Search this site
My Book

Entries in isaac watts (5)

Monday
Apr252011

Review of The Water and the Blood, by Sojourn Music

The folks at Sojourn Music continue to lead modern church music down a different path.  Each album seems to be more aggressively their own, pushing outward the narrow boundaries of contemporary/modern worship by experimenting with new and old sounds and styles.  The Water and the Blood was produced with a different set of values than the industry standard—in analog, as a whole, and with a vinyl option.  Producer Mike Cosper explains,

While still reflective of a variety of moods and styles that occur at Sojourn gatherings, it’s a recording with a sound, a sense of space, something that’s meant to be listened to as an album, as a whole. It’s meant to be a listening experience, and vinyl, with its added depth, warmth, and presence, has a way of conveying that experience like nothing else.1

The album was recorded largely in Bloomington, IN, with Paul Mahern, who has worked with Over the Rhine, The Fray, John Mellencamp, and others.  Tracks were laid down on tape, not bits and bytes, trading digitized perfection for human warmth.  Herein lies another subtle challenge to the value-system of contemporary/modern worship.  It makes a theological statement about authenticity, humanness, imperfection, and grace.

The Water and the Blood is installment number two of their ongoing quest to re-give the hymns of Isaac Watts to the Church.  The first installment, Over the Grave, was a masterpiece, as well.  “The Water and the Blood” appears to be a phrase codified over time in English hymnody.  It is perhaps most famous in Augustus Toplady’s “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” whose opening verse reads, “Let the water and the blood / from Thy riven side which flowed / be of sin the double-cure / cleanse me from its guilt and power.”  But the lesser-known hymn of Watts, “Lord, We Confess Our Numerous Faults,” which, adapted, appears as the title track, contains the phrase which predates Toplady.  Ultimately, the wording belongs to Scripture (1 John 5:8), but English hymn-writers have given this pairing a strong significance.  And, now, so has Sojourn Music.  We might consider “the water and the blood” poetic shorthand for the entire gospel story, and, given the album’s content, it is a fitting title.

SUMMARY

Musically, The Water and the Blood is superb.  Its production is fresh and original, and its diversity of style is so off the grid of a typical “worship album” that it seems other-worldly.  Textually, one simply can’t find fault with lyrics that pull from Isaac Watts, one of the most formidable theologian-pastor-songwriters of all time.  Sojourn could spend the rest of their musical years retuning Watts’ texts, and the Church would be incredibly blessed for it.  In my opinion, not every song is fit for congregational singing, but the two I’d be especially inclined to bring into my local church’s repertoire are “The Water and the Blood” and “Let Your Blood Plead for Me.”

MUSICALITY

If you have narrow tastes and appreciations, this album is not for you.  If you’re looking for modern worship’s standard sound, this project will be a disappointment.  If, however, you have a taste for blues, folk rock, country, bluegrass, soul, and Americana, you will love The Water and the Blood.  The album bears the hand-print of Mike Cosper’s subtle, soulful, and artistic guitar style—especially electric and lap and pedal steel, though he plays dobro and mandolin as well (!).  The guitar solos throughout aren’t necessarily always flashy, but they are thoughtful, melodic, and musical.  I am thinking particularly of the three songs I will mention next.

One of the first things to note is the album’s use of blues to convey confession and lament.  I have longed to see the intersection of this genre with this biblical expression.  Blues is uniquely suited to convey the hope-tinged anguish of the lamentations of David and Watts.  From the recurring electric line (and complementary bass line) in “From Deep Distress,” to the descending tremolo guitar line and soulful vocals in “Deep in Our Hearts,” to the heavy joy of “Death Has Lost its Sting,” Sojourn shows how powerful a song can be when music and text are so thoughtfully wedded.

