I sympathise with Stackhouse’s complaints. But in all fairness, I think the majority of hymns have always been pretty stupid. If we think the 19th century (for example) was full of great hymn-writers, it’s just because our hymnbooks today include only the highlights from that entire century. And let’s face it, even the highlights are usually pretty atrocious. Hymns typically suffer either from painfully bad lyrics or from a trivial, no-less-painful sentimentality.
The great hymns – and there are so few great hymns: if you subtract the Christmas carols and Charles Wesley, there’s hardly anything left – are always the exception. For strange and mysterious reasons, these hymns awaken our feelings of reverence and love and thanksgiving and joy. In spite of the fact that they are hymns, they somehow manage to communicate truth and to evoke deep feeling.
. . .
In any case, I don’t share John Stackhouse’s pessimism about contemporary hymn writing. Hymns have always been bad; the good hymn (to say nothing of great hymns like “Amazing Grace” or “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”) will always be the exception to the rule. The historical narrative of decay and decline really has more to do with churchly nostalgia than with the actual state of present (or past) songwriting.
Myers even gives some examples of contemporary hymns that he thinks will stand the test of time. Read it all here.