Translation Series #7: Prepared a Place for Me

Jokes and complaints about the lyrical shallowness of modern-day praise and worship songs are commonplace in this genre. Though there are more than a few grains of truth to the charges, several recent songwriters have been shining exceptionsβ€”including Keith & Kristyn Getty (discussed here), Stuart Townsend, and the songwriters associated with Sovereign Grace Music.

The Sovereign Grace Music team deserve particular kudos for lyrical creativity; recent examples include a project drawn from Puritan prayers, a project with the self-explanatory title of Come Weary Saints, and the project from which this song was drawn, Sons & Daughters. The project explores the “miracle of our adoption in Christ.”

There are several excellent tracks on the project, but the standout is the song “Prepared a Place for Me.” The song isn’t on YouTube, but here are the lyrics and clips of the verse melody and the chorus. The song is written by Doug Plank, pastor of CrossWay Church of Lancaster in Millersville, Pennsylvania.

The verses use vivid, precisely crafted phrases such as these:

Father, in the moment
When Your Son shall split the skies
And myriads of angels acclaim Him with their cries
By grace I will be able to join the jubilee
You prepared a place for me

The chorus is weaker, but not so weak as to keep this from being a standout track.

The song is sufficiently straightforward to lend itself naturally to a fairly wide variety of musical styles, and so nearly any group (except, perhaps, the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Dixie Echoes, and the Blackwood Brothers) could make it fit musically. But since the lyric covers territory rarely heard in this genre (or any other), it would be best delivered by a group with whom the message resonated, a group who would deliver it from the heart. So for this reason, I envision a Primitive Quartet rendition.

In a December 2005 feature interview on SoGospelNews [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed], Reagan Riddle told the story of his daughter and son-in-law adopting a Russian orphan:

My daughter and her husband adopted a little orphan girl from Russia about two years ago named Christina and she was 11 years old. Christina was with a group of orphans that came to America in hopes that they could get adopted. They came to Asheville and my son in law pastors one of the larger churches in Asheville. The group approached him about housing those 11 children for about 3 weeks.Β  While they were here, 9 of those children accepted Christ. Christina was one of those children. My son in law and daughter had no plans to adopt any of the children at all, but after they went back to Russia, they became burdened for that little girl and they started making plans to adopt her. The interpreter told the children that since they knew Jesus, they could pray that the Lord would send them someone to adopt them.

My daughter and her husband built a big addition onto their house for Christina, and I thought about it this way…The Lord said when He went away to prepare us a place and that He would come back and receive us unto Himself. Christina heard that Jimmy (my son in law) was coming after her but she didn’t know when.

That story fits this lyric so well that it’s not hard to imagine the Primitives being an excellent fit for this song.

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102 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I hear it all the time about lyrical shallowness of modern day praise and worship, but I find the arguments terrible. There obviously is a dash (in some cases, heavy doses) of shallowness in P&W, but you can find just as much of it in southern gospel. I believe the difference is more of cultural influence than a theological influence. In most cases, southern gospel = stories of grace and salvation or stories, dialogue, and situations that point us to grace and salvation. p&w = praise, thankfulness, adoration on sovereign love and our desperate need for Him.

    But in reference to the actual song, since I haven’t heard it, but basing this idea off the fact that you would suggest the Primitive Quartet…If we could go back in time to have The Hinsons singing it. They would do it with some heart!!!

    Nice find Daniel!

    • TGS, I’m intrigued – and come to think of it, I could hear an impressive Hinsons rendition.

      The point of this particular series is suggesting current groups, which is why I haven’t named any past ones in the series, but I could totally hear that.

    • I must (respectfully) disagree with TGS. It is true that there is some fluff in southern gospel. However, I believe the difference lies in how the fluff was written. Some P & W songs are fluffy and shallow without intending to be fluffy and shallow. They are written with the sincere intention of glorifying God. Unfortunately, the level of craftsmanship is sub-par and therefore fails to leave an impression on the listener who wants thoughtfully crafted, interesting songs.