The vocals are likewise remarkable.  I sense some different hues of control and expressiveness in Rebecca Dennison’s voice, especially on “The Water and the Blood,” which is a favorite track of mine.  The fact that six additional vocalists (Jamie Barnes, Rebecca Elliot, Kristen Gilles, Brooks Ritter, Megan Shaffer, and Chad Watson) sing on the album is a testimony to the vision of community music-making and anti-rock-star vision for artistry that Sojourn has grown to champion.  (Though not every church has the human resources to do this, I would add.  Sojourn is very blessed in this regard.)

One of the marks of creativity in songwriting for the local church is in the careful balance of innovation and singability.  “Compel My Heart to Sing” is a great example of this.  The melody is melismatic and easy to sing, and the music beneath is far from bland.  The chorus’s progression (C, C/E, Fm, Bb, Eb, Ab, G) is beautiful and different.

“Let the Seventh Angel Sound” is a fun arrangement that sounds like it came from the brains of Paul Simon and James Taylor.  The organ is calibrated to a mellow, almost whistle-like setting.  The clean, loose guitar playing, coupled with Barnes’ smooth vocal style, is engaging.  I wonder, though, how fitting the text’s intensity is with the song’s easygoing nature.  I’d love for Barnes to comment and bring insight to that.

Brooks Ritter has written a beautiful new setting of “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”  The music brings out certain hues from the text absent in its more triumphant (and equally beautiful) setting (“St. Anne,” by William Croft, 1708).  Ritter’s tune is a soulful country ballad that highlights the comfort Watts probably intended to evoke in his beloved text.

Some might think that the musical setting of “Let Your Blood Plead For Me” is too playful for the gravity of its content, with its on-beat, honky-tonk-style piano and interlude progression (I, III7, vi, I, IV, II7, V, V7).  I find its light-heartedness an interesting take on the hymn (see comments on the text below).  The Scriptures speak about the human response to salvation being our “skipping like calves” (Malachi 4:2), and this music surprisingly and tastefully colors the text in that direction.

THEOLOGICAL CONTENT

As noted above, the first thing that one should notice about this album, textually, is the amount of verse devoted to the under-used biblical expression of lament.  Verse 1 of “Death Has Lost Its Sting” cries:

My God, how many are my fears
How fast my foes increase
Conspiring my eternal death
They break my fleeting peace

The first verse of “From Deep Distress,” in keeping with the anguish of the opening lines of Psalm 130, records:

From deep distress and troubled thoughts
To You, our God, we raise our cries
If You truly mark our faults
No flesh can stand before Your eyes

I have now heard many a worship theologian proclaim that the church’s song really does shape the church’s spiritual health. Unfortunately, because evangelicals have little vocabulary for lament, when suffering comes our way, we have no theological and spiritual categories to handle it, and we question our faith, God’s goodness, or even His existence.  Lament teaches us to suffer rightly.  Sojourn has given a gift to the church by bringing this to the fore.

The second thing one should notice is the album’s gospel-saturation.  Time and again, the source of delight in the texts is found in the meritorious work of the life and death of Jesus Christ.  “The World Will Know” praises:

Our faith adores Thy bleeding love,
And trust in one that died
We hope for heav’nly crowns above
Redeemer crucified

The world will know the righteousness
Of our incarnate God
And nations yet unborn profess
Salvation in His blood
Salvation in His blood

The chorus of “Deep in Our Hearts” testifies:

Oh gracious God, You’ve heard my Plea [notice the capitalization]
A once cursed pris’ner, now released
Those dreadful suff’rings of Thy Son
Atoned for sins that we had done

The gospel is the motivation of all our worship, as “Compel My Heart to Sing” intones:

Jesus, my God and King
Thy wisdom is a boundless deep
What wondrous love has purchased me and
Compels my heart to sing

Sojourn and I share a passionate desire to see modern worship embrace a richer vocabulary of the gospel in our song.  If there continued to be progression in even that one area in contemporary Christian music, the Church would be tremendously blessed.

