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Entries in charismatic worship (5)

Tuesday
May052015

In Search of the Emotionally Persuasive Liturgy

Over at Reformed Worship, I wouldn't want you to miss an important post of mine that posits some very current questions I am asking. Once again, my investigation of Thomas Cranmer has proven a helpful launchpad into current worship issues and reflections. 

The questions I'm seeking Cranmer's help in answering actually have a lot to do with yesterday's post on my journey in listening better to the charismatic tradition. Maybe to encourage you to go check out the post, here are the four provocative questions I'm asking at the end:

  • What is it about charismatic worship that so captures the heart of the average person?
  • What is it about the ‘musical rhetoric’ of our brothers and sisters from these traditions that ‘works’ so well in persuading people?
  • What anthropological understandings and assumptions stand behind the emotional intuitions of charismatic worship leaders and songwriters?
  • Could it be that Pentecostal and charismatic (especially musical) techniques of persuasionare worth exploring and understanding, just as rhetorical techniques were mastered and marshaled by Cranmer in his day and age?

As weird as it sounds, something tells me that Cranmer, if he could understood our context today, would have supported the "emotional work" of the charismatic tradition and would have sought to ask similar questions along the way of trying to lead a new Reformation in worship. Please go read the post. I welcome feedback and insights. 

Monday
May042015

Listening to the Charismatic Tradition

If you're a worship leader engaging in any way with the mainstream of the music of modern worship today, you are interacting with and encountering charismatic Christianity in some way, shape, or form. Lately, God has led me into a season of earnest listening to the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions (many understandably lump the two together, but the more I hear from them, the more I understand their distinctives). God has placed some pretty amazing friends and worship leaders in my life who are committed, Jesus-loving, Spirit-seeking charismatic brothers and sisters. We hang out, do lunch, talk shop, swap stories, and encourage one another.

The Reformed, liturgical, and evangelical tribes I tend to most regularly hover in are often critical and suspicious of Pentecostal and charismatic worship thought and practice. And though I share some of these concerns, I find that folks in my traditions can be quite knee-jerk, broad brushed, and under-informed. Our criticisms (as is often the case in any polemic) are caricatures based on either (a) second- or third-hand information, or (b) the worst representations of the traditions.

In the spirit of one of my new heroes, Chuck Fromm, head of Worship Leader Media, I've been trying to listen and converse more widely than my tradition often goes. Some might call it selling out. I just call it loving the Church. And in my desire to listen well, I've tried to hear from the different types of voices: theologians, authors, speakers, musicians, worship leaders, worshipers. The net effect has been hugely edifying. So, with just a little commentary, I'm happy to disclose to you some of the things I'm listening to, reading, and learning.

(I will encourage you, though, with one thing. As worship leaders and pastors, we should cast our social and theological nets wider than our immediate circles. Read widely, and, even better, socialize widely. Nothing beats actually conversing and building relationships with people outside your folds. From personal experience, I can testify that it's just incredibly healthy. It also allows you to go back to your circles and better sniff out the Pharisaism, especially the self-righteousness in your own heart. Lord, have mercy.)

Worship leaders and thinker-practitioners:

Glenn Packiam, Pastor of New Life Downtown (Colorado Springs, CO), is one of my favorite charismatic dudes out there because he is exploring how the heart of charismatic worship (particularly in terms of the charismatic emphasis on "encounter" [see Pete Ward below]) intersects with the liturgical tradition. He just wrote a paper on worship and emotions that I can't wait to tell everyone about whenever he makes it public. Great, integrative insights. Everyone should check out his blog. He most recently wrote an excellent booklet called Re-Forming Worship: A Futurology of Congregational Music for the Non-Denominational Church.

Andrew Ehrenzeller, a South Floridian Jesus Culture artist, has become a valuable conversation partner. He introduced me to Ray Hughes (see below), and I find in him a zeal and earnestness that makes me want to be a better worship leader. He and I have had some very meaningful conversations about spiritually interpreting the indigenous musical styles of cities and regions to hear how God is already at work in them to sow the seeds of the gospel. Deep stuff. Check out his beautiful, creative, Peter Gabriel-ish album, Children of Promise.