      However, most of the fluffy southern gospel songs I’ve heard were deliberately written as light, fun pieces. The authors were under no illusions about how well they were achieving their goal. When they do “get down to business” and write a serious song, out comes the likes of “We Shall See Jesus” and “I Stand Redeemed.”

      So that’s the real problem, in my opinion. If you asked Mosie Lister whether he thought he was being serious and profound when he wrote “Feeling Mighty Fine,” most likely he would say no. If you asked the author of (insert most mind-numbingly shallow worship song you can think of here) whether he was trying to be serious, most likely he would say yes.

      • NSG Fan, no worries, haha. A lot of people disagree with me (though, not always “respectfully”). I’m not knocking any genre. I’m a fan of SG. Been around the industry all my life and enjoyed a lot of it. And whether or not it’s Mosie Lister, Dottie Rambo, Casting Crowns, or Hillsong, God can still be glorified in shallow writing. We are generally all shallow human beings in comparison anyways.
        Sorry Daniel, I couldn’t come up with anything other than a retired group. If you don’t think the Dixie Echoes could pull off this particular song, then that leaves my ideas pretty dry. Isaacs? That’s all I got left…

      • Well, I did suggest the Primitives. πŸ™‚

        After you listen to the sound clips, you might have an entirely different set of suggestions – at least that’s my suspicion.

      • True, but I think we could agree that some songs are more shallow than others, and ditto for human beings. πŸ˜‰

        Ultimately, I think that while there is some basic sense in which anything written to glorify God does glorify God, I believe God is even more fully glorified when we glorify Him with excellence.

  2. I’m hearing the Talleys, but I’m not sure. It may be a little too obvious to suggest the Booth Brothers, since they already did “Before the Cross,” but this would be a way to continue that direction for them…

  3. Don’t know the song, but I find it interesting that Daniel suggested the Primitives and NSF the Talleys. Talk about opposites of the spectrum!

    • It’s stylistically closer to the Talleys and Booths, but I was thinking the Primitives could pull it off, too.

  4. I think Beyond The Ashes would do this song great or Mark Bishop.

    • Mark Bishop.


      But I think it would work! Great suggestion.

  5. yep I could hear him putting a little James Taylor flavor on it!

  6. Michael Combs, I think.

    However, I wish I could get my 99 cents back from iTunes. With all respect to those who like this song and think it’s a great example of songwriting, I don’t see it. May be better if I heard a different artist sing it first. But, IMO it’s kind of rubbish. Too simplistic for my taste; not just the arrangement but the lyric scheme. Great thought, but poor execution.

    • I think I’m still going to respectfully disagree – the chorus isn’t all that strong, but I think the lyrics on the verses are fresh, creative, and invigorating.

    • Well hey, at least it’s grammatical, which is more than could be said of “In Christ Alone…” I like it.

  7. I went and read the verses … I actually think the two others are even stronger than the one you quoted! It’s not earth-shattering or new, but most gospel truth is not. New, I mean. It’s certainly earth-shattering!

    • Yes, I think all three verses are quite strong, leaving this a very good song. The weakness of the first two lines of the chorus is all that keeps it from being a great (in the sense of timeless) song.

      Yet timeless or not, I think it’s good enough to earn its spot on a Southern Gospel project.

      • Define “timeless.”

        (Your comment was a bit too short. Please go back and try again.)

      • No. πŸ™‚

        Look it up in the dictionary. πŸ™‚

      • Nope. I wanna hear YOUR definition. πŸ™‚

      • :shrugs shoulders:

        Sorry, I don’t have the time (no pun intended).

      • And the reason I said that is that under the dictionary definition of timeless, there is some timeless music/songs out there that you would not consider timeless. Therefore, I was curious to hear your definition, since it must be different from everybody else’s. πŸ˜‰

      • For example, if I were to take your favorite gospel song this year and lay it next to these lyrics:

        Joy and sorrow are this ocean
        And in their every ebb and flow
        Now the Lord a door has opened
        That all Hell could never close
        Here I’m tested and made worthy
        Tossed about and lifted on
        In the reckless, raging fury
        That they call the love of God

        …you would solemnly tell me that your favorite gospel song this year is a great and timeless lyric, and these lyrics are not…

        When it should be obvious that if this isn’t a timeless lyric, nothing is. However, if you would like to enlighten me as to why it is restricted to one particular time, by all means enlighten away!



