Why I Love Southern Gospel

In certain other genres of Christian music, a steadily growing stream of songs focus on asking questions of God. Why did God permit a tragedy? Why must we go through a trial? Why hasn’t He come back yet? Why does He allow pain and suffering?

In those circles, artist quotes like these are so commonplace that they are cliché: “These songs come from a painfully honest place, an authentic place. Sometimes I don’t have all the answers.”

There is, of course, an element of truth to this. Sometimes we don’t know why tragedies happen. But we know that God knows. We know that God will still work things out for good. We know that death was conquered at Calvary. We know that every day brings us closer to the Second Coming, when this, the last enemy, shall be destroyed. And we know that in these in-between times, the God of the Mountain is still faithful in the valley.

Southern Gospel doesn’t have an unreasonably optimistic view of the world. Our genre’s songwriters are authentic and painfully honest about the trials and tragedies that shake and shape our faith. Yet they don’t stop with questions. They affirm, with Paul in Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Southern Gospel songs view the trials of this life through the contexts through which a Christian ought to understand trials—looking back to the Cross, currently to God’s faithfulness, and forward to Heaven.

Let’s look at two recent examples. Brian Free & Assurance’s “Never Walk Alone,” noting especially verse 2:

(Verse 2)
You came here as a man
I know You understand what it’s like to walk these roads
My problems don’t compare
To that crown You had to wear
Still You take them as Your own
Because of all the blood and tears You shed.
I will never know that kind of loneliness

(Chorus)
Your Spirit never leaves me
Even when I’m hurting
I don’t have to bear that burden on my own
You carried all the pain and buried all the shame
When You made that rugged tree Your righteous throne
Because of You, I’ll never walk alone.

Of all the Southern Gospel artists facing severe trials right now, you would have to put the Perrys at the top of the list. Look at the title track of their latest album, Through the Night:

(Verse 1)
I don’t understand this burden, Lord; how long must it last?
I have prayed and thought that surely, by now, it would have passed
Oh, I know Your joy will come in morning’s light

(Chorus)
Still I will praise You through the night while this trial perseveres
I will raise my hands to Heaven and praise You through my tears
‘Cause You are never less than faithful though Your hand is not in sight
So my broken heart will lift its voice and praise You through the night

(Bridge)
I have seen Your hands of mercy move a thousand times before
So I can trust that You are working in this trial, Lord…

These lyrics, and hundreds more, are painfully honest. They are authentic. They don’t sugar-coat trials. But they don’t stop there; they also look to the Cross, to God’s faithfulness, and to the promise of the Second Coming.

It is authentic to ask questions. It is not authentic to ignore the answers and the promises Scripture gives.

That is why I love Southern Gospel music.


For more Southern Gospel news and commentary—follow our RSS feed or sign up for our email updates!

74 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Well-argued.

    • Thanks! Of course, this post by its very nature must deal with generalizations. If someone looked hard enough, I’m sure he could find a Southern Gospel song that trivialized trials. And there are some CCM songs that do put trials in their proper light; they’re just a little too often not the ones at the top of the charts.

  2. I agree. I have heard too many Christian songs that sound so sad,with no hope of a future. That ides not accurately describe the Christian life. We have a future filled with hope and can have a ‘now’ filled with joy,albeit,sometimes with tears in our eyes. May God continue to inspire Christian writers to pen those uplifting Southern Gospel songs and artists who make them come to life.

  3. Great piece today, Daniel. I, too, love gospel music for that reason, along with others, but definitely for that! I think I can say with an enormous amount of certainty that even in the lowest points of my life when I’ve picked up a pen to attempt to write about all that’s going wrong, there is always that gnawing sense of hope that we have in our Lord, Jesus Christ, that keeps everything in perspective and turns everything around in my songs just as it eventually does in life. My life hasn’t been perfect or exempt from trials, but all the reassurance I need is found in a cross, an empty tomb, the promises in the Word, and a look back at all the many times God has proven Himself faithful thus far. 1 Cor 15:19 speaks of those who have hope only in this world being most miserable. We have the most blessed hope of all, and so for my own personal self, that message of hope has to be proclaimed to a world who so desparately needs it.