Justin Jarvis, another South Floridian connected with Jesus Culture is a guy I respect and admire. I've had a few great, inspiring conversations with him, and I've interacted with his latest album, Atmospheres, HERE.

Speakers

This was brand new for me and highly insightful. Pentecostal teacher Ray Hughes, whose ministry has evidently had not a small impact on many influential new charismatic movements (like Bethel and Jesus Culture), makes some fascinating connections between Old Testament worship, spiritual forces, music history, science, and ethnomusicology. For many, Hughes seems like he's really "out there" in moments, and some will find him hard to follow. His speaking style is organized but feels a bit stream-of-consciousness. I recommend his Minstrel Series at least to open up your senses a bit. 

One recurring itch for me, though, is how little the Gospel of Jesus is talked about. To me it gives credence to one outsider's observation that some corners of the charismatic tradition can feel like they're "pole-vaulting over Calvary to get to Pentecost."*

Books/articles:

The Spirit in Worship - Worship in the Spirit, ed. Teresa Berger, Bryan D. Spinks

I particularly found the chapter, "The Spirit in Contemporary Charismatic Worship," a helpful history of and view into the later charismatic movements in the UK.

Simon Chan's chapter was a great featuring of how Nicene Christianity has always seen a close connection between pneumatology and ecclesiology...the relationship of Spirit to Church. I felt like there was some caricaturing of Western Christianity, though.

 

Pete Ward, Selling Worship

I had passed by this book many times in years past, because, based solely on the title, it looked like just another critique of worship's consumerist tendencies. Boy was I wrong. Glenn Packiam turned me onto this gem of historical analysis. I've spent the most time digesting one of the final chapters on "encounter," which gave me important insights into one of the hallmark distinctives of charismatic worship music.

 



Don Williams, "Charismatic Worship," in Exploring the Worship Spectrum, ed. Paul Basden

This Presbyterian-turned-Vineyard pastor helpfully and generously articulates the charismatic perspective. I think his vantage point as a former Presbyterian was helpful for folks like me reading his insights. He knew that there would be some concerns, and he addressed them.

 

 

*Paul Zahl, "A Liturgical Worship Response," in Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views, ed. Paul Basden, 154.
Thursday
May152014

Why Liturgofreaks, Doxologeeks, and Charismaniacs Need Each Other

As I was participating in the worship services of the National Worship Leader Conference this week, I was again reminded of the beauty of the broader church and why we all need each other in the worship conversation. 

As I've said before, modern evangelical worship across denominational lines now stands heavily indebted to the charismatic tradition. From the flow of the service, to the individualized spirituality, to the deep intimacy, to the highly emotive expression, many evangelicals now have expectations and "traditions" for what worship looks like and how we participate in it. Meanwhile, as the blind spots of this approach have grown into gaping holes, not a small amount of folks have reacted, turning to more thoughtful approaches to song-selection and lyrics or even full-blown traditional liturgical practices. This group is desiring to find roots, substance, depth, and greater insight.  I am one of those evangelicals who has journeyed there.

Each camp can write the other off.   Each camp can obviously find fault and point out the worst things about the other side which, though they may be caricatures, probably contain at least kernels of truth. But what I'm reminded of, when I step into broad contexts like the National Worship Leader Conference, is that we both have something very important to say to one another that can help us all worship more beautifully and biblically. 

Liturgofreaks and doxologeeks are here to remind us all, among other things, that it is important to be rooted in Scripture and the historic church. Charismaniacs are here to remind us all, among other things, to expect that God is actually, tangibly, and immediately present to his people when they gather for worship.  The former remind us that substance matters. The latter remind us that experience matters. We could argue about what comes first, or what's most important. But I might advise the first step: worship with one another, and do your best to engage. Worship several times together, especially if your instinctual reaction is to fortify your walls rather than cut a doorway into them.  Dialogue with worshipers in those "other" traditions.  Ask them open-ended questions about why they love worship so much and why it is meaningful to them. Ask them about their past, their scars, their story. This approach is one application of what Jesus taught us when He said that the watching world will know us by our love (John 13:35).

