Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"The Challenge" Day 23: Amazing Grace (or, a toast to John Newton)

One. Week. Left. If you don't know what this is about, you can start at Day 1, but I wouldn't recommend it. 

Here's to you, John Newton.

Former slave trader turned Anglican priest. Mentor to British abolitionists, including William Wilberforce. Suspected Methodist sympathizer.

And author, in 1779, of a little hymn called "Amazing Grace."

235 years later, and if you flip on K-LOVE you will likely hear all of the following in a day (or, in an hour):

1) Chris Tomlin and His Perfect Hair's version of the song, "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)," which appeared on the soundtrack of a film about William Wilberforce called...wait for it...Amazing Grace
2) Matt Redman's "Your Grace Finds Me" (to which I gave the Moltmann treatment to a few posts back), which is an ode to God's "great grace" and which includes an overt melodic reference to the familiar tune of Newton's hymn
3) David Crowder's "I Am," which begins with the lines: "There’s no space that His love can’t reach/There’s no place that we can’t find peace/There’s no end to Amazing Grace"
4) Phil Wickham's "This Is Amazing Grace"

And that's just the current CCM references to the song off the top of my head.

Not bad, John Newton. Not bad.

Just to make sure, I did a search of the phrase "amazing grace" in the KJV. Nope. It's Newton's phrase.

I'm not going to go into any sort of long hypothesis about why the song has stuck around so long.

But I am going to give a brief nod to the fact that a song about conversion from complicity in the systemic sin of slavery has stuck around.

Maybe Redman, Crowder, and Wickham weren't overtly referencing that aspect of the hymn in their songs. But then again, maybe they were. And Tomlin's version was included in a movie about abolitionism, so I'm assuming he was conscious of the fact that the grace he was singing about was not a just-me-and-Jesus, fire-insurance sort of grace. That the grace that is so amazing that we just keep singing about it is the kind of grace that can break addiction to injustice and violence. That grace doesn't just make you feel good, it can change the world.

That's some good news.

That, in fact, is some amazing news.

So here's a toast to you, John Newton. Thank you, from one wretch to another. Pardon the pun, but you really struck a chord.

Instead of telling you what's playing on, I'm going to post this video of Chris Tomlin's Platinum Hair singing about justice:

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