Review of Passion’s New Worship Album, Awakening

Zac HicksAlbum Reviews, Worship Theology & Thought1 Comment

Passion, Awakening (2010, Various Artists)

In my opinion, the Passion folks have drawn the clearest line of demarcation between the stylistic eras of “contemporary worship” (80s and 90s) and “modern worship” (late 90s to the present).  I remember when Passion ’98 hit the scene.  The songs felt fresh, youthful, and different from its predecessors, and from that time forward, we watched the blossoming of the solo careers of these Passion artists (Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, etc.) as well as the arrival of even newer waves of modern worship (e.g. Hillsong United).  This most recent album of Passion’s shows stylistic and textual progression from their 1998 starting point.

OVERALL SUMMARY

Worth getting it?  If you’re buying this album for personal edification, get it.  You will be encouraged.  If you’re a worship leader looking for congregational material, save money and just buy the few songs worth evaluating (see the song-by-song analysis below).

Songs I would most likely end up using in worship: “You Alone Can Rescue” (Redman), “Our God” (Tomlin).

Accessibility: As usual, their sung keys favor tenors and altos (singing in nearly the same vocal range), alienating the bass and soprano vocal range.  But good worship leaders should have the musical ability to re-set these songs in accessible keys (and if they don’t, they should think about getting some musical training or else choosing a different vocation…because they’re not serving the church well when they lead these songs in the recorded keys).  Once the songs are set in congregation-friendly keys, the majority of them are accessible and singable for most congregations.

Theological depth: Passion still cannot stand up to the great hymns of the faith, but the longer they’re around the more their songs progress to being God-centered rather than human-centered, with a stronger gospel focus.  There is still a lack of substantive reflection on one major part of the Christian experience—suffering.  Where one of my friends had described the texts and styles coming from Hillsong United as “adolescent,” I would comparatively describe this latest collection from Passion a bit more mature (20s, early 30s?) with some deeper songs that push the average upward.  Whether they know it or not, the Passion folks still reflect a charismatic/Pentecostal theological perspective in the way they choose to express, experience, and request God’s presence. 

Musicality: As always, superb.  I would characterize the style as modern, yet conservative, with a slight edge.  They are not as experimental with rhythm, electric guitar work, synth sounds, and song structure as, say, Hillsong United, but they aren’t remaining stuck in the same stylistic forms that they were using on the previous albums (I keep comparing them to Hillsong United, so it’s worth pointing out that United actually made it on this album).  Musically, Tomlin’s “Our God” is enjoyable to me, especially for its bridge and musical interlude (see below).  The album is well-produced and polished, as always, and they’ve included more of the congregational “sound” (background voices) than in previous albums.  Probably because of the influence of Hillsong United, there are more congregational “whoa’s” (I don’t know what else to call them); they appear on several tracks.  I personally like this (to me they serve the biblical function of “shout of praise”) but I know that it seems to many in the church like pointless, rock-concert frivolity.  Still, could congregational “whoa’s” be the new version of call-and-response antiphonal singing?  Ancient-future, baby!

SONG-BY-SONG ANALYSIS

Awakening
It’s great to see two heavy-hitting worship songwriters (Chris Tomlin and Reuben Morgan) team up!  Here are the first two verses and chorus:

(V1) In our hearts Lord in this nation awakening
Holy Spirit we desire awakening

(V2) In Your presence in Your power awakening
For this moment in this hour awakening

(C) For You and You alone awake my soul
Awake my soul and sing
For the world You love Your will be done
Let Your will be done in me

This is a nice, simple call to worship song, with a gradual build into a surprisingly powerful second half.  Its theme comes from psalms like Psalm 57: “Awake, my soul!”, and it’s therefore a wonderful reminder that, left to ourselves, we are spiritually lethargic (dead, even) and need our soul awakened by an outside Force (in the non Starwarsian sense).  Later, there are hints of the gospel and expressions of the desire for not just subjective, individual “awakening,” but world-awakening:

Like the rising sun that shines…
From the darkness comes a light…
Like the rising sun that shines…
Only You can raise a life…

In our hearts, Lord
In the nations, awakening

While I don’t have anything against this song, it personally doesn’t “do” anything for me.  It might for others.  I’m open to using it, but it’s not top on my list.

Say, Say
This is one of those pump-you-up songs.  To me, it seems filled with loosely connected Christian-ese clichés. The chorus:

Say, say
Say you believe it
Sing for the whole world to hear it
We know, and we declare it

Jesus is King
Sing loud, sing like you mean it
We know, and we declare it
Jesus is King

(yelled) “Say, say!”