There are two songs, though, that stand out in their weaving of text and music.  “The Water and the Blood” is the first:

Lord we confess our many faults
And how great our guilt has been
Foolish and vain were all of our thoughts
No good could come from within

But by the mercy of our God
All our hopes begin
And by the water and the blood
Our souls are washed from sin

It’s not by the works of righteousness
Which our own hands have done
But we are saved by our Father’s grace
Abounding through His Son

It’s a simple song of confession, but the words are crafted so carefully and beautifully.  The verses center around minor tonality, and the choruses switch to major, with a lift in the melody to a new tessitura.  It’s all just very well put together.

“Let Your Blood Plead for Me” is the other outstanding song.  It is a song of testimony:

Lord, how secure my conscience was
And felt no inward dread
I was alive without the Law
And thought My sins were dead

My hopes of heaven were firm and bright
But then Your standard came
With a convincing power and light
To show how vile I am

This testimony is starkly (and without much transition) contrasted with the chorus:

Let Your blood plead for me
Let Your blood wash me clean
I believe, Lord I believe
Your blood has covered me

It is a song that aptly exegetes the oft-used phrase (it appears in various forms), “The bad news is I am more sinful and broken than I dare imagine, but the good news is, in Christ, I am more loved and accepted than I dare hope.”  The Law rightly condemns me, but, through Christ, the Father justly pardons me.  This is the essence of the song.  And it’s powerful!

Both for its text and its music, I heartily recommend The Water and the Blood as a fresh and timely work.  I look forward to what’s next from Sojourn Music.  They’ve quickly become leaders in a new kind of evangelical modern worship, and I welcome it!

Monday
Feb212011

Review of The Mercy Seat / The War by Jamie Barnes and Brooks Ritter

Jamie Barnes, The Mercy Seat
Brooks Ritter, The War (split EP)
Released: February 22, 2011

There is something very special going on in Louisville, and my writing a review about this “happening” is kind of like the woman who was straining just to get a finger on the hem of Jesus’ robe—just a touch is all I ask.  God has gathered a whole lot of young talent and put it under one ecclesiastical roof.  This is the best summary I can give for what is happening with Sojourn Music.  Sojourn Community Church is a multi-site community with a strong vision for how the arts are a part of God’s kingdom-restoration in the community.  You don’t see too many churches out there with this vision.  But before I heap accolades on the music of two incredible singer-songwriters, Jamie Barnes and Brooks Ritter, for their latest split EP, The Mercy Seat / The War (read Sojourn's description here), let me begin by commenting on something rather unrelated to the music itself.

Jamie Barnes and Brooks Ritter are humble, generous men of God.  I met Jamie several years ago when my wife and I took a field trip out to Sojourn in the summer of 2008.  I met Brooks just over a year ago at the Calvin Symposium on Christian Worship in Grand Rapids.  I was flying solo, and Jamie took the time to single me out and invite me to a few social gatherings where I got to hobnob with Keith Getty, Kevin Twit, Mike Cosper, and other heroes of mine.  Jamie’s hospitality in that act meant a lot to me and spoke volumes about him.  Brooks engaged me in a bunch of conversations, and he always exhibited the uttermost kindness and humility, even as I told him that he had an incredible, one-of-a-kind voice.  These two are men of character, and that is perhaps the most important thing I could say about them.

OVERALL COMMENTS

The album itself is just incredible.  It is true artistry, which does not kowtow to simplistic pop sensibilities.  It is a “split EP” in the sense that it is a full, ten-song album split down the middle.  The first five are Barnes’ songs; the last five are Ritter’s.  All songs are either explicitly based in old church hymns, or else they are haunted by the spirits of the great English hymn writers.  But this is not a “worship album.”  It is definitely solo material, some of which can be (and has been) transposed into the context of corporate Christian worship (e.g. “The Mercy Seat” and “Absent from Flesh”).  Recorded live at the 930 Art Center in Louisville, KY, the stylistic diversity in these ten tracks is astonishing.  Jazz, gospel (black and white, mind you), blues, grunge, soul, country, rock—they’re all here.  Yet this smorgasbord is no hodgepodge.  The cohesion comes from its production, themes, and the souls of the singers themselves. 

