Hymns as a Liturgical Guide for Life


Hymns as a Liturgical Guide for Life

Hymns as a Liturgical Guide for Life

by: Adam Holland

Adam is the teaching pastor at Hope Church of Knoxville. He has also the author of Friendship Established and Friendship Redeemed.


Our truck slowly came to a halt as we pulled into the gravel driveway at the local Midway Barbershop. This weekly visit had become a cherished part of my childhood routine. Our visits were a fixed part of our weekly schedule whether we needed them or not. My grandfather would tell us we were going to visit “LB’s,” as if it were a fixed place on a map which everyone knew. “LB” was the nickname of the local barber. It was only recently that I learned that this was not the true name of the barbershop. This barbershop was the local version of Cheers, a place where “everyone knew your name.” This was the type of barbershop where you could hear joyous laughter and town gossip as soon as you pulled into the parking lot.


The building had become dated over its years alongside its aging clientele. The front door would always creak and a bell would ring as you walked through the door. The front window held a flashing “open” sign that had a buzz to it that would slowly became melodic to the ears of all the regular patrons. The entrance of my grandfather, brother, and me was always met with a nearly scripted greeting of, “Welcome preacher, welcome boys.” My grandfather would then pull up a seat and wait for the next barber chair. This liturgy along with many others shaped my childhood. This routine was more than an act that I performed on a weekly basis. This routine was a practice that slowly shaped me.


In James K.A. Smith’s book You are What You Love, Smith defines ‘liturgies’ as “Love shaping practices.”[1] Liturgies are practices or routines that you regularly perform. These practices testify to and even shape what you love. Smith points out that there is a divide between what we know we ought to love and what our affections demonstrate that we do love. Liturgies work as a shaping agent that help us re-align what we know in our heads with what is true in our hearts. Fighting an addiction provides an excellent analogy of this point. A person who is addicted to something must establish new practices in hopes of changing his/her affections. New practices over time establish new affections. In a journal about “Hymns and Hymnals” what does liturgy have to do with our topic?


Our routines shape us whether we recognize it or not. Whenever we gather together with our local congregations and the minister says, “Open your hymnal to page …,” this action shapes us. As a congregation we sing songs that were written well before our lifetimes. The congregation joins in unison to sing songs that may not relate to every individual in the congregation. John’s struggles then become my struggles. Julie's successes then become my successes. The songs that we sing make the individual part of the whole. The practice of singing hymns calls us to abandon individualism and embrace our corporate identity. Not only does singing hymns connect us with our local churches, but it also connects us with church history.


Hymnals are a window into the history of the church. These songs show us that we weren't the first Christians to ever exist. The church did not begin with me! The practice of singing hymns reminds us that God led his church long before we ever got here. It also reminds us that God will continue leading his church long past our lifetimes or until He returns. By singing many of the songs that our grandparents and their grandparents sang week after week, we are able to join alongside them in one unified voice.  


In an age where music and preaching lack theological depth, hymns challenge us to think deeper. Week after week congregations sing the same ole hymns. Many of these hymns use language with which most people are not familiar. Like visiting a foreign country, to fully experience a new culture one must know the language. Once you have learned the language, an entire new world of experiences will be opened to you. Hymns teach us a language to which we are not familiar. As a young child you may not understand sin, substitutionary atonement, imputation, the deity of Christ, and etc. A child though can learn a song with these concepts within it, and as he grows older these truths which he sang for years slowly come to life. Many people will never set foot into a systematic theology class, but they can certainly hum a tune. As these lyrics get implanted within one’s heart, like a seed it will slowly grow into a tree with deep roots. May the church experience a revival of singing rich theological hymns that have passed the test of time. Once hymns return to being part of our regular liturgy, it will be then that their biblical and historic truths will shape our congregation.


[1] [1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/you-are-what-you-love-a-conversation-with-james-k-a-smith/


Why Hymns Matter: A Biblical Examination


Why Hymns Matter: A Biblical Examination

Why Hymns Matter: A Biblical Examination

Dr. Brian Payne

Brian is the Associate Professor of Christian Theology and Expository Preaching. Brian is also the Senior pastor of First Baptist Fisherville.


Shepherd of tender youth, guiding in love and truth through devious ways; Christ our triumphant King, we come Thy name to sing and here our children bring to join Thy praise.

Thou art our holy Lord, O all subduing Word, Healer of strife. Thou didst Thyself abase that from sin’s deep disgrace Thou mightest save our race and give us life.

Thou are the great High Priest; Thou hast prepared the feast of heavenly love; while in our mortal pain, none calls on Thee in vain; help Thou dost not disdain, Help from above.

Ever be Thou our Guide, our Shepherd and our Pride, our Staff and Song; Jesus, Thou Christ of God, by Thine eternal Word lead us where Thou hast trod, make our faith strong.[1]


In 1904-1905, revival came to Wales. One of the Welsh preachers of that time was Evan Roberts who believed that singing was one of the vital means of grace for that or any spiritual awakening for that matter. Once a Londoner asked him if he believed revival could ever come to London, Roberts smiled and asked, “Can you sing?” [2] Of course, this needs to be qualified. What we sing is as important as that we sing. And it is the contention of this article that a vital genre for Christian singing is that of the hymns.

 The Apostle Paul knew the importance of singing and singing hymns at that. In fact, in two different texts, Paul admonishes the church to sing hymns, among other songs. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col 3:16; ESV)… Be filled with the Spirit 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5:18-20; ESV).

Indubitably, the Gospel-driven, Spirit-filled life is a life that incites and fuels singing. But not just any kind of singing: singing that communicates truth, knowledge and instruction. As Michael Horton asserts that worshiping by the means of singing is intended not merely to facilitate personal expression of one’s feelings but to sing the truth deeply into our hearts[3]

Contending for Hymns

Indeed, these two Pauline texts make at least four points that are worth considering. First, the word of Christ dwelling in a person is the fuel for these songs. Second, the Holy Spirit who fills the believer is the power behind the singing of these songs and we know that the Holy Spirit has come to glorify Christ (John 16:14). Third, teaching and admonishing is one of the purposes of these songs. Fourth, various forms of songs were employed.[4]

 It is this last point that leads us to the obvious question from these aforementioned texts. Is the Apostle Paul making a distinction with these 3 terms? If so, what is the distinction?

Some Christian traditions argue that there is no difference. In other words, all three terms refer to the Psalter. That is, singing is to be limited to the language of inspiration. Although this view is commendable in that its proponents seek to be consistent with the Reformation principle of “Scripture Alone,” there are a few problems with this position.

First, if Paul meant only one genre of song, what is the point of employing three different words in two different texts? It would seem that he assumes that the reader will distinguish between the terms. I would argue that the “Psalms” refers to the Old Testament Psalms. Luke employed this word in this way several times in his writings (Luke 20:42; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 13:33). Hymns would seem to refer to any human composition that focuses on God or Christ. The Song of Moses in Exodus 15 (the first hymn in the Bible), and Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel would qualify as would the so called Christ Hymns (Col 1:15-20; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Tim 3:16). Spiritual songs may be “spontaneous compositions” prompted by the Holy Spirit. If these distinctions are legitimate, Murray Harris would be right in calling them, respectively, “songs from Scripture, songs about Christ, and songs from the Spirit.”[5]

Second, Colossians 3:16 makes clear that these songs are to have a didactic purpose. That parallels preaching. Who would restrict preaching solely to the language of Scripture. If that were the case, the preacher would just stand up in the pulpit and read Scripture. But as we see in Nehemiah, the Levites took the Scriptures and not only read them, but “gave the sense” of the Scriptures (Neh 8:8). So they took the inspired text and elaborated on them in their own words. And because singing has a similar teaching function, it stands to reason that there is a parallel between preaching and singing.

Third, consider the use of the great confessions in the life of the church. These confessions use all kind of language that do not show up in Scripture (e.g. providence, Trinity, perichoresis, expiation, etc). Yet, without these terms, it would be difficult to maintain orthodox doctrine.

Fourth, there is in the New Testament the presence of “non-psalmic” psalms. For example, there are the three psalms we see in Luke 1-2: The psalm of Mary (The Magnificat), the psalm of Zechariah (the Benedictus), and the psalm of Simeon (Nunc Dimittus).

Finally, the church in every epoch of church history has emphasized the writing and use of Hymns.  For instance, the writer of the “Shepherd of Tender Youth,” (the oldest extant post-apostolic hymn) Clement of Alexandria gives us great insights of the importance of hymns in the post-Apostolic church, not only in the formal worship but in the daily lives of believers, when he asserts, “We cultivate our fields, praising; we sail the sea, hymning… [The believer’s] whole life is a holy festival. His sacrifices are prayers and praises, and Scripture readings before meals, psalms and hymns during meals and before bed, and prayer again during night. By these he unites himself to the heavenly choir.”

Indeed, as early as 112 A.D., it is recorded that Pliny the Younger in his report of Bithynian Christians’ worship, wrote Christians hold early morning services and recite a hymn antiphonally as to a God.  In fact, there is no time in Church History where there was an absence of hymn writing. Of course, singing and hymn writing was in many respects at the heart of the Reformation.[6]


Undeniably, hymn writing has served the church for two thousand years. Unlike the psalms, that aren’t explicitly Trinitarian, the hymns of Scripture and the better hymns of church history are. They are also Christ and Gospel centered, rather than man-centered.  They have a gravity of concept, and dignity and reverence of language that are not based on human feeling but on eternal verities.


The LORD is a singing God. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

And we are his image bearers, which means we were created and redeemed to sing. That is why it is not surprising that the Bible contains over 400 references to singing and 50 direct commands to sing. In fact, the longest book of the Bible, the Psalms, is a book of songs.

But it is the contention of this article that the Psalms are not the only songs the church is to sing. We also are expected to sing hymns (and for another article, “spiritual songs”).  Hymns function as a kind of “portable creed” by which the church not only worships the Triune God, but also learns the faith as well.

It could be rightly said that outside the time tested hymns of the church, a large majority of Christian songs center on one attribute of God, his love. One of the problems as I see it in the contemporary church is the abandonment or disregard of God’s simplicity, which means God is not made up of his attributes. That is, he doesn’t consist of love, goodness, mercy, etc. God is love, goodness, and mercy. Every attribute of God is identical with his essence, which also means that even though the divine attributes are revealed to us as varied, they are actually identical with one another. God is not made up of parts.

