Allowed myself a wry smile when I read in today’s Church Times that Stuart Townend’s In Christ Alone is in the top 5 most popular hymns.

Two reasons: last week’s Songs of Praise saw me singing it meaningfully in full close up (and cope); and…we weren’t allowed to sing it in York Minster because the Archbishop was conscious of the difficult line “on the cross where Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied”.

Various people would request it though, and I emailed Stuart Townend to ask whether he would allow any of the changes people make – eg “the love of God was magnified”. An excellent conversation ensued – the short version being “no dice. The satisfaction of the wrath of God is not outside Scripture.”  Indeed, it’s also right there in one of the “historic formularies” of the Church of England, the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer. I pray every week about Jesus Christ making “satisfaction…for the sins of the whole world.”

It’s vital to get our theology right. A great tune can mask some appalling doctrine. Some denominations spend ages on their hymnals to ensure that we don’t sing stuff which will lead us astray. It’s always interested me that the C of E, which spends ages on its liturgy for the same reason, doesn’t do so with its hymnody. I’m not going to go into the whole penal substitution thing, except to say that I agree with Stuart Townend that it’s not outside Scripture, and is one of the images of atonement which have susatained the Church through the ages.

But it’s only one of them, and, if you like, it’s at the extreme edge of the spectrum. So let’s hope someone can write something as catchy and profound as In Christ Alone which can encapsulate some of the other images of salvation: of the lost being found, the price paid, the debtor redeemed, the slave set free, the broken healed, creation restored. There’s lots of that already, and there is room for more as long as there are worshippers in earth and heaven.