Friday
Jul092010

Wesley's Words to the Free-Spirited Singer in the Congregation

This is the third installment on a series of posts exploring John Wesley’s Rules for Singing.

Reflections on Rule #1
Reflections on Rule #2

3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

Just as rule #2 was an expansion of rule #1, so this rule is a check on the previous.  Rule #2 encouraged us to “sing lustily” so as to not appear “as if you were half dead.”  Rule #3 places some boundaries around what Wesley means.

We’ve all experienced it if we’ve been in a worship context long enough: the free-wheeling singer who sticks out from the rest of the congregation.  Either it is their sheer volume, or it is their “theme and variations” we hear trailing off when the congregation is normally pausing or taking a breath.  Sometimes, people are just, as they claim, “in the Spirit,” singing freely and personally unto God.  Though I don’t want to discount our freedom in worship, there is a shocking irony in the fact that this rule comes from Wesley. 

If we know our modern church history, we’re aware that the holiness/Pentecostal tradition emerged out of that strain of Protestantism born out of the teaching and influence of John Wesley.  Pentecostals sometimes don’t realize it, but they are heirs of the Wesleyan tradition.  Ironically, it is perhaps the Pentecostal tradition (and its strong influence on modern evangelicalism) which most often departs from this rule of their spiritual grandfather.  Pentecostal worship is often a context in which people freely express their individual praise in a corporate setting.  I have been in some (moving and encouraging) services where open times of free singing “in the Spirit” have been created.  The sound is not quite cacophonous, because there is usually a tonal center (many times anchored by a keyboard pad) that tethers everyone to complementary melodies and harmonies.  But this is no doubt the sound of many individuals singing to God with their own song, who happen to be in the same room and share the same musical key.*

When we dial that down several notches, we experience perhaps what is more typical in some free mainstream evangelical worship contexts—one or two individuals singing more freely and loudly than the rest of the congregation.  You can hear them trailing off at the ends of phrases when others have stopped.  You can hear them singing drawn out “descants” above the congregation.  There’s certainly something I applaud and admire about this: they are unashamed; they do not want to let their fears about what other people think of them hinder their expression of their affection for God; they want to be an example of naked, undignified, David-style worship.

But Wesley’s words are appropriate here, and if you read between the lines, you realize he’s making a profound theological-philosophical observation.  Wesley is pointing out that congregational unity in singing is a symbol of our unity as one Church under Christ.  The oneness of our sound mirrors our oneness as the body of Christ.  Our doxology expresses our ecclesiology.  When we sing together we are making a theological statement about our unity, and Wesley is pointing out that something is robbed from that when individuals stick out.

This is admittedly tricky, and it probably requires some coaching of our congregations to have a rudimentary understanding of “choral sense.”  If everyone’s primary goal were to not stick out, we’d have a soft, weak congregational sound.  In choral singing, unification is not so much about everyone sharing equal dynamics (volume), but sharing a blended voice.  God made some voices naturally stronger than others.  So without making it overly technical, as we sing, we should listen to the people around us, seeking to match our tone, our vowels, and our overall sound.

One of the drawbacks of the dominance of the pop-rock genre in much of worship today is that you have to work harder to remind your congregation that they are, in fact, a choir.  The musical style is used to supporting soloists and more flamboyant vocals.  Some traditionalists say that this disqualifies pop-rock from being a good vehicle to carry congregational song.  I disagree, if only for the simple reason that I’ve seen plenty of counter-evidence.  Still, the worship leader should expect to have to fight the good fight of molding the congregation into a choir when they lead out of the pop-rock genre.

