Some Similarities and Differences between Historic Evangelical Hymns and Contemporary Worship Songs


Artistic Theologian 3 (2015): 68–86

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Lester Ruth is Research Professor of Christian Worship at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC.  Prior to teaching, he served several pastoral appointments in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  His doctorate in worship history is from the University of Notre Dame.

Hymns are not choruses and praise choruses are not hymns. This sentiment was one of the major truisms of the battles that erupted in the United States in the latter twentieth century over various styles of worship. The idea that the two were not the same seemed self-evident. Indeed, early forms of contemporary worship, even before that term was coined, were premised on a distinction between the bodies of congregational song. For example, in the late 1970s the worship of John Wimber’s congregation in southern California—first a Calvary Chapel and then a Vineyard Fellowship—was predicated upon those worshipers wanting to sing songs to God, not about God.

But is such a dichotomy accurate? Are those bodies of song all that different? From a certain angle, especially one that only asks theological questions about the lyrics, hymns and choruses are often quite similar. They both are windows into a piety that shows constancy for more than 200 years in many critical aspects. Specifically, a theological analysis of the lyrics of the most popular evangelical hymns and choruses in the United States demonstrates important similarities in their Trinitarian perspective—or lack thereof—over the last 200 years. In addition, a close lyrical examination reveals significant points of divergence, especially in a shift to more direct forms of adoration in worship as well as in different eschatologies.

Songs Considered: The Method

A representative list of the most popular contemporary worship songs can be compiled from the twice-a-year top twenty-five lists made public by Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), the copyright clearinghouse that serves more than 150,000 churches in the United States who hold a license with it. These top twenty-five lists are compiled from the reporting of usage by churches in six-month periods. Since the first list was published in 1989, 112 songs have appeared on these lists through the February 2015 reporting period. This is the corpus of contemporary worship songs (hereafter CWS) used for this study.[1]

Likewise, the work of historian of religion Stephen Marini, who has surveyed the contents of 200 historically significant American evangelical hymnals from 1737 to 1969, provides a reliable historical canon of hymns likely reflecting actual use. From his master list, Marini has created a variety of smaller lists, including the most-printed hymns in eighty-six historically significant evangelical hymnals from 1737 to 1860. Culling through the 33,000 hymns in these eighty-six hymnals and identifying those that were published in at least one-third of them, Marini has identified seventy evangelical hymns (hereafter EH) that appeared in at least one-third of the hymnals in that period.[2] It is reasonable to take this list of seventy hymns as a comparable accounting of the most popular evangelical hymns of early America (a comprehensive list of the hymns and songs considered in this essay appears in Appendix A). Similar questions were posed about the lyrics in both bodies of song to explore their theological content.[3]

Assessing Trinitarian Quality

The first line of inquiry considered the use of nouns: how do the two bodies of lyrics name the divine? This is the first critical step because Trinitarian assessment builds upon how—and whether—the first, second, and third Persons of the Triune God are named. Without the naming of the Persons of the Godhead, there can be no recognition of their relationship to each other and the roles within the economy of salvation. The naming of the three Persons, recognition of their deity, and portrayal of their interaction with each other and the world is foundational to a text being Trinitarian, not the use of the word “Trinity” since the New Testament itself does not use this term.

When the songs were examined in this way, the explicit Trinitarian dimensions of both bodies of song are relatively weak. They do not reflect the naming practices for God in the New Testament or in many classic liturgical texts. The two bodies of song share several similarities regarding their Trinitarian quality:

  • They rarely describe God as Triune (only four percent in either corpus clearly name all three Persons);
  • Only one song in each corpus worships God for being Triune;
  • They infrequently mention more than one divine Person within a single text (only twenty-four percent in EH and less in CWS);
  • They contain many examples of naming God generically (e.g., God, Lord, King) in which the content of the song does not explicitly bring to mind one of the Persons, unless sovereignty, power, and majesty are attributed solely to God the Father; and
  • When a divine Person is explicitly named, it is much more likely to be Jesus Christ (at least half of the songs in either corpus). (See Appendix B for specific numbers.)[4]

Not only is Jesus Christ named much more regularly, but general divine notions of power and activity are attributed to him. The songs tend to associate more generic names (not only Lord, but also God and King) to him. For example, Charles Wesley’s referring to Jesus as Redeemer, God, King, and Savior in “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” in EH is matched by pieces in CWS like Jason Ingram’s and Reuben Morgan’s naming of Jesus as Lord and God in “Forever Reign” or Audrey Mieir’s adoration of Jesus as Lord, King, Master, and Almighty God in “His Name Is Wonderful.” But, even without this associating of divine names to Jesus Christ, both bodies of song focus tightly on Jesus Christ.

