Review of White Flag, by Passion

Zac HicksAlbum Reviews, Church & Ecclesiology2 Comments

Passion, White Flag (sixsteps/Sparrow)
Released: March 13, 2012

Passion’s latest project continues in their strong legacy of fervent live worship albums.  One can never question on these records that this movement continues to be deeply committed to the core of what Christian worship is all about–encountering the presence of God with the people of God.  At the same time, White Flag continues to reveal the theological growth and maturation of Passion’s main songwriters and artists–Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill, Christy Nockels, Charlie Hall, etc.  There are even some surprising new ventures, as far as content goes. “White Flag” (the title track) appears to be a metaphor for surrender to God, which characterizes some, though not all, of the album.

SUMMARY

It is simply not possible that every album produced by a band or music-community can be landmark and earth-shattering, and while White Flag is a great listen and a solid offering of fresh anthems for the English-speaking Church, it is not extraordinary.  The production continues to be crisp, energetic, creative, and forward-looking within the pop-rock genre.  The theological content is solidly evangelical and orthodox, with charismatic leanings being dialed down a bit as compared to previous albums.  If we were to compare the breadth of content with that of the biblical Psalms, it has not gone much further than Here for You (2011) and Awakening (2010) in exploring the spectral realities in between poles like joyful praise and sorrowful lament, with one notable exception surprisingly opening the door toward worship’s connection with the Lord’s Supper.  

The songs I would most likely incorporate into worship in my local context would be:

With honorable mention to:

  • “Lay Me Down”
  • “One Thing Remains”
  • “Yahweh”

MUSICALITY

White Flag is marked by the usual “arena worship” instrumentation–big drums, heavy low-end, high tenor vocals, backing “congregational” choir, epic guitars, and seeping keys.  No new or experimental/risky sounds will be found on this record, but there are a few slight new touches, such as the (most likely synthesized) dulcimer/harpsichord arpeggiations on “The Only One” and the electronica-plus-Death-Cabby-indie-guitars from Crowder on (the congregationally unfriendly) “All This Glory.”  Songs like “White Flag” and “One Thing Remains” exhibit the typical arena-style soft-low-to-epic-high contour, all glued together by tom-beating, snare-banging, kick-pounding crescendos.  “Yahweh” has a nicely arranged skipping pedaled piano part in its opening and some fresh ways of coloring a triple meter.  The early 80s metal-style holds and fuzzy electrics fit well the grandeur of the song.  Some songs seem much more appropriate for special music because of their difficult rhythms, which congregations would find hard to follow, such as (ironically named) “Sing Along.”  “10,000 Reasons,” save a few minor variations is the same version in key, arrangement, and style, as Redman’s earlier recorded version.

THEOLOGICAL CONTENT

Modern worship has always excelled at magnifying the prominent attributes of God–His greatness, His holiness, His majesty, His power, His perfection.  You hear it exemplified in songs like “Yahweh,” whose first verse and chorus sing:

You have no rival to Your throne
In majesty, You stand alone
There is no limit to Your reign
Now all Your works shall praise Your name
As far as this, from east to west
There’s no other, there’s no other

Yahweh,
Your name alone be exalted
Yahweh,
Our hearts are Yours forever 

Debra and Ron Rienstra, in their book Worship Words (see my review), have challenged worship to incorporate more of the names of God.  “Yahweh,” the chief name for God and perhaps the most obvious one scripturally, is still a step forward for modern worship which has for the most part failed to meet such a challenge.  Though, to be honest, much like Tomlin’s “Jesus Messiah,” there’s not much exploration into the meaning and significance of the Name (“I am that I am”).

“One Thing Remains” (previously recorded by Jesus Culture and a few others) is a testament to the power of God’s love.  And this is no generic love, it is the type of love exemplified in the Hebrew word, hesed, often translated “steadfast love” or “covenant love.”  Some might criticize the repetitive chorus, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me” as typical “mindless 7-11” worship music, but we need to remember that it is God’s love which is celebrated in such a repetetive fashion in Psalm 136 (“His love endures forever”).  The problem with this song is that it lacks a context for the most part.  It is faintly rooted in the gospel (“the debt is paid”) but no mention of any member of the Trinity is made.  It is a direct-address song.  If it were to be incorporated in worship, it would need strong contextualization and grounding in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  But with this context, it is quite moving and compelling.

“Jesus, Son of God,” even by virtue of its title, is a step forward (albeit a small one) in more Trinitarian explicitness, and it is a beautiful, singable, gospel-centered song, praising the incarnation and cross of Christ.  Verses 1 & 2, with the chorus:

You came down from heaven’s throne
This earth You formed was not Your home
A love like this the world had never known 

A crown of thorns to mock Your name
Forgiveness fell upon Your face
A love like this the world had never known

On the altar of our praise, let there be no higher name
Jesus, Son of God
You laid down Your perfect life, You are the sacrifice
Jesus, Son of God
You are Jesus, Son of God 

The second line of verse 2 is a beautiful, rich poetic metaphor.  As the crown of thorns came upon His head, “forgiveness fell” upon His face.  Blood fell.  It is a powerful statment that the instrument of torture, in a providential twist, opened up the “precious flow” of blood, which would be the world’s great forgiving balm.  

The most surprising song of all, from a theological perspective, is Charlie Hall’s “Mystery.”  Someone’s been studying their eucharistic historical theology!  Check out these lyrics:

Sweet Jesus Christ, my certainty
Sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity
Bread of Heaven, broken for me
Cup of salvation, held up to drink
Jesus, mystery

Christ has died and Christ is risen
And Christ will come again.

Why is this surprising?  First, Passion is a parachurch worship entity, and the Lord’s Supper is not something they have typically focused on in their worship music.  Second, the language is reflective of some “high church” exposure.  “Mystery” is a term that more “sacramental” churches more often use.  And the phrase “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” is straight-up high church liturgical eucharistic language.  I’m very curious about the origin of this song…it is simply not typical evangelical megachurch content.  What makes this song more exceptional is that, for a Communion song, it’s quite uplifting and eschatologically-oriented.  The bridge (which is the song’s high point) sings:

Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes, proclaim His coming
Celebrate His death and rising
Lift your eyes, lift your eyes

It’s a moving, victorious, back-looking, forward-reaching Communion song.  Praise God!  Imbedded in this simple text is a very reflective, rich, full-orbed eucharistic theology.  This is remarkable.

One can only hope that what is barely hinted at on this album–a greater ecclesiastical awareness–is indicative of things to come.  One of the great issues facing the Passion movement along with a fair amount of the modern worship “industry” is that they are in many ways one-off from the Church.  They are “church enrichment” programs, to be sure, but they are NOT the Church, and as such, there will always be missing from their songs the very vital component of contextual music-making.  One wonders whether this missing piece is what is driving the Passion folks (Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin) to begin the move toward “settling down” into their Atlanta-based plant, Passion City Church.  In the meantime, I’ll applaud any effort at building bridges between the largely “churchless” industry and the one true Bride of Christ.

CHECK OUT OTHER ALBUM REVIEWS 

2 Comments on “Review of White Flag, by Passion”

  1. Hey Zac, your link to this page from the "albums" page is incomplete. I added the ".html" to the end of the web address and that is how I arrived here. As always, thanks for you service to the body in worship!

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