If you can’t afford the whole album, you must at least get Barnes’ “Absent from Flesh” and Ritter’s “The War.”  In my opinion, they are the best songs on the album.

Theologically, the album is rock-solid.  Texts which are based in time-tested hymns from greats like Isaac Watts are nearly always a slam dunk in the Department of Biblical Conformity.  Barnes and Ritter write the kinds of songs that will last in Christian hymnody. 

THE MERCY SEAT  |  JAMIE BARNES

Barnes says, “If we’re being honest, we all have this longing for an advocate, and a lot of the songs on my side of the EP have this hint of desperation in them.”  That’s a great summary statement of the textual trajectory and musical edge which unify the five songs.  Musically, Jamie provides an aural feast.  His songs keep his voice in a modest vocal range, and his smooth, simple singing style perfectly fits the “longing” and “hint of desperation” he intends.  My favorite feature of his music here are the use of horns, sergeantly peppered throughout the EP.  The slippery, jazzy “Dark Passenger” has some moments of tight ensemble, especially among the horns.  There is an exquisite moment, just around 3:44, where the vibrato between two instruments locks into eerie symmetry.  Verse two is powerful:

Why do these hands withdraw from worship,
And battle your embrace?
They clinch in anger far too often,
And seldom stretch in faith.

“Jealous Arm” contains a haunting chord progression at the front-end that moves from the major tonic chord to the minor.  The ghostly, Coldplay-like piano line accentuates the tense nature of revelry in the jealousy of God.  The first verse:

Is this the way we repay our God?
Who among us has he not made?
Forsaking His face for the sculpted things
We have shaped with our evil hands.
And where are they now, our silent golden cows?
His swift and jealous arm has thrown them down.

The choice track, however, is “Absent from Flesh”—roomy drums, earthy claps and slaps, and wailing horns make this an exquisite, original, and inspiring piece.  Co-writers Barnes and Watts, though separated by nearly three hundred years, together celebrate the eschaton:

Absent from flesh, O glorious day!
In one triumphant stroke
My reckoning paid, my charges dropped
And the bonds ‘round my hands are broke.

I go where God and glory shine,
To one eternal day
This failing body I now resign,
For the angels point my way.

Hearing the unparalleled hymns of Isaac Watts so beautifully re-dressed and re-given to the modern church simply makes me want to dance naked in the streets. 

THE WAR  |  BROOKS RITTER

Many singers, including myself, shake their fists toward the heavenlies that they were not graced with the golden voice of Brooks Ritter.  No joke: the first time I heard his voice, I pegged him for a fifty-year-old, black Mississippi Delta bluesman.  This twenty-something has all the soul, presence, and maturity of a voice twice his age, and he stewards his gifts well throughout this EP.  “The War,” a grungy blues tune, introduces Ritter with a punch to the belly, and the left-hand-calloused fingerprints of Neil Robins’ axe-work (of Dirt Poor Robins and No More Kings) are all over this number.  It’s reminiscent of Soundgarden at the height of their music-making.  The text of this song’s chorus characterizes the posture of the whole album—centered upon the gospel of the finished work of Christ:

Though the scars of my sin run deep
They’re washed in the flood brought from Calvary
Remind me O Lord in my hour of deed
The war won  for the redeemed!

“Good Day” takes a stylistic leap in a different direction.  It is a black gospel number, through and through, full of clever colloquialisms fitting to the genre.  This song rocks:

Well, hey, Jesus the God man came to the Earth
He opened his arms to the children of dirt
He was singing a new song, “Child come on I’ll show you the way”
It was a good day when the Lord came
You know it was a good day

My Jesus came through the desert
He walked on the sea and died on the hill of Mount Calvary
He went to the grave but checked out on the third day
It was a good day when the Lord came,
It was a good, good day.

I love the thought that Jesus “checked out” of the grave on the third day like it was a hotel room.  The ease with which Almighty Christ sealed His victory over death is worthy of such a thought.  The next song, “Waters of Forgiveness,” is a soulful white gospel number that one could hear arranged for an all-male quartet.