So let’s heed the good word of our mentor, Wesley, and let our praise reflect who we are—the one, glorious Bride of Christ.

*If you want an example of this, though not mentioned in my review of Hillsong’s album A Beautiful Exchange, you can note on Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood’s song, “Like Incense / Sometimes by Step,” she says before an extended musical interlude, “Lift up your own song to the Lord,” ushering in a time of free singing to God.

Monday
Jul052010

Album Review of A Beautiful Exchange by Hillsong

Hillsong Live
A Beautiful Exchange
Released: June 29, 2010

Hillsong continues to prove itself to be a juggernaut in the worship music industry.  Now long ago in modern worship years, worship leader Darlene Zschech put Hillsong on the international map with “Shout to the Lord,” and they have never since faded in influence over Western evangelical worship (and they have decidedly broken into non-Western international contexts, as well).  Hillsong is a Pentecostal megachurch, so all their worship music is colored by their charismatic heritage. 

SUMMARY

Worth Getting It? 
Yes.  With each passing listen, it ministers to my heart more and more.  It blesses me most when I am listening to it with devotional intention.  Unlike some past Hillsong albums, I’m finding much less to raise an eyebrow at theologically.  Modern worship songwriting still needs to understand the difference between songs and expressions which are a part of private, devotional worship and songs which are intended for congregations.  So, again, for the personal listener the album is great, but not every song translates into the corporate worship experience (I recognize that all these songs have for Hillsong, but I respectfully disagree that some should.)

Songs I Would Most Likely Lead in Worship:
Tier 1: “Our God is Love,” “The One Who Saves,” “Thank You”

Tier 2: “Open My Eyes,” “Like Incense / Sometimes By Step,” “The Father’s Heart”
(Read comments in the song-by-song analysis below for further explanation)

OVERALL COMMENTS

The New Face of Hillsong.  This album is a testament to what is happening in the worship leadership down in Sydney.  With the maturation of the first generation of Hillsong United worship leaders (United is Hillsong’s youth, college, and young adult expression)—Joel Houston, Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood, Jad Gillies, and Matt Crocker—we’re seeing them graduate into Hillsong-main and appear on albums like this one.  This transfer was also evident when I saw Hillsong United here in Loveland, CO several months back.  Houston and Ligertwood were there, but they were also giving air time to some newer, younger faces.  But personnel is not the only thing transferring from Hillsong United to Hillsong-main.

Musicality.  This album witnesses a stylistic blend of the more adult-contemporary, mainstream sound of Hillsong with the gritty, adolescent fervor of Hillsong United.  You could either call it a more pumped-up Hillsong or a more mellowed Hillsong United.  Pick your poison.  The clues are in the more edgy electric guitar work (e.g. the more punk-style opening measures of “Open My Eyes” or the detuned, feedbacky outro to “Believe”), the more aggressive United-style drumming (lots of tom-work and a more constant use of the kick drum on solid eighths or sixteenths), and a lot more ambient, “experimental” sounds from the guitars and keys.  However, the regular Hillsong vibe penetrates in many of the melody lines, vocal harmonies, and familiar chord progressions.  Musically speaking, then, the album is beautiful.  Its production is superb, as always, keeping consistent with the Hillsong sound we’ve come to know and love—lots of verb and the constant presence of backing “congregational” vocals.  Some musical critics will say that all the songs sound the same, and there’s some merit to that criticism: the album is dominated by the quadruple-meter and each song has some combination of the same I, IV, V, and vi chords in typical progressions.  Musically, perhaps what I admire most about Hillsong is their ability to sweep across a breadth of dynamic range—no one can crescendo and descrescendo like Hillsong can.  Worship bands have much to study and learn from this one aspect of our brothers and sisters down under.

