Review of Here For You, by Passion

Zac HicksUncategorized1 Comment

Passion, Here For You (sixsteps/Sparrow)
Released: March 8, 2011

I remember when I heard my first Passion record—Passion 98—in high school.  It was fresh and different.  Little did I know at the time that I was listening to a mile-marker in the short history of contemporary worship.  Passion and Delirious are the pivot-point on which “contemporary worship” swung to “modern worship.”  Thirteen years later, much has changed, and much has stayed the same.  Many of the same faces and voices that were emerging in 1998 (Tomlin, Crowder, Hall, Redman) are now household names in contemporary Christian music.  Those twenty-somethings who were more raw emotion and energy have matured into thirty-somethings who have added a bit more depth to their passion.  Here For You clearly shows that Passion still dominates the modern worship scene.

SUMMARY

Passion always produces great albums.  To my ear and heart, this is not a hallmark album, however.  Musically, it is a typical modern worship album (this is not a criticism).  Textually, there are a few small surprises, but nothing jumps out that has not been previously recorded.  Awakening (2010) had a few outstanding songs (e.g. “You Alone Can Rescue”).  This album doesn’t seem to carry the same kind of stardom.  The songs I would most likely incorporate into worship are: “All to Us” (see my review of Tomlin’s album for comments on this song) and “Spirit Fall.”

Repeats from other albums and projects include: Crowder Band’s “Shadows,” from their Church Music, Stanfill’s “Forever Reign” from Hillsong’s A Beautiful Exchange, and “All to Us,” from Tomlin’s And if Our God is For Us.

MUSICALITY

The production, as always, is great.  The album is filled, with few exceptions, with the typical instrumentation: flowy keys, electric guitars, light acoustics, big drums, and crowd noise.  “All My Fountains” is a nice sonic departure from the standard tones and sounds of modern worship.  It is more earthy and vigorously acoustic rhythm reminiscent of late 90s Dave Matthews.  Christy Nockels (“Carry Your Name”) really does have a golden voice…the finest in Passion’s arsenal.

Perhaps the most novel aspect of Here For You is the introduction of rap into Passion’s recordings.  Lecrae appears on “Shadows,” with David Crowder, and on the bonus track of “Our God,” with Chris Tomlin.  With others, I’m appreciative of the incorporation of other genres, and especially from brothers and sisters who have an equal claim to the history of American church music—the African American tradition.  Some may disagree, but I believe rap is very much rooted in a combination of blues and the sing-song/shouting style of traditional black gospel preaching.  However, as many have noted, rap is a hard medium for congregational music.  It is effective as a preaching medium, and in a responsorial format (e.g. a verse plus a congregational refrain), but it is certainly something for congregations to listen to, not participate in.  Still, it’s a welcome addition to Passion’s albums specifically and worship generally.  Perhaps it is another small sign that racial bridges can be and are being broken down in and around worship.  Praise God for that!

THEOLOGICAL CONTENT

With this album, we see yet more cross-pollination between Hillsong worship and Passion worship.  “Set Free” is co-written by Redman, Tomlin, Ingram, and Ben Fielding.  Stanfill leads Hillsong’s “Forever Reign.”  There is also a little nod toward the hymn tradition on this record.  The chorus of “Lord, I Need You” very briefly touches on the text and melodic line of the 1872 hymn by Annie Hawks, “I Need Thee Every Hour.”  I’m also excited to see the maturation of the songwriters with texts which “sound” like the expression of the biblical Psalms.  Kristian Stanfill’s “Always” is a weaving of several psalms (like 121 and 130) which give voice to lament in worship.

Some songs on the album, such as “Lord, I Need You,” “Carry Your Name,” and “Constant,” are deeply gospel-centered and Christ-saturated.  The text of  “Lord, I Need You” is doubly praiseworthy because it highlights Christ’s righteousness, not our own triumph, the latter being a nagging theme sometimes found in modern worship:

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Likewise, I appreciate the opening line of Crowder’s “Sometimes”:

Sometimes every one of us feels
Like we’ll never be healed
Sometimes

Modern worship needs to rest in these moments of lamentation more often, like the Psalms do.  The song carries quite a progression that one often doesn’t see in one hymn:

It begins in individual lamentation:

Sometimes every one of us aches
Like we’ll never be saved
Sometimes

It progresses to hope:

When we’ve given up
Let Your healing come
When there’s nothing left
Let Your healing come
Til we’re rising up
Let Your healing come

It moves to adoration:

It’s Your love that we adore
It’s like a sea without a shore
We’re lost in You
We’re lost in You

It moves to consecration and mission:

Where You go, we will follow
Oh, God send me

“All My Fountains” is an interesting expansion on that phrase taken from an under-appreciated psalm (Psalm 87), an eschatological song about the children of Zion and the joy of being in the protection and presence of God.  Knowing the psalm gives great context for the joy of “All My Fountains”:

He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are said of you, city of God…
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
“This one and that one were born in her,
 and the Most High himself will establish her.”