      • But do you know what my favorite Gospel song is this year?

      • I could probably take a pretty good guess. πŸ˜‰

      • Go for it. πŸ™‚

      • “Celebrate Me Home”

      • I love the song, don’t get me wrong, but no.

      • Ah, well then “God Did It All” is another hot candidate. πŸ˜‰

        (Out of curiosity though, would you go on record as saying that “Celebrate Me Home” is great poetry?)

      • Good song . . . hmm. Not sure. Don’t think I’d rank it #1, though.

      • Strike two then. But you haven’t answered my question. πŸ˜‰

      • Well, it’s better than the lyric quoted above.

      • I’m most amused. Still, if you can prove to me why a chorus built on a fluffy, ungrammatical hook is timeless, you will have accomplished something indeed. πŸ™‚

      • Actuall, using multiple legitimate meanings for “celebrate” is lyrically intriguing and part of the song’s power.

        But we’ve already discussed the song at length. Why bother going through the same debate another time here? (Oh, and you still haven’t guessed the song yet.)

      • We haven’t really discussed it at length though. At any rate, the word “celebrate” can, in the proper grammatical context, be used to mean “celebrate the fact that x.” However, it is not being used in a proper grammatical context here and hence sounds clunky, modern, and inaccurate—reminds me of a goofy advertising slogan. It also sounds like the title of a fluffy Kenny Loggins song (oh wait a minute, it is… ;-)) Maybe it strikes you as intriguing because you wouldn’t have thought of it, but perhaps that’s just as well…

        Anyway, I give up. Drum roll please—what’s your favorite gospel song of the year? πŸ˜€

      • Nah . . . after the hard time you’ve given me over a song that is in my top 5, I’m not just gonna volunteer the song (since in this context, you’ll be certain to look for a lyrical flaw! πŸ™‚ )

      • Well, there is a possibility that it will actually be a great song. I don’t have complete faith in your judgment, but you’ve fingered out enough true winners over the years that I would still be interested to know. (Of course, it’s also possible that I’m unfamiliar with the song and will have to take your word for it… πŸ˜‰ )

      • Actually, the last part of your 3:47 comment may apply.

      • Also, there are lyrical flaws and there are lyrical flaws. I’m fine with lyrics that don’t always rhyme, for example. However, I do require that they at least be grammatical, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask…

      • Well, then you have the chance to describe a brand-new, perhaps a great song to me that I may never get a chance to hear. πŸ˜€

        Honestly, if it follows basic rules of grammar and avoids cliches, we’re already past two major problems that get me ranting.

      • I think it is safe to say it avoids both.

        FWIW, if we limit this to published songs, you still haven’t guessed my #1 favorite Gospel song. (This would be using the objective criteria of which has accumulated the most plays in my iTunes.) My #1 favorite most-listened-to Gospel song that came out this year is entirely guessable, too, and not at all obscure or out of your purview.

      • Well I was going to suggest PIF’s “The Other Side,” but I believe it came out in late 2009—probably wouldn’t count for “this year.”

        By the way, we agree that that really is a great song. πŸ™‚

        I also know that MTQ’s Testimony was in heavy rotation, but I’m not sure there was one song in particular that would have propelled itself above songs like “God Did it All” for you.

      • Oh, speaking of Paid in Full, I just tried to access their blog, and they’ve been hacked.

      • “Other Side” is a great song, but yes, 2009, I think.

        Not from MTQ, since “It’s Almost Over” is a quarter-century old, and it’s the strongest track.

  8. NSGF – you realize that you are every songwriter’s nightmare, right?

    Songwriting is an artform – and while it does have rules that are good to abide by – they aren’t set in stone and are really viewed as guidelines more than rules.

    Writing and songwriting are NOT the same and shouldn’t be viewed with the same rules. I’m both a writer and a songwriter – so I get the struggle between being grammatically correct and artistically relevant completely. Sometime you have to just let it go and let the song work despite it not working grammatically.