To emphasize love at the expense of other attributes is to bear false witness against the Living God. However, the better hymns in church history remind us that our God is more than love. He is just, holy, righteous, and wrathful against sin. But this God has provided a substitute in his Son Jesus Christ who is for sin “the double cure” and who saves from “wrath and make me pure.”

It is the time tested hymns that communicate these truths through melody. And you have a people when you have their songs. As Warren Wiersbe writes, “I am convinced that congregations learn more theology (good and bad) from the songs they sing than from the sermons they hear. Many sermons are doctrinally sound and contain a fair amount of biblical information, but they lack that necessary emotional content that gets hold of the listener’s heart. Music, however, reaches the mind and the heart at the same time. It has power to touch and move the emotions, and for that reason can become a wonderful tool in the hands of the Spirit or a terrible weapon in the hands of the Adversary.[7]

Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission, shares a story that helps drive this point home. He knew a civil rights leader who, early in the movement, was deeply disheartened by the slowness of progress. When he was asked if there was anything to be encouraged about, he said, “yes,” because he had become convinced they would ultimately win. He was asked why. His response, “Because they had the songs the people were singing…the melodies that would carry the movement.” He recognized that whoever has the songs has the people.[8]

The church of Jesus Christ has a long and rich heritage of songs called hymns that have evangelized and edified people in the gospel of Jesus Christ for two thousand years. And perhaps these hymns have never been more important for the church than they are today.

As Sam Storms points out, in many pulpits today there are two dominant themes: conquering and coping. How may we conquer our world? How may we enter into our destinies? How may we cope with our daily struggles? If Jesus is mentioned at all, he’s usually depicted as a life coach who exists to aid us in our search for significance.[9]

But the hymns critique and chasten this man centeredness. They reorient to the biblical reality that every situation, location, relationship must be seen in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ and be ruled by it as a controlling principle. Indeed, to let the word of Christ indwell us and to be filled with the Holy Spirit means, among other things, to sing hymns.

[1] “Shepherd of Tender Youth,” written by Clement of Alexandria around 200 A.D. This is the earliest extant hymn written in the post-Apostolic era. It was written for new converts. It centers on the person and all sufficient work of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. It also serves to demonstrate that the early post-Apostolic church was not “Psalms” only Christians.

[2] Keith and Kristyn Getty, Sing: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church (Nashville: B&H, 2017), 97.

[3] Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 24.

[4] See also Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2008), 290.

[5] Murray J. Harris, Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: Colossians and Philemon (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 169.

[6] It has been said that many of Martin Luther’s foes feared his hymns more than than feared Luther himself.

[7] Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship (Nashville, Oliver Nelson, 1986), 137.

[8] Haugen told this story to Keith and Kristyn Getty, Ibid., 142.

[9] Sam Storms, The Hope of Glory (Crossway, Wheaton, 2007), 279.


Jesus Our Song


Jesus Our Song

Jesus Our Song

Charlie Hall

Charlie is a songwriter/pastor based in Oklahoma City, where he is the Pastor of Worship Arts and Liturgy at Frontline Church. He has been writing songs for the Church and leading congregations across the world for more than 20 years. Hall is one of the members of the Passion Worship Band.


                What an amazing time in the history of the church for music. The songwriting is wide, not always deep, but it is amazingly wide. The decades past are still overflowing with spiritual songs that serve the church. The church has been left with a treasure trove of hymns. One of these great historic hymns, which dates to only a few hundred years after Christ's death is "Phos Hilaron." I celebrate the diversity of songs, styles, hymns, and tribal war cries for Jesus that exist for the church. But amid this celebration, I want to fight for the songs that help the church see the clearest biblical pictures of God. Many of these pictures are found in hymns that have been passed down hundreds of years. All of these hymns though serve by helping us to see clear pictures of God, reminding us of the gospel, helping us battle sin in our lives, reorienting our affections, and above all forming Christ in us. 

Singing Hymns to Remember the Story

              Since the creation of the world, there has been song, melody, and lyric. They began with and in God and then He himself passed it on to His people so they could pass on the story of God (Psalm 78). They sang of His acts and miracles. They sang to remind each other of His truth and to help one another meditate on the God’s words. They sang to pass this story on to their children and into the next generation. This had been going on for hundreds of years when Jesus came, lived, was crucified, resurrected, ascended and then left the Holy Spirit to guide His bride. The songs of God grew like a tidal wave and the word, the Gospel, and teachings of God through song were contextualized to reach ever-changing cultures. Fast forward to our current age and we've added all kinds of trappings to either hinder the singing or assist it. Whether or not the addition of instruments, sound and lights, has been helpful, the congregation is lifting up songs of truth as a demonstration that the pursuit of God's presence and his exaltation are just the same as they were thousands of years ago. The voices of the Church need to be heard with passion.  As we all enter our gatherings we are in deep need of being reminded of the truths that are being sung around us.  We should consider this as we think through our music and liturgies. We should create space and moments where the congregation can sing over each other and to God. I want the addicted man I'm sitting next to, to be singing over me and me singing over the addict. We all come into the presence in need of the truth. Sing it out!  

Singing Hymns to War

             The Church, Jesus' Bride, God's Wife, was made to sing!  She was made to sing to and about her King. She was made for the proclamation of what her Savior has done. And as she is singing these truths God uses them to wash her, grow her, sanctify her and course correct her. The songs are important. Kevin Twitt states, "We gather to sing our songs so we will know the truth so well that we can go out into the world and we say, ‘We don't believe your lies anymore! We won't be squeezed into your mold!'" And so we can speak to our fearful heart and say, "Heart, I don't believe your lies anymore!" (or as Charles Wesley put it, "Arise my soul arise! Shake off your guilty fear!") because Jesus can trump even what my heart says! And Jesus does trump our hearts as He becomes beautiful and believable to us. That is why we gather in worship. That is why I urge you, use the hymns of the church! God is using them to mold us into truth, restore our sanity, and open our eyes to see Jesus as beautiful and believable."

Singing Hymns to Form Christ & Affection

            Week after week the Church stands together heralding and proclaiming the beauty of Jesus through music and lyric. This profound mystery of singing forms Christ in people, reorients our affections for God, intersects people with the presence of God and reminds us of the beauty and power of the Gospel. What an amazing treasure for us to protect. Songs pass on the story of God, tell of His acts and miracles, remind us of truth, teach us scripture, encourage us to pursue God's presence, call for us to exalt Him, and spotlight His beauty and attributes. Songs wash us and grow us. Songs scatter the enemy, heal the broken, and they help direct our devotion to Jesus. Songs can move and energize us or create quiet reflective moments. Songs can help us tap into our angst and need for Jesus. Songs connect us with others and motivate us to live life in community. Songs give us language to speak when we've lost all our words and have forgotten how to pray.

          Songs can come from God's heart and free people in an instant. Songs paint pictures of God that we can lift, point to, and gather our brothers and sisters around. These songs can call us to reflect upon and be amazed at the Father. Jesus’ great name is our song! So we sing it on the battlefield, in the mountains and valleys, prisons and at weddings. We sing this song over the sick and the healed, in the dark night and the bright day, we sing as we live and as we die. Jesus' great name is our song!

Colossians 3:16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.


Hymns Sound Different When you are Grieving


Hymns Sound Different When you are Grieving

Hymns Sound Different When You’re Grieving

Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie teaches the Bible through numerous Bible study books as well as at conferences around the country and internationally. She and her husband, David, host Respite Retreats for couples that have faced the death of child. She is the author of What Grieving People Wish You Knew and the host of the “Help Me Teach the Bible” podcast at The Gospel Coalition.


                When you lose someone you love, many of the hymns you have sung your whole life sound different. Words that you barely gave a thought to become weighted with meaning. Promises of submission and gladness that once easily rolled off your tongue now get caught in your throat. Promises become precious. Truths bring tears.

In the months after my daughter died, I heard and understood two lines in “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” in a way I never had before.

O that with yonder sacred throng, we at his feet may fall,

We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown him Lord of all . . .[1]

Never before had I given any thought to what the “yonder sacred throng” was. But now I could recognize a face in that throng. And I longed, like never before, for the day when I, too, will join that throng.

Other hymns as well presented me with truths that challenged my doubts about God’s goodness:

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,

Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!

Hast thou not seen how thy desires all have been

Granted in what He ordaineth?[2]

In those days of grief, I couldn’t help but want to argue with words like these. As the truth presented in them intersected with my difficult reality, it created a constructive crisis. Singing the words of the hymn forced me to grapple with whether or not I would truly take hold of the truth I was singing and allow it to shape my perspective about my loss. Simply singing the words became an act of submission to God’s sovereignty.

Hymns that spoke of the suffering and sorrow of Jesus assured me that he was a safe person to draw close to in my own sorrow, a source of healing for the agony I was in. They helped me to cry out to him for the help and comfort that could only come from Him.

Jesus! What a Help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll,

Even when my heart is breaking, He, my Comfort, helps my soul.

Hallelujah! What a Savior! Hallelujah what a Friend!

Saving, helping keeping, loving,

He is with me to the end.[3]

When Christmas rolled around then, too, I heard all-too-familiar lyrics with new ears.

No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground.

He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found . . .[4]

        I had been working through the question of why my daughter had been born with a fatal genetic disorder, and it became clear to me that it was ultimately a result of the curse that infiltrated every part of creation, including our genetic code. I knew that the thorns that represent the curse still infest the ground and blessings do not flow far as the curse is found.

         Like most western Christians, I have sung, “Joy to the World!” my whole life. And in my mind, perhaps not thinking through the lyrics deeply, I assumed that since we sing this hymn at Christmas it must be about the first coming of Christ as a baby. But how can that be, since this song celebrates the eradication of the curse which is still a part of our reality?

         The song we sing as “Joy to the World” is Isaac Watts’ rendering of Psalm 98, which is about the coming of the Lord. What becomes clear, in light of what we know about the first coming of Christ as a suffering servant, is that Psalm 98 is more about his second coming as triumphant king. When Jesus came the first time, earth did not receive her king but instead hung him on a cross. Even after his death and resurrection, sin and sorrow still grow, and all the thorny effects of the curse remain the reality that we live in. The nations do not yet prove the glories of his righteousness.

        But when Christ comes again, all will be different. Every knee will bow, as there will be no more resistance to him. It won’t be just humanity that will celebrate his coming: the earth itself will celebrate. The curse will finally be gone for good so that all creation will be set free from decay to worship Christ. People from every tribe and nation will gladly crown him as King. This is why there is so much joy in “Joy to the World!” It anticipates the joy to come when Christ comes the second time—when the Kingdom he established at his first coming will be consummated as the reality we will live in forever.

