The story behind the song “In Christ Alone”


Songwriter Stuart Townend grew up as the youngest of four children in a Christian family in West Yorkshire, England, where his father was a vicar in the Church of England. The Townend family always enjoyed music, and young Stuart began to play the piano at the age of seven. Known and respected today by musicians and worship leaders throughout Britain and beyond, his involvement in Christian music dates back over 10 years.

During this time, Townend has used his talents to produce albums for British-based worship leaders as diverse as John Pantry, Keith Routledge, Sue Rinaldi, Vinesong and Praise Gathering. As an artist, he has made two solo albums: Say the Word and Personal Worship. But it is perhaps as a songwriter that Stuart has made his most enduring contribution to the contemporary worship movement. Songs such as “How Deep the Father’s Love,” “My First Love,” “The King of Love,” “Who Paints the Skies” and “Lord, How Majestic You Are” are favorites in the repertoire of thousands of churches around the world. And now one of his latest works, “In Christ Alone,” seems destined to take its place among other worship classics both in the UK and in the United States.

Written in 2002, “In Christ Alone” was a collaborative effort between Townend and fellow songwriter (and now good friend) Keith Getty. “The song came about in an unusual way,” Townend explains. “Keith and I met in the autumn of 2000 at a worship event, and we resolved to try to work together on some songs. A few weeks later Keith sent some melody ideas, and the first one on the CD was a magnificent, haunting melody that I loved, and immediately started writing down some lyrical ideas on what I felt should be a timeless theme commensurate with the melody. So the theme of the life, death, resurrection of Christ, and the implications of that for us just began to tumble out, and when we got together later on to fine tune it, we felt we had encapsulated what we wanted to say.”

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…

Click to watch the song:

Townend and Getty both admit they are motivated by the idea of capturing biblical truth in songs and hymns that will not only cause people to express their worship in church, but will build them up in their Christian lives.

“I’ve been amazed by the response to this song,” says Townend. “We’ve had some incredible e-mails about how people have been helped by the song through incredibly difficult circumstances.”

One e-mail described how a U.S soldier serving in Iraq would pray through each verse of the song every day, and how the promises of God’s protection and grace helped to sustain him through the enormous pressures and dangers of life in a war zone.

“It seems like this song is timely,” Townend says. “We in the West have had our sense of safety and security brutally torn apart by recent world events, and it's caused many to re-evaluate the foundations of their life. I feel that the song has helped to stir faith in many believers that God really is our protector; that our lives are in His unshakable hands.”

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled and striving cease
My Comforter, my All-in-All
Here in the love of Christ I stand…

Since its initial creation just two years ago, several versions of “In Christ Alone” have been recorded by artists around the world, and Townend admits to having a few favorites. “I've heard some wonderful recordings of it. “The Newsboys’ version is really fresh and exciting, and the one done by Alan Asbury is superb,” Townend says. “But the one that always moves me most is when we recorded it with a congregation of 8,000 at the Stoneleigh Bible Week in England a couple of years ago. When we finish the third verse, about the resurrection of Christ, there’s an extraordinary burst of praise from the congregation that at the time was overwhelming, and listening back still sends a shiver down my spine.”

The uniqueness of Townend’s writing lies partly in its lyrical content. There is both a theological depth and poetic expression that some say is rare in today’s worship writing. And not surprisingly, it’s an emphasis that Townend and Getty both maintained within the composition of this song in particular.

“I think content is vitally important to our corporate worship,” Townend shares. “Sometimes great melodies are let down by indifferent or clichéd words. It’s the writer’s job to dig deep into the meaning of Scripture and express in poetic and memorable ways the truth he or she finds there. Knowing the truth about God and who we are in Him is central to our lives as believers. Songs remain in the mind in a way sermons do not, so songwriters have an important role and a huge responsibility.”

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny…

He continues, “The lyric [of this song] excites me because it places our hope, our assurance, our eternal destiny in the right place—on the solid foundation of Christ. I know in my own life I need reminding continually not to live by my feelings or my circumstances, but by the unchanging truth of the gospel.”

“In Christ Alone” was the very first collaboration between Townend and Getty. In fact, it was Townend’s first collaboration with any other songwriter. But it was an experience he found to be very fruitful and well worth the effort. So much so that the two have continued their musical partnership on other songs, and are currently working on a series of songs based around the Apostles’ Creed. They are hoping to have a recording available next year, and are excited about the possibility of making it into a live presentation.

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