“Holiness” and “Revivalist” Hymnody: What Is It and Does Your Reformed Hymnal Contain It

Last semester, my wife was working on a hymnody paper and came across an interesting article at the Wesley Center Online.  It is entitled “American Holiness Hymnody Some Questions: A Methodology”.  I was struck by this paper mostly because of how informative it was.  Though from what I can tell, the author, Mel R. Wilhoit, is not writing against Holiness Hymnody, he seems to rightly catalogue the types of language that is characteristic of these revival hymns.  Words or expressions like “altar,” “surrender,” “fill me,” to name a few, all help in illustrating revivalism’s emphasis on it’s own particular approach to sanctification.

The essay is somewhat lengthy – at least when you are reading it off a computer screen – but I found it to be quite informative.  When I was finished, however, I had a peculiar feeling.  It struck me that so many of the hymns found in our own denominational hymnbooks smack of the very same types of things.  I read through all the texts in my own Blue Psalter Hymnal and was struck how often in the “Hymns” section (#’s 311-493) I came across terms that either fell within the descriptions of Wilhoit’s article (terms like “fill” or “burn” with regard to the Holy Spirit), or at least across hymn texts that were incredibly sentimental (e.g., PH 343, 378, PH 401 ), incredibly subjective (PH 354, PH 379, PH 394, PH 452),  and/or incredibly “law” oriented (“Lord, help me to …. ” or “Lord, I’m going to….”).

Of course a number of these hymns weren’t intended to express holiness ideas, but the article even addresses how some of these revival songs were brought into other traditions of hymnody; often unwittingly!  I’ve already got a soft spot in my heart for Dr. Godfrey’s approach to exclusive Psalm singing.  Looking at the types of hymns that are found in my own Psalter Hymnal might just push me over the edge!  :)


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