This morning I was rifling through blog posts in Google reader and noticed a familiar looking image on my feed from the Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition post was by Mike Cosper, and he was lauding the evangelical emphasis of late to dispense with all the old hymn tunes. He wants us to keep singing old texts, but to new tunes. I am not entirely opposed to new tunes, but the kind of tunes he prefers are not those we encourage churches to introduce in our worship, generally speaking. On the contrary, we love many old tunes, not because they are old (though this fact encourages us in our repeated use of them), but because they are good. Anyway, in extolling this new emphasis on distorting old texts with “creative, contextualized music,” he* inserted an image that he downloaded from my personal blog, Immoderate. (You can compare the two images here: Immoderate | Gospel Coalition.) Though he did not solicit my permission, he didn’t need to; I own no copyright on the image, and Mr Cosper’s free to use it. But the irony struck me.
That image is from a scanned copy of the cover of one of the original Gospel Songs I purchased off eBay several years ago. I inserted it into a blog from a series of posts recounting the history of gospel songs, especially those of the late 19th century and Ira Sankey, as well as an earlier post about the book itself. The image is apt. It well shows the populism of its publisher: this edition is the “Excelsior” edition; the book is not terribly well-bound; it is ephemeral.
But I want to use this occasion to highlight again the series of posts, now five years old. In them I suggest that the history of the American “gospel song” tradition demonstrates that it was unhelpfully popular and transient in the evangelicalism of several generations ago. It is therefore somewhat ironic that my image is being used again to perpetuate that same impulse in the current generation of evangelicals. Although I would likely supplement and even alter some of what I wrote several years ago, I think the posts are still instructive today; we should show a great deal of constraint in appropriating contemporary popular culture in order to communicate a timeless faith. So, in that spirit, I encourage you to read the original series:
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 1
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 2
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 3
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 4
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 5
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 6
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 7
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 8
- Ira Sankey’s Gospel Songs, Part 9
Postscript: It may have been Mike Cosper or the blog editor Collin Hanson or anyone else who inserted the image. And, let me stress, that I am not bothered in any way by the use of the image. Still, the irony was not lost on me.