A confluence of several possible factors can explain the generic naming practices and the strong attachment to Jesus Christ. The first is the influence of the Psalms on evangelical songwriting. Except for a few Psalms with overt Christological readings, or the few Psalms that make specific reference to the Spirit of God, most refer to God in a general manner, i.e., speaking of the divine being as God, Lord, or King. The influence of the Psalms is likely both direct and indirect. It is direct because many evangelical worship songs are intended to be obvious adaptations of a Psalm; it is indirect in that individual and corporate reading, praying, and meditating on the Psalms influence the shaping of Christian piety, which provides a main source of vocabulary for worshipers.

The second factor is the natural affective attraction to Jesus Christ that arises from evangelicalism’s emphasis upon salvation. Worshipers intensely focused on salvation will likely be preoccupied with the one they call Savior, i.e., Jesus Christ. He is the one who has acted decisively on the behalf of the believer, and thus gratitude, dependence, love, and a host of other affect-related dispositions of the soul are likely to be connected with him. It seems easier for evangelicals—past and present—to envision an essential role for Jesus Christ in salvation than for either the Father or the Spirit. These songs bear that out for the most part, as they revel in the rehearsal and recollection of the economy of grace as experienced through Jesus Christ.[5]

In addition, the Incarnation almost gives Jesus Christ an advantage over the Father and the Spirit. The tangibility of Jesus Christ’s embodiment is helpful to an evangelical worshiper who can visualize him, whether generally or with respect to particular episodes in the Gospels. Thus the worshiper can personalize Jesus Christ and think of him physically in a way that is more difficult to do for God the Father and the Holy Spirit. It seems that Christ having a body makes it easier for the evangelical worshiper to love him. Even though past and present worshipers may love Jesus Christ for different reasons, their hymns and songs indicate that he—neither the Father nor the Spirit—is the main recipient of their love.

A third possible factor is the widespread popularity of a hymn or song being contingent upon avoiding contested or distinctive theological issues. As noted by Marini, subjects missing from the most popular hymns, including issues about the Triune Godhead, were more controversial 200 years ago than gathering around the figure of Christ.[6] The desire to avoid controversial issues remains likely today as music publishers police what theological expressions appear in contemporary worship songs so as to strive for maximum marketability.[7] Thus the market can squelch the fuller orthodoxy (or unorthodoxy) of individual lyricists.

An additional contributing factor concerning recent songs may be that worshipers simply do not notice what (or Who) has been omitted. They are not paying that much precise attention to the lyrics in isolation. For example, Clive Marsh and Vaughan S. Roberts suggest that listening to popular music has trained people—including contemporary worshipers—not to focus on the lyrics narrowly, but on their role as “musicalized words” to help produce a soundscape. This “affective space” that the listener occupies is produced not only by the words, but by the sound of the song in conjunction with a sense of participating in it and the physicality of the experience. Thus lyrics can have an effect even if they are not profound or even accurate (or, one might add, theologically exhaustive or inclusive).[8] If the songs contribute to a worshiper’s experience of awe, adoration, and praise, the worshiper might not notice what the songs do not mention.

Assessing Divine and Human Activity

The second line of inquiry dealt with verbs: how do the two bodies of song speak about divine activity, especially in salvation and in worship, and how do they speak of human activity? These questions are useful in two respects. Looking at the verbs,[9] for example, opens up how the lyrics tend to portray the Triune God’s role in the economy of salvation. This commemoration is important because it is a classic basis for worship: God is worshiped by remembering what he has done to save. In addition, looking at the verbs reveals how the divine and human interact, both in salvation and in worship. Looking at all the verbs used in both bodies of song for both divine and human action, there are similarities, some of which are related to earlier comments about the Trinitarian dimensions of the songs, and some critical dissimilarities. The verbs suggest the most significant differences that exist between the vocabulary of classic evangelical hymnody and contemporary worship song deal with different portrayals of how worshipers negotiate relationships to the Triune God, each other, and eschatological concerns.