       When we understand what we’re saying when we sing this song, we realize that this song celebrates the essence of our Christian hope as believers. Our hope is not simply or solely looking back to treasure Christ’s birth, or even his death. Our greatest hope is not in the difference Christ makes in the way we experience life here and now.

       Our greatest joy is centered on our future hope for the day when Christ will return as king in glory to this earth. On that day, all who are dead in Christ will be resurrected. “God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away . . . no longer will there be anything accursed.” (Revelation 21:3-4, 22:3). It’s because God fulfilled his promise to send Christ the first time that we can confidently sing, “Joy to the World!” any time of the year, anticipating that his promise to come again and set everything right in this world full of pain will also prove true.

      The day will come when we will sing together like never before, "Joy to the World, the Lord is come!" On that day, we will look each other in the eye and say, “The curse is gone for good! We put our hope in Christ, and he has proved worthy of our trust! Let’s sing!” 


[1] All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name, text by Edward Perronet

[2] Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, text by Joachim Neander; translated by Catherine Winkworth

[3] Our Great Savior, text by J. Wilbur Chapman

[4] Joy to the World! text by Isaac Watts


Hymnals and a Heritage of Song: Maintaining Continuity in Congregational Singing


Hymnals and a Heritage of Song: Maintaining Continuity in Congregational Singing

Hymnals and a Heritage of Song: Maintaining Continuity in Congregational Singing

Dr. Joshua Waggener

Dr. Joshua A. Waggener serves as Assistant Professor of Music and Christian Worship at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern. Waggoner is the worship leader at Grace Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC.

The experience of singing with a hymnal

“Open your hymnals and turn to hymn number ....” For many of us growing up in evangelical churches before the turn of the millennium, these words signaled our most common shared activity in worship services: congregational singing. While our churches may not have recited creeds or confessions or even said the Lord’s Prayer together, we regularly sang hymns of the faith with the help of a simple piece of technology: the hymn book. This technology fit comfortably in your hand. Each song was laid out on one to two pages, typically with three to four stanzas of lyrics set to four-part harmony

As church kids sitting next to our parents (or grandparents, or other adult models), we learned to find the right hymn and follow along on the right stanza. We knew we were expected to join our voices with those around us as the song leader led the way. Although the depths of some hymn lyrics were lost on us, this was a formative spiritual experience of our young lives. Many of these hymns were etched in our memories for life, along with Bible memory verses and significant sermons. Little did we know that the songs in those hymnals would stick with us, and we would develop preferences–reactionary or nostalgic–based on the experiences we had with those hymnals in hand.

Singing with the saints who came before us

But what songs did we sing from those hymnals? We sang British classics such as “Holy, Holy, Holy.”[1] We sang American folk hymns like “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”[2] We sang nineteenth-century Sunday School hymns such as “To God Be the Glory”[3] and twentieth-century revivalist favorites including “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.”[4] Hymnals from the late twentieth century even included first wave Maranatha! praise and worship choruses like “Seek Ye First”[5] and charismatic renewal songs like “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”[6] Compared to many worship “set lists” today, the chronological scope of our songs could be quite broad (easily 100 plus years) and represent a range of denominational traditions (Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, and non-denominational churches).

By singing songs and hymns diverse in their provenance and date of composition, we were singing with the saints who had come before us. Somehow their songs of faith had ended up in our church’s hymnal, and we recapitulated their melodic testimonies according to our own contexts and customs. It was as if, in practice, we were acknowledging that the Holy Spirit had worked in believers that came before us, resulting in expressions of praise and thanks, profession and contrition. While singing these once-new-but-now-old songs again, we sometimes experienced the work of the Spirit in our day, acknowledging His continued presence and power.

Singing with the saints to come after us

In many evangelical churches today, both the technology facilitating congregational singing as well as the sources of those songs have changed considerably. Instead of looking down at hymn books, we look up at screens. Instead of singing “classic” hymns of faith, we increasingly sing “contemporary” songs of praise. Instead of including centuries of song, we often exclude most things written before the turn of the millennium.

The dangers of these innovations have been decried extensively: making worship music a consumerist choice; always seeking an individual, emotional experience in worship; valuing contemporaneity over all other criteria for song selection; losing musical literacy and congregational part singing; etcetera. The advantages of the revolution in church music practices have also been argued: making worship music relevant to a new generation; enjoying more authentic and intimate worship; contextualizing worship technology and music according to today’s media use and soundscape.

But regardless of technological innovations or worship style perspectives, my concern is that our songs are increasingly ephemeral. As we have become free to use songs outside of our church’s hymnal, we may have lost the opportunity to pass along “treasures old and new” (Matt 13:52) to our spiritual kids and grandkids. This highlights the importance of an intentional canon of song for local congregational singing.

A commitment to a canon of song for your congregation

In general, a “canon” can be defined as a rule or principle by which other things are judged. For example, the Bible consists of a “canon” of books recognized as Scripture by the early Church: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New. These inspired words provide the “rule” for our faith, allowing us to discern truth from error and orthodoxy from heresy.

In music or literature, a “canon” is often a list of works considered to be exemplary or authoritative. Such lists include an accepted number of established works, but are often open to the possibility of adding new works that achieve a recognized level of quality or newly-discovered works by a composer or author.

What then, is a canon of song for congregational singing? According to Constance Cherry, a canon of song is “a body of song that has been vetted and authorized for use in the worship of a given Christian community.”[7] Early English-speaking Protestants sang the canon of biblical psalms, adapted in meter and rhyme for congregational tunes. Since the Baptist Benjamin Keach wrote The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship (1691)[8] and the nonconformist Isaac Watts presented his case in A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody (1707),[9] English-speaking Protestants have found it increasingly appropriate to sing newly composed songs and hymns as expressions of our personal faith.

As we carry on the tradition of congregational singing in our churches, what will our canon of song include? Can we commit ourselves to repeatedly singing songs which will nourish faith from generation to generation, regardless of what form of technology is used? To move in this direction, I humbly suggest the following steps:

1. Identify and develop a canon of song
Make a list of the songs currently sung in your congregation, and identify those worthy to be repeated. Recognize that a congregation can only sing so many songs well. Therefore, give yourself permission to limit the number of songs you sing. Note that this canon will not have the authority of Scripture or claim inspiration or inerrancy. However, as an intentional collection of repeated songs it will help form a unique corporate identity for your church based on your theological, cultural, and musical values.[10]

2. Steward your canon well, as a “theological dietician” of worship
In his book The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks encourages worship planners to aim for a “balanced diet” in worship music, with attention to biblical dichotomies (e.g. transcendence and immanence, joy and reverence) and established criteria for song selection. His metaphor of a “theological dietician” helps us realize that we have the important task of serving our congregations well-prepared “meals” involving a variety of doctrinal themes and expressions, both in week-to-week services and in long-range planning.[11] By cutting back on songs from more familiar “food groups” and adding new (or unknown) ones from less familiar “cuisine,” we will become good stewards of congregational songs for the health and growth of the Body of Christ.

3. Plan worship with a pastor's heart and a holistic liturgy
Seek to incorporate just the right hymns for your current flock, with a view towards the past, present, and future of the congregation. But don’t rely upon the song selection to do all the work. Consider creeds, corporate prayers, and especially Scripture readings that will unify your congregation around the Gospel instead of their musical preferences.

Here is the challenge: In your congregation, will you guard against the ephemeral in your selection and practice of worship music? Will you build a heritage of songs worthy of repeated singing from one generation to another?




[1] “Holy, Holy, Holy,” text by Reginal Heber, tune by John B. Dykes

[2] “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” text by Robert Robinson; sung to tunes from The Sacred Harp, 1844 as well as Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music

[3] “To God be the Glory,” text by Fanny J. Crosby, tune by William H. Doane

[4] “I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” text and tune by Charles H. Gabriel

[5] “Seek Ye First,” text based on Scripture, tune by Karen Lafferty

[6] “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” text and tune by Graham Kendrick

[7] Constance M. Cherry, The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2016), 103.

[8] Full title: The Breach Repaired in God’s Worship / Or, Singing of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs Proved to be an Holy Ordinance of Jesus Christ

[9] Full title: A Short Essay Toward the Improvement of Psalmody / Or, An Enquiry How the Psalms of David Ought to Be Translated into Christian Songs, and How Lawful and Necessary It Is to Compose Other Hymns According to the Clearer Revelations of the Gospel, for the Use of the Christian Church

[10] For assistance, I recommend chapter 5 of Constance Cherry’s The Music Architect, “Evaluating Worship Music: Creating a Canon of Song.”

[11] Zac M. Hicks, The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016). See chapter 6, “The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician.”


What a Hymnal Represents


What a Hymnal Represents

What a Hymnal Represents

Dr. R. Scott Connell serves as Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership at Boyce Bible College and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Connell is the worship leader at First Baptist Church Jacksonville.


Many involved in worship today view a hymnal as a vestige of the past. They were used by churches of a bygone era for a style of worship from a bygone era, right? They seemingly have no relevance today. Now we have instantaneous access to hundreds of thousands of worship songs on the internet. Why limit yourself to some 500-600 songs in a printed and bound book that is “out of date” as soon as it is printed?

I am not suggesting that anyone should.

Yet, what the hymnal represents is an approach to worship planning and practice that needs to be retained today, and for some needs to be reclaimed today. Here are 5 things a hymnal represents to our worship heritage that should be employed in modern worship today, even if a hymnal is not actually used in worship.


1)      Tried, tested, and approved worship songs. A hymnal was produced after considering all the available hymns and songs of the time before committing to print a limited number of recommended songs for worship. These decisions were often made by theologically and musically astute individuals and committees. Their intent was to guard congregation from theological error and employ the best (e.g. congregationally friendly) musical setting of a given text. While there is much written today that needs to be sung, there is a great deal more that will/should never be sung again. Hymnals represent the time taken to sort through the chaff to find the wheat.


2)      Diverse yet balanced content that served the primary doctrines. A hymnal had to serve a broad constituency and could not placate a narrow schism. It had to highlight the essential theological doctrines to serve the interests of mainline Biblical Christianity. Secondary doctrines often could not be represented in the interests of unifying a church body around the primary doctrines of the faith. Hymnals emphasized the essentials, yet there was also enough diversity to remind churches not to overemphasize some doctrines while neglecting others.


