Book: How Shall I Sing to God?

Brian Wren. Carol Stream IL: Hope Publishing Co., 60 minutes, $29.95

In How Shall I Sing to God? Brian Wren provides us with a thought-provoking introduction to contemporary hymnody, an introduction to his own visionary hymn writing, and an intriguing discussion regarding language appropriate for worship.

Designed as a video workshop for adult education forums and worship planning committees, How Shall I Sing to God? consists of three independent 17-minute presentations by Wren. In much of the video Wren is seen presenting his ideas about contemporary hymnody to a dozen or so workshop participants. The video also allows the viewer to hear several of Wren's most noted hymns and to see him in short dramatic scenes that illustrate several of his main points.

In section one, "Hymns of Worship," Wren develops his working definition of a hymn and discusses how hymns function in a contemporary worshiping community. He emphasizes the importance of communal and contemporary hymn singing. This section also includes a helpful introduction to the nature of hymnic poetry.

Section two, "Profile of a Hymn writer," is an interview with Brian Wren. Responding to questions from workshop participants, Wren explores such topics as the process he uses in hymn-text writing and his partnerships with composers. This section is less valuable for the person desiring a broad-based view of contemporary hymnody, but it does provide an intimate introduction to the work of arguably the most noted hymn-text writer of our century.

In section three, "What Language Shall I Borrow?" Wren explores issues relating to the way we encounter God through language. He advances important ideas about the power of language in shaping our thinking about God, the difficulty of finding appropriate language with which to speak of God, and his own ideas about using language for God from both male and female experience. This section concludes by suggesting ways for people to develop their own creativity in the use of language in worship.

Some will violently disagree with Wren's concern for inclusiveness and creativity; others will find it refreshing and inspiring. But whatever one thinks about these challenging questions, it is immensely important for all to understand the issues involved.

Wren's video would provide a fine study help for any adult education forum, worship-planning committee, or any individual seeking an introduction to Brian Wren and his work. It may be viewed in one continuous session, or in three parts. Accompanying the video is a brief, but helpful discussion guide for using the video in an adult education forum.

This video may not convince everyone that Wren's creativity is appropriate for their congregation, but it undoubtedly will stimulate much thought and discussion on a very timely topic.

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.