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Before considering the differences, first look at three similarities that relate to the portrayal of divine and human activity. (See Appendix C for specific comparative numbers relating to the two bodies of song.) The first similarity between the two bodies of song is the greater number and greater variety of verbs attributed to humans rather than to God or any of the three Persons of the Godhead. In the seventy evangelical hymns, there are almost two verbs for people to every verb for God; in CWS, it is one and one-half human verbs to every divine verb. With respect to the number of different verbs within a corpus, i.e., the variety of actions attributed to people and God, God in EH has forty percent of the number of different verbs and people have sixty percent. On the same issue, CWS has people holding just over fifty percent of the assortment of verbs and divinity just under fifty percent.

Given the strong naming practices with respect to the Son as discussed above, it is not surprising that there is a related similarity in the attribution of divine activity. This is the second similarity. When one of the three Persons is named as acting within the songs, it is most usually Jesus Christ. The second most frequent divine actor is a more generic God, Lord, or King, not the Father or the Spirit. The situation is particularly acute in CWS, in which the Spirit receives only two verbs in 111 of the 112 songs: “blaze” (from Graham Kendrick’s “Shine, Jesus, Shine”) and “lead” (from Joel Houston, Matt Crocker, and Salomon Ligthelm’s “Oceans”). The exception is one new song, “Holy Spirit” by Bryan and Katie Torwalt, which has seven verbs for the Spirit.

A third similarity is closely related to the second: even when the divine Persons are named or inferred, regardless of which corpus, there is little cooperative activity. The Persons generally do not act upon each other or through each other toward humanity. The Persons rarely act in concert. This portrayal of divine action thus gives a sense of compartmentalized endeavors, even when there is more explicit naming.

A fourth similarity is in the references to the death of Jesus Christ, inasmuch as no single theory of the atonement predominates in either EH or CWS. For example, both bodies of song contain strongly worded sentiments by which a worshiper responds in loving gratitude while contemplating the moral influence of his death. Isaac Watts’s “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?” thus has the worshipers admit that the “dear cross” dissolves our hearts in thankfulness and melts our eyes to tears. Likewise, Kurt Kaiser’s 1975 song “O How He Loves You and Me” wonders at how Jesus’ journey to Calvary shows the marvel of his love.

The moral influence theory does not exclude other views on the saving effect of Christ’s atonement in the hymns and songs. Statements about his death averting the justly deserved wrath of God occur in both EH and CWS. The satisfaction of God’s wrath in Stuart Townend’s recent “In Christ Alone” matches the hope of Christ pleading his blood in heaven as sung in Joseph Hart’s “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched” (1759). In like manner both bodies of song can triumph in strong statements of Christ’s vanquishing the forces of evil. The same happy note of Jesus’ conquest can thus be found in the older hymnody (“He Dies! The Friend of Sinner Dies!”) and new songs (“Mighty to Save”). Even the ransom theory of atonement gets an occasional use as in Wesley’s “Blow, Ye, the Trumpet Blow” or Tomlin’s “Jesus Messiah.”

As can be seen in these examples, the references to his death are usually brief statements crafted for evocative impact, leaving the worshiper appreciating Jesus Christ’s saving work without defining its efficacy in much detail. Some individual songs seem to hint at multiple views on the atonement within a single song. For example, “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?” also makes a clear reference to Jesus’ body being exposed to the wrath of God, an echo of a penal substitution theory of the atonement. In addition, the remembrance of his death is so compact in many of the pieces in both bodies of song that it is very difficult to know how it is that his death on the cross saves even as the reality of this salvation becomes the basis for worship. Thus many lyrics simply reference the death of Jesus, leaving the details to the worshiper’s imagination as in Jack Hayford’s popular song “Majesty,” which magnifies and glorifies “Jesus who died, now glorified.” Many EH acquiesced in using the death and resurrection of Christ as primary ways to identify him without expansion.