3)      Diverse yet balanced musical styles to serve a multi-generational context. A hymnal should serve the full spectrum of different generations in worship because that is what a healthy church should be. Multi-generational worship should not be a special emphasis Sunday but a weekly fact. Every generation is represented by a particular body of musicals styles. “Older” and “newer” songs are often marked by older and newer musical settings. Hymnals typically gathered both the old and the new together to demonstrate worship’s timelessness and requisite musical diversity.


4)      A heritage of worship language that was collected from “a great cloud of witnesses.” The beautiful poetry of an 18th century hymn represents worship language from a faithful generation that preceded today’s worshipers. To borrow their language is to stand upon their faith and learn from their practice. Today’s context is unique but today’s need for truth and faith is the same. To call upon the worship song of a previous generation is to remind today’s worshipers that the gospel stands forever. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever and has sustained his church for centuries.


5)      Congregational worship emerged from personal piety. Older hymnals were pocket sized. They were not found in the “back of the pew in front of you” until the late 19th and 20th centuries. They were brought to corporate worship by the individuals because they were a part of the personal and family devotional practice at home. This represents an understanding that worship began in private and converged in the corporate assembly. It garnered a contributor mindset rather than a consumer mindset. Hymnals were compiled with scattered worship as much as gathered worship in mind.


While it is unlikely that anyone reading this should go defend the need for their church to buy hymnals for use in worship, it is imperative that we reclaim the values in worship that a hymnal represents. Too many “disposable” worship songs are thrown into worship today without proper evaluation and consideration. To properly shepherd one’s congregation means seriously guarding what words will be “put in their mouths” for use in corporate worship.


The Most Important Hymnal You've Never Heard of by Devon Kauflin


The Most Important Hymnal You've Never Heard of by Devon Kauflin


5 Lessons from Richard Allen on the Songs of the Church

Devon Kauflin

Devon is the worship pastor at Grace Church Clarksburg. Devon also serves Sovereign Grace Music by contributing to recordings, leading events, and developing strategies for training leaders and better serving local churches.


          Most likely, you’ve never heard of Richard Allen. If you are familiar with the name it is because you know him as the founder of the oldest African-American denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Much ink has been spent on Allen’s role in the development of African-American Christianity, but considerably less attention has been paid to his contribution to American hymnody. Not long after establishing one of the first African-American churches in the young United States, Richard Allen published a hymnal to give voice to his congregation. This hymnal may be the most important hymnal you’ve never heard of.


      In 1760, Richard Allen was born in Delaware into slavery. While a slave, Allen heard and responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ. He writes dramatically of his conversion when one night he thought “hell would be my portion. . . [so] I cried unto Him who delighteth to hear the prayers of a poor sinner, and all of a sudden my dungeon shook, my chains flew off, and glory to God, I cried, enough for me—the Saviour died.”[1] He couldn’t contain his newfound hope in Christ, and as he worked to buy his freedom he became a preacher.

        As an itinerant preacher in early American Methodism, Allen traveled throughout the Mid-Atlantic region with the likes of Francis Asbury and Freeborn Garrettson. His preaching led him to Philadelphia in the 1780s, the burgeoning center of the young American republic, as well as a growing community of free African-Americans. In Philadelphia, Allen not only found a welcoming audience for his preaching but was also given a consistent platform to proclaim God’s Word. In 1786, Allen was asked to establish a service for African-Americans at the venerable St. George’s Methodist Church. Meeting at 5:00 AM each Sunday morning and sitting under Allen’s preaching they became a growing portion of the congregation at St. George’s.

           The increase in numbers made it necessary for the church to add a gallery to their facility. This addition involved the whole congregation, as white and black, rich and poor, joined together to see the project completely. But upon completion of the gallery, a shocking incident took place that shaped the trajectory of African-American Christianity for centuries to come. Allen, Absalom Jones, and other black members of St. George’s arrived at church shortly after the gallery had opened. They expected to sit in the seats above where they normally sat. Richard Allen recounts what happened next:

“Just as we got to the seats, the elder said, ‘let us pray.’ We had not been long upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees . . . pulling [Absalom Jones] up off of his knees, and saying, ‘You must get up—you must not kneel here.’ Mr. Jones replied, ‘wait until the prayer is over.’ [The trustee] said ‘no, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I force you away.’ Mr. Jones said, ‘wait until the prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.’ With that he beckoned to one of the other trustees . . . to come to his assistance. . . . By this time prayer was over, and we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church.[2]

        The incident at St. George’s that sad morning prompted Allen, Jones, and others to establish their own place of worship, where they could gather as God’s people without hindrance. Allen writes, “We were dragged off of our knees in St. George’s church, and treated worse than heathens; and we were determined to seek out for ourselves, the Lord being our helper.”[3]

         On successive weekends in July of 1794, Jones and Allen began leading the first two African-American congregations in Philadelphia. There were two churches and not one due to Allen’s ardent commitment to Methodism.[4] Allen’s church became known as Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and though the ensuing years were filled with much hardship, God continued to build his church. Allen proved to be a very capable pastor, caring for the needs of his congregation through his preaching and faithful ministry. Indispensable to his work was the priority of the church in song.

        To aid his church’s voice, in 1801 Allen compiled fifty-four hymn texts without tunes and published them as A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns Selected from Various Authors by Richard Allen, African Minister. This work was the first hymnal produced by an African-American expressly for an African-American context. We can learn at least five lessons about congregational singing from Allen’s remarkable work:

1.      The songs of the church are first a local project. There is a particular nature to how we should approach what we sing in church. Our songs are meant for a particular people in a particular place at a particular point in time. For Richard Allen, pastoring in Philadelphia, there were several affordable hymn collections his church could have used. But God had brought a unique people together to form Bethel and they needed a unique set of songs to sing. So Allen compiled a hymnal for this congregation’s use. The reality is, no two congregations are exactly alike, and while we should all proclaim the same gospel and the same Word, local contours will differ. For Allen, this was reflected in a consistent emphasis on the hope of heaven and on a Savior who is a friend to sinners and a comfort in trouble.


2.      The songs of the church can stay a local project. There were as many as fifteen of the fifty-four texts in Allen’s collection that had never before been published, and many of these were never published again. Most of these songs arose from this local context and served this local church. These were songs likely only known by Allen’s congregation and seemingly only sung for a season. And that’s okay. These hymns don’t represent wasted resources or wasted effort, but serve as a reminder that many of our songs will seldom go beyond the walls of our church. Some of our songs are only for our congregation, only for a season of time, and can still beneficial in giving voice to praise and edification.

3.      The songs of the church are a pastoral opportunity. The example of Richard Allen shows that the pastor’s role in the church’s song is not one of detachment. Rather, he plays a central part in shaping God’s people into who God has saved them to be. Allen saw curating a certain collection of songs to serve his congregation as part of his pastoral work at his local church. The church’s weekly songs are full of pastoral opportunity if we simply take it. They help shape the theology and hearts of the worshipper.

4.      The songs of the church are tools for building up the church, not tools for cultural preservation. Because of the opposition that shaded much of Allen’s ministry, it would have been easy for him to incorporate songs that reflected and spoke only to his cultural context. A large part of Allen’s life and ministry sought to do just that: give expression to an often marginalized African-American faith. But when it came to the songs his church sang, Allen humbly looked at the many traditions around him and drew from various streams in order to serve his local church.

Too often our songs become primarily tools of cultural preservation. This is what the “worship wars” of the late 20th century was all about, where typically one group sought to hold onto their traditional expression while another aimed to incorporate contemporary practices. Christian singing is should be a reflection of culture, but it also must transcend culture. The gospel is a message that meets us where we are yet ties us to something far beyond our earthly context. Allen’s example in relying on a combination of some of the better known hymns and sources of his day from various denominations, coupled with several texts that had never before been published, provides a roadmap for how we might push out from our own tendencies to be preserve a culture with which we’re most familiar.

5.      The songs of the church should give real hope in the midst of real suffering. A brief survey of the texts that Allen compiled show a willingness to press into suffering by talking about it. But this isn’t for the sake of self-focus, self-expression, or self-pity. The point of expressing our pain and laments is to point to our hope. Text after text in Allen’s collection root the singer in the Christian’s real hope in looking back at Christ’s work, in articulating God’s present comfort, and in looking forward to future glory. The songs that filled the minds and voices of Bethel did this. And the songs we sing should do the same.

Amidst suffering, amidst hardship, God’s people have a voice and Allen saw it as his duty to ensure that his congregation articulated God’s praise through song. One hymn Allen included in his collection, first appeared in the collection of another often marginalized preacher, Native American Samson Occom. It’s a fitting summary of the way Richard Allen used hymns to emphasize the dignity and purpose of God’s people:

What poor despised company

Of travelers are these,

That’s walking yonder narrow way,

Along that rugged maze?

Why they are of a royal line,

They’re children of a King;

Heirs of immortal crown divine,

And loud for joy they sing.[5]


[1]Richard Allen, The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen.: To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal ... to the People of Colour in the United States, 1831; Reprint (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015), 9.

[2]Allen, 18.

[3]Allen, 19.

[4]The initial church that was being established determined to be united with the Church of England. They requested Richard Allen become their minister. Allen recounts, “I told them I could not accept of their offer, as I was a Methodist. I was indebted to the Methodists, under God, for what little religion I had; being convinced that they were the people of God. I informed them that I could not be anything else but a Methodist.” 22–23.

[5]Allen, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, Hymn XI; See also Samson Occom, A Choice Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs; Intended for the Edification of Sincere Christians, of All Denominations. (New London, CT: Timothy Green, 1774), Hymn XLVI.



Guest Speaker: Dr. Jim Hamilton


Guest speaker at Hope Church

Dr. Jim Hamilton will be preaching at Hope on March 4th @ 11 AM. Dr. Hamilton is Pastor of Preaching at Kenwood Baptist and the Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Seminary. Hamilton has written numerous books and commentaries. 



WHO TURNED DOWN MY MUSIC? (Published on Doxology and Theology)


WHO TURNED DOWN MY MUSIC? (Published on Doxology and Theology)


September 27, 2017 | By: Adam Holland

The sun beat upon my skin as the countryside breeze blew over my arm. The windows were down in my old F150 and Journey was cranked up on the radio. I was singing at the top of my lungs without a care in the world. My old truck slowly creaked to a stop as I approached a red light. The euphoria of the moment was quickly drowned out when a neighboring driver yelled, “Hey, man, turn that music down.”