    • Agreed, Chris, and I speak as someone who also spends as much time or more on songwriting than on prose.

    • Well let me put it a little differently: A song can’t be timeless if it makes a specifically MODERN grammatical error.

      Here’s an example of what I mean. Take the song “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” What does the verse keep saying? “We didn’t know who you was.” Wait a minute… time out… that’s ungrammatical! Yes, BUT! It’s a matter of dialect and tradition. This is a Negro spiritual. Therefore, traditional spirituals arising out of that culture will naturally have a Negro dialect. But that’s part of what makes them so great—it makes them a piece of living history.

      Compare with the way that “In Christ Alone” gets itself tangled up in knots. That’s a very modern grammatical error—leaving modifiers hanging. People have lost the gift of great writing, so they no longer have a natural ear for that sort of thing. Moreover, the phrase “celebrate me home” is clunky in a distinctly modern way. Again, it’s a matter of hearing the words in your head. Writers are developing a tin ear because they simply can’t HEAR when something sounds clunky and awkward.

      That’s what I meant. And by the way, I’m not EVERY songwriter’s nightmare. Andrew Peterson is sleeping quite soundly. πŸ™‚

      • That position’s a little inconsistent:

        (a) Grammatical errors in modern English are not acceptable
        (b) Grammatical errors from 100-200 years ago are acceptable

        Those grammatical errors were wrong once. What makes them okay now if current ones aren’t? That we’ve gotten used to them?

      • No. The problem is that current grammatical errors are made by people who should know better. The grammatical errors in a Negro spiritual are made by people who didn’t.

        Good heavens man, do you not understand the meaning of living tradition, of history?

      • Good heavens back – are you saying that only black people made grammatical errors in the 1800s? πŸ™‚

      • I am saying that you are missing my point so ridiculously that it is not worth my time and my patience to try to explain it to you, very slowly. πŸ™‚

      • Ah, I understand the words you’re saying, but the problem is that the position is inconsistent – unless the position actually is that “grammatical errors are only okay if we assume that the writer wasn’t smart enough to use proper grammar because of his skin color or culture,” which I’m not sure if you actually are advocating.

      • My dear fellow, you’re making me laugh out loud. But then that’s nothing new. πŸ™‚

        Number one, it’s not a matter of “smart enough,” it’s a matter of the kind of life and education these people had, and number two, you’re missing the forest for the trees.

      • I don’t think so. My whole point is that grammatical errors do not necessarily ruin a song.

      • And my point can be summed up in a single word (courtesy of Thomas Aquinas):


      • I swear, I’ve heard people who sing Negro spirituals with the errors “sanitized.” “We didn’t know who you were.” It completely ruins the power of the song—these people don’t understand what it means to preserve a piece of history.

        It also matters whether the error is the kind that beatifies the song or makes it sound clunky and awkward. When I listen to “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” I picture one of those Negroes standing humbly at the throne of God, pleading for forgiveness the only way he knows how… haltingly, imperfectly, simply.

        But please sir, forgive us. Lord, we didn’t know it was you…

      • I’ve been reading the debate, and at this point I quite agree with you, NSF. πŸ˜€

      • Bless you Amy! I can always count on you to back me up. It’s you and me contra mundum (against the world). πŸ˜€

    • Oh and by the way Chris, I’m a bit of a songwriter too. So yeah, I “get the struggle” as well. Somehow, I’ve managed so far to craft lyrics that are grammatical and (in my opinion) artistically good. I prefer not to compromise one way or the other. If it looks like I have to, I sweat it out until I make it work both ways. πŸ™‚

  9. For the record – I think “Celebrate Me Home” works as a song hook – quite well in fact. When I get back on a computer and off my phone I may try and explain it better!

    • Looking forward to it Chris! πŸ˜€

      And actually, I don’t mind the use of the phrase in the first sense—“celebrate me home” as in “sing me home.”

      • I’m going to go ahead and concede here – because when I see the hook “Celebrate Me Home” – I automatically read it as a command like “Sing Me Home.” So in other words – “(You) Celebrate Me Home”.

        I have not heard the song. Is that not how the hook is interpreted?

