Review of Songs for Worship and Praise

by Wayne S. Walker

The newest general hymnbook published for use among churches of Christ is Songs for Worship and Praise, edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr., and published in 2010 by Taylor Publications of Montgomery, TX.  Brother Taylor has been active in church music for many years.  I believe that he set the type for the original Hymns for Worship edited by Dane K. Shepard and R. J. Stevens.  Also, I know that he assisted with the research that went into Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand, and perhaps other recent hymnbooks as well.  And he took the late Alton Howard’s very popular Songs of the Church, which had gone out of print, made a few minor changes and additions to it, and republished it as Favorite Songs of the Church.

In addition, he has produced the Praise Hymnal to provide singable, four-part arrangements for many of the popular songs which are often known as “praise songs.”  It has never been my privilege to meet brother Taylor, but I have corresponded with him frequently, and he has been very helpful in sharing the results of his research with me to fill some of the gaps in my own research into the backgrounds of the hymns that we sing, their authors, and their composers.  In fact, he himself has published several books on the histories of hymns.

Taylor’s stated goal in Songs for Worship and Praise is as follows:

“We have taken the best traditional songs with arrangements you know and love, merged them with the best hymns from Songs of Faith and Praise, then added the best praise songs from the Praise Hymnal.  We then added newer songs just now appearing plus included more traditional songs not usually found in other hymnals.  It is our hope and prayer that this blend of old and new hymns will serve the Lord’s Church for years to come.”

One modern phenomenon in many denominations today is the “worship wars.”  Some prefer “traditional” hymns, while others want more “contemporary” songs.  So, still others have suggested the compromise of “blended” worship.  Songs for Worship and Praise would tend to fall in the last category.

The book has a total of 1007 selections, and they are all music.  There are no numbered selections which are written prayers, scripture readings, or medley instructions.  Of this total, my count lists 643 “traditional” gospel songs and hymns and 364 contemporary “praise songs.”  I did not base this division on dates or hymn writers but on the style of music.  Without getting too technical, traditional hymns are those whose tunes were composed using the basic classical-romantic musical tradition of the Western world with which most of us are familiar, whereas the “praise songs” come primarily from the “Contemporary Christian Music” (CCM) genre which is a fusion of traditional Western music with elements of jazz, rock, and Eastern music.

Obviously, this kind of categorizing involves some subjective decisions.  I tried to be charitable and included in the “traditional hymns” those songs from both religious choral and Southern gospel (e.g, Stamps-Baxter, Brumley, etc.) backgrounds which, although perhaps questionable as to whether they are suitable for public worship since the former was intended primarily for trained choirs and the latter primarily for country music singing conventions, still fall into the category of traditional Western music.  Obviously, by this count, there is a clear majority of traditional hymns, but the more contemporary songs still do make up a substantial minority.  So the question then becomes what a person, or congregation, thinks of the contemporary style.

It is sometimes argued that for a hymnbook to be marketable it must include a fair number of the Contemporary Christian Music type of songs to appeal to the younger generation which has been raised on modern popular, rock, and “new age” music.  I am not involved in marketing, so I cannot speak to this issue, but if it is true then I am somewhat fearful of the direction in which we are headed.  Obviously, doing a review of this nature involves expressing some opinion and judgment, and it is my aim not to make my opinion and judgment the standard for everyone else.  If people want to incorporate a goodly number of contemporary religious songs in their worship but still have a wide array of “traditional” songs, Songs for Worship and Praise is a well-blended hymnbook to accomplish this purpose.  My personal preference still lies with the “traditional" hymns and gospel songs that have stood the test of time.

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