Would you sing this song?

Would you sing the following song during your AM worship service?  Assuming that you are ok with the lyrics, would Hank Williams lifestyle and the story surrounding the writing of this song allow you to do so

A reputable biography claims Hank Williams was coming back from a dance when this “backslider wrote this song of redemption.”  Williams was high and drunk when this song was first written (see book link below).  Unlike John Newton’s story, Hank Williams life provided little to no evidence of true conversion.  These realities have really troubled me.  What say you?

I Saw the Light

Hank Williams


I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin

I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in

Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night

Praise the Lord, I saw the light


Just like a blind man, I wandered alone

Worries and fears I claimed for my own

Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight

Praise the Lord, I saw the light


I saw the light, I saw the light

No more darkness, no more night

Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight

Praise the Lord, I saw the light


I was a fool to wander and stray

For straight is the gate and narrow the way

Now I have traded the wrong for the right

Praise the Lord, I saw the light

22 responses to this post.

  1. I guess it comes down to our hermeneutic with the arts, right? If we take a reader-response approach then the song is perfectly appropriate.

    Put another way, the Beatles’ song Help! could be about a sinner crying out for his need for grace now that he realizes that he cannot live life on his own. It is not very difficult at all to get gospel illustrations from “The Matrix” either.

    Would either be true to the authorial intent? Probably not. So do we need to have the same hermeneutic with the arts that we do with Scripture?

    Maybe a bit closer to home would be some of the artists in the CCM scene. Does the song “Here I Am to Worship” lose any meaning when Phillips, Craig, & Dean sing it given their questionable theology?

    To answer your question, I think we can divorce the life of Hank Williams with the content of the song. I’m not sure if I quite agree with the chorus since it kind of implies that faith in Christ will remove all the pain from life. However, in theory I could see using this song.

  2. Posted by caleb kolstad on March 25, 2009 at 10:26 am


    Thanks for your view point. So you would be comfortable singing a Christian worship song written and produced by Madonna? I don’t see her producing one any time soon but just for the sake of clarity…?

  3. Good question, Caleb. I believe, however, that this issue is more entangled than those songs by more modern artists.

    What are we to do with well-known hymns, like “All Creatures of our God and King,” written by St. Francis of Assisi. I’ve sung that at many churches that would emphatically denounce his theology (as would I!). Similar issues arise with the mystic, Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote several hymns we still sing, such as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

    This makes Jason’s proposal of divorcing the song’s author from it’s content all the more interesting. Do we divorce the theological suppositions behind a song from the original intent? Disregard the grammatical-historical readings of hymns and invest the words with our own theology?

    Or do we press-on for absolute consistency and edit our hymnals of all hymn-writers that expressed theological convictions contrary to our own? And if so where does this end, that is, how much of Fanny Crosby’s theology do I need to study?

  4. Caleb — I understand what you mean and it is a great point. Perhaps to combine this with Steve’s point — our ignorance may be a factor. There are also practical matters to consider as Steve brought up.

    I think that the hymn “Amazing Grace” stands just fine on its own without knowing Newton’s story. Knowing his story adds a richness to the hymn though.

    Would I be comfortable with a song written by Madonna? Probably not. In 300 years would it be usable? Maybe because the text would likely be disconnected from the person.

    I think that there is an inherent inconsistency no matter which side you approach this from. As Steve points out, we’d have to throw out quite a few hymns if theological agreement or even lifestyle agreement were vital. How many Baptists sing “A Mighty Fortress” despite knowing about Luther’s theology as well as his license with beer and “salty speech”? Where do we draw the line and how far do we take this?

    Caleb — I look forward to reading your thoughts on this.

  5. Posted by caleb kolstad on March 25, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    First of all this is not meant to be a hymns vs chorus debate. Our church does “blended worship.” Style is really not the issue here. I would not put St. Francis in the same category as any true Evangelical (Crosby, Luther, etc). Therefore as a Baptist, I could/would not put Hank Williams in the same category as Martin Luther or John Wesley.

    Jason i really like this point you made b/c i think it is consistent with what you wrote earlier…”Would I be comfortable with a song written by Madonna? Probably not. In 300 years would it be usable? Maybe because the text would likely be disconnected from the person.”

    I have been doing quite a bit of reading on this subject as i try and lead our church body and our praise team as the Sr. Pastor. In 5 lectures i presented all my findings and you can find that here http://www.fbcfreeport.com/sermon/abiblicaltheologyofworship.html

  6. Posted by caleb kolstad on March 25, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    One of the questions that i need to ask about this song (or any praise song) is how many people in our congregation will assoc. this praise song with the author, Hank Williams?

    If no one knows who wrote this hymn or if they know it’s Hank but do not know anything about the author then i believe that changes things.

    Let me say now that i know what i do know about this song (author) i would have a hard time worshiping using this song (and no i don’t consider myself a “weaker” brother). But maybe that is just me. I may be more sensitive on this point then others would be…

    That is one of the reasons why i was looking for some other pastors and brothers and sisters in the faith to share their perspectives.

  7. Posted by Steve Meister on March 25, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Caleb, not sure I understand your comments… “this is not meant to be a hymns vs. chorus debate.” Which comment/thought are you addressing there?

    Also, if you would not put St. Francis in the evangelical category (I agree), does that mean you do not sing “All Creatures”? Or, because most people would not know about him and would not “stumble” as it were, do you go ahead and sing it?

    Thanks, this has been fruitful.

  8. Caleb — I really appreciate the time you’ve put into thinking this through. Are there manuscripts of your lectures available anywhere?

