I like to maintain at least a facade of balance in reviewing songs. 😉 Seriously, though, I am not anti-old-song and pro-new-song. Since contemporary songs, however, are not traditional, they are not … well, as universally well known (and I don’t listen to contemporary Christian radio, so I don’t know many of them). Because of this, I know I probably seem like I critique traditional hymns more than modern hymns. I/we review all contemporary songs basically just as closely as traditional and/or old songs… so, as an example, here we go; several CCLI Top 25 songs.
First, some general comments. With many (definitely not all) contemporary songs – and this is a common critique though I think it tends to be lobbed to generally, and more often based on music style than actual content – there is fairly little content. That’s okay, we don’t always need tons of content, there are Psalms that exemplify “fairly little content,” too. That said, it shouldn’t be characteristic. There’s a LOT one can say about and to God; we should not be lacking for content. Also, it seems pretty common to throw out Christian-esque phrases without really seeming to know how they go together, what the end goal is, and what is really meant by them. For example, “hallelujah” means “praise the Lord,” but it’s used everywhere with apparently little thought to what the word even means. Same with words like “life” and “light” and “darkness” and even “love.” Lastly, it also seems common to more or less sing a list of attributes of God that simply aren’t applied in any way. While they are still true, it often feels more like haphazard “hey, this word fits my rhyme scheme” writing than thoughtful and intentional … worship.
Ok, so, the songs. Forever Reign, Our God, and Everlasting God.
Forever Reign is by Hillsong. I think this song falls into the “lots of Christian lingo without much substance.” I’m going to take this one in clumps of lines rather than all at once.
You are good, You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are good. What does this mean? Jesus was called good. He responded that no one is good except God, so how do you call me good? I would ask the same question, here. What do you mean by saying that God is “good?” It is not explained in the song (there is no “how” or “why”).
You are love, You are love
On display for all to see
Again… what does it mean to “be” love? And how is this love on display for all to see? Is this talking about salvific love? Love as in “you don’t let the world be blown apart?” Something else?
You are light, You are light
When the darkness closes in
Referring to Jesus as the “light of the world” is pretty popular, but again … what does that mean? I think of John 1… but the way it is used in these two lines doesn’t seem like it can refer to what John is referring to. So, what does this mean, again? It is vague enough that I can attach … a lot of meanings to it.
You are hope, You are hope
You have covered all my sin
This is a bit more clear; I assume the “hope” here is the hope of salvation, since it references “covering” my sin.
You are peace, You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, You are true
Even in my wandering
These lines actually make sense, I think. Hooray
You are joy, You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life, You are life,
In You death has lost its sting
And I think these lines do as well, since the “You are life” is explained, more or less, by “in You death has lots its sting.”
Oh, I’m running to Your arms,
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Enough for what?
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
“Your embrace.” Does that just mean … love? Or something else? And, here we have “light of the world” coupled with “reigning.” Reigning … in me? In the world? In the future Kingdom? When/where/how?
You are more, You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord, You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
Creation does not proclaim that Christ is Lord. In fact, you don’t get “Christ” or “Jesus” at all from creation.
You are here, You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
In Your presence I’m made whole? What does this mean?
You are God, You are God
Of all else I’m letting go
Letting go …. meaning sin? Or something else? Or does this just mean not idolizing anything else?
My heart will sing
no other Name
Using “sing” as a synonym/symbolism of praise, this does make sense.
Our God is by Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman.
Water you turned into wine, opened the eyes of the blind there’s no one like you, none like You!
Fair enough, I can go along with this so far. Miracles = no one like God.
Into the darkness you shine out of the ashes we rise there’s no one like you none like You!
Now he lost me. We rise out of ashes? Where are the ashes from?
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!
I can go along with this. They are all true.
And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us.
And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.
Ok, so this seems to clearly be a reference to Romans 8:31. However, without any context in the song, I don’t know what this actually means here. Paul was pretty clear as to what it means; Paul is talking about salvation. If it’s God who saved us, God who justifies us, and God who judges … then who can mess with that? If God is for our salvation and is the one who accomplishes our salvation, then who can possibly thwart Him? However, the song does not make this clear. In fact, I think it misuses the verse by saying “if God is for us, then who could ever stop us.” Paul doesn’t seem to have “stopping us” in mind, he seems to have “stopping God” in mind. He does use the phrase “against us” but that seems to more be a legal type of “against” … i.e., if God is the one “arguing” for our salvation, then who is going to be arguing “against” us? And, in fact, Paul literally says: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” (emphasis is mine. Paul didn’t have bold-type font. 😉 )
That’s the end of the song. To me, this is far from compelling. Could I sing it? Sure… but it feels ambiguous, disjointed, and unclear with the whole “if God is for us.”
Everlasting God appears to be by Benton Brown.
Strength will rise
As we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
Right away, I have two questions. What does it mean to “wait” upon the Lord, and whose strength is rising … and (okay, three questions) – strength to do what? Just … generic strength? Physical strength? Strength to share the gospel? Strength to stand up for the next ten minutes of singing? Strength to withstand temptation?
The ambiguity kinda makes me feel like this is a taken out of context verse, sorta like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That doesn’t mean you have the strength to finish your football game (and certainly not to necessarily win it). That simply was not what Paul meant in the context.
It is true that Psalm 27 mentions waiting on the Lord at the end of the Psalm; but David said a lot more than just that one verse. He also said that God is his light, and salvation, requested God to teach him, expressed faith and confidence in God’s ultimate salvation plan, expressed his love for God above everything else (this is the same Psalm as the verse that says “one thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life….”
I think David had a better idea of what it meant to “wait.” Specifically, David seemed to be saying to wait for God’s timing; just previous to the “wait upon the Lord” statement, David said:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
All this to say … this seems to be Christian lingo that is ambiguous and feel-goody. But ambiguity and feel-good-without-truth is not good. Can I interpret this to mean something good? Of course I can. And I’m sure you, if you like this song, do that. But that doesn’t mean the song is actually good at expressing that truth. I am of the opinion that ambiguity in worship is not generally good. I don’t want to be singing to or about God and not really know what I am saying… otherwise, it seems rather presumptuous.
Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our strong deliverer
This is all true.
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won’t grow weary
Also true, though I’m not sure how exactly it’s meant to “apply” to me.
You’re the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles
These statements have biblical references, though I feel like saying them in short, terse statements like this can be a big … confusing or ambiguous. Also, what does it mean to lift us up on wings like eagles?