TGC’s first album, “Songs for the Book of Luke” was released yesterday and is being unashamedly marketed far and wide on the conservative-reformed web as I write this.
Here’s my thoughts after listening to the album:
- I’m thankful that so many people are captured by a vision to sing “songs about the glory of God and the wonder of redemption”.
- I like the new-old idea of getting pastor-theologians involved in the songwriting process (for example, “Our Hearts Still Burn”, a meditation on Luke 24, is written by DA Carson)
- I’m thankful to hear and see so much musical creativity from local churches in the US flow so freely through each song
The words are great and well-thought out (each one is inspired by a different part of the gospel of Luke), and the musicianship on each album is excellent. So if this were an album just to listen to, I’d be over the moon with it.
Yet Ben Peays writes in announcing this album:
After a nation-wide call for entries, more than 200 songs were submitted. Those were narrowed down to this collection of 13 songs, all rooted in the scriptures, all written for local congregations.
And the About the Project blurb states:
Most of all, we hope that as you listen, as you sing, and as churches consider singing these songs, you’ll be refreshed and reminded once again of the richness of the Book of Luke and the glory of our Savior.
So the stated aim is new songs for congregational use. And because of that, I have some further thoughts on that:
- The melodies in quite a few of these songs (e.g. “Lift Up Your Head”, “Come to the Feast”, “For Your Sake”) have that singer-songwriter feel to it that make them very easy to listen to, but too sophisticated and for the average churchgoer to pick up easily (the wide vocal range of some of the songs don’t help either). The one exception so far which stuck out as quite singable is “Not in Me” by Eric Schumacher and David Ward, perhaps because of its simple tune and hymn meter.
- There’s a couple of different genres represented but the songs are mostly based around the alternative/indie paradigm (e.g. “Authority of Christ”, “Our Hearts Still Burn”). Perhaps it’s because the recording band was put together by Sojourn Music. It makes each song great to turn up on my headphones, but it’s hard to envisage how to lead these songs for a church vs. the performance tracks I’m listening to. Also if you’re someone with a strong preference for one musical style, you’ll either love this album or be turned off before the first track is over.
- I almost wished each song on the album was re-recorded with just a guitar/piano and vocal to get a better sense of how to use them for gathered worship. I know the album comes with lots of reinforcements in the form of sheet music and chord charts. And the “Learn the Song” videos perhaps was how they tried to answer this, but I don’t know if that’s enough to give smaller churches the confidence to try many of these songs (especially once the umpteeth electric guitar vamp blasts through).
But let me end with some of the words from “Not in Me”, which is my favourite song from the album (“Our Hearts Still Burn” is my second-favourite). The writers describe it as follows:
What would it sound like for the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 to repent? His prayer begins proclaiming what he has not done, with a list of people he is “not like”. So, repentance must be renouncing such boasts before God. In the end, the repenting Pharisee’s prayer is the same as the tax collector’s. Ultimately, whether for a Pharisee or a tax-collector, there is only one Gospel, one hope of salvation. God shows mercy to sinners, self-righteous or self-loathing, on the basis of Christ crucified and risen. In the end, neither can earn his forgiveness or merit a standing.
We’re both the tax collector and the Pharisee. One moment, we are wallowing in our sin, relenting of any hope due to the greatness of our evil. The next moment, we are boasting of our own righteousness and finding comfort in our external goodness and self-control. We need songs that preach the Gospel to us in and lift us out of the ditches on both sides of the road.
Here’s some of the lyrics:
No list of sins I have not done, no list of virtues I pursue,
No list of those I am not like can earn myself a place with you.
O God! Be merciful to me. I am a sinner through and through.
My only hope of righteousness is not in me, but only you
No humble dress, no fervent prayer, no lifted hands no tearful song,
No recitation of the truth can justify a single wrong.
My righteousness is Jesus’ life. My debt was paid by Jesus’s death.
My weary load was borne by Him And He alone can give me rest.
Amen to that!