Why the PCUSA decided to exclude “In Christ Alone”

Earlier this week, I posted a brief note about the PCUSA’s decision to exclude the hymn “In Christ Alone” from their new hymnal. The authors of the hymn refused to give permission to exclude a reference to the wrath of God, so the editorial committee decided to exclude the hymn.

I have received some feedback from readers questioning whether this account of things is accurate. So I thought it might be helpful to hear from one of the committee members themselves. Committee member Mary Louise Bringle describes the committee’s decision-making process in The Christian Century. She writes,

Sustained theological debate occurred after the conclusion of the committee’s three-and-a-half years of quarterly meetings in January 2012. We had voted for a song from the contemporary Christian canon, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s “In Christ Alone.” The text agreed upon was one we had found by studying materials in other recently published hymnals. Its second stanza contained the lines, “Till on that cross as Jesus died / the love of God was magnified.” In the process of clearing copyrights for the hymnal we discovered that this version of the text would not be approved by the authors, as it was considered too great a departure from their original words: “as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied.” We were faced, then, with a choice: to include the hymn with the authors’ original language or to remove it from our list.

Because we were no longer meeting as a committee, our discussions had to occur through e-mail; this may explain why the “In Christ Alone” example stands out in my mind—the final arguments for and against its inclusion are preserved in writing. People making a case to retain the text with the authors’ original lines spoke of the fact that the words expressed one view of God’s saving work in Christ that has been prevalent in Christian history: the view of Anselm and Calvin, among others, that God’s honor was violated by human sin and that God’s justice could only be satisfied by the atoning death of a sinless victim. While this might not be our personal view, it was argued, it is nonetheless a view held by some members of our family of faith; the hymnal is not a vehicle for one group’s perspective but rather a collection for use by a diverse body.

Arguments on the other side pointed out that a hymnal does not simply collect diverse views, but also selects to emphasize some over others as part of its mission to form the faith of coming generations; it would do a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger. The final vote was six in favor of inclusion and nine against, giving the requisite two-thirds majority (which we required of all our decisions) to the no votes. The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness.

Read the full article here.


  • Michael Henry

    “… from readers questioning whether this account of things is accurate.”

    I’m kind of reading between the lines here, but why would anyone question anything out of the ordinary coming from the PCUSA? Their departure from orthodox Christianity and scriptural authority is well known. This is the position those who hold to scripture and biblical authority are in today; the minority looking into the majority’s maw, thinking they are looking from without. It is scripture and God who are dissected endlessly in a postmodern fashion, not the arbitrary and trend driven naval gazing that passes for faithfulness and integrity to God and his word.

    “… a disservice to this educational mission, the argument ran, to perpetuate by way of a new (second) text the view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger.”

    This statement, like the PCUSA, is so full of errors in itself it’s amazing, but it picture perfectly shows the hubris, the gall, the incredibly disgusting diminution of God and his written word so prevalent nowadays. I have no doubt statements like this will be more defended than God’s love in reaching down in human form to save us from a rightful punishment for crimes we committed.

    • Tim Keene

      So I was right; the issue was not the wrath of God per se but the line as a whole. And the issue was whether God’s wrath was satisfied by Christ’s death on the cross and that this is what is meant by atonement.
      I would be grateful if someone could show where the line as it appears in the hymn fairly reflects a NT text. At the moment the criticism of PCUSA is all at the level of bluster.

      • Chris Ryan

        Here are a few, Tim.

        *Romans 5:16-18.
        *Romans 3:25.
        *1 Peter 2:24.

        As much as I think that penal substitution is the correct doctrine, its important to note (I think) that we shouldn’t let doctrine get in the way of salvation. The thief on the Cross knew nothing of penal substitution theory & yet Jesus forgave his sins & that very day the thief was in heaven. I think the attempt to change the line was wrongheaded, but I rather doubt even a single person will go to Hell for that one sentence.

        I think the ‘bluster’ as you call it comes from the fact that people (at least myself) question if this isn’t a step toward adopting a more New Age-oriented theology. Based on what Mary wrote above, it seems like that’s, in fact, the direction this committee wants to go.

        • Tim Keene

          The issue is not simply a matter of penal substitutionary atonement. NT Wright is an advocate od PSA and of the use of the word propitiation in Rom 3 and 1 Jn but objects to the line in the hymn.
          In none of the references you give is the notion of the wrath of God being assuaged by the sacrifice of Christ actually spelt out, although it may well be a good way of synthesising the material.
          Making the notion something of a litmus test of theological correctness is something I would wish to avoid.

          On the subject of New-Age theology, I am in UK and thought that New-Age stuff was rather old-fashioned, but not the less mistaken for that. Is it a real issue in America? What is meant by it? Has it evolved significantly in the last 30 years? And what are the signs that is it significant in PCUSA? Might PCUSA not just be rather soggy liberal? Is Mary a New-Ager herself?

      • Charles Page

        Tim, Rom 3:25-28 Penal Substitutionary Atonement is represented by God’s faith in the the blood of Christ as a propitiation. The Triune God has exercised patient faith in securing our salvation. There is nothing we can make a boast about. It is performed in such a way that God is glorified. This declaration follows the fact that every man is a liar and has brought upon himself the severest of anger from God Rom 3:9-20 This anger is propitiated (an atonement, drained blood of God’s own Son, equal to the offense) The offering satisfies the wrath of God.

  • Brian Rollins

    Wow, that explanation really doesn’t put the PCUSA is any better light whatsoever! Still ridiculous and erroneous.

    If your Bible doesn’t have the word “propitiation” in Romans 3 and 1 John 2 and 4, then you really need to discard that translation immediately. Weak, liberal Bible translations have corrupted our views in so many ways.

    • Tim Keene

      Interestingly, the NT scholar with the highest reputation in UK is a fervent advocate of the use of the word ‘propitiation’ but has argued against the line as given by Townend. In fact I suspect the move to the line as preferred by PCUSA goes back to him.

  • James Bradshaw

    “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.”

    Was it?

    According to most conservative Christians, most people end up in Hell. Further, punishment is being continually visited on believer and unbeliever alike every day in this world in the form of natural disasters and disease, we are told.

    Somehow, Adam’s transgression had more power and was more efficacious in terms of its effects than Christ’s sacrificial death (apparently very limited in its scope).

    If anything, the song’s theology appears to be too liberal.

  • buddyglass

    I’m curious about the other hymnals mentioned in the explanation that have the alternate wording. Did they get proper permission? If so, why were they given permission to change the original words and not the PCUSA?

  • Jule Hernan Dragstrem

    By the way, has anyone noticed that The Layman Online has a link to Denny Berk’s whole article. Oh, and this female ordained minister, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, who writes articles for The Layman Online, agrees with Denny Berk. Folks, don’t assume a whole denomination thinks the same way. I know some Southern Baptist women who are trying to push for women to be ordained in our denomination. I doubt it will happen, but you never know.

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