Adjusting the Radio Dial

Some situations seem to be repetitive. Like when I was yelled at for my rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing,” some are instructing churches to turn down the music volume during their Sunday morning gathering. We cannot dismiss these arguments as complaints from old curmudgeons within the church, such as the argument that a lower volume of music emphasizes corporate singing. However, I’m not sold that the best way to encourage corporate singing is turning down instruments’ volume. I also believe Scripture prescribes a different narrative.

A Musical Interlude

The use of instruments throughout the Old Testament is often tied to celebration and a declaration of victory. We see a great example of this in Joshua 6, as the Israelites were called to march around the city for six days and on the seventh day to make “a long blast” with the ram’s horn and trumpet. Did Joshua give instruction to the Israelites to ensure that the instruments were not going to be played too loud? No, the instruments were supposed to be loud and accompanied by shouting as a declaration of God’s victory. 
Again, when David called for the Ark of the Covenant to be moved to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 15), he instructed the Levites to “raise sounds of joy” and to “play loud cymbals.” The shouts and loud music were both a declaration of soli Deo salus (ie., salvation is through God alone) and a thanksgiving for all that God had done. Examples like these occur not only when the Ark of Covenant re-entered Jerusalem or when God defeated Jericho, but also throughout the Psalms.

A Song of Victory

The Psalms were written to be sung in corporate worship. Psalm 150 calls for believers to praise God “according to excellent greatness,” “with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” Like a proclamation of victory, the people of God shouted and played instruments loudly to declare the wonderful things God had done. We see similar commands in several other Psalms as well (e.g., 33; 95; 98). Not all Psalms call for loud instruments and shouting, but our philosophy of music must allow room for it.

Many people who call for a lower volume of music do so to encourage the timid to sing out. However, coaxing timid singers out of hiding may not be accomplished by turning down the volume. True hope for the musically timid are songs that display Christ as victor.

What are some practical things then that can be done to help those who may be afraid to sing?

Hope for the Hiding

1)    Instruments that guide and voices that surround: One source of vocal timidity is vocal confidence. Some people have a fear of singing, because they believe they have terrible voices. In situations like this turning down the volume may hinder congregational participation. Rather than lowering the volume, allow the louder instruments and the stronger voices within your congregation to help the timid. 

2)    Frequency: Another root cause of vocal timidity is a lack of familiarity with songs. If you want greater participation in congregational singing, play a song and keep playing it. Familiarity makes it easy for a bad vocalist to belt Journey songs in their car with the windows down. People naturally sing songs that they know and love. There is no need for volume instruction when the car windows are down.

3)    A capella Arrangements: Planning parts or verses of songs to be sung as a capella is simple way to build vocal confidence. Generally if people are singing and the instruments from the song drop out, they keep singing.

Maybe greater participation in congregational singing is not found by turning a knob. Maybe it looks more like people shouting songs of victory to the one who has defeated sin and death.


Adam Holland is Teaching Pastor at Hope Church of Knoxville, TN. He has written two book Friendship Established and Frienship Redeemed. Adam is also the host of the podcast The Daily Brew.


Guest Speaker Dr. Tom Nettles


Guest Speaker Dr. Tom Nettles

Guest Speaker Dr. Tom Nettles

I am excited to announce that Dr. Tom Nettles will be speaking at Hope on Sunday, September 3rd.  Dr. Nettles will be speaking during our Bible Study hour and during the service.

Bible Study 10:00 AM (Topic to come)

Service 11:00 AM (Topic to come)

You are invited to join us at: 6700 Jubilee Center Way Knoxville, TN 37912

About Dr. Nettles

Thomas J. Nettles is the former Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (now retired) in Louisville, Kentucky, he is regarded by some as one of the foremost Baptist historians in America today. Nettles earned his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Nettles was formerly on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. He also taught church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

He is also a leading figure in the Southern Baptist Founders Conference and on the Board of Founders Ministries, advocating a return to theological depth in preaching and religious education through the use of catechisms." (1)

(Upon the announcement of Nettle's retirement Dr. Albert Mohler President of Southern seminary said this, "Tom Nettles will be remembered as one of the most legendary teachers in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention"


Chris Cornell and the Quest for Joy


Chris Cornell and the Quest for Joy

It was shocking to awake midweek to the the news of the death of Chris Cornell, the frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave. My initial reaction was sadness, but for a selfish reason. Being a child of 90’s rock, he and his bands took up a great deal of room on my CD rack. As more details came in about his death, I was devastated to learn that his death was most likely due to suicide. Cornell’s death reminded me of an important truth, which was best explained by the famous math mathematician Blaise Pascal when he said, 

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

Pascal’s statement seems eerily prophetic considering the assumed nature of Cornell’s death. Pascal’s point is that at the heart of every pursuit is man’s ultimate quest for joy. Even in a situation where a person takes their own life, often behind this pursuit is the belief that this end will bring the person joy.

The secular mindset offers many narratives to attain this joy. Sex, drugs or rock-n-roll all offer the hopes of fulfillment. Some believe that all our heart’s longings will be resolved through developments in technology and healthcare. Sci-fi movies and novels serve as a reminder that even in a futuristic world, war, pain and the quest for something greater remain. But the Christian message offers a counter-narrative, a solution to the quest for joy.

Man was created for the purpose of joy. But why is it that music, money and fame can never bring ultimate joy? Finite things will never fill the infinite hole that sin has left within a person’s heart. This quest will never find its resolve until its focus is centered upon Christ.  Saint Augustine once stated, “Our hearts will be restless, until they find their rest in thee.” The Christian narrative offers hope for those whose affections are placed upon Christ.

The Christian message is a message of joy and hope. The word hope is used over 100 different times throughout the Bible, and the theme of hope is a major motif throughout Scripture. The hope which the Bible offers is not that all our problems will dissipate once we begin following Christ, but that amid all of life’s difficulties, Christ will be with us. This is how Paul can say after being stranded, beaten and without food, “these things are only a slight momentary affliction.” Paul reminds the Christian that difficulties are certain, but Christ is sufficient for these times.

How then should Christians—the carriers of this message of hope—respond to tragedies such as these?

  1. Display empathy: We don’t need 13 reasons to know that the death of a person is painful. Paul offers some helpful counsel when he says, “Weep with those who are weeping.” During a difficult time, we may not be able to come up with the right things to say, but sometimes our presence is more important than any words that we can say. Love in these moments merely asks us to be there for the person and weep with them.
  2. Point to Christ: We can point the person who is mourning to Jesus, who, while he was preaching the sermon on the mount said, ““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Pointing a person anywhere else may satisfy their hearts temporarily, but it will soon leave them longing for something greater. Instead, we should gently point the person to Christ, who will bring comfort to their mourning heart if they turn to him.
  3. Pray for wisdom: James told believers experiencing persecution to “count their suffering as joy.” He then went on to write, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James’ Jewish audience would’ve understand him to be referring to wisdom literature, books like Job, Psalms and Ecclesiastes. The idea of wisdom is not knowledge as to why difficulties may be occurring. Instead, it’s the knowledge of how to live righteously during difficult times. James’ words remind sufferers that God is gracious and will give them the wisdom they need.

If in your quest for joy, you find yourself, like the adulterous woman, with a history of lovers that never satisfy and surrounded by those prepared to stone you, look up and see the extended hand of Christ. Christ will pick you up and give you a new identity, one which assures you that during your difficult days, he will be there. Be encouraged by the truth that the great hymn writer William Gadsby once stated, “Though you feel as cold as clay, He will not, cannot go away.” He will be with us in our darkest days and assures us that, at some point, the light of joy will break through.

Published by the ERLC




Reflecting upon the Life and Death of Prince

Reflecting upon the Life and Death of Prince

We are only a few months into 2016, and another titan of the music industry has passed away. The year began with the news of the passing Bowie, Merle and now we have learned about the passing of pop legend Prince.

Recently, news outlets and social media broke the story that Prince had died at the age of 57. Only a couple weeks afterwards we now know that Prince died due to an overdose on Opioid painkillers. Prince’s career and legacy spanned through four decades. Rolling Stone ranked Prince as the 27th greatest artist of all time. In a twist of tragic irony, Prince’s death took place similar to that of his song “Let’s go crazy.”

Let’s Go Crazy

In one of Prince’s most popular songs, “Let’s go crazy,” Prince wrote about the brevity of life and refusing to allow life to restrain you. Prince began this song by saying, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” As he examined life, he made a call to make much of the little time that you have.

Multiple times throughout the song, Prince references refusing to “allow the elevator to bring us down.” Prince’s words almost seem prophetic by the time he says the lines, “We're all excited, but we don't know why. Maybe it's ‘cause we're all gonna die. And when we do, what's it all for? You better live now. Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door.” Prince recognized the brevity of life and the inevitable conclusion that everyone will one day face death.

No matter how hard one may rebel, the inevitable result of that rebellion against the elevator is vanity. No amount of exercise or careful watch over one’s diet can keep a person from this fate. The rich and the poor ultimately have the same fate. Shall we then, as the hedonist, strive to exhaust our joy here on earth? If this is all there is, then “YOLO.” Right?

Solomon was right when he stated, "All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return." The elevator will be lowered for all. When its doors open, we will all face the certain judgment. All of humanity will certainly return to dust, unless God speaks new life into the dust. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God formed man from the dust of the ground. Not only was this how humanity was created, but it also how humanity is re-created.  

Old and New Creation

In John 9, Jesus encountered a man who was born blind. While discussions carried on about who sinned to cause this man to be born blind, Jesus explained that the purpose of this man’s blindness was to display the glory of God. Jesus then spit into the dirt, rubbed the mud in the blind man’s eyes and told him go wash it off. The blind man walked away having been healed of his blindness.  

It could be easy to miss John’s consistent references back to Genesis and its significance in this account. The author of Genesis begins telling the story of Creation with, “In the beginning.” Then, John begins his Gospel using this same phrase. John tells the story of how God, through Jesus, is recreating the world and making all things news. And in John 9, Jesus comes to this man marred by the old creation, spits into the dust and speaks new life into him. Out of the old creation, Christ makes something new. The result of Christ’s work is that the man goes about proclaiming what Christ has done.

Resurrection and a new hope

The hope of our resurrection and new life in Christ give value to life here on earth. They make it so we can enjoy—and redeem—this life and the many gifts God has given us, rather than fear the unknown. This is why Paul could say, "If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die (1 Cor. 15:32)." If there is no resurrection to new life, then we should heed the advice of Prince, “Let's go crazy. Let's get nuts. Let's look for the purple banana,'til they put us in the truck, let's go!”