    • Amen and Amen! And thank you for your contributions to music that sets these trials in their proper perspectives, too! The song that I consider to be your all-time greatest masterpiece would have made every bit as good a case in point as the ones I cited:

      Broken and bruised from the choices you’ve made
      Sin has a price, and so often you’ve paid
      Oh, but Jesus is waiting, new hope is in Him
      And grace will always be greater than sin!

  4. I agree, people think there’s something “fake” about songs with answers but i don’t think that’s true!! I will say there are some great (generally OLDER) CCM songs about suffering that are still hopeful. Like this one:

    So if I stand, let me stand on the promise
    That you will pull me through
    And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
    That first brought me to you
    And if I sing, let me sing for the joy
    That has borne in me these songs
    And if I weep, let it be as a man
    Who is longing for his home

    Even a southern gospel fan can admit that’s good stuff right there. 🙂

    • That’s probably the best lyric Rich Mullins ever wrote. I’m not saying that these sorts of lyrics never appear in CCM – it’s just that, these days, they seem to be more and more out of fashion. Plus, as I said above, “And there are some CCM songs that do put trials in their proper light; they’re just a little too often not the ones at the top of the charts.”

      • Yeah, amazing poet—we lost him too soon.

        Totally agreed and sometimes a contemporary Christian band will pride itself on not giving answers, which I just find weird!

  5. Although I don’t know anything about CCM and can’t make any comparisons, this is indeed one of the greatest traits of the music I love!

    • Daniel, I agree with the others here who state that this is one of your best writings. You sum up perfectly what it is that this genre of music proclaims so well. I think that is one of the reasons a simple song like “God on the Mountain” is so touching and stands the test of time; it relays the message that even though this life is full of trials, the bottom line is that God is still God!

  6. Great post! You’ve put into words why I love Southern Gospel too! It was certainly God that gave Perry’s their current album. What songs!…and I Got A Hold Of God This Morning at #9. They live what they sing. Praying for them at this difficult time and anxious to see what God brings out of it!

  7. A great post indeed.
    The Christian life’s not all rosy and easy, nor is it all suffering, it’s a bit of both. But for the Christian, the suffering is made all so easy to when he puts his trust in God. It’s not the Christian’s load to carry, it’s Christs.

    The Perrys are right now going through a tough time, it is such a powerful testimony to see how Libbi is practicing what she preaches through song. It’s one thing to sing about holding on to God’s unchanging hand in trials, anyone can sing about that, but to do it, to live it, that’s a whole different thing, it takes a real Christian whose feet are firmly planted on the solid Rock, that Rock of ages. So when Libbi and the rest of the group sing the southern gospel songs on stage, songs that are a declaration of their unshakeable faith and trust in their Redeemer, there’s no doubt that they sing from the heart.

    Southern gospel is a rich genre, most of the songs are what I would call mini sermons, some call us to repentance, some encourage us in our trials, some give us hope, some are for reproof, correction and doctrine. That’s why I love southern gospel.

    • “Mini sermons” – I love it! 🙂

      • My wife has made the same comment about Southern Gospel songs. I would tend to agree with both her and John. I am sure there are some “fluff” songs in SG music
        , but it seems to me like the good songs with deep, meaningful lyrics hang around and touch peoples lives for years. Anyway, great post, Daniel.

    • Easy to endure. Typing is so not my thing.

      • I’m not sure I would go so far as to say they become EASY to endure, but they do at least become ENDURABLE. That’s still far more than the rest of the world can claim.

  8. I love Southern Gospel for the things you mentioned AND for the people involved in it. Artists always take the time to talk to you and make you feel like you are talking to someone you’ve known all your life, and they don’t exhibit any prideful attitude toward you. I makes listening to good, Godly music even better. 🙂

    • Rebecca’s comments reflect my sentiments exactly. This entire post and subsequent comments make we realize how fortunate I am to have Southern Gospel as such an integral part of my life. Thank you, Lord, for this blessing.

  9. I love SoGo music, and listen to it a great deal, but I’m also well versed in CCM. I’m not sure I would agree with you that CCM lyrics trivialize the trials we go through. Could you cite specifics? I can think of a handful of chart toppers that do the exact opposite. I’m not trying to stir the pot, but I think sometimes we southern gospel enthusiasts present CCM in a somewhat negative light.

    • Wait a minute, I didn’t say that CCM songs trivialize the trials we go through. What I said is that, far too often, CCM questions ask questions without also giving the answers Scripture provides.

