Just back from Cardiff where, as Jane Austen's Emma would say, in an attempt at modesty but without trying too hard, 'People tell me I acquitted myself quite well'! We had a great afternoon singing, contextualising, analysing, criticising (in the literary sense), and admiring one of the greatest repositories of Christian spiritual experience ever composed, A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists. (Available from Amazon for around £30 - you can hardly get a hefty theological paperback for that now - and this is a critically annotated work of undisputed spiritual genius)!
Following each lecture we had some discussion and several questions I found intriguing and to be thought about further.
Doesn't Isaac Watts, an Old Dissenter, have an equal claim on our admiration, and isn't he the real originator of the hymn that articulates and perpetuates the spiritual theology and experience of Evangelicalism? HMMMMMMM? That sparked a debate about the Evangelical movement, its origins, earliest representatives, and the relative importance and positions of Watts and Wesley in relation to Evangelical hymnody.
In the current post-Christendom, postmodern situation of a sidelined and increasingly marginalised church, should the old hymns of the tradition be preserved as they are, or updated, or dispensed with as no longer serviceable artefacts of a previous generation's spirituality? With their out of date and frankly meaningless discourse to most folk outside, and increasingly inside, the church what now is the apologetic and evangelistic value of traditional hymns? HMMMMMMMM? This got us talking about the place of traditional and classic expressions of faith, over and against the need for language and theology which 'connects' and 'communicates'. After all, how many now use the King James Version when more contemporary translations are available?
Going back to Charles Wesley, what drove a man to produce such an enormous output of versification? Around 9,000 hymns with a huge output in four years that ran into several thousand - 3 or 4 a day! HMMMMMMMM? This raised the question of heightened awareness, inspiration, poetic gift and technical skill, pastoral strategy and catechetical intentions and much else. And perhaps the recognition that creative overdrive and spiritual experience and individual psychological drives are not always to be interpreted as if they cancelled each other out. We are, as was commented, fearfully and wonderfully made.
These and much else made for good talk, good laughter and good learning, both me and those who came to share the day.