By Rev’d Christopher Esget, Senior Pastor, Immanuel Lutheran Church
Recently I made an off-the-cuff remark about a particular hymn: "I know I'm not supposed to like [this hymn], but I do." That led a parishioner to ask me what I meant by that. What makes a hymn bad, or good?
There is a subjective answer; some texts or tunes just resonate with us, or annoy us. At that level there is no bad or good, it's just a taste or style preference.
At another level, though, there are objective qualities to a hymn that we can analyze. Detailing all of those would require a long essay, or even book. But here are some of the things I look for:
Faithful to Scripture
If a text is ambiguous – or worse, teaches something false, that's a problem. On the other hand, if the text helps us understand a truth of Scripture better, that's one good reason to sing it.
An example that comes to mind is the Advent hymn Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending. The second line in the original reads, "Once for favored sinners slain." This suggests that the death of Jesus was only for some people (the favored sinners), and not for all. That's false doctrine. So we can't sing it - unless we alter the text. The version in Lutheran Service Book changes it to "Once for every sinner slain." That accords with the Biblical truth that Jesus died for all sinners, not just some.