    Like Steve, I’m a little confused about where you thought this might be headed to a hymns/chorus debate. I just brought up PC&D as an example of a popular group played on Christian stations, but with modalist theology.

  9. Steve-

    The Hymn vs Chorus comment was just a general statement reminding potential future commenters to please stay on topic. :) I don’t want to go there with this post.

    Your “OR” statement would capture where i am currently at with regards to ALL CREATURES. Of course most great songs are redone by various musicians. On rare occasions the original version is better known by the new recording artist (singer, etc).

    Worldly associations can distract from Biblical worship. I am always concerned about that point. It is one of the reasons why I try and be careful with my choice of sermon illustrations. Phil Johnson covered this point in his recent lecture at Shepherds conference; but now I am getting off topic…

  10. Posted by Steve Meister on March 25, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Key point: “Worldly associations can distract from Biblical worship.” I concur.

  11. Jason-

    I did not create a WORD document manuscript for this series of lessons. However here are the primary sources (outside Scripture) that i used. They really have helped me out immensely.

    Worship lectures by Clayton Erb and Bill B

    Worship lectures by Andy Snider

    Worship lectures from Grace Immanuel Bible Church

    Singing and Making Music (book by Paul Jones)

    Worship Matters blog site

  12. Steve,

    So would Hank Williams lifestyle and the story surrounding the writing of this song allow you to use “I Saw the Light” during your churches worship service?

  13. Posted by Steve Meister on March 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm


    No, it wouldn’t. I do not know the story of that song in particular, but whenever I see his name, all that comes to mind is “I have a tear in my beer…” which is not the most conducive to worshiping in spirit and truth.

    That being said, however, I also struggle somewhat with hymns by poor theologians, a la St. Francis and Bernard. I usually mumble my way through “All Creatures” because I know what St. Francis actually meant when he wrote it. I know most people probably don’t even think about it, but what happens when we do a survey of church history in our equipping ministry? Do we ditch it then?

    So, I waiver between “the Balaam Principle,” that truth occasionally comes from donkeys (okay, I just made that up, but it may work!), and pursuing absolute conformity, which motivates me to take an X-acto knife to our hymnals. Of course, in such a pursuit, at what point do I start straining gnats and swallowing camels?

    I think “Worldly associations can distract from Biblical worship” is still a right principle, understanding that it must be applied with great wisdom in different churches, given different contexts. So, while I wouldn’t use or encourage Hank Williams’ songs in our congregation, I also wouldn’t pray imprecations on a congregation that does. Rom 14:5 is probably the way to go on this.

    (This discussion actually reminds me of a Thai senator I met in Bangkok who heard of Christ primarily through listening to Elvis’ old Gospel records. But that’s another strange story for another time).

  14. Thanks for this post Steve-

    “Worldly associations can distract from Biblical worship” is still a right principle, understanding that it must be applied with great wisdom in different churches, given different contexts

  15. Posted by Ronnie Jones on March 27, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Just a thought that this brought to mind, my Dad used to tell me he judged whether he should go to something secular by whether it would be appropriate me to go. Is is appropriatte to take in secular media (movies (Matrix,etc..), music, etc) in your personnal life that you wouldn’t play at our church? What say you guys? Thanks!

  16. The short answer is yes….with obv. cautions.

    I know what you are asking and to me it has more to do with “grey area” decisions. I’ll leave that point for someone else to answer.

    For example, i would watch Sportscenter or a ball game at home but would not view those programs at church, esp. during the worship service. I would listen to Josh Groban at home but would not do so at church.

    Following one’s Word filled “conscience” and taking into account “weaker brothers” are things I try and think about when at home or when I am outside church. For me these are case by case decisions. Some are more difficult then others.

  17. Posted by Rob on March 28, 2009 at 6:51 am

    If you were to be able to sing “ISTL” with a heart of true worship, don’t you think God would accept it as true worship?

  18. Posted by Rob on March 28, 2009 at 6:53 am

    that should read sing, not “sin”

  19. Posted by Caleb Kolstad on March 28, 2009 at 10:19 am


    Thanks for your thoughts brother. In the future please include your last name too (house rules).

    I think the answer to your question is “yes.” That still does not mean however “ISTL” should be used during a congregational worship service. Other principles need to be considered. We’ve pointed out a few of them in our comments section. Blessings!

  20. Guys, great discussion. I shared some thoughts on this over at http://www.worshipmatters.com/2008/02/does-it-matter-who-writes-the-songs-we-sing/. You may find the comment interesting as well.

  21. Bob,

    I’m grateful for your post, your link, and for your book. For those of you who choose not to link over to Worship Matters let me just share with you the major summary points Bob presents there…

    “1. Immediate content matters most.
    2. Associations are important.
    3. Associations can change over time.
    4. Composers often reveal their theological biases.

    Bottom line, if I think singing a song is going to expose my church to an unhelpful influence, I’ll skip it. I if I don’t think that’s going to happen, and the lyrics are solid, I’ll sing it.”

  22. Posted by Daniel Leavitt on April 2, 2009 at 10:02 am

    This has been a thought provoking discussion. It piqued my curiosity because I recently watched a video on youtube where Johnny Cash covers a song from a group I have negative associations with. In fact, my views on Johnny Cash could best be described as neutral. But I have been reading a bit about Cash’s life in the latter years. And this video he does for the song “Hurt” completely redefines the song’s meaning.

    The four points from Bob’s link are very helpful. Points one and four seem to overlap, as do points two and three. But it is helpful to break them down that way so we are especially careful to discern truth in analyzing lyrics written by composers who are suspect.

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