For the Christian, though, there is no need to fret the “elevator ride.” When difficulties and life struggles come along, the Christian can take them both in stride. The Christian message declares that there is more to life than all the difficulties that the elevator ride may bring. Paul, a man acquainted with many difficulties, declared these to be a “light momentary affliction that is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” The struggles and pains of this world are certainly real, but keeping them in perspective will help to as James says, “count them as joy.”

Everyone wants to be like the exalted savior, but no one wants to be like the suffering savior. We have no need “to fight and go crazy” when troubles arise. As Russell Moore once wisely stated, “Let’s eat, drink and be merry, because yesterday we were dead.” In the meantime, let us sit back and enjoy the ride. In between the floors and elevator music, be like the blind man and strike up a conversation with the person beside you and tell about all the great things the Lord has done for you.  



Here I Stand with Grace Baptist Church

Here I Stand with Grace Baptist Church



This afternoon the news broke that a large sex-trafficking sting took place in Knoxville, Tn. Thirty-two different people were arrested as a result of this undercover sting. At first this seemed to be something that we should all be rejoicing over.  The difficulty arose when the news released information that one of those involved in this sting was a ‘Children’s Director’ at Grace Baptist Church in Karns. Grace Baptist Church is one of the largest congregations in Knoxville. Grace also has a private Christian school (K-12) that meets on their campus: Grace Christian Academy. Some naturally, seeking to discredit this church, will use this as an opportunity to slander this congregation and their staff. While the secular community begins to gather their rhetorical stones and prep their negative caricatures for battle, I want to beg you to heed the line in the sand.


Grace Baptist has a strong tradition of biblical and gospel faithfulness. Grace also has a history of raising men and women up for Christian ministry and missions. Furthermore, both Grace’s church and school are known for coming alongside parents with the goal of shepherding up children in the Lord. What else do we know about this congregation? Grace requires background checks for all those who will be working with children in some capacity. You may be starting to think that I have a dog in this fight. Am I a member of Grace Baptist church? Do I have a child that goes to Grace Christian Academy? Am I an alumni of their school?  No, none of these apply to me. Why then do I find it necessary to stand up in their defense? To understand my heart for this church, it may be best to see it from the pen of the Apostle Paul.


Many of you have heard Ephesians 5:25-33 read at a wedding. If you have ever been to a Christian wedding, it is almost inevitable that this is the case. In this passage Paul says,


Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.


Paul tells husbands that the example for how they should love their wives is Christ and his love for the church. Only a few verses prior to this Paul calls these believers to “be imitators of God.” Paul’s says that if you want to be like Christ, then love the church. Give up your life by loving and serving the church. When news like this breaks, your heart as well as my heart should hurt for the congregation. Do not use this as an excuse or justification to slander this congregation. “Weep with those who are weeping.” Allow this to be an opportunity for you to join with this congregation in prayer as they try to recover from this tragedy.


No less significant, join in prayer for all the people and families impacted by sex-trafficking. May this tragedy cause our community to see that sex-trafficking is a real issue, impacting real people in the Knoxville community. This issue can no longer be viewed as that “thing we saw on the Taken movie.” Rather than driving all your attention at this church, stop the traffic, and lets join together and fight this terrible crime. Heed the advice from another Liam Neison film, where he plays Aslan the Christ-figure in Chronicles of Narnia, “My son, my son, I know. grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.” Let us stand together with this church, but let us also fight the traffic.



Here I stand with Grace Baptist Church,


Soli Deo Gloria,


Pastor Adam Holland



Guest Speaker: Dr. Stephen J. Wellum

              Join us on June 26th, 2016 to hear author and professor Stephen J. Wellum. Dr. Wellum is  is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. He is the author of "Kingdom through Covenant" and "God the Son Incarnate." Wellum also has contributed articles and chapters to numerous other scholarly works. He previously served as a senior pastor and interim pastor in South Dakota and Kentucky as well as a conference speaker at various engagements in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Wellum will be speaking on:

  • Biblical Covenants during the 10 AM (Bible study hour)

  • Hebrews 7 Melchizedek 11 AM

Click on his books below to learn more about his writing ministry.



Guest speaker: Barnabas Piper

Join us on April 24th to hear author and speaker Barnabas Piper.

Barnabas Piper blogs at BarnabasPiper.com and writes regularly for WorldMag.com and The Blazing Center. He is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. He and his wife, Lesley, live in Nashville with their two daughters. Barnabas Piper works for Lifeway Christian Resources for the Leadership Development team. Barnabas Piper's father (John Piper) is also a well known pastor, speaker, and author. 



A Sample of Friendship Established

Purchase at Amazon, Books A Million, Barnes & Noble, and Monergism Books


It is nearly impossible to turn on the television and not hear a story about someone self-identifying as another gender, race, or etc. We live in a culture that teaches you that you can be whatever you want to be, but being who you are is never enough. When you come to the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, we may be quick to jump the the conclusion that Leah and her response to how Jacob treated her was crazy. Leah begins naming her children with hopes of gaining the attention of Jacob. If we were honest we are more like Leah than we want to admit. We long for the attention of others. We work for identity in our friendships. How often do you see people who have changed everything about themselves just to fit into a certain crowd? Rather than friends enjoying diversity and the unique aspects of who are you, you feel like you have to change who you are in order to be who you think they want you to be. In our friendships we often work incredibly hard to hide who we really are from our friends. We create false identities in hopes that our friends will like us more. You may think you are not attractive or fit enough, so you strive to change your appearance in hopes that you will be better accepted. Living a healthy lifestyle is not wrong, but your motivation should never be to make others care more about you. The series Authentic Manhood is spot on when it says, “Men are taught to work for identity and not from identity.” What it says about men applies to all of humanity. Society tells you that you need to work for your identity. Society tells you that if you are going to be something that you must move up the corporate ladder, have the nice things, and know the right people. “In competitive sports this is true as well. An athlete is only as good as his last pass, catch, or shot. Instead of working from a place of shalom (i.e., peace which comes from God) and peace in your heart, which God gives you, you work to attain that peace and you can never rest because you never are quite good enough. So winning becomes everything and losing is devastating.” Scripture tells a different story. “When you have the shalom of God already in your heart you can take both winning and losing in stride.” Scripture tells you that you are greater than what you own, how you look, and where you work. The story of Rachel and Leah does not end with Leah in disparity, without hope, or an identity. 

Identity Restored

Leah has several children with Jacob. One of those children was named Judah. It is through Judah that Jesus the messiah would come. In John 4 Jesus arrives at a setting, quite similar to the one where Isaac met Rebecca, quite similar to the one where Jacob met Rachel. Jesus arrives at a well. We are told that this well is no ordinary well, but it is known as the “well of Jacob.” Here at the well Jesus meets a woman similar to Leah. This woman is both spiritually unattractive and unloved. This particular woman has had several husbands and the man that she was living with was not even her husband. This woman has gathered at Jacob’s well to receive water that would briefly sustain her for her daily labor. Water from the well of Jacob may sustain her momentarily, but the water from the man that she met at the well on this particular day would make it so that she will never thirst again. Jesus and this woman begin to converse. The woman spoke to Jesus saying, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” Jacob served fourteen years to receive his beautiful wife Rachel. Jesus gives his entire life for this unattractive and unloved woman. This unloved woman received a new identity from Jesus. After receiving a new identity this woman goes out and shares the good news of everything she had heard from this man. As a result of her ministry we are told, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony (John 4:39a). All people are like this spiritually unattractive woman until Christ gives them a new identity. A new problem arises once we receive our identity. Christians often forget that they have been made new creations. Christians experience a sort of spiritual amnesia. Christians start forgetting who they are and what they have been saved from and to. Because of this spiritual amnesia a vital component of a Christian friendship is reminding each other who they are in Christ.

Spiritual disciplines are a vital part of the Christian life. Sometimes we wrongly view these vital aspects of the Christian life as the ultimate thing. We start to think God is not happy with me because I missed my quiet time this morning or God is not happy with me because I overslept and did not spend enough time in prayer. We slowly start to think that our standing with the Lord is based upon our daily performance. The Christian’s right-standing with the Lord is based upon Christ’s righteousness. The Christian never moves past this point. Gerhard Forde is helpful in explaining how all of the Christian life is tied back to a person’s righteousness in Christ. Forde says that sanctification [i.e., everything after the moment that a person is justified] is “simply the art of getting used to justification.” What Forde means by this is that, the Christian life is about learning to live in light of our new identity.

 If you have ever visited another country, you know that there is a period of time where you have to adjust to the new culture. Some cultures have different eating habits, dress attire, shopping style, food options, and etc. When a person visits a new country he has to learn how to live in his new enviroment. Likewise, the Christian will spend his entire life learning what it means to be a member of a different kingdom while living here on earth. The Christian learns to live life as a part of a new humanity. We were like the woman at the well, spiritually unattractive and deserving nothing. Christ came and gave us a new identity. Christ came and made beautify what was formerly unattractive and unloved. Our beauty is now bound up in Christ and his righteousness. We now live on the other side of the cross.  We are like a person visiting a foreign country. We are learning “to get used our justification.” This learning process is not something that can be done alone. A person that has been transformed by the gospel is called to help his brothers learn to live life in their new identity. 

This type of friendship involves regularly helping others find their value and worth not in things of this world, but in their identity with the Lord. This sort of friendship reminds his conscience laden brother that Christ is bigger than how he feels about himself. Christian friendship involves helping his brother fight spiritual amnesia. This person reminds his fellow brothers and sisters of their new identity and what they have been saved from and saved to. Those who find their identity in the Lord are revitalized and strengthened by God’s word. We will examine in the next chapter how scripture must be at the center Gospel Transformed Friendship.



Guest speaker Dr. Chad Brand

You are invited to come hear pastor and scholar Dr. Chad Brand this Sunday. Service begins at 11 AM. You do not want to miss this!


Dr. Chad Brand is the author of many different books and articles. He is also co-editor and co-author of The Apologetics Study Bible and the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Dr. Brand served as the Associate Dean of Boyce Bible College and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has also taught at several other colleges and seminaries.  



Friendship Redeemed



7 ways you can help the book


Friendship Redeemed is a book for those who want to deepen the love of Christ, grow/strengthen their friendships, and grow in their knowledge of God's word. The goal of this book is to bring the gospel to the center of your friendships. I truly believe that this is a book will transform your friendships. My prayer for this book is that it will serve and strengthen both you and your the local church.  I am very excited about this book, and I hope you will help me get the word out for it.

