Sorting Through the Top 25: "Pew Review"

I think I am going to embark on a new project. The CCLI regularly publicizes their most popular songs used by churches, and I’d like to look at each of them for their biblical and theological accuracy, merit for corporate worship, and overall quality. I don’t purport to be a theologian or a musician, so I’d like to look at these songs from the perspective of the average Joe in the pew – thus the catchy “Pew Review” title.

What I don’t intend to do is 1) make assumptions or judgments about the artists themselves (i.e. their eternal state before God); 2) say that any contemporary “praise song” is bad just because it is a contemporary praise song; or 3) write a treatise on proper biblical worship (see Horton’s A Better Way, Hart & Muether’s With Reverence and Awe, Payne’s In the Splendor of Holiness, or Wilson’s Primer to start). Also, something that I will have to be careful of is commenting on the intent of the artist. For most of the songs, I can’t know the intent of the artist or the story behind the song (though I will try to find out), so I want to review the songs merely as a church-goer in the pew.

The average person in the pew can’t really know the background or intent of each song, and cannot know exactly what the artist meant when writing the song, so that’s how I will look at them – what meaning comes across when singing this song in worship? I will be evaluating the songs in and of themselves. I think a careful evaluation of music used in corporate worship is direly needed in the American church in general.

I will be operating from several premises: 1) Sola Scriptura – what does the Bible have to say? 2) The ends don’t automatically justify the means – I’ve heard many people say that some blatantly unbiblical “praise songs” bring them closer to God. I don’t doubt it, but I also know many people who say that hallucinogenic drugs bring them closer to God. Which brings me to my third premise: 3) There is objective right and wrong on this topic. It’s not a matter of subjective feelings about song lyrics and the music they are set to. There is objective truth, found ultimately in God and what he has said in his Word – outside of ourselves. I don’t claim to have the final say on what is the objective truth (thankfully), which goes back to the first premise.

To be honest, I’m a little nervous. I will also need to examine myself along with the songs, thinking about what C.S. Lewis argues in An Experiment in Criticism that the merits of a book (in this case a song) originate in whether the reader is a good or bad reader.

As an aside, I might try to secure “guest reviewers” for some of the songs, to keep it interesting and fresh. I don’t know how often I will review songs, but I’m shooting for one or two per month.

To close this post, here are the songs (and copyright holder in parentheses) I’ll be looking at: CCLI’s top 25 songs “reported by churches in their Copy Activity Reports, as used for the February 2009 royalty payout (for surveys returned between April 1, 2008 and September 30, 2008).”

1. How Great is our God (Tomlin, Reeves, Cash)
2. Blessed be Your Name (Redman, Redman)
3. Here I am to Worship (Hughes)
4. Mighty to Save (Fielding, Morgan)
5. Open the Eyes of My Heart (Baloche)
6. Everlasting God (Brown, Riley)
7. Shout to the Lord (Zschech)
8. Holy is the Lord (Tomlin, Giglio)
9. Amazing Grace [My Chains Are Gone] (Tomlin, Giglio, Excell, Rees, Newton)
10. Forever (Tomlin)
11. Come, Now is the Time to Worship (Doerksen)
12. Lord, I Lift Your Name on High (Founds)
13. Your Grace is Enough (Maher)
14. You are my King (Foote)
15. God of Wonders (Byrd, Hindalong)
16. The Heart of Worship (Redman)
17. Beautiful One (Hughes)
18. We Fall Down (Tomlin)
19. Trading my Sorrows (Evans)
20. You are my all in all (Jernigan)
21. In Christ Alone (Townend, Getty)
22. Breathe (Barnett)
23. Days of Elijah (Mark)
24. How Great Thou Art (Hine, Wesley)
25. You’re Worthy of my Praise (Ruis)

3 thoughts on “Sorting Through the Top 25: "Pew Review"

  1. This is a great idea, and I look forward to finally finding out what is meant by “these are the days of Elijah” when you get to #23. Also, don’t ask me to guest review #19–I have a physical reaction when I hear the profound chorus of “Yes! Lord! Yes! Lord! Yes! Yes! Lord!”

  2. As I know all of these songs fairly well (though have only sung a few in a very long time) I am quite interested in the results of your review. It is a very worthy project.

  3. I can attest to Scott’s physical reaction…and I’m really curious about “Days of Elijah” too. In fact, before I read the list, as I was reading your post I started thinking about that song. I’m excited about this endeavor of yours!

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