The Life-Changing Power of Hymns

Photo credit: RFTG

“I don’t like music. I love it.” So writes pastor, church-planter, and hymn-writer Chris Anderson. Man oh man, I love it too. Don’t we all? Needless to say, he hooked me from the start. In his new book, Theology That Sticks: The Life-Changing Power of Exceptional Hymns (Church Works Media), Anderson seeks to compel every believer to think more critically and care more deeply about the songs we sing in our churches.

As a pastor, this book is right up my alley, and it addresses a topic that I have already been influenced to care deeply about through the ministries of folks like Keith & Kristyn Getty, Mark Dever, Matt Merker, and Martin Luther. However, this book is not just for pastors and worship leaders; it’s for all believers. Anderson specifically lays out three audiences, and speaks to each one of them directly at the end of each chapter in short sections he has titled “Grace Notes.” He speaks to pastors and worship leaders, but he also speaks to parents, and then to everyone.

I especially appreciated his notes to parents (like me), and his emphasis on the critical task we have of passing on a spiritual and musical legacy to our children. I love music of all kinds. I’m trying my level-best to make sure my kids grow up knowing names like Mark Knopfler, B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. But I’m also trying to make sure they know the music (if not the names) of Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, Fanny Crosby, Keith & Kristyn Getty, and CityAlight.

The songs we sing in our worship services teach theology. And because of the way God has wired our brains to connect music to memory, the theology of our hymns sticks in our minds much more than the doctrine taught in the sermon. As a preacher, I am fully and painfully aware of this. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that we choose great songs, not just good ones, and certainly not those that are sub-par. Anderson devotes chapters to the need for us to choose songs that are biblical, doctrinal, congregational, diverse, experiential, beautiful, and more.

Another great feature of this book is that Anderson provides a suggested list of rich, biblical songs in most of the categories he is trying to persuade us to value. With these lists we get a practical idea of the kind of hymns we should be prioritizing. You will likely know some of the suggested songs already, but a number of them will also be new to almost any reader. As a pastor and hymn-writer, Anderson is extremely well-versed in hymns both historic and modern.

While reading this book, I found myself highlighting furiously and saying “AMEN!” over and over again, not only when I came across great practical wisdom, but also when Anderson dove into the theology of worship itself. For example, “Exceptional hymns don’t just help us sing. They make us think and feel for God’s glory.” Or, “The key to worship is deep wonder and adoration of God as we see Him in Scripture and as we meet Him in Christ.” I cannot recommend this book highly enough to any and all believers. I look forward to purchasing and handing out copies to the members of my own church.


John Davis is the pastor of Columbia Christian Church in Columbia, KY. He is the author of God-Centered Christianity: The Bible’s Antidote for Self-Centered Religion and Seeing the Unseen God.


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