In the words of Barnes: “This record, it’s more than just making music for our local church.We want to be a community of artists…So it’s important to us to publish music and to publish books and things of that nature…These songs are just a way for us to point to truth.  Hopefully that’s what good art will do, point to a good God who’s the author and creator of everything.”  God has given the Sojourn community a unique call with the provision of unique resources.  The Mercy Seat / The War is proof that these artists continue to steward such gifts well.  A while back I posted on why worship leaders should be theologians and theologians worship leaders.  Barnes and Ritter are worship leader-theologians par excellence.  Go get this album, people. 

Tuesday
Aug042009

old hymns, new music...NOT a new thing

Every innovative endeavor is bound to receive some backlash... And I've certainly had my share of less than enthusiastic comments about my re-setting of old hymn texts to new music.  Tonight is an evening where I feel like proffering a response. Sometimes I encounter old hymn lovers who give off the air (or say explicitly) that they don't appreciate old hymns being tinkered with, tampered with, even desecrated.  Perhaps some are aware (but I find that many are not) that such a practice of setting old texts to new melodies for modern ears and new generations of Christian assemblies has seen many iterations over church history.  Even more ironic is that some of the beloved hymns that I and my hymns movement cohorts are accused of desecrating are already once-over desecrated texts.  Perhaps, then, for the person unfamiliar with the history of hymnody, I'll crack open the door of just how historic re-hymning truly is by offering a brief sketch of one man, Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Mason was a Massachusettes-born Georgia boy, banker turned church musician.  After the explosive heyday of Watts and Wesley (when they shifted in the eyes of the church from being the contemporary movers and shakers to being the more staid, "traditional" hymns...funny how that works), notwithstanding some notable hymns and hymnwriters in between, church song was growing stale.  The old hymns felt tired, and worshipers wanted more fresh hymns for a new era in evangelicalism.  The flurry of the first Great Awakening had come and gone, and the revival dust was settling.  Mason observed American congregations, saddened by the lifelessness in the singing.  He commented:

“Go where we may into the place of worship…when the singing commences…the congregation are either on the one hand gazing at the select performers to admire the music, or on the other expressing their dissatisfaction by general symptoms of restlessness.”*
Mason was dissatisfied with lifelessness and decided to do something about it.  He did so, not by shirking the traditions but by re-expressing them in modern ways.  He began affixing new tunes, melodies, and chord structures to glorious old hymn texts...a musical garb he believed modern listeners in his day would appreciate and resonate with.  Check out the impressive list that the nethymnal offers of over 80 new tunes Mason composed here.  Let me point out a few hymns that Mason re-hymned: Joy to the World! A Watts hymn written in 1719...the original tune of which was certainly not what we sing today!  Mason took the music of G. F. Handel and arranged it for congregational singing...a tune that is now immortally tied to this text. There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. William Cowper's 1772 hymn saw new light when Mason re-energized it and hymns of the same meter for modern ears.  Interestingly, the tune that we often sing with it today (not Mason's tune) is a 19th century camp song (ah, those silly youth and their wild music!). When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This beloved 1707 Watts hymn was not sung to the tune we know and love, until Mason came along and wrote "Hamburg" in 1824, blessing the church in perpetuity. The list could go on. In the light of this, it's quite ironic when hard and fast hymn-lovers criticize folks like myself who attempt to clothe old hymns in new music.  Were it not for the members of the "hymns movement" of old, like Lowell Mason, they would not have some of their most beloved hymns!  Indelible Grace, Red Mountain Church, Sojourn Community Church, Sovereign Grace...they're not doing anything new.  They're recycling a repeated practice in church music history--giving back historic hymns to the modern church by re-setting them with new tunes and instrumentation. Though some traditional hymn lovers criticize this practice, at the end of the day we join hands with the same burden.  It's a burden to see to it that great hymns don't lose their place in the changing church.  Some hymn lovers believe that the only way to relieve this burden is to dig one's heels in and keep singing them the way they've always been sung.  Re-tuning them is a transgression too far across the line.  I humbly disagree, because, though I share their burden not only for the texts but the music, I find that the loss of music is by far and away the lesser of two evils (and sometimes the loss of music is not an evil at all, but a great good...as some of those horrid tunes need to be put in the grave! :)).  I've waded long enough in the stream of modern worship to know that "sing em our way or the highway" will only polarize, divide, and push away.  For now, modern worship, for better or worse, is tied to a certain set of musical priorities and parameters, and the music is not ancillary to the worship expression but part of the DNA of what draws worshipers to that style (which, as history tells, will change, too). So all we're doing in the hymns movement is attempting to be 21st century Masons.  We believe in the power of these old texts.  Therefore, with our musical ability, we'll attempt to smuggle them in modern music, so that perhaps some might give them a hearing and be pleasantly surprised when a poetic profundity socks them in the gut, drawing them deeper into knowledge, insight, wisdom, and the worship of God. And if this little post can't convince some of my criticizers that what I'm doing is worthwhile, at least perhaps it can take some of the blinders off, curing historical myopia. *Thomas Hastings, Biblical Repertory, July 1829, pp. 414, 415

