Songwriting and Theology Week 3

In week three we discussed hymn texts that place the writer or ‘us’ into the narrative.  In class Dr. Ruth called these “Inside-Out” poems.

If you have never taken the opportunity to approach a biblical text in this way then you should.  It opens up a lot of different avenues as we seek to understand the text and place it on people’s lips.  In terms of the range of texts we find there aren’t a lot of songs like this available to sing – even though it provides a powerful avenue to explore biblical stories and how Jesus speaks to us in our life circumstances.

Lester Ruth says this about the importance of this kind of song –

 It is easy, natural, and a good thing for our worship songs to arise out of our experience. But what language can we find to voice our experiences in a way that can be shared across the church with Christians having a variety of experiences and culture? And what language can we find that has by its nature broader, implicit theological connections worked into it. The answer is to find the language in the Scriptures. But there’s a problem: the language of many passages in Scripture which speak of what we experience of God and of salvation theologically use a mode of expression that does not always lend itself well to poetic expression. And, as theology is written, the vocabulary tends to become precise and technical as do the ways in which the language is used. One solution is to draw the language for Christian experience from the stories of the Bible. By singing Biblical stories from the inside out, we can write strongly experiential songs without the limitations of language that seems isolated to my own experience. Thus the songs can be shared across many Christians.

Here are a few examples of this from the hymns of Charles Wesley

And Can it Be

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

Story of Jacob wrestling the Angel

1 Come, O thou traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see,
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee,
With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

Bleeding Woman and Jesus

Unclean of life and heart unclean,
How shall I in His sight appear!
Conscious of my inveterate sin
I blush and tremble to draw near;
Yet through the garment of His Word
I humbly seek to touch my Lord.

Our assignment –  To write one stanza of a song which sings a biblical story “from the inside out” in imitation of Wesley’s method. By that I mean you are to select a biblical story and craft one stanza of a song where the biblical character is the “I” of the song who is singing. The perspective of the song should be the perspective of the person in the Bible so that the worshiper now singing the song is singing in the shoes (perhaps, better, sandals) of the person in the Bible.

I thirst beneath the noontime sun
To gather water from the well
To find some shade for all my sin
and spare the gossip they would tell

Who is this man that speaks to me?
Asks me for water from the well
Speaks all my shame into the light
And knows the answer all too well

Not in Samaria or else
Will all God’s people come to pray
But in His Spirit and his truth
Will we be made to know the Way

I am released (my thirst is quenched)
From all the sin thats burned in me
I’ll tell the world will they believe?
The Christ foretold has set me free
—(c) 2011 Bruce Benedict

2 thoughts on “Songwriting and Theology Week 3

  1. Bruce, I’m enjoying following along with you in your class. I met Dr. Lester Ruth earlier this year at an event in Nashville right before he left Asbury to come to Duke. We had some conversation about his plans for the classes he was going to be teaching, and it looks like from your posts that the class is going well. Thanks for sharing – I’ll look forward to see what comes next!

  2. Pingback: Songs for the Book of Luke – Gospel Coalition Music Project | Cardiphonia

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