      • Yes, actually, that is how it’s interpreted—for the first couple of lines. And I actually love that idea. It makes me think of Tony Greene’s friends standing around his bedside singing while he takes his last breaths.

        But here’s the problem. It goes on to try to force the phrase into another meaning, which is “celebrate the fact that I’m home.” And that’s technically wrong. One line reads “Celebrate me saved by grace.” And you wouldn’t say “Celebrate me graduated” would you? But structurally speaking, those two sentences are identical.

  10. Not trying to stir the pot, just curious… what is it about “In Christ Alone” that you consider grammatically incorrect or awkward? Maybe it reads more like poetry than a modern lyric, but many hymns do. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but, for me, “In Christ Alone” is beautiful and compelling. I can think of very few songs in modern praise and worship – where this song first landed – that capture the entirety of the gospel so well.

    • Lee, I am afraid you have opened a can of worms, and will have 20 comments here to reply to before you can get back to your regular activities! πŸ™‚

    • Don’t worry Daniel. I’ll keep this relatively brief and non-inflammatory. πŸ™‚

      Lee, first of all I agree with you that “In Christ Alone” is a beautiful song. It certainly has a lot more class and depth of thought to it than a lot of other P & W songs in recent memory. I fully support what the Gettys are doing, and I very appreciate their effort to write meaningful, doctrinally rich songs.

      The reason why “In Christ Alone” is ungrammatical is that the second verse never really completes itself. It starts with a string of descriptive phrases:

      In Christ alone Who took on flesh
      Fullness of God in helpless babe
      This gift of love and righteousness
      Scorned by the ones he came to save

      So now we’re waiting for the thought to be completed, like in verse one. β€œIn Christ alone my hope is found.” Similar would be β€œIn Christ alone I place my trust.” But in Verse 2, we don’t get anything like that. Just a wandering string of descriptions, and then…

      β€˜Til on that cross…

      And that word, “’til,” is just coming out of nowhere. If you tried to diagram the sentence, you couldn’t do it, because it’s all jumbled up. You could say, “Well maybe they’re saying that he was scorned until he died on the cross and God’s wrath was satisfied,” but I think it’s clear that that’s not what they meant.

      However, that’s really the only major grammatical blunder. Other than that, I think it works just fine. However, it is a bit of a problem when you have an entire verse that’s tangled up like that. Again, I do like the song (I’ve even performed it), but I just don’t think it’s Great with a capital “G.”

      • “You could say, ‘Well maybe they’re saying that he was scorned until he died on the cross and God’s wrath was satisfied,’ but I think it’s clear that that’s not what they meant.

        That’s exactly the way my ears hear it. Am I wrong? There is an omitted “was,” completing the phrase, that I chalk up to poetic license. Many poets and hymn writers through the ages have dropped words to make a thought meter out.

        Tag. You’re it. πŸ™‚

      • Are you hearing it before the word “scorned?” As in “this gift of love, etc. was scorned by the ones he came to save until…?”

        Even so, it doesn’t make much sense. He was scorned until he was crucified? I thought they were scorning him by crucifying him, and that was exactly what the phrase “scorned by the ones he came to save” was referring to.

        I think you’re stretching it a bit. πŸ™‚ And also, we then still have the problem of hanging earlier phrases. “In Christ alone, who took on flesh…” what?

  11. Here’s a random thought: Chris mentioned a “struggle” between grammatical accuracy and excellence. But Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby didn’t seem to have that “struggle.” Or if they did, it didn’t show.

    • All the way my Savior leads me;
      What have I to ask beside?
      Can I doubt His tender mercy,
      Who through life has been my guide?
      Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
      Here by faith in Him to dwell!
      For I know, whate’er befall me,
      Jesus doeth all things well;
      For I know, whate’er befall me,
      Jesus doeth all things well.

      Using your “In Christ Alone” criteria, I think you could argue that lines 3-6 are “ungrammatical.” But, again, I think they are beautiful, poetic, and, uh… hymn-like. πŸ™‚

      • Um, no, actually they’re perfectly grammatical. What makes you think otherwise? πŸ™‚

      • Well… in the lines, “Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who through life has been my guide?” is the thought, “Can I doubt the tender mercy of HIM, WHO, through life, has been my guide,” or “Can I doubt His tender mercy, WHICH, through life, has been my guide?”

