this makes them sweet to me! And I don’t have to second guess those feelings of comfort, because I can be confident they are grounded in the truth of Scripture, and that the Spirit is the One impressing these things on my soul! What a weapon against the lies in my heart.

I LOVE the music at CHBC! Thank you for showing me the truth through song! Thank you for being committed to singing songs that teach the truth, regardless of whether they appeal to any persons particular sensibilities! Thank you for singing them in a way that distinguishes them from any other song! And please continue!

PS: Even my son (who is 2) knows the difference between a song that he hears in a Disney movie and “Jesus songs” or “Jesus movies,” though he doesn’t have much of a clue about its content. And that’s a beautiful thing to see!

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