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Book: Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology

Edited by Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll. Eerdmans, 2004. 288 pp. $18.00.

Any person involved with the church, whether as a planner or a participant, would be interested in at least portions of this collection of essays. Though the book does not read smoothly from cover to cover, the diversity of style—from narrative and personal accounts to history and research findings—is part of its broad appeal. Those interested in the academic side of hymnody and its place in history would do well to read such chapters as “Protestant Hymnody in Contemporary Roman Catholic Worship,” which examines findings from research done explicitly for that chapter, or “Stories and Syllogisms: Protestant Hymns, Narrative Theology and Heresy,” which dives deep into the similarities and differences between narrative and systematic styles of hymn writing and how they affected and were affected by the social shift from the “conservative” mind to the more “liberal” heart.

On the other end of the spectrum, chapters such as “Hymnody and Politics: Isaac Watts’s ‘Our God, Our Help in Ages Past’ and Timothy Dwight’s ‘I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord’” or “‘I Found My Thrill’: The Youth for Christ Movement and American Congregational Singing, 1940-1970” tell specific stories about how a shift in the thinking of certain songwriters contributed directly to changes in the church’s view on singing in worship.

Other essays explore topics such as death imagery, nautical themes, black gospel, foreign missions, and even Canadian revival songs. Three appendices and two indices supplement each of the eleven chapters with information that may prove as interesting as any of the essays themselves.

This book would be an excellent addition to a church or personal library.