Finally, there is a fifth similarity in the lack of historical breadth for divine endeavors. Apart from recognizing God’s act of creation, there is little sense of God’s historical interaction with Israel prior to the coming of Jesus Christ or any sense of divine participation during the life and ministry of Jesus. One could know little of Old Testament scriptures or of the Gospels and not be theologically confused by either body of song. The most significant exception to that claim is the typological and allegorical use of a certain cluster of stories, especially from the narrative of Exodus and arrival in the Promised Land, that provide a poetic way of describing Christian hope and experience in EH. John Cennick’s “Jesus, My All, to Heaven Is Gone,” the most republished of the hymns prior to the Civil War is built upon this narrative. The singer’s long journey to heaven, following the trail blazed by the ascended Christ, is portrayed as a sojourn toward Canaan. In like manner, references to pilgrimage, the Promised Land, the Jordan River, Canaan, and the wilderness are sprinkled in the lyrics of EH.

Direct and Indirect Address of Divinity

While the two bodies of song share many similarities with respect to portraying divine and human activity, there are some significant differences between the two repertoires, but the differences are not always where people might first assume them to be.

The first significant difference between the two bodies of song deals with the frequency and manner in which a divine Person is addressed directly in worship through song. Not only is there a clear tendency toward prayer to the divine in contemporary worship songs but there is an overwhelmingly strong propensity toward immediate worship of divinity, whether in sheer numbers of CWS or in relative percentage as compared to EH. CWS tend to use such phrases as “I worship you, I honor you, I praise you” in a direct approach to worship. CWS come before divinity in worship in terms of bold address to God, eagerly, and repeatedly, whereas EH tend to praise in indirect ways. For example, compare the indirect piling up of laudatory affirmations in Edward Peronnet’s “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” with the direct adoration of “I Exalt Thee” by Pete Sanchez Jr. Both praise deity but the former does so by speaking of Christ in the third person while the latter approaches a divine “Thou” or “Thee.”

The prevalence of direct speech to God in CWS contrasts with a distinctive element in EH, which has a greater likelihood of including direct address to people in the form of exhortation for a variety of purposes. On the whole, a corporate consciousness permeates Evangelical hymnody but is lacking in contemporary songs. That quality is easily seen in the numerous constructions in EH using the archaic first person vocative pronoun “ye” as in “ye saints,” “ye ransomed sinners,” or “ye that love the Lord.” In these cases this acknowledgement of other people is linked with some sort of charge or instruction, often to come to God to worship him or accept grace. While this sort of corporate awareness can be found in CWS, with (e.g., Karen Lafferty’s “Seek Ye First” from 1972) or without archaic English, it is generally less prevalent in the newer songs.

These differences in CWS and EH relate to a shift with respect to key clusters of verbs. Simply put, CWS clearly tends to emphasize the activity of humans worshipping more often. Verbs like “worship” and “praise” are much less frequent in EH than CWS. For example, there are only three instances of the verb “worship” in EH but fifteen in CWS. With these two key verbs, along with corresponding verbs common in contemporary evangelical piety (lift, long, glorify, magnify, bow, adore, and the like), CWS tend to spend quite a bit more time directly adoring the divine (see Appendix C).

Different Eschatologies

Is there likewise a cluster of related verbs that is fairly distinctive for EH but not for CWS? There are two and they are related in creating a worldview in EH almost completely absent from CWS. The two groups deal with 1) human failings or fragility and 2) human journeying. The overriding worldview of EH is that humans sin (sin is never used as a verb per se in CWS, only as a noun), which creates a genuine peril, given the fragility of life itself and the possibility of ever-present physical death after which might come the wrath of God. Thus EH portrays Christian experience as a journey of harrowing dangers and temptations that, if one stays true and faithful, will safely bring the Christian, by the grace of Christ, to a destiny of unspeakable bliss. For example, the most often printed hymn in Marini’s list, John Cennick’s “Jesus, My All, to Heaven Is Gone,” uses this image of successful journey as its main motif. And, with respect to human fragility, no text in CWS compares to Isaac Watts’s “Hark! From the Tombs a Doleful Sound” that invites the worshiper to consider the grave as the place “where you must shortly lie.” Even Matt Redman’s acknowledgement of death in “10,000 Reasons” seems domesticated by comparison (“The end draws near and my time has come”).

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To state it another way, the two bodies of song reflect different eschatologies at work in evangelical piety. The sense of our ultimate destiny in EH is delayed and mediated by key biblical types. One day our sojourn through the wilderness will be done, we will pass over the river, and enter into the Promised Land or heavenly city. The strophic structure of an EH reinforces the necessity for an expected virtue of the worshiper: patience, whether patience to persevere to the end of the journey or patience to wait until the concluding stanza of the hymn for the vision of glory.

