Discerning a good song

Craig Schwarze

Like most music directors, I agonise over new songs. Picking a good tune is hard enough, but finding something which works well both musically and theologically is the real trick. We have lots of choices these days, of course. Just thinking of the local scene, we have Emu, Garage Hymnal, Michael Morrow, Trevor Hodge and Castle Hill all putting out some great material. Further afield, Sovereign Grace have been a staple at my church for years, though I must admit that the last couple of albums have been slightly disappointing. Chris Tomlin is another artist who we are using more and more, though his songs are a mixed bag theologically - the good ones are excellent, but some are pretty wet.

Another source I’m playing around with is “old time gospel”. This genre had it’s roots in North American folk music, and it’s songs straddle the divide between the classic hymns and contemporary Christian music. One such song we’ve done this year is “I Stand Amazed (How Marvelous)” by Charles H. Gabriel - the congregation love it! I found another old time song recently that I am keen to try. It’s called “I’ll Fly Away” -

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away;
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away

I thought it was a sweet little song with charming lyrics, but a friend said to me, “Those lyrics are Platonic!”. And so we return to the issue of discernment. What theological criteria should our songs meet? Where are the best sources? And, most importantly, what do you think of “I’ll Fly Away”??