Accessibility.  To my ear, Hillsong has always been more accessible for congregations than Hillsong United.  If they’re highly synchopated in their vocal rhythms, there’s enough consistency to make it catchable in short order.  A Beautiful Exchange is a very singable album (with the caveat that every song could be transposed down a few steps).  Vocal lines are melismatic, without too many leaps in awkward places.  If there are leaps, they are textually appropriate.  However, it’s one thing to sing these songs, and it’s another thing to play these songs.  I regularly underestimate how hard it is to reproduce the dynamic and ambient fullness of their musical sound in our worship context.  Those who think modern worship is filled with banal rock music do not fully appreciate how symphonic rock can become in the right environments, and a careful ear will notice this about Hillsong.  Still, most of us don’t have as many musicians leading as Hillsong does, and our acoustic environments are rarely the expansive arenas that the Aussies are used to playing in.  Those two things alone make it very difficult to translate Hillsong songs into other more tame congregational contexts without somewhat neutering the impact of their wedding of text and music.  Still, I think many of these songs can and will translate.

Theological Depth.  Theologically, Hillsong has always focused on the basics…the essentials.  Therefore, in every album including this one, we’ll hear a lot about the cross, salvation, healing, and its interpersonal intersection with the individual Christian.  This is a beautiful thing!  Though I don’t feel anything is flat out erroneous, I have commented in the past my discomfort with Hillsong’s triumphalism—victorious proclamations of what I can do with my faith for God.  Of course triumph is a reality of the Christian faith, but we must never put our stock there.  We must put our stock in the Gospel.  So with A Beautiful Exchange, either I’m getting softer in my criticism or Hillsong has actually stepped back a notch from that triumphalism.  I’m noticing more God-focus and less me-focus.  There is more rumination on Christ’s victory and God’s Kingdom than I’ve noticed in past recordings.  The only songs that I find theologically suspect are “You” and “Beautiful Exchange” (see below).  On the other end, I was surprised to hear some talk of God’s sovereign choice of us in salvation in “The Father’s Heart” (see below also)!  Choice-language is certainly biblical and therefore used by both Calvinist-types and Arminian-types, but most Arminians avoid the word altogether…especially in worship songs.  Perhaps tulips can grow in Australia!  ;) 

SONG-BY-SONG ANALYSIS

1. Our God is Love
This is a fabulous entrance song.  It is energetic with some refreshing drumming.  Its theme is obvious—the Love of God the Father.  Some songs about God’s love are generic enough that almost any monotheistic religion could use them.  However, the chorus leaves no room for question that God’s love is chiefly expressed through His Son:

This is love
Jesus came and died and gave His life for us
Let our voices rise and sing for all He’s done
Our fear is overcome
Our God is love

As our church continues to preach through the gospel of Mark, I’m more aware that, biblically speaking, the antithesis of faith is fear.  So I appreciate all the more the reference to fear in the chorus.

2. Open My Eyes
This is another energetic, God-exalting tune.  I appreciate its posture of need.  Its tenor is, “God, I need YOU to open my eyes that I may see You, love You, and worship You.”  Reuben Morgan is a solid songwriter.  Perhaps the only reason I don’t put it on tier 1 of my list above is because, musically (though it’s not bad), it feels very similar to many other worship songs.

3. Forever Reign
This song appears in a radio edit version in track 13, which makes me think that either Hillsong or EMI/Sparrow* seems to think that this song has some mainstream hook or appeal as a hit single.  The chorus says:

Oh I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

This very personal love-language always strikes me as odd for the corporate worship setting.  I’m not totally against it, but I do find that it fosters the me-and-God-moment that is so antithetical to the corporate worship experience.  Yes, intimate love language is present in the Bible, but “I’m running to Your arms” does not seem to be a phrase which has many close cousins in the phraseology of Scripture.  Furthermore, it’s odd to me that “forever reign” is the title when the chorus has less to do with God’s reign over us and more to do with God’s intimate love for us.  Maybe I’m a prude, but “running to your arms” has never been my worship cup of tea.  I’m sincerely open to growth.