      • I guess I’d like to see some examples of that, too. You made the claim, but provided zero lyrics that back it up. I admit I don’t listen to a ton of CCM and what I do listen to is several years old now, but I’m thinking about the music of Casting Crowns, Third Day and NewSong, three bands I absolutely love (out of several more), and they definitely do not fit into the description you made.

      • We’ve actually been discussing one of them. As I have noted, my beef is more with the postmodern notion that we have to introduce truth by asking questions instead of stating truth plainly than it is with any one song, though. To focus on any one particular song, as most of these comments have done, is to miss the point entirely.

        That said: Be careful to not get too combative in these comments. If a couple of these comments had been directed to anyone but me, I would have had to do a little moderating.

      • One more thing. You all are interpreting my original post to be exclusively about CCM. I didn’t name any genre in the original post . . . intentionally. I want this discussion to be about general approaches, not about attacking another genre like the attacks on mine that prompted this post.

        So, with that said, you all can talk about CCM all you want to in the comments, provided you stay within the comment guidelines – but with this post, I’m signing out of CCM-specific discussion in this comment section. That was not my point or my objective. My objective is to discuss the broader issue of postmodernism in songwriting approaches (though I didn’t use the technical term in the original post).

  10. My apologies. I read your first post to this thread, and you mentioned that you were sure there were some southern gospel songs that trivialized trials, and I thought you were implying that CCM songs do just that. My experience, though, is that if you were to strip the music away from CCM and SoGo, you, for the most part, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Again, I don’t want you to think I’m attacking SoGo, or its listeners( I sing in a southern gospel quartet) I’ve just noticed we( Southern Gospel listeners) don’t always give CCM a fair shot.

    • I did my bit Jordan. We is a tryin’. 😉

    • Thanks! Keith & Kristyn Getty released one of the three best Christian CDs to come out last year. Maybe the best, period. How is that for giving CCM a fair shot? 🙂

  11. I’m not trying to imply that you don’t, Daniel. I do think that we southern gospel music lovers, as a whole, write off CCM all to quickly. I think a perfect example of one of these songs is, Laura Story’s “Blessings”. Tremendous words and message.

    • Funny that song would come up in this post. 🙂 (But, to give her credit, she does get around to a what if this world is not our home sort of question by the end.)

      • LOL. Daniel I gotta respectfully say you’re missing the mark if that’s all you give the song credit for. I agree with Jordan, it’s a beautiful composition lyrically and musically.

      • In all seriousness, I wouldn’t call that song a pointless question-asking… like a Rob Bell sort of thing. You know exactly what the questions are pointing to. The answers are there, just a little more subtly stated than sogo listeners might be used to.

      • In our post-modern culture, it’s unfashionable to boldly declare truth as truth. It’s fashionable to present truth in the form of a rhetorical question.

      • Ummm, pretty sure Laura Story isn’t a post-modernist, not that you were saying that, but I think I can tell Laura Story from Rob Bell. 😀

      • You’re correct that I didn’t mean to call her a post-modernist. My point is that she’s writing using a post-modern lyrical convention, perhaps without realizing it. 🙂

      • Also, most of her songs are very straightforward, like this one:

        You are indescribable, uncontainable
        You placed the stars in the sky
        And You know them by name
        You are amazing, God

        Incomparable, unchangeable
        You see the depths of my heart
        And You love me the same
        You are amazing, God,

      • Did you see my earlier comment? I said that I’m not saying that she’s post-modern by any means. I’m saying that the lyrical convention of asking questions instead of stating truth is a post-modern lyrical convention.

      • I believe I wrote it and hit publish either before your reply went up or before I saw it.

        At any rate, I think that if the questions have a purpose and are pointing to gospel truth, we shouldn’t discount a song just because it’s framed as a series of questions.

      • Oh, even songs a little too influenced by postmodernism still can have value. Plenty of value. I actually don’t dislike the song in anything like the way I dislike the other one we were discussing. 🙂

      • Ha, I’m not sure which one that was—Jordan mentioned two Chris Tomlin songs. I said that I liked “I Will Rise” lyrically but thought the melody was poor.

      • I was talking about the other one. 🙂

        By the way: I think that it’s worth discussing whether songwriting techniques have been influenced by cultural norms and expectations. Far be it from me, though, to say that songs influenced by cultural norms and expectations are worthless!

