Review of Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, by T. David Gordon (6/7)

Zac HicksUncategorizedLeave a Comment

This lengthy review is broken up into several blog posts, but you can read the full PDF here at any time.  If you are jumping in mid-stream, scroll to the bottom to view and navigate to the other sections.

T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal.  Phillipsburg: P&R, 2010.  $12.99.  189 pp.  ISBN 978-1-59638-195-7


Where Does the Gospel Fit into This Discussion?

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel (Phil 4:2-3, NIV).

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray…I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:11-14, NIV).

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility (Eph 2:14, NIV).

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Gal 5:13-15, NIV).

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2, NIV).1

These verses all teach us something about the nature of the church when the gospel takes root.  We are predisposed to unity, even if it hurts.2 If the gospel compels us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ, how would such good news shape this discussion?  Chiefly, it would form the optimistic conviction in our hearts that, in the midst of such divisive matters, a middle road is both possible and desirable. The gospel would predispose us, in such discussions, to question whether dying to self is absent in our vigorous attempts to advocate for a very one-sided position that attacks and alienates not a small part of Christ’s church.  There are certainly times to hold ground on one side.  Sometimes, the via media means deadly compromise (which is obviously Gordon’s perspective).  But I wonder whether a gospel-driven generosity, on the front end, would not have caused Gordon to exchange his sword for a magnifying glass in his analytical approach.  Many of Gordon’s helpful and penetrating insights would have been more effective if he had restrained his rhetoric and off-hand remarking.3 Statements that lack generosity4 unnecessarily hurt and divide.  There were many points in the book where I observed that a more gospel-driven generosity would have compelled Gordon to rephrase certain criticisms or hold his tongue at times from proffering them at all.  Gordon’s gifting is obviously of a prophetic makeup, and prophets will always struggle with seasoning their forth-telling with grace.  The gospel compels us to look at Christ’s bride as the Bridegroom Himself does:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:20-22, NIV).

So, when prophetic voices are compelled to speak out against the ills and idolatry of Christ’s bride, the gospel doubly compels us to do so in meekness and love.


1See also Col 3:12-13; Eph 4:2-3; Rom 15:5-7; Phil 2:4, 14; 1 Cor 13:2.  Anne Ortlund provides a similar list in her terrific primer on worship: Up with Worship: How to Quit Playing Church (Nashville: B&H, 2001).

2On p. 170, Gordon expresses his dislike of divisiveness, but obviously he feels that it is more important that his message must be heard and heeded by the church.

3Several places within the book, the author is downright snide and sarcastic (e.g., pp. 61, 98, 122).  Given the sensitive nature of the subject-matter, the brazen rhetoric seems doubly insensitive and inappropriate.

4Such as “The free-church movement is therefore halfway toward being a cult…The free-church movement does effectively deny the church catholic. We should, I suggest, return the favor” (p. 122, n. 17).


Section-By-Section Links:
Introduction & Appreciation
Six Problems with Gordon’s Analysis: Problems 1 & 2
Six Problems with Gordon’s Analysis: Problem 3
Six Problems with Gordon’s Analysis: Problem 4
Six Problems with Gordon’s Analysis: Problems 5 & 6
Final Questions and Remarks: Where does the Gospel Fit into this Discussion?
Final Questions and Remarks: A Fairer Approach Proposed & Conclusion

Download a PDF of the full review.

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