I was driving to my office one morning and I heard Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone and it hit me. What must it have taken to touch that song? I mean it may be the most famous song in the world, or at least in Christendom.  As I understand it, he was commissioned to do it for the Amazing Grace movie, but I still have to applaud his courage. I mean that song has been recorded by thousands of artists, it’s beloved  by millions, (maybe billions), it may be the greatest song of all time.

What’s even scarier is he made it better. It’s to the point, at least for this writer, that I am disappointed if we move from verse to verse without  singing , “My chains are  gone…” Chris Tomlin made the best song in the world better—not an easy feat. As I listened to the song I started to wonder how he did it. I’m sure Tomlin would give all glory to God and so should we, but that’s not what I mean here. Why is it that “My chains are gone…” makes the song resonate.

I mean this is not the first time people tried to change Amazing Grace, you know? When I first came to Christ, there was a movement to take the word “wretch” out of it. This was in the great movement toward self-esteem. I thought that was ludicrous and a big part of the problem with American Christianity. If we can’t see ourselves as wretched without Christ, no wonder we can’t see our need for a Savior. John Newton the man who wrote the song had no problem with seeing himself as a wretch, His life went through a transition from  slave trader to abolitionist by the very Amazing Grace he wrote about. We are all wretches in need of grace.

Tomlin brings the grace into focus and adds three more things, freedom mercy and God’s love. He holds on to Newton’s assertion that we are wretched sinners saved by a wonderful amazing grace. He reminds us we don’t have to stay wretches, that through Christ we are set free from the “sin that so easily entangles” because our chains are gone and we’ve been set free. He reminds us of the flood of mercy that washes over us all and shows us that it is God’s amazing love that brings about the Amazing Grace.   The new chorus is intensely personal, almost forcing the singer to claim these things for himself/herself, and I believe it is in this that the improvement comes. The song becomes even more about God’s intensely pers0nal relationship with us and his great love for us. We are wretches but God is good and He sets us free.

It’s really tough to improve a classic. Mess it up and you’ve put a mustache on the Mona Lisa, but handled just right and with God’s help, you can come up with something that is…  well… AMAZING!

  1. Lew Curtiss says:

    Dave ~ This post is just beautiful. I too used to have some challenges with the word “wretch”. I figured that there must be something about me that God found worth saving that He sent His only begotten Son for my redemption. For me “wretch” was just too strong a word, but time and maturity has offered new insights.

    This is my second most favorite song of faith. My first most favorite is “Be Thou My Vision”. Thank you for sharing these insights.

    Lew / https://creativeharmonies.wordpress.com/

    • amokarts says:

      Thanks so much for this Lew. You went to my spam folder for some reason, I don’t know why, but I am glad I checked. Like I said in the post this whole wretch controversy came about, about the same time I was coming to Christ. At that time I was still fighting for sobriety on a fairly regular basis. As such I had no problem owning the word wretch, I was still really feeling pretty wretched and marveling at the Amazing Grace of Jesus to meet me there.
      Keep me posted.
      God bless,

  2. Craig Heller says:

    Wow! John Newton replaced by Chris Tomlin? It’s like trying to rewrite history. I believe this song was Newton’s testimony to God’s work in his life. It’s sad the another person added their little bit to someone else’s testimony.

    • amokarts says:

      I guess I can see that too but to me, if it were only Newton’s testimony, it would lose some of it’s meaning. I don’t sing that song thinking, “Man, that John Newton was a wretch.” When I sing Amazing Grace, it’s all about me and Jesus. It becomes very personal. I don’t think Newton was replaced by Tomlin and I know from hearing Tomlin talk about the song that he approached it very reverently and with more that a hint of trepidation. That being said, from my perspective as a worshipper, he added something good.
      Just my two cents, thanks for joining the conversation.
      God bless,

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