  12. Tough crowd, haha. What about Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise”. You have to give that guy credit for his ability as a lyricist.

    • His strength is keeping things simple. That’s not as easy as it looks, as evidenced by how few writers can do it. But…I do my best to give his new songs each a fair chance, but I honestly haven’t gotten over the notion that someone would add a chorus to “Amazing Grace.” Umm, if a song is already the single most popular song in Christianity, it’s not exactly in need of attempts at improvement. 🙂

      • Daniel, as you probably already know, this isn’t the first time that this hymn has been “tampered” with. What we normally sing as the final stanza (“When we’ve been there ten thousand years”) was a traveling refrain that was stuck to the end of many hymns during frontier camp meetings in the early 1800s, probably to build congregational participation. For some reason it stuck to “Amazing Grace!” I don’t think John Newton’s original hymn needed improvement, and in my opinion, the 1800s stanza takes away from Newton’s thought process. Still the “new” stanza has become a meaningful addition to many different individuals and traditions. All this to say, I find it difficult to discredit Tomlin’s contribution when what we now sing as “Amazing Grace” has evolved so significantly over time. We can (and should) look at Newton’s original with respect, and perhaps we should incorporate it, unedited, into our worship (it would include a few stanzas that most haven’t heard). But we should also recognize that the church is living and dynamic, and we should not be surprised when we see subtle changes in our hymnody that reflect this.

      • Yes, I do know the other original verses – actually, both closing verses, of which we rarely see one restored. I also agree that the 18th-century current closing verse interrupts Newton’s train of thought.

        I guess the issue underlying my frustration with the Tomlin rendition is this: There is some value in repetition, but modern CCM has gone way too far towards the far end of the spectrum. I don’t like seeing choruses added to this and dozens of other hymns (I’ve heard quite a few added choruses!) out of the notion that a song can’t work today unless it is repetitive. I beg to differ; modern teens and adults alike are smarter than that notion gives them credit for!

      • So by “repetition,” you mean a chorus that the song returns to after each verse? I’m honestly not sure that was the motivation, because many of the old hymns have a chorus as well!

        I like this chorus because it has a pretty tune and lyrics that fit. I would be more annoyed if it were poor melodically or lyrically.

      • Not hymns from the era of Watts through Newton!

      • Well okay, but you know what I meant. Lots of hymns with choruses out there that aren’t exactly new. 🙂

      • Well, it’s all dependent on the era. Post-Civil War hymns will usually choruses. Hymns from, oh, about the American Revolution through the Civil War will sometimes have choruses. Hymns from before the American Revolution rarely have choruses. I guess Amazing Grace with a chorus strikes me as a historical anachronism.

      • Yeah, I can see that. I guess I don’t mind it’s co-existing with the real version just as long as the real version isn’t replaced by it.

      • While I’m inclined to agree with you, I’m not for certain that songwriters add these refrains because they think the hymn can’t work without repetition (I sure hope this isn’t their motivation!). If I thought a 3oo-year-old hymn was no longer functional unless I were to come up with a clever refrain to redeem it, I would probably not use the hymn at all.

        Personally, I tend to think that songwriters create these refrains in an attempt to reflect upon the text of the hymn, not necessarily to make it better or more relevent. The result is a hymn with a much more narrow focus based on the interpretation of the one who adds the refrain. For example, “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” takes a very broad hymn and focuses the attention specifically on freedom from bondage-just one aspect of God’s graciousness.

        I think this can work well in worship, but only in the perfect context in which our attention should be drawn to a particular theme in the hymn. Much more often, I agree that the hymn should be left to stand on its on. The interpretation of the hymn will be much more meaningful and diverse if it’s left to the individual worshippers and not spoon-fed to them between each stanza.

      • I think you make a very interesting and valid point, and I appreciate the thoughtful way in which you articulate it. You probably are onto something as far as the writers’ intentions.

    • Nice lyrics, but I never dug the music on that one. Tomlin’s never been THAT great with a melody.

      • Doesn’t just about every SoGo song ever written have a repetitive chorus?

      • No.

