What shall we sing?


When I am scheduled to preach somewhere on Saturday morning, I expect to be called or to receive an e-mail approximately in the middle of the week asking me to send information about my choice of Scripture reading(s) and of the hymns for the congregational singing. Sometimes I am also asked whether my sermon has a title, or what might be the theme that I intend to preach about. And, in addition, there is from time to time the question whether I am ready to tell the children’s story. When it comes to telling stories for the children, I will usually do my utmost to avoid this. I find it awkward not to know the children and to have to guess their approximate ages. Often enough this has given me trouble:  I may have found a story that is suitable for children age 6-8, and then find that the first row is occupied by infants and toddlers, age 0-3.

But choosing hymns is another matter. More and more Dutch Adventist churches have a strong preference for popular praise songs and songs that are found in the so-called ‘blue’ hymn book (originally compiled for the youth). Apart from the fact that I do not like the wording of many praise songs and also do not think too highly of the quality of many of the songs in the ‘blue’ hymnal, I have a very personal reason for preferring the ‘red’ hymnal – the official hymnal of the Dutch Seventh-day Adventist Church.

When this hymnal was created, some thirty years ago, I had an important role in the project. This was not the intention when the project was first planned. But there initially rose so much unpleasant debate that many of those who had been asked as contributors, declined the opportunity to get involved. A very major part of the job was therefore done by Rob Schouten and myself.  Rob is an accomplished poet and author, who has his roots in Adventism.  In those years, three decades ago, his income from his poetry and other activities was still quite modest and some extra income from working on the new hymnal of the Adventist church was very welcome. Today he has an established reputation as a literary critic and as one of the columnists of the daily newspaper Trouw, in which he publishes his pieces three times a week. I have very pleasant memories of our intense collaboration.

If any reader would want to know more of the hymnal (Liedboek voor de Adventkerk), I would suggest that he/she reads its preface (which most users have probably never read). I hold this hymnal still very dear.  I found special satisfaction in translating a fair number of beautiful English hymns into Dutch. If someone would analyze my choice of hymns for the Saturday mornings, he/she would discover that I tend to choose some of these hymns quite regularly.

Of course, my close tie with this hymnal  make me rather prejudiced. But, apart from this I hope hat the ‘classic; christians hymns will not be totally replaced by by these ‘blue’ sing-alongs’ and popular spiritual tear-jerkers.

It may be time, after these thirty years, to start planning for a thorough revision of the ‘red’ hymnal or for developing a completely new one. However, it might also be a good option to take a good look at the newest version (2013) of the Dutch ecumenical hymnal. Maybe this hymnal (Liedboek door de Kerken) can provide a new injection to hymn singing in Dutch Adventist churches. I would recommend this wholeheartedly.


One thought on “What shall we sing?

  1. David Hamstra

    May I recommend to you the “contemporary hymns” that are a result of the collaboration between Stuart Townend and Keith and Kristyn Getty.

    There are also contemporary revisions of (overlooked) classics being created by groups like Indelible Grace, Page CXVI and Green Carpet Prayers. My postmodern heart is moved by the reconciliation of divides through the blending of genres.

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