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jul172009

the modern worship request to "see God's face"

"I want to see Your face."  That line and derivatives thereof are a common request in modern worship songs.  We are often telling God we want to see Him.  Some notables: "In the Secret," by Andy Park: "I want to touch You, I want to see Your face." "Better is One Day," by Matt Redman (albeit from Ps 27): "One thing I ask and I would seek, to see Your beauty." "Open the Eyes of My Heart," by Paul Baloche: "Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You." "Show Me Your Glory," by Third Day: "Send down Your presence, I want to see Your face." I myself have added a refrain to Isaac Watts' great hymn, "Come, We That Love the Lord," which reads, We have come to give You praise Almighty God, lift up our gaze Lord, we long to see Your face Won't You come and fill this place? No doubt some of my theologically conscious worship-leading buddies, especially those in the hymns movement, are rolling their eyes...maybe even furrowing their brows.  Not only have I added to the already perfect hymn of the greatest hymn-writer, I've inserted some spurious theology, capitulating to the likes of mainstreamers like the four aforementioned songwriters. The seriousness of the request of seeing God/God's face/God's beauty/God's glory (they're all pretty much the same request) was first pointed out to me by Michael Horton in a book that was very formative for my theology of worship, entitled, In the Face of God. In it, he wrote,

Any aspect of worship that attempts to take the seeker into the Holy of Holies without going through the Mediator and the sacrifice leads to judgment. Israel's faith was filled with a sense of awe and respectful distance, fearful even to spell out the divine name. his reverence stands in sharp contrast to today's 'God is rad; he's my dad' informality. We must beware of scandalous familiarity with God. Perhaps we do not know him as well as we thought we did.*
This resonated in my soul at a time of life when my view of God's power, glory, and sovereignty was rapidly expanding, concurrent with my increasing dissatisfaction with how carelessly some in the modern worship camp seemed to approach Yahweh Sabaoth.  That was the early 2000's, and I'm happy to find modern worship nowadays being steered in a direction of higher praise, loftier theology, and a more transcendent Deity.  So why have I seemingly come full circle, to the point of inserting a "face request" in one of my own songs? (Ooh...just had a revelation of a new cheesy book title: The Bible: God's Facebook...actually there's a lot of analogical substance there...anyway.) The answer is that I find "face time" with God to be a scripturally sound concept: (1) marked as a blessing of the new covenant to be fully realized at the eschaton; (2) encouraged in portions of the old covenant, where one would think such talk would be banned. Job 33:26 He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God's face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. ~Seeing God's face here is framed in a positive light. Psalm 11:7 For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face. ~Seeing God's face is a reward for (ultimately Christ's) righteousness.  We can conclude that we who are in Christ do and will partake of that reward. Psalm 17:15 And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. ~Here the Psalmist seems to be speaking of the hope of the eschaton, and through a righteousness which is ultimately not his, but Christ's...nonetheless a moment of face-longing. Psalm 24:6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. ~Face-seeking is a positive thing, a habit esteemed and encouraged. Psalm 27:8 My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, LORD, I will seek. ~Much like the previous, but an even bolder claim of commitment to seek His face. Hosea 5:15 Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me. ~Repentance and the pursuit of justice, mercy, and godliness is summarized in the concept of seeking God's face.  Seeking God's face is not only a good thing, it is the right thing. 