Gateway Church celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. With an attendance of 16,000 people on a given Sunday, this Dallas-Ft. Worth-based church is becoming nationally and internationally influential, especially with its worship music. God Be Praised is Gateway Worship’s third live album, alongside five other studio albums, the first having been produced in 2003.
Gateway Worship appears to have emerged largely out of the Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI), a Bible school from the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition. It appears that as CFNI raises up young, talented worship leaders (including, notably, Dove award-winner Kari Jobe), they send them to Gateway. Some hail Gateway as the Hillsong of the United States. To me, at least stylistically, New Life Church (Colorado Springs, CO) seems like a closer parallel.
God Be Praised is a typical-sounding, live “arena worship” album, with an array of lead singers and worship leaders. It verges on being more “contemporary” than “modern” in worship-style, and it displays a sensible array of worship-expression—praise, adoration, confession, lament. My favorite songs (and therefore the songs I’d most likely incorporate at our church), musically and textually, are “O the Blood” and “Faithful God.” It is a solid album with exquisite moments of inspiration, but it does not jump out to the listener, either musically or theologically, as extraordinary.
Generally, but especially in comparison to the stylistic fore-thinking of groups like Hillsong, the album can be characterized as a beautiful, but typical, contemporary worship project. In production-style and song-arrangement, God Be Praised sounds like it sits on the 60/40 mark of the contemporary/modern worship spectrum. (I recognize that there’s a bit of artificiality in this distinction, but those who listen regularly to worship music with a discerning ear can probably understand what I mean.) Here’s where I hear the “contemporary” edge:
- Mix-wise, the drums and bass lack a little of the presence one associates with more aggressive modern worship tunes.
- They’ve pulled back the bass-rich boom one hears in, for instance, a Hillsong project.
- Contemporary pop vocals, mixed higher on top than in modern worship albums
- More thinly-laid electric guitar tracks
- Electric guitar work sounds a bit more conventional (e.g. “Praise is the Offering”)
Its mixing characterizes the “arena worship” sound (e.g. clapping, verbed swell of choir/congregation, and that right-to-left expanse associated with ambient mic techniques in a large auditorium). “One Single Drop” is an interesting departure from the standard fare with its use of a nylon-stringed guitar and the prominence of the V-of-vi chord. “By the Grace of God,” even with its use of bagpipes and Irish flute, is musically reminiscent of the new tune to “Before the Throne of God Above” in melody and triple-meter drive. The dynamic push and pull in “O the Blood” is inspiring and befits the passion of the subject of the Gospel.
There is a beautiful and simple Gospel-centeredness to this project. One sometimes gets the vibe from Christians in the Pentecostal/charismatic tradition that they can care more about their worship-experience than the Gospel that frees them. Not here. Justification by grace through faith is littered across the texts of God Be Praised. Similarly, the album is God-centered, rather than me-centered, corroborating the evidence that contemporary/modern worship is continuing to move in that healthy direction to correct its errors of self-focused excess. Thank God!
This album is also intriguing from a hymns movement perspective, in that one discerns a few moments of the “haunting” of the Church’s hymn tradition. “Praise Him” opens with the line, “All creatures of our God and King.” “O for a Thousand (Hallelujah)” preserves the original tune and adds a chorus of their own. The album’s title and final track is an older-English-style construction, which sounds more historically hymn-like. The usual charismatic emphases are apparent, too (e.g. victory, emphasis of the “moment” of worship). Some of my more critical colleagues would point out the overly sentimental nature of “I Hear the Lord Passing By.” However, unlike other songs where God is spoken to as more of an intimate friend (even lover), this one incorporates important Psalm-like allusion. Chorus 2 sings (similar to Psalms like Psalm 130):
I hear the Lord passing by
This could be my day of visitation
Have mercy on me, Lord
Hear my cry of desperation
Have mercy on me, Lord
From the depth of my affliction
I hear the Lord…passing by
The Bridge alludes to Psalm 84:
My heart, my flesh
Yearn to be with You
“Faithful God” is another example of how contemporary worship is slowly coming around to the language and expression of lament. Here are the opening verse and chorus:
If I call, will You come?
When I cry, do You hear?
I believe every tear
Is caught up by a faithful God
So I will cry until You come
Cast my cares into Your arms
I can’t see past this storm
But I’m counting on a faithful God
You hold my life secure
All my days are Yours
My God is like a fire defending me
There are even moments of exalting God’s sweeping sovereignty! Verse 2:
I believe You still heal
And demons still bow
I’m convinced there is power
In trusting in a faithful God
So I will praise till You appear
And set Your foot upon this shore
I declare that every foe
Is subject to my faithful God.
The album ends in a beautiful, swelled, repeated refrain that ushers you into the heavenlies, Revelation-style:
Hallelujah, we’re redeemed and made free
By the blood of the Lamb, we have won
Hallelujah, we will sing victory
Jesus conquered the grave, God be praised
In sum, this album is theologically sound. Even some of my past criticisms of more charismatic worship albums (e.g. over-emphasis on our victory and our ability) I find met with a much more Christ-centered balance. I would love to see such albums engage in a bit more confession, but I believe we are on our way. Thank you, Gateway, for a beautiful offering to our God!