4. The One Who Saves
This is a gentle, mid-tempo 6/8 song, that has a nice dynamic contour.  It begins in an invitational manner.  The song is comforting and uplifting, and it is Christ-centered.  The song’s bridge is exquisite…seemingly unending repetition of “His love endures forever.”  Its focus is to draw us in by the unsurpassed, magnetic love of God in Christ.  I love this song.  Thank you, Ben Fielding.

5. Like Incense / Sometimes By Step
Rich Mullins continues to live on, praise God!  I didn’t read the title before listening to this song, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear Mullins’ famous chorus in the reverberant style of Hillsong.  The reason I love this song is because it is filled with biblical language and allusion.  Echoes of Psalm 141, Psalm 119, Matthew 11, and other passages permeate the verses.  Here’s verse 1:

May my prayer like incense rise before You
The lifting of my hands a sacrifice
Oh, Lord Jesus, turn Your eyes upon me
For I know there is mercy in Your sight
Your statutes are my heritage forever
My heart is set on keeping Your decrees
Please still my anxious urge toward rebellion
Let love keep my will upon its knees

Isn’t that beautiful?  As I’ve said before, Brooke (Fraser) Ligertwood has always so masterfully woven Scripture into her songs, perhaps better than the other great songwriters she is surrounded by.  This is the song on the album which most resonates with my heart.  The only reason I put it on tier 2 is because the verses don’t flow off the tongue easy enough.  I think this song would work great as a solo-and-response with the congregation singing the chorus. The track has a great extended ending with ambient voices and a beautiful electric slide guitar line. 

6. The Greatness of Our God
This is another great song.  It is God-lifting and self-effacing.  It is simple, but not simplistic.  I love the line in the second half of the chorus:

I spend my life to know
And I’m far from close
To all You are
The greatness of our God

Here is the balance to the triumphalism I’ve always hoped for with Hillsong.  “I spend my life to know,” a triumphal statement, is juxtaposed with “and I’m far from close.”  Beautiful.  I put this on tier 2 for the same reason “Open My Eyes” is there.

7. The Father’s Heart
A building, driving, mid-tempo song.  Intimately personal and sweetly humble.  The strings in this song that emerge after the first chorus are beautiful—reminiscent of Viva la Vida.  The chorus begins with an extended, melismatic “Oh,” that has come to characterize the Hillsong-style “shout of praise” present on more and more of their albums.  The chorus excites my Presbyterian senses:

Oh…
Sin is broken
The lost now chosen
In the Father’s heart

God’s unmerited choice!  Apart from the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, there is no more shocking, paradoxical, and beautiful doctrine than this.  Nothing elicits more praise out of my bones than this reality—God, out of His good pleasure, should choose to rescue me from my sin, sickness, and ultimate deserved destination.

8. You
There is one line repeated several times throughout this song which itches me theologically:

The worst of me succeeded by the best in You.

What does that mean?  I’m sure that Joel Houston means for it to be understood as a light, human expression (an anthropomorphism).  However, this teeters too closely on the brink of theological imprecision.  When we speak of “the best in God,” that would seem to imply that there are other parts of God which are not “best.”  But Scripture would have us believe that God is the extreme superlative of every aspect of Himself.  God is not only good; He is the superlative of goodness.  God is not only love; He is the ultimate embodiment of love.  God is not only just; He is perfectly just.  And on and on.  Whereas genuinely good things about me—my musical ability or my dashing good looks—will always have room to be better, there is no better with God.  Whatever God is, He is the definition of its best.  There is nothing with God that needs improvement.  Now, I believe with absolute certainty that Houston concurs with what I said, and I can even believe that Houston didn’t intend for the phrase to be taken the way I’ve taken it.  But that’s not the point.  If there’s a potential that others could take it that way, it is most of the time not worth the hassle.  This is what I mean by “theological imprecision.”  It’s not wrong, but it could be taken wrongly.

For what it’s worth, in the digital booklet, the phrase “Steel all that is within me” is written.  I think they mean “steal.”

