Monday, February 20, 2012

Hymnody Resurgent: Maryland

Sovereign Grace Music. Psalms. Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Music, 2008. Audio CD. $10.00. (H)

Sovereign Grace Music. Sons and Daughters. Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Music, 2009. Audio CD. $12.00. (H)

Sovereign Grace Music. Risen. Gaithersburg, MD: Sovereign Grace Music, 2011. Audio CD. $12.00. (H)

Our series on the resurgence of hymns continues to Maryland, where Sovereign Grace Ministries is based. SG Music was generous to provide three recent albums for review, ranging from rock Psalm settings, driven hymnic ballads that encouraging singing, and modern hymns and songs that focus on our Resurrection hope in Christ.

For more than twenty years, Sovereign Grace Ministries has been producing songs for congregational worship. Our goal is to provide local churches with new songs characterized by biblical truth and consuming passion that honors God. While our lyrics cover a broad variety of Scriptural topics, we continually return to God’s glory revealed in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross—the gospel. Our hearts and lives have been transformed by the Savior, and we can’t help singing about what is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Like Charles Wesley, we wish we had “a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise.” We pray the songs we write will produce the same desire in you and your church, for the glory of God. (Publisher's website)

Psalms is a 2008 release. My car CD player played this disc right after the latest from Daughtry. The albums are stylistically similar. All texts are paraphrases of Psalms (90, 150, 46, 68, 96, 23, 145, 84, 130, 34, 51, 32). As a liturgical Lutheran, I gravitated toward those that would have the most application for devotion and personal prayer, since the settings and arrangements as recorded would be inappropriate for use at my congregation. The context of these Psalms in Christian worship is Christological. Choruses, Bridges and Verses could be strengthened by making more explicit references to Christ Jesus. Album notes quote from the ESV Study Bible.

Sons and Daughters, a 2009 release, brought to mind the sound and vocals of a Kelly Clarkson album and the instrumentation and creative arrangements of Caedmon's Call. "Prepared a Place for Me," "Precious Children," and "The Father's Love" were textually strongest because of references to Jesus as Son, Christ, and Savior. Texts focus on what God has done for us in Christ delivered to individuals in relationship with Him. Many of the tracks are musically energetic, including "God Delights in You," and the comfort of the Gospel found in the texts is well-supported by the melodies.

The enhanced CD of Risen (2011) includes lead sheets, piano scores and guitar charts. My first impression of the album, that these songs were crafted intentionally as congregational song, remains. They sound better on a wider variety of instrumentation than just a modern pop/rock combo.

I still react negatively at the high number of occurrences of "I" and "you" and the often ambiguous "You" reference to the Lord. I would recommend more use of nouns for God than pronouns and more texts that clearly communicate God's actions for us in Christ. 

"To Live Is Christ" lyrically puts a heavenly perspective in the mouths of those who sing it. "We Have Been Healed" points to the great exchange: "All our sin for Your grace. "We Will Rise" applies the consequences of Jesus' death and resurrection to Christians. He rose. So What? We will rise! "You Are Our Hope" recognizes Luther's simil justus et peccator: "Comfort for weary sinners, strength for the struggling saint..." "You Have Been Raised " proclaims the "for you" Gospel: "Because of Your shed blood we cannot be rejected." "Your Name Alone Can Save" proclaims the scandal of salvific particularity in Christ alone.

I am thankful for the opportunity to sample and examine in detail the audio and sheet music of these three albums. I want to keep listening to Sovereign Grace Music because I see growth in a stronger proclamation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. In addition, I see evidence of greater flexibility in arrangements and instrumentation so both traditional and contemporary congregations can sing the same modern hymnody to the glory of God in Christ.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.