Summer and Winter Revisited: Comparing Hymns with Psalms

I'm still pondering Leah Libresco's essay over at Nate Silvers' 538 blog.

Again, if you've not read the article, "The Sun Is Always Shining In Modern Christian Pop", Leah uses a statistical analysis to make a quantitative comparison between the lyrical content of old Christian hymns and the content of contemporary Christian pop songs.

As Leah's analysis reveals, traditional Christian hymns have more negative content compared to popular Christian music, the hymns containing more of what I describe as "Winter Christian" themes.

And yet, as dark as they are, even the traditional Christian hymns aren't as dark as the Psalms, the hymnbook of the Bible.

I'm reminded here of another quantitative analysis, one done by my ACU colleague Glenn Pemberton in his book Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms.

In Chapter 2 of Hurting With God, with the help of Austin Holt, Glenn makes an inventory the content of the Psalms and compares that content with the content of three different songbooks--Songs of Faith and Praise (used by my faith tradition the Churches of Christ), The Baptist Hymnal, and The Presbyterian Hymnal. These would be the same sorts of songs in Leah's analysis.

As I've shared before, according to the system Glenn and Austin used, the three biggest categories of songs, for the Psalms and the three songbooks, were songs of Trust and Thanksgiving, songs of Praise, and songs of Lament. Using these categories Glenn and Austin inventoried the Psalms and the songbooks, calculating the percentage of the songs in each of the categories. (There were more than three categories. I'm just focusing on the biggest three.)

When Glenn and Austin graphed these percentages they found this:

Notice anything interesting?

Note that 40% of the Psalms can be classified as lament. Forty percent of the Psalms is Winter Christian content.

By contrast, the three songbooks don't even crack 20% when it come to lament themes. And two of them don't crack 15%.

Yes, as Leah points out, the traditional hymns are dark, darker that Christian pop music.

But even the hymns aren't as dark as the Bible itself.

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