In contrast, the sense of fulfillment in CWS is immediate.[10] As the angels and the heavenly host constantly sing “holy, holy, holy” (notice how often the singing of “holy” is used in contemporary lyrics), so by our music we immediately access heaven and participate in our destiny to worship God. Jennie Lee Riddle’s “Revelation Song,” based on a fusion of texts from the book of Revelation, is the quintessential example of this approach. Moreover, the structure of many CWS reinforces the possibility of immediate access as the repeating of verses, chorus, and bridge create an ascending experience. The necessary virtues for a worshiper are thus passion or intimacy, depending on the branch of CWS.

How can we account for the differences between hymns and worship songs? It is difficult to make absolute claims since, with either body of texts, we are dealing not with a single individual, or two, but dozens of writers. In addition there is the complexity that lies behind any one song becoming a favorite song of a period. But some explanations are possible.

First, diverse historic contexts shape evangelical piety differently. For instance, the rise of modern medicine has diminished the sense of human mortality and thus the fear of human frailty (and the corresponding fear of the wrath of God). Without the benefit of recent medical advances, earlier evangelicals faced the possibility of an early death. The current sense of what is urgent has shifted. Longer lives, consumerist expectations, and a middle-class lifestyle for lyricist and congregation alike have created a desire for immediate fulfillment. We do not sojourn, we arrive. We now flee from meaninglessness, not an impending judgment. Recent songs tend to reflect this shift.

It seems likely that a second factor for the major differences between the two bodies of song has reinforced this first shift: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress has been lost as the defining narrative for Christian experience. The recurring themes of much of EH are the plot lines of this devotional classic translated into poetic form. The awareness that we are in constant danger over a long journey toward our final destiny is the recurring aspect of both Pilgrim’s Progress and this hymnody. Indeed, without that narrative of pilgrimage and its key image of arrival organizing the narrative of Christian discipleship, the patient longing and desire that is common in EH is missing from more recent texts.

Since many of the early CWS are products of the early Jesus People movement, one must also consider the eschatology widely held among them that the return of Christ was extremely imminent, as Larry Eskridge points out in his new book on this movement.[11] There is no reason to set a course for a long journey of discipleship if Jesus might return any moment. Not surprisingly, the music division of the influential Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, which disseminated much of the early CWS, was named Maranatha! Music.

The Loveliness of the Divine

The theological commonalities between the most-used evangelical songs in American worship, past and present, should make those who wish to disparage one or the other body of songs hesitate to do so. Their shared core piety focused on Jesus Christ suggests evangelicals today ought to be able to incorporate both bodies of song in their worship and thus bridge the gap between those with different worship style preferences. If we can recognize that at their core both collections of evangelical worship songs, whether older or newer, are fervently fascinated by Jesus Christ, that commonality could theoretically serve as a basis for appreciating EH and CWS.

Ironically, the same level of limited concentration on Christ—and not on a more robust Trinitarian balance—means that the sung expression of evangelical faith, historically and currently, does not reflect New Testament ways of naming the Godhead and speaking of divine activity, a practice that is distressing. American evangelicals, past and present, would certainly insist that true worship needs to be scriptural and probably would argue that their worship is. If that is so, it is incongruous that their most popular songs, past and present, do not name God and remember his mighty acts in the same way and with the same balance as the New Testament. The New Testament names God the Father and the Holy Spirit more frequently than do EH and CWS and speaks of their contributions to the economy of salvation in more detail, too.

Notwithstanding these commonalities, the differences between the most popular past EH and CWS demonstrate that evangelical liturgical piety has changed over the last 200 years. One possible explanation for the shift is a change in what evangelicals love theologically about the divine object of their worship. Inspired by St. Augustine’s observation from the fifth century, it seems reasonable to describe a worship song as theology in the form of love. Augustine put it this way: “Whoever sings praise, not only sings but also loves the person about whom one sings. In praise the one confessing speaks out; in singing there is the ardor of the one who loves.”[12] If this is true, then a study of hymn and song texts can demonstrate that the divine object of American evangelical ardor has not shifted—it is still very much Jesus Christ—even as what makes him lovely and appealing has.

