Recently, writer and preacher John Piper spoke at a Gospel Coalition conference, and the worship team there decided that the classic hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” would be a good choice to follow his remarks.
However, Piper decided to make some changes to the classic song.
He told TGC, “I heard [TGC] intended to close with that hymn. That’s a great hymn. I love it. But it did not hit the nail of my message on the head. And one of my poetic bents is to like coherence between message and music … Friday afternoon in my hotel room, the day before I was to speak, I wrote a couple verses to serve as a fitting conclusion to the message.”
He said that he emailed the worship leader to see if it was OK to make changes to the song.
He then added these two verses:
I could not love Thee, so blind and unfeeling;
Covenant promises fell not to me.
Then without warning, desire, or deserving,
I found my Treasure, my pleasure, in Thee.
I have no merit to woo or delight Thee,
I have no wisdom or pow’rs to employ;
Yet in thy mercy, how pleasing thou find’st me,
This is Thy pleasure: that Thou art my joy.
As Christianity Today points out however, in adding the verses, he may have undermined the original writer’s intention. Thomas Chisholm, who wrote the hymn, was Methodist, meaning he probably held Wesleyan-Arminian views. Piper, famously, adheres to the more Calvinistic brand of Reformed theology.
The idea of changing the writer’s original theological intentions has rubbed some theologians the wrong way. Christianity Today tracked down some leaders who weighed in.
The University of Toronto’s Emmanuel College’s director of master of sacred music program Swee Hong Lim told them, “Hymns are theological statements … To that end, and particularly for Methodism, hymns are not theologically neutral but carry theological distinctiveness. This is one reason why the denomination has sought to review contemporary worship songs for their theological position.”
Indiana Wesleyan University’s professor of Christian worship and pastoral ministry Constance M. Cherry told them: “A hymn is a piece of art. It is a poetic text crafted by an author. As such, adding or subtracting from any work of art is questionable, especially if the original artist is not able to agree to the changes.”