Article

“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”

Hymn Study
by Dean McIntyre
TITLE: "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)"
AUTHOR: John Newton (stanzas), Christopher Dwayne "Chris" Tomlin and Louie Giglio (refrain)
TUNE: MY CHAINS ARE GONE
COMPOSER: Traditional American melody; refrain by Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3104
SCRIPTURE: 1 Chronicles 17:16-17; Ephesians 2:4-10
TOPIC: grace, forgiveness, sin, freedom, salvation, eternal life, love

Background

Chris Tomlin is a popular contemporary Christian artist, worship leader, and song writer. He was born May 4, 1972, in Grand Saline, Texas. He began learning to play his first guitar, a gift from his father, at age eleven by playing along with Willie Nelson recordings. He wrote his first worship song at age 14. He attended Tyler Junior College and Texas A&M University, intending a career in physical therapy; but his plans were interrupted by what he has called "God's call to something else." Tomlin continued to write songs and lead worship, serving on the staff of Austin Stone Community Church and working on the Passion Conferences with youth speaker Louie Giglio, with whom he now (2011) serves at Passion City Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Among Tomlin's best-known songs are "How Great Is Our God," "Jesus Messiah," "Our God," and "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)," which comes from the 2006 album, See the Morning. He was nominated for or has won numerous awards, including: the GMA Dove Male Vocalist of the Year Award for 2006-2008; Worship Song of the Year, 2005-2011; Song of the Year, 2006-2011; Artist of the Year, 2006, 2008-2011; and others. Between 1995 and 2011, Tomlin released ten studio albums and fifteen Passion event albums.

Louie Giglio, born June 30, 1958, is a pastor, author, speaker, and founder of the Passion Movement. He has studied at Georgia State University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Baylor University. He has a Doctor of Ministry from Grace Theological Seminary. Giglio and his wife, Shelley, have been active in youth and student activities with studies, conferences, and worship events drawing thousands of participants. In 1995, he began the Passion Movement with a continuing series of large and successful conferences to reach young adults and students. The Giglios started sixsteprecords, a partnership with Sparrow Records that now also includes a small but influential group of musicians including Chris Tomlin, The Dave Crowder Band, Charlie Hall, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels and Passion. In 2008, Giglio began a new church plant in Atlanta -- Passion City Church -- with the Tomlins and Redmans also providing leadership.

Words

As contemporary church musicians and pastors have incorporated traditional hymns and songs into congregational worship, they have done so with great creativity and with a variety of methods. "Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" has done so by preserving the words of John Newton's hymn (written between 1760 and 1770), using only the original stanzas one, two, four and six. The words have not been updated for theology, inclusivity, imagery or archaic meaning. But there has been added a refrain not in Newton's original poetry. Perhaps with an eye toward Newton's former occupation as a slave trader or perhaps speaking of the circumstances and activities of modern living that enslave us to sin, Tomlin and Giglio's new refrain bursts forth with the triumphant declaration that God, through mercy, love, grace and the salvation of Christ, has removed our chains and set us free. It is the same exultant shout that goes up in stanza four of Charles Wesley's great conversion hymn, "And Can It Be?": "My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee." Tomlin calls for the refrain to be sung only after stanzas two and three. Note the wonderful change in the final phrase: stanza four concludes "God…will be forever mine," repeats the statement "will be forever mine," and then all of a sudden after an entire song of talking about God and God's amazing grace, changes to direct address: "You are forever mine." It is the ultimate personalization of a very personal hymn. This is not a corporate hymn of the assembly. It is not a community hymn. It is a personal hymn sung by one or more individuals, each personally experiencing God's amazing grace.

Music

The rather irregular structure resulting from Tomlin's arrangement of stanzas and refrain yields an AABABA form. The familiar melody of "Amazing Grace" is mostly preserved, but with a few melodic changes and numerous ornamental embellishments. This improvisatory style is common in American folk music and contemporary Christian music performance practice. The arrangement in Worship & Song is Tomlin's, and it works well; but there is no reason the verses could not also be done in the manner of Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley or in one's own style -- or even in the original melodic and rhythmic pattern of the traditional hymn as found in most hymnals. Be aware that Tomlin's song changes the traditional "Amazing Grace" from 3/4 time to 4/4.

Sources

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Categories: Hymn Studies, Hymnals By Name, Worship & Song