      • Couldn’t reply to your comment below, but I can name a few. If you knew him, four days late, praying man, He said, practically every other recent song I can think of. I would go through my spotify playlist, but that would take entirely too long. All follow the same format, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus, or at least a pretty close variation of that. Take the Tomlin song in question, verse/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus. Seems pretty similar to the format of the above mentioned sogo songs.

  13. I understand your logic, but I don’t think the aim was to improve the song. I think he simply just expanded upon God’s grace, and through his expansion he managed to bring to light, in my opinion, the most powerful verse of that song that had been long left out of the hymnals.

    • Make no mistake, I love the other verses Newton penned. (Others, including SG artists, have also done them, by the way.) I just think the chorus was unnecessary and detracts more than it improves.

      Well, at any rate … I hope the fact that I’ve thought this through and know exactly why I take issue with it does show that I gave it a fair chance. It’s not like I just ignored it because it was CCM, or something like that.

  14. I completely understand. You’ll have to forgive me, as an educator in the public schools, it is in my blood to debate even the smallest of things.

    • You’re an educator in public schools? My sympathies. 🙂

      • It’s not so bad. Life can be pretty good. I did get rewarded with a snow day today.

  15. A few songs that come to mind that also fit this mold are these:
    Cathedrals – Hold Me, featuring George Younce
    Signature Sound – If This is What God Wants
    Rambos – In The Valley
    McKameys – take your pick

  16. How about this song from Karen Peck and New River? Probably some other ones that they sing could be put here as well.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_ReHKKbsBA

    • Postmodern songwriting approaches are not exclusive to other genres. Direct statements of truth are not exclusive to Southern Gospel. But discovering an occasional exception does not disprove the truth of an accurate generalizations.

  17. Speaking of trials inspiring great Southern Gospel songs, I look for a new song from the Perrys in the near future entitled “Go, God, Go!” I’ve noticed that Libbi has been repeated that statement in just about everyone of her posts. It seems to be something that she’s latched on to to get her through this trial.

    We’ve all known circumstances and trials in which we’ve just had to put it in God’s hands, and stand on the sidelines and cheer God on as he does his work in our lives. GO, GOD, GO!

    • Correction: “been repeating”, not “been repeated”

  18. I guess I do get a little touchy when I hear SG fans talking about other genres of Christian music, especially CCM, because I happen to like both, and it always seems that SG fans will have none of that. Even if I like a few CCM songs, they behave as if I must agree that SG is better and more Holy, or I’m a heathen. I am NOT saying you’ve been that way, but as one example, the forums on Absolutely Gospel (back when it was called SoGospelNews) contained several with this attitude, which is one of the big reasons I don’t go to those boards anymore.

    Many of the arguments they put forward against CCM shows they haven’t listened to it since at least the early 90’s, if indeed they ever listened to it and aren’t just repeating stuff they heard second-hand. But what really bothered me was the attitude that one simply MUST be better, more Godly, etc., than the other, as if both genres don’t have examples of anointed artists who deliver powerful Christian messages, and others that are basically just in it for show.

    If they weren’t sharing out-of-date information that was once true of one or two artists as if it was still true, and true of all of them (“They don’t even mention God! All those songs could be about a girlfriend!”), then they were attacking the odd CCM artist who fell into worldly behavior as if the same could be said of all CCM artists, when SG has more than a few examples of the same, but they somehow don’t taint the whole.

    Anyway, I’m not starting a new discussion. That was purely to explain my first response. I have a lot of respect for you, Daniel, and in no way do I wish to attack you.

    • Fair enough, and thank you so much. I apologize for letting too much frustration slip into my previous comment. My frustration was as much with myself as with anyone external. I wanted to have a high-level discussion about philosophical approaches to songwriting – postmodern approaches to songwriting as opposed to direct proclamation of truth – and I was frustrated with myself for replying to enough CCM-specific comments that I had let the conversation drift to the point where you stepped in.

      • See, responses like that are one of the reasons you’re my go-to source for SG-related material.

      • Thank you! 🙂

  19. And then there’s secular music…

    Maybe we shouldn’t open that can of worms.

    🙂

  20. I am wondering if anyone knows who wrote the song Crucified Heart recorded by
    The Greene’s on their Testimony album in 1990

    • I don’t know, but I hope someone does!

  21. Excellent post, thanks for sharing your heart.

    • Thanks! How did you find this? I wrote it quite a while back. 🙂