Appendix A
Hymns and Songs Studied

Evangelical Hymns

Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name

Am I a Soldier of the Cross

Amazing Grace

And Let This Feeble Body Fail

And Must This Body Die

As on the Cross the Savior Hung

Awake, and Sing the Song

Awake, My Soul, to Joyful Lays

Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne

Blest Be the Tie

Blow, Ye, the Trumpet Blow

Broad Is the Road

Children of the Heavenly King

Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove

Come, Humble Sinner

Come, Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, We that Love the Lord

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched

The Day Is Past and Gone

Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing

Father of Mercies

From All that Dwell below the Skies

From Greenland’s Icy Mountains

Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken

Glory to God on High

Glory to Thee, My God, This Night

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

Grace, ’tis a Charming Sound

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Hark From the Tombs a Doleful Sound

Hark, the Glad Sound

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing

He Dies! the Friend of Sinners Dies!

How Beauteous Are Their FeetHow Firm a Foundation

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours

I’m Not Ashamed to Own My Lord

Jerusalem, My Happy Home

Jesus, and Shall It Ever Be

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Jesus, My All, to Heaven Is Gone

Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun

Let Every Mortal Ear Attend

Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending

Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing

Lord, in the Morning Thou Shalt Hear

Lord, We Come before Thee Now

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Mortals, Awake, with Angels Join

My God, My Life, My Love

My God, the Spring of All My Joys

Now Begin the Heavenly Theme

O for a Closer Walk with God

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing

O When Shall I See Jesus

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand

Rejoice, the Lord Is King

Rise, My Soul, and Stretch Thy Wings

Salvation, O the Joyful Sound

Show Pity, Lord, O Lord, Forgive

Sweet Is the Work, My God, My King

There Is a Land of Pure Delight

Thus Far the Lord Has Led Me On

Ye Wretched, Hungry, Starving Poor

Welcome, Sweet Day of Rest

When I Can Read My Title Clear

Why Do We Mourn Departing Friends


Contemporary Worship Songs

Above AllAh Lord God

All Hail King Jesus

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

Arise and Sing

As the Deer

Awesome God

Beautiful One

Because He Lives

Better Is One Day

Bind Us Together

Bless His Holy Name

Blessed Be Your Name


Celebrate Jesus

Change My Heart, Oh God

Come, Now Is the Time to Worship


Days of Elijah

Draw Me Close


Everlasting God

Father, I Adore You


Forever Reign

Forever (We Sing Alleluia)

Friend of God

From the Inside Out

Give Thanks

Glorify Thy Name

Glory to God Forever

God Is Able

God of Wonders

Great Is the Lord


Happy Day

He Has Made Me Glad

He Is Exalted

The Heart of Worship

Here I Am to Worship

His Name Is Wonderful

Holy Ground

Holy Is the Lord

Holy Spirit


Hosanna (Praise Is Rising)

How Can We Name a Love

How Great Is Our God

How Great Thou Art

How He Loves

How Majestic Is Your Name

I Could Sing of Your Love Forever

I Exalt Thee

I Give You My Heart

I Love You, Lord

I Stand in Awe

I Will Call upon the LordI Worship You, Almighty God

In Christ Alone

In Him We Live

In Moments Like These


Jesus Messiah

Jesus, Name above All Names

Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)

Let God Arise

Let There Be Glory and Honor and Praises

Lord, Be Glorified

Lord, I Lift Your Name on High

Lord, I Need You

Lord, Reign in Me


Mighty to Save

More Precious than Silver

My Life Is in You, Lord

O How He Loves You and Me

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

One Thing Remains

Open Our Eyes, Lord

Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord

Our God

Our God Reigns

Praise the Name of Jesus

Revelation Song


Seek Ye First

Shine, Jesus, Shine

Shout to the Lord

The Stand

Surely the Presence of the Lord

10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)

There’s Something about that Name

This Is Amazing Grace

This Is the Day

Thou Art Worthy

Thy Lovingkindness

Trading My Sorrows

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus

We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise

We Fall Down

We Have Come into His House

We Will Glorify

What a Mighty God We Serve

When I Look into Your Holiness

Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)

The Wonderful Cross

You Are My All in All

You Are My King

Your Grace Is Enough

Your Love Never Fails

Your Name

You’re Worthy of My Praise







Appendix B
Numerical Name Comparisons

EH = 70 most-printed evangelical hymns compiled by Stephen Marini (1737-1860)

CWS = 112 songs that have appeared on a top-25 CCLI list (1989-2015)

