Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 144:576 (Oct 87) p. 461
“I Want to Be like Jesus: The Self-Defining Power of Evangelical Hymnody,” Mary G. De Jong, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 54 (1986): 461-93.
“Hymns were probably the most popular and pervasive form of literature in nineteenth century America.” Even those who could not read could learn the lyrics to many of them. One could unabashedly share his testimony by singing the hymns. The hymns animated, soothed, and edified. The responses to these hymns are the subject of De Jong’s study. Her analysis focuses almost entirely on the depiction of masculine and feminine roles—a fact not accurately reflected in the title.
Hymns of the Victorian era departed from the Psalter, the traditional hymnal, and began to focus on the human qualities of Christ. De Jong selected four particularly popular metaphors. They portrayed Christ as Lover, Bosom Companion, Savior, and Captain. She sees the first three as representing the “feminization of deity,” while the last reflected a call for a more “masculine” Christianity.
Christ as lover was distinguishable from Christ as bridegroom. The latter stressed the dominant male, while the former portrayed Christ as gracious and giving—less powerful figure. Christ as bosom companion and friend depicted Christ’s kinship with man. To De Jong the hymns in which Christ’s friendship is said to be beyond that of a brother are indicative of the feminine quality of this metaphor. Christ is portrayed as the one who “comforts, supports, guides, protects, and best of all, listens.” De Jong linked these qualities with femininity. Christ as the Savior waiting at the door was seen by De Jong as conveying a less-than-powerful Sovereign. This she saw as representing a democratic revolt against the Calvinist teachings of an earlier generation.
BSac 144:576 (Oct 87) p. 462
By the late 19th century, many preachers and writers were mounting a mild revolution against the weak and overly feminized portrayals of Christ in hymnody. Gospel songs pictured Christ as captain and the Christian life as a battle. They were the resultant musical declaration of the culture’s more masculine roles and characteristics including power, virility, adventure, and even military virtues. Singers were called to more aggressive and heroic roles and to resistance against sin.
De Jong perceives the dichotomy within hymn lyrics as failing to portray Christ adequately as both human and divine. They also reinforced an unbiblical division between male and female (Gal 3:28). They failed to achieve the “elusive ideal of Christian wholeness.” Her analysis should challenge Christians to write and choose their...
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