While music is not everyone’s preferred tool for spiritual growth and renewal, nor even for worship, it has its place in centering one’s thoughts on God, and can also be a teaching tool, both for doctrine and Scripture memory.
Since the apostle Paul instructs the early believers to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (see Ephesians 5:19 NIV), today I will offer my own recommendations for a bit of each of these three, from a variety of recording artists.
A few years ago I was introduced to the music of the Sons of Korah. You’ll recognize the group’s name, probably, from the book of Psalms, many of which are attributed to a group of men from this clan of the tribe of Levi. The musical group hails from Australia, but I was fortunate to hear them in a worship concert in Fort Wayne, IN, several years ago.
Their music is exclusively based on the book of Psalms. Often they use only a part of one, but they approach it with the intent of presenting it verbatim, without adding anything which would be a commentary. The music is singable, but not intended for corporate worship. Rather, each piece is an excellent tool for meditating on the Word. For some examples, here’s Psalm 51, Psalm 139, and a fun live concert version of Psalm 117.
Hymns have been composed and sung by Christians since the Church began. Musical styles have changed periodically, but the contemporary western Church has an impressive collection of texts and melodies which include samples of hymnody dating back at least 800 years. Most of the hymns which are popularly sung today date from no later than the Reformation–500 years or so.
While some congregations or entire denominations prefer the historic hymns, others have added modern praise and worship music which reflects musical styles from the late 20th century up to the most current music. However, the hymns enjoy a perennial resurgence in popularity and many different recording artists and groups have produced entire albums of hymns, often in updated arrangements.
One excellent compilation, by some of the leading singer/songwriters today (including Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Christy Nockels) is called Passion: Hymns Ancient and Modern. The selections, which will mostly be familiar to those raised in the hymn tradition, include melodies by Haydn, Beethoven and Vaughn Williams, and text by St. Francis of Assisi and Henry Van Dyke.
Among contemporary hymn writers, my favorite is the Irish husband and wife team, Keith and Kristyn Getty. Their selections are rich in theological depth, highly singable, and are excellent fresh additions to the hymns of the Church. One example, the powerful testimony hymn, “In Christ Alone”–written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend–has gained popularity across most denominational lines.
Finally, from the vast and growing list of excellent Christian recording artists, I want to recommend Michael Card, a Bible scholar and author who sees himself as a teacher who often uses songs as teaching tools. His impressive discography are nearly all albums composed around a particular book or books of the Bible. I learned some excellent theological truth from careful listening to his Old Testament trilogy, sold most recently as a compilation entitled The Ancient Faith. Sadly, it appears to be out of print at the moment, though you can still find it for sale online if you hunt.
Michael Card’s latest project is a series of books in the Biblical Imagination series. He has completed a book and an album for three of the four gospels (John is currently in production). He is a careful scholar, a readable writer, and a pleasing composer who works with many excellent musicians on his albums.
Whether your tastes are for the mystic and contemplative, the emotional and uplifting, or the energizing and cutting-edge, there are Christian artists producing music which can be used for your private worship.
Finally, for your enjoyment, is an arrangement of one of my favorite Getty hymns, “O Church, Arise.”