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Are Christian hymns too warlike? (COMMENTARY)

Brian McLaren, the liberal “emergent” evangelical activist, re-emerged last week to announce that he is rewriting the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The hymn is too warlike, he writes, as is much of evangelical hymnody, in his view. Our hymnody should be, he writes, “refocusing on the teaching of Jesus about peacemaking,” steering clear of warlike imagery. He’s wrong.

McLaren believes that hymns with war imagery can lead to hatred and violence. In “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” for instance, McLaren finds “ambiguous” language about the “foe” against we should fight, “which could (in the minds of some) refer to our neighbors outside the church.”

Well, I suppose, “in the minds of some” there might be confusion that “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” refers to Spanish soccer star Jesus Navas, but such a reading would be ignorant of both the context of the song and the context of the Scriptures. The same is true of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and other Christian hymns.

To see these hymns as encouraging violence requires a crude literalism rendered incoherent by the lyrics themselves . . .





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