        And “Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
        Here by faith in Him to dwell!” is not a complete thought and doesn’t have a verb. And I’m not even sure what it means… but I don’t care. It’s beautiful and poetic.

      • Before any smarty pants reply, I know “dwell” is a verb. πŸ™‚

      • It’s “Can I doubt the tender mercy of Him who through life has been my guide,” which should be clear since one doesn’t generally refer to abstract things like “mercy” as “who” unless you’re making a point of personifying them. πŸ˜‰ And in any case, it’s a complete sentence.

        The “Heavenly peace” sentence is an exclamation: “Oh what heavenly peace, here by faith in Him to dwell!” Like saying, “Oh what a great feeling to have all those papers graded!”

        And I was under no doubts as to whether or not you knew the word “dwell” was a verb. πŸ™‚

  12. I agree with both of your first two paragraphs… but that’s not how the lyric reads. So you’ll give Miss Fanny poetic license but not Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. πŸ˜‰

    Dang, this has been fun, but I gotta go! πŸ™‚

    • It may not be exactly how the lyric reads, but the lyric is still grammatical as it stands. I was merely spelling out exactly what they meant to make it obvious for you. It’s not a matter of poetic license. One just is grammatical and the other isn’t.

      Dang this has been fun, but I gotta go too. πŸ˜‰

      • Let me be blunt: If you’re having trouble seeing that “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” is grammatical and “In Christ Alone” isn’t, then you simply don’t understand how basic grammar works. I’m not trying to be mean or insulting, I’m simply making an honest observation.

        However, it might be of some comfort to you to know that you’re not alone. πŸ˜€

      • I’m actually with Lee here. They both employ the same sort of poetic license.

        (By the way, I happen to know that the person you said that to knows more about that whereof he speaks than most anyone who comments here.)

      • If you’re implying that he is a talented songwriter under cover, more power to him! We need good songwriters.

        However, your comment proves that my final comment was right, and he is not alone. πŸ˜€

      • Just because you’re more blunt doesn’t make you right. πŸ™‚

      • Here’s a question: Could you take the second verse of “In Christ Alone” and write it out here for me, putting periods where you think they should go?

        Not a trick question, I’m just curious.

      • After all, presumably you have some idea of where the periods should go, right?

        I’d do it myself, but I honestly can’t figure out where they belong. Maybe I’m just stupid… πŸ™‚

      • Oh by the way, I know that being blunt doesn’t make me right. I’m not right because I’m blunt. Some people are under that mis-impression, but thank the Lord, I’m not one of them. πŸ˜€

        I do in fact know what I’m talking about, but I’d rather not say why here…

      • NSF, I guess I can see why you are a bit confused by ICA, especially the second verse. At first glance reading it through, it can be confusing. While I am still figuring out exact period placement, heres how I would group the lines together:

        In Christ alone, who took on flesh
        Fullness of God in helpless Babe

        This gift of love and righteousness
        Scorned by the ones He came to save
        ?Til on that cross as Jesus died
        The wrath of God was satisfied
        For every sin on Him was laid

        Here in the death of Christ I live

        I may be off, but my groupings seem to make at least some sense when isolated.

      • That’s a good try. However, the first phrase is still a fragment then (if you’re making that the first sentence). And it’s a fragment in a way that “Heavenly peace,divinest comfort, here by faith in him to dwell!” isn’t, because it has no verb to complete the thought. “In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe.” We just have a preposition hanging there.

        Now, let’s see if the second sentence works when we insert the implied (was): This gift of love and righteousness was scorned by the ones he came to save, til, on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.