9. Love Like Fire
This is one of those generic modern worship songs, in my opinion.  With phrases like, “Your love is like fire,” “take me deeper,” “draw me closer,” “my only desire,” etc., it’s one of those songs which contemporary worship critics would put in the “Jesus is my boyfriend” category.  I don’t have a problem with such songs, as I think there’s biblical room for such expression (though, as I said above, these songs fit better in private, not public, worship). I have no doubt that the song was born out of a profound experience, but there are many songs like this out there.

10. Believe
“Believe” is a simple, devotional song of consecration.  Like the previous song, it’s filled with a lot of stock worship phrases.  Its chorus seeks to find God’s strength amidst our weakness…not a bad thought for pondering.

11. Beautiful Exchange
As the album’s title track, there is at least some intention for this song to speak to the whole of the collection…and it does.  “Beautiful exchange” speaks of our exchanging our weakness, sin, and brokenness, for the wholeness, healing, and atonement of Christ.  In theological terms, this exchange is summarized in the doctrine of double imputation.  Christ’s goodness and righteousness imputed to us; our sin and sickness imputed to Him.  This song is “testimonial” in nature.  The opening verse says,

You were near though I was distant
Disillusioned, I was lost and insecure
Still mercy fought for my attention
You were waiting at the door, then I let you in

Those more sympathetic to an Arminian soteriology (the exercise of libertarian free will in our salvation) will be comfortable with this last line.  I’ve heard salvation described often described in this way—God standing at the door of our hearts, knocking, waiting for us to open it to let Him in.  They usually base that idea on Revelation 3:20, but that is an incorrect use of that passage, as Christ is standing at the door of the hearts of believers.  Compare this song to Charles Wesley’s famous testimonial hymn, “And Can it Be”:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee

Here we have a very similar explanation of the beautiful experience of radical conversion.  But notice the emphasis on who does what, and when.  For Houston, God is waiting for us to act.  For Wesley, we are helpless slaves until God acts.  Then, and only then, can we “rise forth and follow” God.  The tricky part is that, experientially, radical conversion often feels the way Houston describes—I choose God, and nothing happened until that choice was made.  But our choosing God, according to Scripture is founded upon God’s choice and pursuit of us, first (see Ephesians 1).  Long before we realize it, God is working saving grace into our hearts. 

“Beautiful Exchange” has a “7-11” ending which may bother some.  I happen to think it’s glorious and appropriate.  No less than thirteen times, they repeat the line,

Holy are You, God
Holy is Your name
With everything I’ve got
My heart will sing, how I love you

12. Thank You
There is nothing fancy and nothing new about this song.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great song.  It is a beautiful, simple way to end the album.  It simply thanks God, in broad terms, for who He is and what He’s done.  The pre-chorus and chorus are filled with typical “praise and worship” phraseology (e.g. “There is no one like you” and “To your name we give all the glory”), but again that is not bad.  Worship leaders like me need to be exposed to and lead songs like this.  We tend to err on the side of hymns and songs which are verbose and dense, and room should be made for expressions which are simple and direct.  Songs like these, in contexts like mine, refresh and renew our congregations.

13. Forever Reign (Radio Version)
I regularly listen to Christian radio.  It has always perplexed me that Hillsong is surprisingly absent from airtime, given their popularity and influence.  Hillsong songs have been played plenty (e.g. “Hosanna,” “Mighty to Save,” “From the Inside Out”), but, in my opinion, they’ve always been Americanized remakes that are too polished and lack the vitality of the Hillsong originals.  Perhaps this track is an attempt by Hillsong (but more by EMI/Sparrow*) to create a radio sound.  I can’t figure out, though, why the industry moguls have an issue with Hillsong’s original sound.

*NOTE: The original publishing of this post erroneously listed Hillsong's label as Integrity.  As of this album, they have now moved to EMI/Sparrow.  (Thanks for the correction from Ryan Erickson and Phil below.)