To some (especially Canadians), this is sacrilege. And I’ve definitely got issues about tampering with genius (as I hope you have). Christians especially waste far too much time aping the world’s creativity and consequently only produce derivative pap. I particularly struggle with the tendency to add holy words to populist melodies (eg the Eastenders or Match of the Day signature tunes). Grghghh.

However, every now and then something surprises. Leonard Cohen’s titanic Hallelujah should by rights be left totally alone (especially by Simon Cowell). And it does deal with some pretty interesting themes – David & Bathsheba, Samson & Delilah. They’re even biblical, after all.

But one of this year’s apprentices working with the youth at All Souls, Rhys Owens, came up with his own rewrite to tell the gospel story, a kind of contemporary Philippians 2. We had a fantastic time on Sunday at our All-Age Christmas service, which had the theme of Christmas Around the World. Accompanied by an all-age band, we sang or heard songs in Malay, German & Slovak, Luganda and Zulu as well as English, had readings in English and Mandarin, and Christmas greetings in the above languages plus Spanish, Russian and Welsh. But a highlight was Rhys singing his Hallelujah (photo above). It was a brilliant job – impressive for 9.30 in the morning.

Particularly powerful was the way Rhys clearly sensed the song’s musical progression, managing to match his words and themes to the effortless crescendos and dynamics of the music (the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift). Sing it and you’ll get the idea…

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course. But that’s irrelevant. I give it 10/10 for effort and effectiveness.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Tom Pettinger

    Great stuff! And you’re right, “one man’s meat” and all that… One of my bête noirs is being made to sing church songs in other languages! I find it makes one focus on the words rather than God, feel self-conscious and is generally a sop for whoever has just returned from a gap year; I’m very excited to hear what people have been doing in Uzbekistan until they announce they’re going to teach me “he’s got the whole world” in the local dialect!). Obviously some people feel it reflects the glory of God’s multinational church… As long as someone enjoys it (God, hopefully).

    1. quaesitor

      Hi Tom
      i understand your self-consciousness about singing in other languages – but I actually find it quite exhilarating as long as i have a translation of the words. And in All Souls, where white Brits only account for around 48% of the congregation, it’s really important to make efforts to include others who are different by whatever means. It’s more than just a ‘sop’ to gappers!
      What was particularly good on Sunday was having a Malay Christmas carol that wasn’t a western song translated but one that has grown up in the Malaysian church…

  2. Ian Paul

    Putting ‘Christian’ words to ‘secular’ songs has a long (and at times distinguished) pedigree. Wasn’t it Arius who took Alexandrian sea shanties and put Christian words to them to evangelise? And didn’t the Wesleys do something similar at one point? This is a great effort, though I think I would baulk at the idea that God ‘turned his back’, which is in other modern hymns but I don’t find in Scripture…

    1. quaesitor

      I totally agree that there is a great pedigree to it. Although i gather it is a myth that the Wesleys never once took drinking songs as their inspiration! But I may be wrong…

      It’s just that i find most contemporary efforts frankly cringey and entirely counter-productive!

      Re ‘turned his back’ I’d tentatively suggest that while the phrase is clearly a metaphor not found in scripture, the essence most certainly is – the forsakenness at the cross (Jesus’ cry is not one of doubt entirely, but as much about being forsaken as anything), the darkness of judgment (cf the use of the imagery in Amos 5:18-27), the substitution (eg 2 Cor 5:21). etc
      Of course, this is a big debate and not going to be sorted in a few post-post comments. But i do think that penal substitutionary atonement lies at the heart of a profoundly biblical contention. cf the IVP book Pierced for our Transgressions, JRWS Cross of Christ and my little Cross-Examined…

      So while it is clearly uncomfortable to sing ‘turned his back’, we should perhaps be more conscious of the difficulty of finding words ever to plumb the depths of the cross… But I don’t doubt you’ll have a few words to say on the issue, Ian!

  3. Tom Pettinger

    A fair point Mark.
    It’s something that I’ve had arguments with myself for a long time! What is providing relevant worship for those of other cultures, and what is enforced “joy”? Difficult. I’ve been to a few worship events and conferences where the congregation have been jovially called to “stop being so English!”, I.e. dance around, worship more energetically. I just don’t feel I’m really to blame for the fact that I find engaging with God in worship easier with expressive lyrical content and powerful music than repetitive choruses and heavy rhythms – at what point does encouraging me to do otherwise stop being a gentle attempt to broaden my horizons, and start being as counter-culturally prescriptive as slapping an 18th century baptist church down in rural India and teaching them English hymns? It’s a toughie!

    P.S. Great blog – I found you on twitter having remembered some of your fantastic sermons at Fulwood!

    P.P.S. Why has this site chosen to give me a grumpy-faced avatar?!

    1. quaesitor

      hi Tom
      i think your point is well made. I suppose it’s partly the result of our own English cultural imperialism where we’ve imposed our own norms on others – so perhaps some feel it’s payback time!
      thanks for the encouragements – sorry about your avatar – not a lot i can do about that!!

  4. Rosie Knowles

    Did anyone record the singing of this version – will it be available for mp3 download? My dad once wrote his own version of Hallelujah too!

    1. quaesitor

      i’m afraid it wasn’t recorded…

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