        However, as I said earlier, that doesn’t make sense any way you slice it. If you REALLY wanted to give them a theological loophole, you could try to drum up something like “Well, God’s wrath being satisfied meant that Jesus’ sacrifice had opened the way to eternal life, which meant that there would people who would accept him, which means that he wouldn’t be scorned anymore after that point.” But actually, Jesus has been scorned since then, many times and in many ways. And anyway, if we’ve already said that he was scorned by the ones he came to save (which most people would think of as his beating and crucifixion), it just seems very odd to suddenly say, “He was scorned UNTIL he died on the cross.” Though I suppose one could say that the earthquake and the darkness silenced the tongues of the scoffers, even causing the centurion to fall at his feet and worship him. That may be the most charitable interpretation I could give that would actually make a little sense.

  13. I think someone needs to re-read their own post on blog addiction!


    • Well I’m working on it Mark. Hey, I used to do this kind of thing for most every blog. (Although this one has always been the one I come to most frequently…) πŸ˜‰

  14. I doubt any of us here would challenge the notion that “The Old Rugged Cross” is a timeless classic . . . and yet, it uses some significant poetic license with its grammar, too.

    Take verse 2:
    O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.

    To bear His glory to dark Calvary? I don’t think so . . . it’s talking about the Cross, with an unclear pronoun reference.

    Or try verse 4, which is what prompted this comment:
    To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
    Where His glory forever I’ll share.

    Taken at face value, it sounds as though personhood is being ascribed to a cross, which will someday call us to a home far away and share its/his glory with us!

    Modern-day writers aren’t the only ones to use poetic license with grammar. πŸ™‚

    • Oh good grief Charlie Brown…

      Yes, it uses a couple mildly unclear pronoun references. Whoop-de-do. Let me know when you’ve figured out how the second verse of “In Christ Alone” can somehow be grouped into complete, grammatical sentences, and I’ll be convinced. Meanwhile, I’m not.

      • Just curious, but why do song lyrics need to be grouped into complete, grammatical sentences?

      • That’s what I’m saying too. To put it bluntly: who cares? As long as it proclaims the gospel, I don’t care which pronouns they use, or whether their clauses are complete.

      • Josh, some of it depends on whether you’re trying to write a song or a poem. If you are trying, say, to write a free verse poem, and you have some incomplete sentences, that’s the nature of the art form. And if your name is T. S. Eliot, you might be able to make it work.

        But songs, particularly songs that are meant to follow the form of a hymn, need to have a sense of structure to them. Grammatical, complete sentences are a part of that structure.

        But I’ll tell you a secret… poetry is generally better when it’s grammatical too. πŸ˜‰

      • I’ll give an example from my perspective. I do not really consider myself a songwriter, but I have written songs. One I wrote that always has gotten great response at my church is one called “Then God”. The last, and payoff, line of the chorus is “Just when all the world has failed you, then God.” Now, I am well aware that is a blatant sentence fragment. But it is a glorious sentence fragment! Then God! Enough said!

      • “In Christ alone,
        [who took on flesh, Fullness of God
        in helpless Babe, This gift of love and righteousness, Scorned by the ones He
        came to save until]… on that cross,
        as Jesus died,
        The wrath of God was satisfied.

        For every sin on Him was laid, {and}
        Here in the death of Christ I live.

        That’s how it sorts itself theologically in my head – and the theology should take precedence over the grammar. ALWAYS. For theology proper exceeds the bounds of time and humanity!

        For example, “I AM THAT I AM” is possibly the most ungrammatical phrase in the English Bible, and yet probably the most profound.

        My personal gripe with the “ICA” lyric, is the sloppiness of “babe” being expected to rhyme with “save”!! it is neither free verse nor within a rhyme scheme – so in my head that line wants to end in “sabe”!!!

        Which even a cotton picking negro spiritual lyric would avoid:-)!!!

        Great thread guys! SG BLOG ADDICTS ALL!

      • Sorry guys, I tried to re-align the lyrics as prose and WordPress messed me around!!

      • Phew David… that’s one long sentence you got there! πŸ˜‰

        The best kind of songs are the ones where great theology and good grammar tie the knot. πŸ˜€ Why does there have to be a struggle between the two? Good grief, it’s like saying faith has nothing to do with reason and vice versa.

        Oh, and totally with you on the rhyme scheme there too bro. And it’s not just that one couplet either.

