by Steve Brown
A supplement to our Hymnal (Christian Worship) was introduced at the recent “National Conference on Worship, Music and the Arts” in July 2008. Included in the Hymnal Supplement will be several contemporary songs by the songwriting duo of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.
Keith Getty and Staurt Townend are modern day hymn writers living in Ireland. They are indeed on a mission—to revive the art of hymnody.
They have written many popular songs which we have used for worship at our church (Messiah Lutheran) including:
The Power of the Cross
How Deep the Father’s Love For Us
In Christ Alone
“In Christ Alone” is by far their most popular piece and was in fact played at the Synod’s Worship Conference by the Hand Bell Choir.
The anthemic hymn has been recorded more than 200 times. Getty has been quoted as saying: “A pastor in Belfast challenged me to bring to the contemporary church some of what the old hymns of the faith brought to congregations through the centuries,” he says. “I didn’t set out to create the modern hymn. I wanted to write songs that contemporary, traditional, and liturgical churches could all use.”
“The song came about in an unusual way,” Townend explains. “Keith and I met in the autumn of 2000 at a worship event, and we resolved to try to work together on some songs. A few weeks later Keith sent some melody ideas, and the first one on the CD was a magnificent, haunting melody that I loved, and immediately started writing down some lyrical ideas on what I felt should be a timeless theme commensurate with the melody. So the theme of the life, death, resurrection of Christ, and the implications of that for us just began to tumble out, and when we got together later on to fine tune it, we felt we had encapsulated what we wanted to say.”
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…
Townend and Getty both admit they are motivated by the idea of capturing biblical truth in songs and hymns that will not only cause people to express their worship in church, but will build them up in their Christian lives.
“It seems like this song is timely,” Townend says. “We in the West have had our sense of safety and security brutally torn apart by recent world events, and it’s caused many to re-evaluate the foundations of their life. I feel that the song has helped to stir faith in many believers that God really is our protector; that our lives are in His unshakable hands.”
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled and striving cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…
Says Townend: “I had a strong very Irish melody that I could imagine a large crowd singing. I wanted it to become a hymn that would declare the whole life of Christ and what it meant. Something that could teach people the foundations of what we believed in Christ – the God who changed all of history and who wants a relationship with each us.”
The uniqueness of Townend’s writing lies partly in its lyrical content . There is both a theological depth and poetic expression that some say is rare in today’s worship writing. And not surprisingly, it’s an emphasis that Townend and Getty both maintained within the composition of this song in particular.
“I think content is vitally important to our corporate worship,” Townend shares. “Sometimes great melodies are let down by indifferent or clichéd words. It’s the writer’s job to dig deep into the meaning of Scripture and express in poetic and memorable ways the truth he or she finds there. Knowing the truth about God and who we are in Him is central to our lives as believers. Songs remain in the mind in a way sermons do not, so songwriters have an important role and a huge responsibility.”
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…
As well as being a credal song, it fires people with hope – that here is the God who even death cannot hold – “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me”.
He continues, “The lyric [of this song] excites me because it places our hope, our assurance, our eternal destiny in the right place—on the solid foundation of Christ. I know in my own life I need reminding continually not to live by my feelings or my circumstances, but by the unchanging truth of the gospel.”
“In Christ Alone” was the very first collaboration between Townend and Getty. In fact, it was Townend’s first collaboration with any other songwriter. But it was an experience he found to be very fruitful and well worth the effort. So much so that the two have continued their musical partnership on other songs, and are currently working on a series of songs based around the Apostles’ Creed. They are hoping to have a recording available next year, and are excited about the possibility of making it into a live presentation.
You can find out more information on these modern-day hymn writers at their websites:
You can purchase the hand bell setting that was used at the Synod convention here:
You can listen to Keith & his wife perform it here:
Lyrics copyright 2001 Kingsway/Thankyou Music
Information Sources for the quotations used in this article:
All music was once contemporary!