Christianity Today reported that the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected “In Christ Alone”–a popular contemporary hymn–from its new hymnal because it mentions the wrath of God. Here are the offending lines:
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
The committee putting together the hymnal wanted to change the lines to “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” But the writers of the hymn denied them permission to make the change, so it was omitted altogether.
CT apparently couldn’t resist the “liberals ditch wrath of God” angle, but it turns out that the reason the PCUSA objected to the lines was their use of “satisfied.” In other words, the committee was rejecting not the notion of God’s wrath, but the satisfaction theory of the Atonement.
Bob Smietana, religion blogger at the Tennessean, got the story right:
Critics say the change was sparked by liberals wanting to take God’s wrath out of the hymnal. The committee says there’s plenty of wrath in the new hymnal. Instead, the problem is the word “satisfied,” which the committee says refers to a specific view of theology that it rejects.
The new “Glory to God” hymnal, due out this fall, includes songs such as “Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded,” which talk about substitutionary atonement — the idea that Jesus took the place of sinners on the cross. It also includes songs about God’s wrath.
“People think that we’ve taken the wrath of God out of the hymnal,” Bringle said. “That’s not the case. It’s all over the hymnal. The issue was the word ‘satisfied.’ ”
That term was used by the medieval theologian Anselm, who argued that sins offended God’s honor, and someone had to die in order to satisfy his honor.
The 15-member committee rejected Anselm’s view and voted 9-6 to drop the hymn.
CT, to its credit, has updated its original story with a correction, though the headline still says “Wrath of God’ Keeps Popular Worship Song Out of 10,000-Plus Churches.”
Ironically (considering that we’re talking about a Presbyterian church), it’s John Calvin, not Anselm, who is usually credited with formulating the view that God’s wrath was directed at Jesus on the cross. A more properly Anselmian line would be “the honor of God was satisfied.”
(H/T to Daniel Silliman (@danielsilliman) for the links to the stories.)