Saturday, February 4, 2017
New Doxology -- Thomas Miller and Thomas Ken
His goal was to help others see what he had just noticed, and re-appreciated, as one morning he reflected on something he’d been reading. Thomas Miller was a 38-year old minister, five years into his role in a Texas church, when he happened to be studying and spending some time in personal worship. He’d sung the very old and familiar hymn a long time ago, but perhaps that’s what helped make it fresh to his heart once again. And so, Miller crafted a couple of new verses and added ‘New’ to the “Doxology” that awoke something in his spirit. It was a personal moment for him, perhaps not too unlike the motivation that the original “Doxology” composer, the Anglican bishop Thomas Ken, employed in the 17th Century to respond to God in his own way, despite how it challenged others in his era. Ask yourself, as Ken no doubt wanted people of his time to consider: Is God the ultimate of my existence – the Omega (see this Greek letter here in both upper- and lower-case)?
They were both named Tom, and have a common link through the hymn they both have loved, even if they had widely different experiences with others because of the Christian worship they sought to inspire. Anglican bishop Ken has already been noted in this blogger’s history (see September 17, 2010 entry for “Doxology”), so let it suffice to say he was somewhat of an iconoclast of his time – a vocal critic of those who were traditionalists, especially those who favored music as it had been practiced for many centuries. Thus, Ken’s “Doxology” was his personal worship statement, yet also an affront to others because its words were not directly from the Psalms. Some three or four centuries later, our second Tom – Miller – was also making a statement of sorts via the Doxology vehicle. He says in a video of “New Doxology” that his two verses (the second and third, between the first and fourth that Ken wrote in 1673) came to him one morning (in 2008) as he spent some time in personal worship. An old hymnal song and an even older biblical text (Genesis) ‘struck a strong chord’ within him. Ken’s original 3rd-person perspective in his two verses captured Miller’s attention, and so while this 21st Century minister maintained the same perspective as his 17th Century brother, he added the more personal 1st-person approach. His main goal was to preserve Ken’s reverential viewpoint. He says that reading about creation reminded him of the Eternal One’s transcendence – He IS, even when there was nothing else. Miller concludes that he wants churches, including the Gateway Church where he ministers in Dallas, to maintain old hymns, rather than discard them for modern choruses. He says ‘new skin’ can enwrap an old hymn, helping to resurrect something that had been dead or dormant. Following that theme, Miller muses that Christ was still transcendent, even though crucified -- a startling concept this present-day composer wants to convey with the words of his third verse.
While Miller has not experienced the persecution that would have been familiar to Ken, his goal may have been similar to Ken’s. “New Doxology” appears on an album entitled “Wake Up the World”. He evidently wanted to cause a stir, a condition from which Ken also refused to retreat. Isn’t it odd that both Thomases may have had the same objective in Doxology? Yet, if one considers the derivation of the word, we may also appreciate what they were both saying. The hymn historically has concluded worship, and the word’s etymology likewise indicates it means finality. In fact, it’s a kind of show-stopping climax that is intended. Nothing tops it. Kinda tells us what Ken and Miller were thinking and feeling, doesn’t it? Our God is the last word, the only word I need.
The following site has Thomas Miller’s own story about how he came to write the new verses to this old hymn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhN5sdKLDcQ
Link to some biographic information on the composer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Miller_(pastor)
See here for origin of the word: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doxology