The LORD will write in the register of the peoples:
“This one was born in Zion.”

As they make music they will sing,
“All my fountains are in you.”   (Psalm 87 [NIV])

The first three songs are calls to worship, songs of exaltation.  “Symphony” lifts the eyes similar to the opening lines of “How Great is Our God,” with its Psalm 19-like first verse:

Shining wonders, fields of splendor
How they sing Your symphony
The deepest oceans, rising mountains
How they sing Your symphony

There is a strong emphasis throughout the album (which is typical of modern worship) of finding God’s special manifestation in the moment of musical worship.  “Waiting Here for You” sings,

And we’re desperate for Your presence
All we need is You

“All My Fountains” cries,

Come on, rain down on us,
Rain down on us, Lord

It has always been a part of the modern worship ethos to seek God’s special manifestation in the moment of singing.  Many worship songs ask for that very thing, saying something like, “as we sing, come meet us here.”  I wonder, with such a heavy emphasis on the presence of God in music, whether modern worship has steered us away from seeing how the presence of God is also (and perhaps better) manifested in other elements of worship like the Lord’s Table.  A gentle reminder to those of us who love and appreciate the vitality of modern worship is that the Scriptures testify and the history of the Church’s worship corroborates the reality that God chooses to manifest Himself most acutely in the Lord’s Supper, not in singing.  But, unfortunately, modern worship movements like Passion have been at least a small step removed from corporate worship of the local church, acting more like parachurch worship movements than core expressions of Christ’s church (interesting sidenote: Passion City Church has launched as a Passion-offshoot in Atlanta). While I’m all for encouraging generations to gather, be inspired, and rise up for ministry (Passion is a movement targeting the specific demographic of college and young adults), I wonder whether Passion’s influence on the Church has at least in a small way led evangelicalism more toward missing what uniquely happens in worship when we celebrate the sacrament together.

It is encouraging to see the theological jab in “Spirit Fall.”  Often times, simple songs of the Spirit are nebulous and do not highlight the roles that the Spirit plays.  Here, we have a very specific call for the Holy Spirit to act:

Oh, come
Magnify the Son
Savior of the world
The hope for everyone

The Spirit’s job isn’t just to give us goosebumps and overlay an emotional blanket on our hearts during worship.  The Spirit has come to bear witness to the Son, to herald the gospel, and to illumine Christ to us.  To my mind, this is what gives this simple song some uniqueness in the modern worship expression.  Personally, I am not usually drawn to more experiential songs, but this one attracts me because of its theological angle.

“Set Free” is an exciting song intended to get bodies moving:

And we’ll dance, dance
Dance in Your freedom
Oh, Your glorious freedom
Forevermore, forevermore

Perhaps because it’s more of a “dance” number than a “sing” number, the text-writing is a bit more loose.  I often encourage worship leaders to hold up as a criterion for song-selection the idea of logical cohesion (see my article “How I Choose Songs for Corporate Worship”).  Where is the point at which words and phrases move from being “impressionistic” to random?  I wonder whether “Set Free” teeters on this tipping point:

Joy, joy, unspeakable joy
Hope like never before
You came for us
You are our freedom

Love, love, unshakeable love
We shall over come, we will never give up
We lift a shout, we lift a shout
Everyone singing

Come on, come on now, we’ve got a new song
Come on, come on now, a song of liberty
Let the world hear heaven’s melody
This is the shout of the hearts You’ve set free

There is a conceptual glue which holds these statements together, certainly, but the text is awfully loose.  I’m not totally against it, but I want to continually raise the question that many do not: Should we not pause to ponder the fact that, while standing in the rich history of hundreds of years of Christian worship, we are the first to express words in this way, so loosely hung together?

I’m also interested in discussing the phrase, “dance in your freedom.”  For as popular a phrase as this is in modern worship, there aren’t many Scriptural parallels to it.  In the Bible, certainly there is dancing.  And a major theme of the gospel certainly is freedom.  And yet if you do a Bible Gateway search of the words and phrases, “dance freedom,” “dancing freedom,” and “dance free,” at least in the NIV, no matches are found.  Where did this phrase and idea get so popular for modern worship?  Does it have its roots in David’s naked, “undignified” worship?  Is it an attempt to encourage that attitude of heart?  It is not at all bad to strive for bodily freedom in worship; God deserves our all.  Dancing is an expression of worship, of course.  But where did we come up with this phrase, and what is its meaning and purpose?  I simply want to question its prevalence in our modern hymnody. 

Because of Passion’s incredible influence over evangelical worship (in many ways, they are trend-setters) they must be open to scrutiny and questions like those above.  Still, Here For You contains nothing off-course theologically, and will no doubt leave a positive mark on the landscape of modern worship.

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