Explicit Trinitarian (3 Person) Texts

Texts All 3 Persons clearly named God worshiped for being Triune Other texts worshiping all 3 Persons individually
EH 3 (4%) 1 (1%) 1 (1%)
CWS 4 (4%) 1 (1%) 2 (2%)

Explicit “Binitarian” (2 Person) Texts

Texts Possible reference to 2 Persons Reference to 1st and 2nd Person Reference to 2nd and 3rd Person
EH 17 (24%) 10 (14%) 7 (10%)
CWS 18 (16%) 13 (12%) 4 (4%)


Note: 1 song in CWS is indeterminable for which 2 Persons are named

Explicit Naming of the 1st Person (God the Father)

Texts Explicit 1st Person reference Explicit use of “Father” Direct address to 1st Person
EH 16 (23%) 11 (16%) 6 (9%)
CWS 15 (13%) 5 (4%) 4 (4%)

Explicit Naming of the 2nd Person (Son, Jesus Christ)

Texts Clear 2nd Person reference Explicit use of “Son,” “Jesus,” or “Christ” Direct address to 2nd Person
EH 52 (74%) 39 (56%) 28 (40%)
CWS 55 (49%) 42 (38%) 44 (39%)


Note: Difference in first and second columns due to songs that use other names for deity but the context makes clear that the 2nd Person is intended.


Explicit Naming of the 3rd Person (Holy Spirit)

Texts Explicit 3rd Person reference Direct address to 3rd Person
EH 10 (14%) 4 (6%)
CWS 10 (9%) 6 (5%)

General Naming of Deity: Lord

Texts Occurrences of “Lord” Specific Person undetermined
EH 41 (59%) 16 (23%)
CWS 65 (58%) 36 (32%)

General Naming of Deity: God

Texts Occurrences of “God” Specific Person undetermined
EH 41 (59%) 20 (29%)
CWS 51 (45%) 23 (21%)

General Naming of Deity: King

Texts Occurrences of “King” Specific Person undetermined
EH 17 (24%) 4 (6%)
CWS 24 (21%) 7 (6%)

General Naming of Deity: No Explicit Name or Title

Texts No explicit name or title
EH 1 (1%)
CWS 10 (9%)



Appendix C
Numerical Verb Comparisons

EH = 70 most-printed evangelical hymns compiled by Stephen Marini (1737-1860)

CWS = 112 songs that have appeared on a top-25 CCLI list (1989-2015)

Number and Variety of Verbs

Texts Total instances of verbs Total number of different verbs
EH Divine: 445Human: 850 Divine: 188Human: 276
CWS Divine: 463Human: 632 Divine: 179Human: 188


Most Used Divine Verbs with Number of Instances in EH and CWS
(Verbs with 4 instances or more in EH or CWS)

Verb EH instances CWS instances
Save 26 18
Love 20 16
Redeem 16 4
Make 13 17
Come 10 17
Give 9 11
Take 9 10
Die 8 9
Let 8 8
Reign 7 11
Bid 7 0
Promise 6 5
Rise 6 5
Call 6 4
Can/Be Able 6 4
Lead 6 2
Bring 5 7
Ransom 5 2
Shine 4 8
Stand 4 4
Forgive 4 3
Heal 4 3
Send 4 3
Teach 4 3
Live 3 7
Go 3 5
Deliver 3 4
(Not) Fail 3 4
Fill 2 8
Speak 2 6
Do 2 5
Pour 2 5
Hear 2 4
Open 1 6
Set 1 5
Break 1 4
Embrace 0 4
Have 0 4
Lay 0 4

Most Used Human Verbs with Number of Instances in EH and CWS
(Verbs with 4 instances or more in EH and CWS)

