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Q&A: Hymnal’s theology committee leader

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Jon Duncan, state music director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, led the theological review process for the 2008 Baptist Hymnal during an Oct. 1 summit at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

After the sessions attended by 11 of the 12 committee members, Duncan answered the following questions about the theological impact of hymns:

Question: What is your responsibility in leading the review process for the new Baptist Hymnal?

Jon Duncan: My responsibility was and continues to be one of facilitation. The committee is quite diverse in terms of geography, ministry-calling and other factors. This is a blessing in many respects as the committee presents an accurate picture of Baptist life.

My role is to keep us honed in on the larger picture, which brings us to unity, rather than to feature on the distinctives of each individual’s theological tilt. This concord (two or more entities finding agreement) has served the process well. I have never worked with a finer group of leaders in terms of their willingness to surrender preferences for the sake of purpose. I believe it is a model for Southern Baptists.

Q: Why be so particular/precise about the theology in the hymns?

JD: The hymnal is more than a “song book” to meet a utilitarian need for the congregants. This hymnal, as with past Baptist Hymnals, serves many functions, including providing a historical document of doctrinal beliefs of the family of faith known as Baptists. Our major concern is that the hymnal represents a truly “Christocentric” (Christ-centered) and Trinitarian theology. While Baptists reflect many theological systems, nearly all can find agreement that our theology is first and foremost Christocentric. Our aim is that this hymnal, as with past ones, speaks accurately of Jesus Christ — fully God, fully man and the only means to salvation.

Q: How can good theology in hymns help a congregation of believers grow?

JD: Baptists have always been known for their high view of Scripture, local autonomy, priesthood of believer, Trinitarian theology, and salvation through Christ alone. In pluralistic times such as these, it is more vital than ever that our hymnal presents a clear theology around which Baptists can wrap their arms. Some may view this as “narrow” or “lacking” in terms of cultural progressiveness, but we feel an obligation to remain faithful to our core doctrinal beliefs.

It is not our desire to dictate a particular theological system, such as “dispensational” versus “covenantal,” but to provide a hymnal that reveals a full-orbed view of Christ that encourages the family of faith to carry out the commandments to love God and love others.

Q: How do hymns serve as a means to evangelism and discipleship?

JD: According to Colossians 3.16, psalms, hymns and spiritual songs strengthen the body of Christ to fulfill its mission.

Our singing has multiple dimensions. First and foremost, it allows us to express our praise to God through the relationship we have with the Son and in the power of the Spirit. The admonition of [the apostle] Paul also emphasizes that our singing helps us to internalize our message within the heart.

I believe that, along with most Baptists, my theology was shaped through the singing of hymns. The major “building blocks” of my belief system were formed as a child through singing from the 1956 Hymnal. Although I didn’t understand everything I was singing as a young boy, the theological deposits being made during these formative years provided anchors for my life. As a result, the teaching impact through singing our hymns cannot be understated.

In addition, true worship and discipleship makes a powerful impact on our evangelism. All three components are cyclical. Authentic worship always leads to outward expression through service to one another and to the lost world. In this, the hymnal also has utilitarian impact. The hymnal teaches and inspires the church to be one, with Christ as the head. The hymnal assists us by internalizing our Kingdom responsibility to carry out the Great Commission – all to the glory of God.
Compiled by Polly House, a corporate communications specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information on The Worship Project, go to www.lifewayworship.com.

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