Here’s how you can help me get the word out of Friendship Redeemed:

1. Buy a copy of the book.

You can purchase the book in print format and on Kindle at Amazon .

The book can also be purchased at

Monergism Books or Barnes & Noble

2. Write an Amazon review.

After you buy the book and read it, give it a helpful review on Amazon

3. Buy the book for a friend.

Buy this book for believing or non-believing friends. I have attempted to make this book both fun and easy-to-read. This book is Christ-centered and constantly points the reader to cross of Christ. This book shows not only our need for redemption, but also our need for the gospel in our everyday lives as believers.

4. Buy the book for your pastor at your local church.

If you can get the book into your pastor’s hands at your local church, then that will be a huge success for Friendship Redeemed.  My desire when writing this book was to serve the local church. Allow this book to accomplish its goal by getting a copy of it into your pastor's hands.

5. Buy the book in bulk and take your Sunday school class/small group through it.

If you are a pastor, or someone who is a teacher in a local church, buy this book in bulk and take that group through it.  This would be a great resource for Sunday School classes or small groups to go through. While reading about friendship, your class will also learn the overall biblical narrative. While writing this book I had the goal of teaching the major plot-line of scripture. If you are looking for a book that will deepen your class's knowledge of God's word, yet provide real application I believe this will be a great resource for you. 

6. Give it a shout out on your social media profiles.  

Give Friendship Redeemed a shout out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Add this link to your post (http://amzn.to/1iEyZzC). On Instagram, you can use this pic. In all your posts, use #FriendshipRedeemed so we can track it.

7. Post a crazy picture yourself with the book.  

This one is a fun one. Post a picture of yourself and friends with the book in random places. Remember to add the hashtag #FriendshipRedeemed


Thank you for your help and prayers.  May this book be used by God to make much of the Lord Jesus Christ.

~ Shalom ~

-Adam Holland








The book of Ruth, similar to the Song of Songs, is frequently read divorced from the metanarrative of the Old Testament. Ruth is read as a love story or as a ray of light in the midst of a dark period within the history of Israel.[1] Although both of these interpretations are true and helpful, the writer of Ruth had something greater that he intended to accomplish. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that the author of Ruth intended the book of Ruth not to be read as a summation of all that came before it, rather than being read independently. The book of Ruth was intended to be read as an early biblical theology. The writer of Ruth purposed to remind God’s covenant people that YHWH had not forgotten His promises and that He is faithful to fulfill them. In order to grasp the author’s purpose one cannot begin with Naomi and Elimelek leaving Israel, rather one must begin with the book of Genesis.

The book of Genesis begins with the story of God creating the heavens and the earth. Shortly after creating the heavens and the earth, God created man. God then gave man and woman two commands: “be fruitful and multiply” and “work and keep” the garden. Greg Beale in his book Temple and the Mission of the Church is helpful in demonstrating how these two commands were tied to the mission of filling the whole earth with the knowledge of the “glory of the Lord.” Once Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord, curses were placed upon, them which would make their mission more difficult. The curses then paralleled their commands, and as a result it impacted their mission. Adam and Eve were called to “be fruitful and multiply”, and now the woman will only experience this “fruitfulness” through the pain of childbearing. Man was called to “work and keep” the garden. Now the ground is cursed and only by the sweat of his face will he be able to eat bread. The curses on the “ground” and on “fruitfulness” play a vital role in the rest of the narrative of scripture. Barrenness and famine in the land give evidence to the reality that the curse is still present, and its fruits are still causing destruction. Man was cursed and kicked out of God’s presence and out of God’s land. However, God did not leave man in that hopeless state. Shortly after placing the curses on Adam and Eve, God promised that one day He would send a seed that would crush the head of the serpent and deliver mankind from these curses.

This promise from Genesis 3:15 would come to be known as the protoevangelium (i.e. first gospel). God promised that one day the seed of Eve would crush the head of the seed of the serpent. This promise entailed the conquering of the serpent, which then would usher in rest and restored fellowship with the Lord. This “conquering that resulted in rest” had already taken place once before in scripture. At creation God overcame the darkness with light.[2] Beale describes this scene by saying, “After God overcame chaos and created the world…, he ‘rested’ as a true sovereign on his throne in contrast to the pretending, false deities whom pagan worshippers believed had done the same.”[3] Peter Leithart, when discussing creation, reiterates this idea of creation as a conquest when he says, “…light conquers darkness. God is light because He overcomes: He is victor.”[4] The end result of this conquering was God, the sovereign king, entering into “rest.” God’s promise to man was the restoration of this rest or restoration of the shalom of God.  From this point on, the biblical authors trace the seed of promise with the seed of the serpent. Likewise, the motif of head-crushing and conquering, which ushers in the shalom of God, continues throughout scripture[5].

One of the clearest pictures of this motif takes place during the Exodus. At the Exodus God’s people were set free from their slavery to Egypt. After God conquered the Egyptians, He brought the people of Israel through the desert to the Promised Land. Before the Israelites could experience “rest” in the land, they had to first overcome the people living in the land. The Psalmist would later describe the Exodus event as the crushing of the head of Leviathan (cf. Psalm 74:14). Isaiah picks up this same idea when speaking of the hope of a future Exodus. In addition, Isaiah describes this Exodus event also involving Leviathan, and he depicts him as a serpent (cf. Isaiah 27:1). The writers of scripture interpreted the Exodus events and the entering the land through the lens of the protoevangelium. God would conquer Israel’s enemies at the Exodus through the crushing of the serpent and usher in the rest of God. It is not insignificant that Israel’s greatest king comes into focus when he crushes the head of Goliath and sets the Israelites free from the Philistines. The protoevangelium not only promised God would conquer and the end result would be rest for His people, but it also promised that the conquering would come through Eve’s chosen seed.

Picking up on this promise, the writers of scripture begin to tie the promise of the seed with the mission and also the curse placed upon Adam and Eve. Lamech names his son Noah, which means “rest”. After naming Noah, Lamech gives a commentary about his hope for this child by stating, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands (cf. Gen 5:29).” Lamech hoped that Noah would be the one who would bring relief from the curse on the ground and restore the promised rest. After God judges the earth because of its sin, He recreates the world through Noah and gives the same command as to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply fill the earth”. Noah was meant to be a sign of hope and a reminder of God’s promise to one day deliver man from his curses. T.D. Alexander explains this idea when he states, “Interestingly, when the earth is recreated after the flood Noah is described as ‘a man of the soil (ground)’, implying that he enjoyed greater harmony with the ground than his immediate forefathers.”[6] This greater harmony was meant to provide hope of a future redemption, but it also served as a reminder that the curse was still present. Just as Noah was given the same command as Adam and Eve, so were Isaac, Jacob, and even the nation of Israel given this same command.[7] The book of Genesis makes a transition and provides greater hope when the command from God transitions to a promise with Abraham.

Whereas Adam, Eve, and Noah were all commanded “to be fruitful and multiply,” God promised Abraham that He would “multiply” him, and He would make Abraham “fruitful.”  This promise is heightened when God promises Abraham that the “nations will be blessed by him” and that “kings would come from him.” James Hamilton explains how the promises given to Abraham are tied to the curses placed upon man and also the hope of the fulfillment of protoevangelium when he says,

The conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman will also be resolved by the seed of Abraham, in whom all t he nations will be blessed. And the curse on the land is answered by the promise of the land, where the collective seed of Abraham will become a great nation.  Yahweh judges in Genesis 3, and in Genesis 12 he promises to save. The curses of Genesis 3 are matched point for point in the blessing of Abraham.[8]


It is as if God is saying to Abraham that “you and your seed will reverse the curse placed on the land and fruitfulness”. Abraham is promised nations, a seed, and a land. Significantly, Abraham is also told that kings will come from his lineage. This promise of a lineage of kings is also given later to Judah as well (cf. Gen. 49:10). When the reader comes to the book of Ruth, it is vital that he reads the book through the lens of these curses and these promises.

Land, Blessing, and Seed

Just as the land played a central role in the Garden, with Abraham, and with the history of Israel, so too did it to play a central role in the book of Ruth. Ruth begins with the writer pointing out that there was a famine in the land (cf. Ruth 1:1). This famine was a reminder that the curse on the land and its fruit still exists. During this time Naomi and Elimelech were living in the land God promised to Abraham and Israel. Similar to Adam and Eve, Naomi and Elimelech were tempted, but their temptation was whether or not to trust the Lord and stay in the land. Naomi and Elimelech leave God’s land and flee to Moab. Stephen Dempster explains the implications of their departure saying, “This (i.e. the curse on the ground) drives a family from Bethlehem into exile.”[9] Just as Adam and Israel were driven from the land because of their lack of trust, so were Naomi and Elimelech driven from the land because of their distrust in the Lord. Naomi and Elimelech’s distrust can be seen in several places. First, they leave to go to Moab. Moab was a pagan nation that came into being because of incest between Lot and his daughters. Deuteronomy 23 says that “no Moabite shall enter the assembly even to the tenth generation.” Naomi and Elimelech leave the land that God promised to Abraham and go into this pagan land.  Next, Naomi’s children Mahlon and Chilion took pagan wives, which was prohibited in the Law. After that, Elimelech and his children die. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah were left without a seed, land, or God’s protective hand. Naomi hears of food in Bethlehem (i.e. the house of bread), and she returns to God’s land. The writer depicted Naomi and Ruth’s return to the land as the shalom of God being restored. God orchestrated it so that Naomi and Ruth would arrive back during the barley harvest season. Upon arriving back in God’s land, Naomi and Ruth were provided an abundance of food on several occasions. It is as if their return to God’s land had provided them relief from the curse on the ground. The departure from the land resulted in the loss of the ‘hesed’ or covenant faithfulness and presence of God. The return then restored this ‘hesed’. The land plays a significant role in the story of Ruth. Tied to the land is the blessing of God that Ruth and Naomi encounter while living in the land.

