Review of Various Artists' "Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship" Album
The long standing worship war over hymns and choruses has left its share of carnage. People have switched churches because the music is getting far too "devilish." Others have held the church in abeyance because hopping into the time machine each Sunday listening to older traditional hymns is too far removed from the present reality. Each side has its own reasoning. Hymn-lovers are definitely going to bank on the fact that hymns are so multivariate in its meaning. Each line is filled with the richness of Biblical as well as contemporary significance. Take a line from a hymn "And Can It Be" as an example: "My Chains fell off my heart was free/I rose went forth and followed thee." On onehand, this hymn is describing how the Cross of Christ has set us free from the chains of sin and death. On the other hand, for those steeped in Scripture, another petal of meaning unfolds when one is reminded of Acts 12:7 where Peter's chains were miraculously freed. Such layers of meaning are what make hymns such a treasure trove of the church. Yet, those in the other camp would argue that hymns are far from seeker sensitive. Non-Christians will find these ancient paeans dated, archaic and out of sync with contemporary songs.
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Over the years, worship leaders have tried to reconcile the two camps by crafting what I call "hymn-songs." They would take a hymn and augment it with newly written verses or choruses or bridges and they would remove all the "eres," 'thees," and "thous." Chris Tomlin has successfully done this with "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)," Matt Redman has followed suite with "The Wonderful Cross." Recently, Hillsong did it with "Cornerstone" and Darlene Zschech with "My Jesus I Love You." But there was not a full collection of hymn-songs until "Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship."
Jointly released by Provident Label Group and Capitol Christian Music Group, "Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship" is a gorgeous 12-song collection of hymn-songs re-imagined and re-crafted with today's sensibilities in mind. Though some of the cuts here like Andy Cherry's' "Nothing But the Blood," Hillsongs' "Cornerstone" and Newsboys' "Jesus Paid It All" have been released before. And to top it off, there are newly re-crafted hymn-songs by today's top billing contemporary Christian artists such as Steven Curtis Chapman, Kari Jobe and Casting Crowns. Though not the most familiar of hymns, "Jesus, Firm Foundation" has a new chorus added to it. The highlight here is hearing Mike Donehey (of 10th Avenue North), Steven Curtis Chapman and Mark Hall (of Casting Crowns) trading lines with each other. And not to be missed is Mandisa who adds her richly textured Gospel soul to the barrage of male voices. Michael W. Smith needs to be congratulated for his creative makeover of "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name." Often when new verses are tagged to old hymns they are glaringly inferior, but the words Smith tags on are majestic, authentic and glorious.
Written in the milieu where songs were never addressed from a first person perspective, those unacquainted with such a culture will find hymns aloof. This is especially true today where we have a penchant to use "I" in almost every song, "I love you," "I worship you," and so forth. Kari Joe tries to rectify that by adding a personal chorus to "Be Still My Soul." Applying the hymn to herself, she sings: "In you I rest/In you I found my hope/In you I trust." Brandon Heath does something similar with "It is Well (Oh My Soul)" that is just as heartfelt. One of the album's most worshipful moments come with Nicole Nordeman's "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." Nordeman takes the famous chorus and adds newly written verses to it. Each verse presents different contexts so overwhelming that all we can do is follow what the chorus so gently exhorts: "turn your eyes upon Jesus/Look fully in his wonderful grace."
Hillsong's "Cornerstone" is a re-make of "The Solid Rock." Though the song had first appeared on Hillsong Live's recent album of the same name and later their Hillsong Chapel record, this is a re-recording which is much shorter in time but still as poignant. All in all, "Jesus, Firm Foundation: Hymns of Worship" is an important record as far as worship is concerned. These are the types of songs that will bring an end to our worship wars. These are the songs that will educate the young about the richness of hymns. And these will get the seniors grooving along too. A must have CD for all worship pastors.
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