For me, there’s too much hype and not enough substance to offer it to my congregation.  If songs are going to pump you up, their rockin’ musical backdrop needs to be accompanied by some pretty strong gospel-reflection—God’s true Pump.  Without it, we’re just a deflated spiritual corpse, rotting “from the inside out” ;).  “Jesus is King” serves as a gospel-reflection, but it’s just too nebulous…not enough meat on the bones.

Our God
Here’s a mid-tempo song that really has a rockin’, Coldplay-influenced bridge section.  I dig it!  It focuses on God’s power in both performing miracles and saving sinners.  Its chorus is general, but exalting:

Our God is greater
Our God is stronger
God, You are higher than any other
Our God is Healer
Awesome in power
Our God, our God

The bridge is empowering to the believer:

And if our God is for us
Then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us
Then who could stand against?

In a Hillsong-style eighth-note banging build, it climaxes in a beautiful, powerful instrumental section that would be fun for bands to play and musically fits the triumph of the text.  Though this song is rather loose and generic in its reflection, it is transcendent enough, and it musically floats my boat.  It’s on my radar, but I’m not chomping at the bit to introduce this one.  It is my second favorite song on the album.

How He Loves
Though I’ve used this song before, I don’t personally feel it’s good for corporate worship.  I’ll explain why in a future post.  It’s a great personal worship song, and this particular version is a bit more stripped down and raw than some other recorded renditions…which I appreciate.

Healing is in Your Hands
Christy Nockels has an incredible voice.  I wish I had half her ability.  It is versatile and very expressive.  It’s difficult to teach women to sing like this.  This song focuses on the wideness of God’s love for us and the healing the gospel brings.  It verges on performance-song because of its upper range and held notes in the chorus.  The song doesn’t jump out at me, though, for congregational use.

King of Heaven (Isaiah 61)
This is an interesting, up-beat, eschatologically-oriented song.  I’m appreciative that this song, like Brooke Fraser’s “Hosanna,” is bringing attention in corporate worship to the second advent of Christ and the implications for the church’s present mission.  We need more songs along these lines: 

(C1) We’ll sing the gospel to the poor
We’ll go to comfort those who mourn
You’ll put together what’s been torn
King of Heaven

For the simple reason that other songs with a view toward justice and the eschaton do a better job of being cohesive in message and implications (e.g. “Hosanna,” our “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” or Tim Hughes’ “God of Justice”), I’m inclined not to add this to my regular rotation of worship songs.

You Alone Can Rescue
THIS IS THE BEST SONG ON THE ALBUM.  This is from Matt Redman’s We Shall Not Be Shaken, which I reviewed over half a year ago.  When I wrote that review, this song was on the top of my favorites for corporate worship, but I ended up shelving it.  Its re-appearance on Awakening has renewed my zeal to use it.  It is God-centered, Christocentric, and soaked in the gospel.  The bridge moves me to tears.  I love this song.  It has “soli Deo gloria” written all over it.  Here it is, in its entirety:

(V1) Who O Lord could save themselves
Their own soul could heal?
Our shame was deeper than the sea
Your grace is deeper still

(V2) You O Lord have made a way
The great divide You healed
For when our hearts were far away
Your love went further still
Yes Your love goes further still

(C) And You alone can rescue
You alone can save
You alone can lift us from the grave
You came down to find us led us out of death
To You alone belongs the highest praise

(B) We lift up our eyes, lift up our eyes
You’re the giver of life

Where the Spirit of the Lord Is
Here’s the chorus:

We know where the Spirit of the Lord is
(Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty)
We know living in Your freedom
(Living in Your freedom we see Your glory)
We know where the Spirit of the Lord is
(Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty)
We’re Yours and Yours is the kingdom (We are Yours)
Yours is the kingdom (Yours is the kingdom)

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m personally growing weary of modern worship songs that speak in nebulous terms about “freedom.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for true, Christ-bought, biblical freedom, but I get the sense more often than not in modern worship that when freedom-language is used, it gets truncated into an I’m-free-to-express-myself-however-I-want kind of vibe.  It seems to me that Paul’s phrase in 2 Corinthians 3:17 (from which the chorus of this song comes) gets abused in the context of worship.  Paul’s discussion of “freedom” in the larger context of that book and chapter involves a freedom to directly approach God the Father…but it’s not really addressing the context of corporate worship.  It’s speaking more personally, and even missionally.  Paul’s point seems to be that because God has so deeply reconciled us to Himself (He allows us full access to His presence!), we have a resulting ministry of reconciliation to deliver to the broken world.  The concept of being “free” in a corporate worship seems quite ancillary to the thrust of the passage.  Of course it is true that approaching the Father directly through Christ very much speaks to what is involved in the corporate worship experience for Christians, but this is NOT what Paul is addressing.  In summary, then, I don’t believe that this song is in theological error, but it is perpetuating an application, which, because of its frequency of “air time” in modern worship, might lead people to believe that the central thrust of the passage is worship.  This happens sometimes when short phrases from the Bible are quoted and re-quoted in worship songs…they take a life of their own and can confuse the Bible-reader about what that quote is truly talking about in its Scriptural context.