The return to the land provided rest for Ruth and Naomi. Ruth and Naomi enter the land with no food or protection.[10] Ruth meets her kinsman redeemer, and he provided physical protection and protection of her character as well.[11] The kinsmen redeemer was to be a reminder or a living out of how YHWH redeemed Israel from slavery and provided for her. Boaz acted as a vice-regent taking redemption and providing protection. Boaz reflected the character and image of God by redeeming Ruth and caring for her. Ruth found protection under the wings of Boaz, just as Israel found protection under the wings of God.[12] Edmund Clowney reiterates the idea of Boaz mirroring God’s redemption of Israel by saying,

Further, in the figure of Boaz, the redeeming grace of God is portrayed. God, who redeemed Israel from Egypt (Ex. 6:6), is the Kinsman-Redeemer. He procures the inheritance of His people as one bound to them with ties, as it were, of blood. The Lord, the Goel of His people, will deliver them from their captivity (Jer.50:34). Isaiah uses the terms for kinsman-redeemer to describe the coming salvation of the Lord (Is. 43:1, 14; 44:22-23; 48:20; 52:3; 63:9,16).[13]


The reader of this would have been challenged to live out the character of God. One of the difficult things that a Hebrew from the original audience would have had difficulty with is the fact that a Moabite is being redeemed. This very well could be the reason for the hesitancy of Ruth’s closest kinsmen refusing to redeem Ruth. The mention of Ruth being a Moabite was intended to be a reminder to Israel that God is faithful to fulfill his promise Abraham.  Through Boaz, one from the line of Judah, the promise that the nations will be blessed through the seed of Abraham is being fulfilled. This draws a connection between Ruth’s confession to Naomi that, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God” and God’s promise to Abraham and later also to Israel “to be their God and they His people”.[14] The writer of Ruth reminds Israel that their God has not forgotten His promises and that He can be trusted to fulfill them even in the midst of a difficult time in the life of Israel.[15] Naomi and Ruth were back in God’s land and they had His covenant presence near to them, but what about the issue of the seed? Where are the kings that were promised to Judah?

Boaz, the leading exemplar of the story, is from the line of Judah and is without child. Naomi and Ruth are both without an heir to their name. The curse on the seed is brought to the forefront by the key figures of the book being without an heir. By the time the reader ends chapter two, Ruth is living with her mother-in-law, and there seems to be a building anticipation that God is at work to resolve this issue. God not only orchestrates Boaz and Ruth’s marriage, but he also will orchestrate the birth of a child. God is the one who will provide ‘fruitfulness’ for Ruth and Boaz.  Just as God provided a child to Eve (i.e. Seth), Sarah, Leah, and even later to Mary so will God provide relief from the curse to Ruth. The writer employs the language that it was God, who gave Ruth relief from this curse when he says, “and the Lord gave her conception.” Salvation belongs to the Lord in the story of the Ruth. The writer of Ruth connects this seed with the promised seed of Gen. 3:15 and the promised kings God gave to Abraham and Judah. How can the reader have assurance that this was the writer’s intended connection?

In order to see the author’s intended purpose, the reader needs to know a little about the structure of Genesis and also about the history of the location of Ruth within the canon of scripture. The book of Genesis is structured by genealogies. Moses gives a genealogy, and then he expounds upon a key figure from that genealogy. Matthew Thomas in his book These are the Generations explains and names this concept saying, “In studying Genesis, it has long been recognized that a repeated formula: ‘these are the toledot of Name …’ (the toledot formula) plays a primary role in the organization of the book. The formula occurs eleven times in Genesis and once each in Numbers and Ruth.”[16]  Genesis begins with the genealogy of the Heavens and Earth, then moves to Adam, then Noah, and etc. The purpose of these genealogies is to trace the promised seed that was given in the protoevangelium. The writer of Ruth picks up this concept and ends the book with the genealogy of Israel’s greatest king. The book begins with Ruth losing her husband and Naomi losing her husband and children. These losses are there to remind the reader of the curse. The book ends with a declaration that God is going to crush the head of the serpent and provide a seed, who is a king. The writer of Ruth uses the ‘toledot formula’ to make a theological argument that the promised seed is also the promised king.[17] The writer of Ruth is picking up on the structure of Genesis and concluding Ruth with a theological argument. This child will play a role in the lineage of the promised seed that will crush the head of the serpent. Bruce Waltke picks up this seed crushing the serpent motif and describes the significance of the birth of this child saying, “By public proclamation in baptism of her identity with him, she comes to have blood links with Abraham (Gal. 3:16, 29). Through her, ‘Boaz’ begets seed that will destroy the Serpent (Gen. 3:15; Ruth 4:18; 1 Chron. 2:5-15; Matt 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33; 1 Tim. 2:9-15).”[18] Hamilton  likewise connects the building anticipation of the child to be born with the head-crushing motif when he says “These themes are prominent in Ruth, and as the triumphant seed the woman crushing the head of the serpent points to salvation through judgment in Genesis 3:15, so the birth of a male child at the end of Ruth portends deliverance.”[19] The writer’s usage of the ‘toledot formula’ portends his purpose of the book being read through the lens of all that came before it. Not only does the writer’s usage of motifs and themes play an important role in interpretation of the book, but also the canonical placement of the book demonstrate how it was interpreted this way throughout church history.

Ordering of the book

The book of Ruth’s placement within the canon varies throughout church history. The reason for its variation is due to its interpretation. Some place the book of Ruth after the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 31 ends by discussing the virtuous woman, and then Ruth 1 begins by telling the story of a virtuous woman. Yet the Latin Vulgate places Ruth after the book of Judges. This is likely due to the fact that Ruth begins by saying that the events took place during the time of the Judges.  Josephus in his “Against Apion”, likely alluded to his belief that Ruth was an appendix of Judges, when he totaled the number of books in the canon.[20] John Sailhamer in his The Meaning of the Penteteuch helpfully demonstrates how one should interpret Ruth’s various locations throughout church history when he says,

The placement of a book within the OT canon was not arbitrary. Its position likely is related to how the book was understood within the context of the whole Bible… The order given to the books of the OT played a significant role in what context each book was read. One need not argue that this order was inspired or that it was the only order in which these books could be arranged. It is enough to say that the canonical order of the books of the OT varied in part because the understanding of the meaning of the books of the OT varied from community to community.[21]


The canonical placement of Ruth, although not authoritative, it is helpful in understanding how the church throughout history has interpreted the book. The book of Judges paints a grim scene in the history of Israel, where each person is “doing what was right in his or her own eyes.” Israel was without a ruler to govern and regulate morality. Ruth 1 then introduces Ruth, the virtuous woman, and Boaz, one from the line of Judah. The book culminates in Ruth and Boaz’s marriage and the birth of their child Obed, whom the author informs the reader is the grandfather of David. Judges ends with no king, but Ruth ends with the revealing of David, one of Israel’s greatest kings. The writer of Ruth is telling the story of the birth of the seed, one who will conquer Israel’s enemies and usher in rest for the nation. The interpretative lens, through which Israel and the church read the book of Ruth, played an important role in determining the canonical placement of the book of Ruth.

   The book of Ruth is not a story to be read divorced from the overall plotline of the scriptures. Ruth needs to be read by its readers through the lens of God restoring the land and His blessing through the promised seed. This story is the story of the promised seed of Eve crushing the head of the serpent and ushering in the promised rest of God. Just as the early church read Ruth, the modern reader should read Ruth as a Biblical theology testifying to the faithfulness of YHWH to all His promises. When the modern reader looks at the book through this lens, he will be able to see Ruth’s connection to the overall metanarrative of scripture. Ruth is more than a virtuous woman after whom women should model their lives. Ruth is a virtuous woman, who played an important role in the lineage of King David. Ruth finds her greatest significance in her being mentioned in the genealogy of Israel’s greatest King Jesus.







Alexander, T.D.,  From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2002.


Beale, G.K.  The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, NSBT Downers Grove, Il: IVP Press, 2004.


Clowney, Edmund P. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament Phillipsburg: New Jersey, 1988.


Dempster, Stephen G. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003.


Hamilton, James M. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment. Wheaton, Il: Crossway 2010.


Hubbard Jr., Robert L The book of Ruth New International Commentary on the Old Testament [NICOT]. Grand Rapids: MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.


Josephus, Against Apion 1:8.


Leithart, Peter J.  “God is Light” published in First Tings Magazine. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2015/01/god-is-light


Sailhamer, John H. The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009.


Thomas, Matthew A. These are the Generations: Identity, Covenant, and the ‘Toledot’ Formula New York, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011.


Waltke, Bruce K. The Old Testament Theology Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2007.




[1] "Ultimately, however, this is a book about the ways of God in human life. That subject, too, deeply concerns readers. At first glance, they learn from the story how God provided ancient Israel with new leadership, the Davidic monarchy. At the same time, the tale touches them healingly in a tender spot. Mystified by the hiddenness of God- the absence of audible voices, visions, miracles in their own experience0 they want to know God's presence in their daily life.” Robert L Hubbard Jr. {NICOT], 1-2.

[2] Cf. Gen. 1:1-5, 1 John 1:5, John 1:5.


[3] G.K. Beale The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, NSBT (Downers Grove, Il: IVP Press,2004), 66.


[4] Peter J. Leithart, “God is Light” published in First Tings Magazine. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/leithart/2015/01/god-is-light


[5]  Cf. Gen. 3:15, Judges 4:21, 1 Sam. 17:49, Is 28:31, Jer. 23:19, Ps 74:14, Romans 16:20, and etc.

[6] T.D. Alexander From Paradise to the Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2002), 118.


[7] Cf. Gen. 26:4; 28:14; 35:11; 47:27 Ex. 1:7.


[8] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment (Wheaton, Il:Crossway 2010), 82.


[9] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003) 191.


 [10]  Cf. Ruth 2:8-10; 3:17


[11]  Cf. Ruth 2:8-9; 3:18


[12] Cf. Ruth 2:12, Is. 31:5; Is. 48, Psalm 36:7; 91:1-4, etc.


[13] Edmond P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Phillipsburg:New Jersey, 1988), 155-156.


[14] Cf. Gen. 17:7-8; Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12.


[15] Judges 21:25 and really the whole book of Judges describes this period as a grim time within the life of Israel.

[16] Matthew A. Thomas, These are the Generations: Identity, Covenant, and the ‘Tolodot’ Formula (New York, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), 2.


[17] This concept carries even more significance when one uses the Tanakh ordering of the Old Testament. The Old Testament begins and ends with genealogies. 2 Chronicles contains the genealogies of the kings of Israel and Matthew 1 begins with the genealogy of Jesus.


[18] Bruce K. Waltke, The Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2007), 868.


[19] Hamilton, 308.


[20] Josephus, Against Apion 1:8


[21] John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch: Revelation, Composition and Interpretation (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2009), 216.