Tim Hughes is not necessarily a household name in evangelical modern worship, but his breakout song, “Here I Am to Worship,” has established him as a notable songwriter, despite the fact that his material since then has probably gone under-noticed and under-appreciated. In my opinion, he is on par with the other Brits (e.g. Matt Redman, Vicky Beeching) who continue to trend toward greater biblical and theological depth in their text-writing. Hughes’ home base is Holy Trinity Brompton, a vibrant and evangelical community of the Anglican Church in London.
Love Shine Through is a rich 12-track album (with one repeat song). Musically, it is well-produced and sonically creative within the broad pop rock genre, and textually it is solid and biblically-informed. The songs I would most likely incorporate into my church’s worship context would be “Counting on Your Name,” “Jesus Saves,” and “Keep the Faith.”
The album is a polished, in-studio project complete with masterful mixing and effects, and yet it is well-rounded in its musical expression such that it can’t be accused of being “pop kitsch.” From flanged vocals (“Wake Up”), to pulsating loops (“Jesus Saves”), to programmed synths (“At Your Name”), the work is a treat for the ear. Tim Hughes has a clear and enaging voice, with a surprisingly high range and beautiful color on the top end. Counterbalancing the programming, there is tasteful employment of strings (“Keep the Faith”) and magisterial bursts of brass (“Love Shine Through”). There are moments of soaring black gospel-style (“All Glory”), intimate solo piano ballad (“Ecclesiastes”), and everything in between.
Love Shine Through is a biblically-rooted, God-centered record. Traditionalists may still balk at the repetitive nature of the songs, but we can no longer accuse modern worship of being “fluffy.” To date, there are too many counter-examples for this to be accurate even as a generalization, at least among the current heavy-hitters in modern worship. Perhaps there is no shortage of first personal pronouns on this record, but that observation does not take away from the fact that the trajectory of the texts is away from self and toward God.
“Ecclesiastes” is an intriguing song. It’s not quite a lament, though it’s not really a typical “worship song,” either. It’s an attempt to offer the congregational song a voice for the polarities and vicissitudes of life so well-captured in the book of wisdom that gives the song its name. Here’s verse one:
There’s a time for tears
And a time to dance
There’s a time to let go
And a time for romance
There’s a time for war
And a time for peace
There’s a time to embrace
And a time to release
It has been said well by many worship thinkers that if the church could expand her worship-vocabulary to more adequately reflect the full range of humanity captured in Scripture, she would be prepared to more steadily handle the ups and downs of life. A Christian wouldn’t be shaken in the face of suffering or war or disaster. Often times, Christians who fall away from “the faith” have fallen away not from the faith but from some poorly constructed, highly diluted form of Christianity. And often this is a result of the impoverished and emaciated worship language they have engaged in when they’ve attended worship services. Songs like “Ecclesiastes” continue to fuel me with hope and excitement that our mainstream worship songwriters are sensing this impoverishment and addressing it.
Modern worship albums are often found requesting God’s “fire to fall.” The phrase is a bit nebulous, though it seems (given modern worship’s heavy charismatic influence) that the request is for the Spirit’s presence to fall like the tongues of fire at Pentecost (Acts 2). “Keep the Faith,” interestingly, makes the request with an entirely different biblical allusion in mind:
I’m laying out all the pieces of my life
On the altar I’m your sacrifice
Let your fire fall
I’m waiting here
Come and take it all
This heart of fear
This fire is not that of Pentecost but of Carmel. It is a beautiful twist on this oft-used phrase (“let your fire fall”), melding the “living sacrifice” themes of Romans 12 with the Old Testament episodes of miraculous heaven-borne bursts of flames which all but incinerate their target. It’s a powerful image of the intensity of our offering ourselves to God—the wholeness of consecration.
American evangelicals know “Jesus Saves” as a Jeremy Camp radio hit, but this exciting and mission-focused song actually belongs to Hughes and co-writer Nick Herbert.
Hughes and his songwriting cohorts, perhaps typical of modern worship, lyricize more often impressionistically than in complete sentences or progressive thoughts. “Saviour’s Song” reads:
Humbled by creation
You kissed a world in mercy
Embraced us at the cross
“All Glory” sings:
How great is Your love
It never gives up on me
Stronger than shame
It carries me back to You
Jesus, my redeemer
You have made a way
Much of the album is expressed in this manner. Two things are noteworthy about this phenomenon in modern worship songwriting. First, it is a departure from how nearly every generation has expressed its sung praise to God. From our earliest hymns, through the Reformation, and into the twentieth century, our hymns have been more or less readable as stand-alone poetry, with more cohesive expression and thought-patterns. Second, it is at least partially indicative of the erosion of language which can be attributed to a text-messaged, Twitterized culture—short bursts of expression with less need for grammatical and conceptual connections from one line to the next. Is this a direct criticism of Hughes and Love Shine Through? By no means. I am merely pointing out indicators and attempting to raise awareness. As a worship leader, though, I want to temper this kind of linguistic expression with what is more typical of the last two thousand years of worship songwriting.
It is interesting to examine modern worship albums through the lens of sociologist-anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris, whose chapter in The Message in the Music (2007)1 explored the use of romantic language in the top CCLI songs between 1989 and 2005. She summarizes her findings by saying that our songs exhibit “an overreliance on the American romantic ideal in worship.”2 Prevalent stylistic motifs convey God as a “knight in shining armor” and “riding off into the sunset” with His beloved. Paris is not criticizing this expression as much as its prevalence and dominance in our worship. With this grid in mind, I believe Paris would point out the line in “God is Coming”:
Here You come
Running to find me
King of the universe
Hughes seems to balance this well with other takes on our relationship with God throughout the album, but perhaps with the abundance of such expression, our modern worship songwriters can continue to broaden our worship expression beyond the romantic.
All in all, Love Shine Through is a wonderful record, musically and textually, and it is worth a listen, especially for worship leaders scouting out new material that may be slightly off the beaten path.
1Jenell Williams Paris, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: American Romance in Contemporary Worship Music,” in The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise & Worship, ed. Robert Woods and Brian Walrath (Nashville: Abigndon, 2007), 43-53.
2Paris, “I Could Sing,” 45.