      • On reflection, I think the reason why we’re seeing more and more of these grammatical fumbles in modern songs is that songwriters aren’t holding themselves to high enough standards. If they manage to put something together that scans, sorta rhymes, and has good theological content, they figure that’s a great achievement, and their job is finished. While all those things are very important, songwriters also need to put in the extra effort to make their work grammatically coherent. If they leave loose ends, it’s not just going to look messy, it can create genuine confusion as to what they’re trying to get across. The songwriters of old, on the other hand, were able to maintain high standards in every area. We just need that added measure of discipline today.

      • Oh yes, and something else we need is people with trained ears. We need people who have been steeped in great writing and great poetry to the point where they just have a natural feel for what sounds good and what doesn’t. A song lyric is a form of poetry, after all. And just like you can’t write great music unless you listen to great music, you can’t write great poetry unless you read great poetry. Unfortunately, as modern education has gone down the drain, we’ve seen a corresponding decline in the cultivation of this “writer’s ear.” The result? Writers with tin ears. And that shows more in some writers/songs than others, but where it’s apparent in a lyric, it falls on the skilled writer’s ear like a thud.

      • Hear, hear!! I’m trying to work my way through reading this debate before responding, but I’m afraid of forgetting about these comments. Man, NSF, you can be kinda long-winded! πŸ˜‰

        I used to ask myself why we no longer have (IMO) poetry of the quality produced by Percy Bysshe Shelley or … the other guy … Keats. (If you like, substitute Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley.) I eventually concluded that the talent must still exist; it is just not being developed by our education today. Now you could argue it’s not a real loss; those poets could also be very moody and prone to depression; they worked themselves to death and were sometimes morbidly introverted. I don’t intend to teach my children to read Greek by age seven. But something in me feels that we have lost something important.

        Another thing, maybe even sadder, is that we as a nation have nearly lost the ability to even appreciate that poetry. Some comments on here (IMO) reflect that attitude. A few weeks ago I tried to sing “I Want a Principle Within” at church (an extremely old-fashioned church). People did like it; they listened to the words and approved. But – perhaps I’d analyze it this way – nowadays it requires so much intellectual effort to appreciate such a song that it doesn’t connect emotionally the way (I think) it should. The first time I heard the Collingsworths sing it, I broke down in tears. (I was already familiar with the lyric.) I was a little surprised when the pastor stood up and acknowledged that those older hymns are less accessible to many people today. Again, I feel we’ve lost something important.

      • “Kinda long-winded” is a very gracious understatement, Amy. πŸ˜€ I write one largish comment, then realize I had more to say and end up writing two or three largish comments… ah well.

        I completely agree with you. For my part, I might substitute somebody like Tennyson in for Keats, but yeah, Shelley and Keats were great poets even if I didn’t always go for their style. “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is great stuff.

        There’s something about the way great poets of old handled the English language… an indefinable quality. When you read the words aloud, they fall into place with a grace and beauty that can’t quite be described. I think you’re onto something when you say that we’ve lost our taste for this kind of thing today. It may not even just be us as a nation. It may just be the modern mind in general. People roll their eyes when you bring up Shakespeare, and it’s like, “Well actually… how ’bout Shakespeare?”

        Now I’m not saying that every Christian song has to be Shakespeare, I’m just (like you) making the larger point that cultivating a hearty taste for writers who really knew how to work with the English language is a great place for any writer to start.

  15. Am I the only one who puts grammar near the bottom of the list of things to think about when listening to music? Here are some great songs: “Ain’t God Good”, “Is That Footsteps That I Hear?”, “He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin’ but Good”.

    • That’s a little different Brian. For one thing, the footsteps one is actually permissible, much as it’s been teased (think of “footsteps” as like “traffic,” a continuous stream of traveling motion). But the other two you mentioned are using a dialect. Cultural dialects are their own kind of thing. That doesn’t mean that all songwriters now suddenly get to be sloppy and lazy when it comes to putting together a grammatical song. Deliberately using the word “ain’t” to capture the flavor of a dialect is perfectly fine and can even add to a song’s charm. Dangling modifiers on the other hand, are a grammatical problem.


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