1 Cor 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. ~I understand that interpretive directions could lead to a variety of ends, but given the rest of the "face talk" of scripture, I see warrant to interpret at least part of "face to face" as our face and God's face. 2 Cor 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Besides biblical quotations about seeking God's face, the modern worship request is backed by a biblical theology of the new covenant (see especially the book of Hebrews).  The veil is torn in the temple.  We have access to God's very throne-room through the meritorious blood of Jesus Christ.  So biblical soteriology (salvation theology) supports this kind of face talk. Christology (the study of the person of Jesus) also supports it, for in Him, we behold God incarnate, the face of the eternal One.  We read the eyewitness accounts of the gospel writers and of Paul, and by the Spirit we mysteriously behold the face of God through the Word of God. Sacramentology (a biblical understanding of the sacraments), at least for the Presbyterian/Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox, also supports face talk.  For in the Lord's Supper there is a genuine communion between Christians and Christ (however that happens)--authentic "face time," seen and experienced with the spiritual eyes of faith (1 Cor 10:16). The biblical evidence, to me, is overwhelming.  Requesting and expecting the face of God not only seems to be allowable, but encouraged.  But, as Horton has reminded us, there's a scriptural balance of, in Matt Redman's words, "the friendship and the fear."  Depending on your disposition, you will be inclined toward one or the other, and your inclination will often cause you to subtly discount the other end of the spectrum.  Stately, fear-minded worshipers might scoff at face-statements as too brash, too disrespectful, too irreverent, too assuming.   Casual, face-seeking worshipers might balk at overly transcendent worship language as too distant, too cold, unworshipful, and mood-killing.  The reality, as in many instances, lies somewhere in between.  And perhaps a good marker of being somewhere in the middle is a fully authentic willingness to say or sing, "Lord, I want to see your face," while in the back of your mind remembering, "but I know that is a potentially dreadful and awesome request." Such balanced face-seeking in worship actually makes the face-seeking all the more rich and meaningful.  It ups the ante of the request instead of cheapening the manifest presence of the Almighty One.  It's my hope that we all can grow in seeking God's face together. ----------------------- *Michael Horton, In the Face of God (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 16-17.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jun042009

isaac watts: pioneer of "contemporary worship"

Isaac Watts (1674-1748): English pastor, author, teacher, and one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time.  Many do not know that Watts was a polarizing figure in his day because of the startling changes he was introducing to Protestant worship.  After the Reformation through to Watts’ time, congregations almost exclusively sang Psalmody—hymns whose texts were exactly or closely derived from those of the biblical Psalms.  Young Watts found these “traditional” services dry and spiritually devoid, and one day (so the legend goes) he returned from worship complaining about the poor quality of the hymns.  His father responded, probably wanting just to keep him quiet, “Give us something better, young man.”  Watts’ whole life, as it turns out, seems to be a response to that initial challenge by his father.  The Church experienced a rebirth as the “contemporary” hymns of Watts and others who followed flooded parishes with theologically rich, highly emotive, powerfully engaging songs of worship.  Through Watts and others, the Holy Spirit breathed fresh life into the worship of Christ’s church, not taking away from the glorious heritage of biblical Psalmody, but adding to it a rich dimension of “hymns and spiritual songs.”  It is ironic, then, that traditional worship is often pegged as boring, dry, or even lifeless, when it is heir to some of the most exciting revolutions in church music history!

Click to read more ...