It’s always exciting to hear that Chris Tomlin has a new album out. We’ve come to expect some crackers that have gone on to serve many a congregation; I only have to say ‘how great is our God’ and the tune that pops straight into your head proves the point! His latest project – Burning Lights – arrived in January…
It gets off to a great start as Tomlin teams up with rapper Lecrae with Awake My Soul. It’s a song based around Ezekiel 37, inviting God to speak through His word, by which He makes us alive in His Spirit. We’re then into Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies) where Tomlin opens up the Old Testament title the LORD of Hosts in a song filled with Biblical truth, framed in a memorable melody.
As expected, there are a couple of songs here that could fit right in on a Sunday morning. A fresh arrangement of the old hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns (with a new chorus) might be really useful in church contexts in which this classic would benefit from a modern twist. Also Sovereign, a song about God’s exhaustive reign combines great truth with a very sing-able tune. The first verse reminds us that God is:
Sovereign in the mountain air
Sovereign on the ocean floor
With me in the calm
With me in the storm
Sovereign in my greatest joy
Sovereign in my deepest cry
With me in the dark
With me at the dawn
All this comes wrapped in a diverse range of musical style – with everything from rap to Mumford-style folk in Lay Me Down. However, there are a few places where this engaging sound is let down by the lyrics. There are quite a few moments where Tomlin’s usual lyrical clarity doesn’t cut through. Some lines require explaining to avoid confusion; some are possibly a bit unhelpful…
Jesus Son of God, for example, has the line “on the altar of our praise / let there be no higher name / Jesus Son of God”, to which we’d want to say ‘absolutely’! (After all, that’s what the author of Hebrews 13 thinks!) But it’d be worth pointing out exactly what’s meant here if you were to sing this church-friendly song in a gathering. It’s not really explained through the rest of the song, and people could go away with the wrong idea about altars and just what we’re doing as we sing – one to flag up.
And then there’s God’s Great Dance Floor. Co-written with former Delirious? front-man Martin Smith, this is the weakest song on the album, lyrically speaking. The concept of God’s unfailing love is helpful, but the language of God’s dance floor isn’t one I’ve managed to find in scripture! I’m not sure I fully understand what it’s getting at here with lines like “let the future begin” and “I am alive on God’s great dance floor”. So it’s not something I’d feel comfortable singing or listening to.
All in all, it’s a pretty mixed bag with some typically catchy songs ideal for use in church gatherings and a few near misses, too. My advice: grab the best ones from iTunes and you won’t feel like you’re missing out!
Ben Slee – Christ Church Beckenham