Where I see the concept of freedom abused in modern worship is in giving license to “express yourself how you want to.”  I’m not against this outright, but it does cater to American individualism, and, when encouraged in the corporate worship setting, lessens the corporate idea of worship and heightens individual experience.  Instead of corporate worship, “freedom” often produces a bunch of isolated worshipers, having a one-on-one experience with God…those worshipers just happen to be standing by several others who are also having a similar God-encounter. 

So despite the fact that this song rocks my face off, and despite the fact that it has a very cool antiphonal call-and-response between men and women in the chorus, I probably wouldn’t use this song in corporate worship.  Though perhaps I’ll change on that if someone convinces me I’m out to lunch (or buys me lunch).

Rise and Sing
Another pump-up song.  Fee really rocks this one out, complete with the aforementioned responsorial congregational “whoa’s.”  Stylistically, it’s punk-ish.  See the above thoughts on “Say, Say,” because they apply here, too.

Like a Lion
I like the musical themes in this song.  It’s beginning is reflective and helpfully preparatory (and it reminds me of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”…a plus).  Its text is unique.  It reflects on the explosive love of our God, residing in our hearts like a lion. 

(V1) Let love explode and bring the dead to life
A love so bold to see a revolution somehow

(C) My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive
And He’s living on the inside roaring like a lion

(V2) Let hope arise and make the darkness hide
My faith is dead I need a resurrection somehow

(Pre-C) Now I’m lost in Your freedom
Oh this world I’ll overcome

(B) Let heaven roar and fire fall
Come shake the ground with the sound of revival
Let heaven roar and fire fall
Come shake the ground with the sound of revival

My problem with this song is that I’m not sure what it means.  It seems quite internal and subjective.  Biblically, God’s Lion-like qualities are for external purposes—dominating, ruling, conquering.  Of course all those things happen inside of us, but it seems that other biblical metaphors take over in those discussions.  Furthermore, “My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive, and He’s living on the inside” sounds a lot like the very subjective hymn line that does absolutely nothing for defending the faith:

You ask me how I know He lives
He lives within my heart!

(And just when you thought I had nothing bad to say about hymns!)  When you make a claim, “My God’s not dead,” you are entering the world of apologetics.  It is a response to Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous atheistic quip.  Unfortunately, like the line from “He Lives,” this song’s answer is subjective.  Of course my personal experience of God’s indwelling presence is enough to convince me of His existence, but it would not be how I would choose to respond to someone defending atheism.  It would most likely fit in a cumulative case of other more rational arguments.  I know I’m rabbit-trailing here, but I’m convinced that worship leaders are like dieticians, and whatever they feed their flock will shape the health of the people’s souls.  This song just doesn’t have enough to commend it for me to overlook the odd non-apologetic it contains.

With Everything

Wow!  Hillsong United on a Passion album!  Two worlds collide!  Is this some kind of modern worship monopoly–a centralization of power, seeking to overthrow all lesser contenders?  Are they threatened by the ever-growing influence of the hymns movement to the point of needing to rally the troops?  I wish…and I jest.  I like this song.  It is powerful and moving, even if a bit disjointed.  It ends with congregational “whoa’s,” the high note being a held-out G# (!).  It caps off the album with a sense of unceasing worship.  A friend who attended Passion 2010 told me that United was surprised by the congregational mass who kept singing the “whoa’s,” and the band was joyfully “forced” back into building the song up again.  It must have been powerful to worship with such eager participants. 

 

For Christ and His Church,
Zac

 



One Comment on “Review of Passion’s New Worship Album, Awakening”

  1. Hi Zac,

    Thanks for your insightful and well-articulated review. I found your blog after being piqued by your review on Amazon, and came here to read your thoughts on each of the songs. Your heart for God–and His glory and truth–really shines forth in your writing. Just wanted to let you know that I’ve just finishing reading through all of your past blog posts here, and have been tremendously edified (and even challenged) by what I believe the Spirit has expressed through you. Looking forward to your future posts.

    For Him alone,

    ML

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