Verb EH instances CWS instances
See 27 21
Sin 27 16
Sing 22 29
Can/Be Able 21 10
Fear 19 5
Die 18 5
Come 16 9
Hope 14 9
Love 13 14
Praise 11 27
Know 11 11
Let 11 9
Hear 11 5
Join 11 2
Rest 11 2
Rise 10 6
Find 9 9
Rejoice 9 6
Pray 9 2
Bring 8 3
Behold 8 1
Live 7 16
Give 7 13
Stand 7 10
Go 7 5
Meet 7 2
Fly 7 0
View 7 0
Feel 6 5
Dwell 6 0
Lie 6 0
Bless 5 7
Seek 5 7
Make 5 4
Proclaim 5 4
Take 5 3
Thank 5 2
Awake 5 1
Raise 5 1
Reign 5 1
Mourn 5 0
Triumph 5 0
Adore 4 9
Bow 4 8
Have 4 8
Think 4 5
Trust 4 5
Believe 4 4
Hail 4 2
Taste 4 2
Cease 4 1
Depart 4 0
Pant 4 0
Stay 4 0
Travel 4 0
Worship 3 15
Say 3 8
Call 3 7
Walk 3 6
Do 3 4
Fail 3 4
Reach 3 4
Lift 2 15
Want 2 6
Lay 2 5
Shout 2 4
Long 1 6
Glorify 1 5
Offer 1 5
Exalt 1 4
Fall 1 4
Look 1 4
Turn 1 4
Cry 0 6
Magnify 0 4




[1] I have published several earlier studies exploring the Trinitarian aspects of CWS songs only: “Lex Amandi, Lex Orandi: The Trinity in the Most-Used Contemporary Christian Worship Songs,” in The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer, ed. Bryan D. Spinks (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2008), and “How Great Is Our God: The Trinity in Contemporary Christian Worship Music,” in The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Worship, ed. Robert H. Woods Jr. and Brian D. Walrath (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007). My findings are limited to the United States since the primary material in both instances reflects American usage. Canadian scholar Michael Tapper is finding similar results for the most used CWS in Canada in recent conference papers and doctoral research, currently unpublished.

[2] Stephen A. Marini, “Hymnody as History: Early Evangelical Hymns and the Recovery of American Popular Religion,” Church History 71, no. 2 (2002): 273–306. For Marini’s list of the most printed hymns from 1737 to 1960, see “American Protestant Hymns Project: A Ranked List of Most Frequently Printed Hymns, 1737–1960,” in Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, ed. Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 251–64.

[3] In analyzing the lyrics, I have used the textual version on for EH and on the CCLI SongSelect website ( for CWS.

[4] See Marini, “Hymnody as History,” 383 for a comparable general assessment of EH and Robin A. Parry, Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, 2nd ed. (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2012), 114–17 for a specific one on Vineyard music. See also Robin Knowles Wallace, “Praise and Worship Music: Looking at Language,” The Hymn 55, no. 3 (July 2004): 24–28; Michelle K. Baker-Wright, “Intimacy and Orthodoxy: Evaluating Existing Paradigms of Contemporary Worship Music,” Missiology: An International Review 35, no. 2 (April 2007): 169–78; and Andrew Goodliff, “‘It’s All about Jesus’,” The Evangelical Quarterly 81, no. 3 (2009): 254–68.

[5] Stephen A. Marini, “Hymnody and History: Early American Evangelical Hymns as Sacred Music,” in Music in American Religious Experience, ed. Philip V. Bohlman et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 140.

[6] Marini, “Hymnody as History,” 383; Marini, “Hymnody and History,” 139.

[7] For example, see the analysis of Hillsong’s hiding of its Pentecostal roots in E. H. McIntyre, “Brand of Choice: Why Hillsong Is Winning Sales and Souls,” Australian Religion Studies Review 20, no. 2 (2007): 181.

[8] Clive Marsh and Vaughan S. Roberts, Personal Jesus: How Popular Music Shapes Our Souls (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 83–84.

[9] Within the category of “verb,” I included verbs per se and also nouns in which an action is explicit, e.g., I counted “redeemer” as one instance of “redeem” or “sin” used as a noun as one instance of the verb “sin.” In addition, only one instance per song of a single verb was counted. Thus, even if a hymn used the verb “give” multiple times, it was only counted once.

[10] Compare the similar findings in Nigel Scotland, “From the ‘not yet’ to the ‘now and the not yet’: Charismatic Kingdom Theology 1960–2010,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 20 (2011): 272–90. See also an assessment of the realized eschatology found in large CWS conferences like Passion in Monique M. Ingalls, “Singing Heaven Down to Earth: Spiritual Journeys, Eschatological Sounds, and Community Formation in Evangelical Conference Worship,” Ethnomusicology 55, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2011): 255–79.

[11] Larry Eskridge, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 85–87.

[12] From Exposition of the Psalms 71:1 in Lawrence J. Johnson, Worship in the Early Church: An Anthology of Historical Sources (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), CD-ROM.