I’ve been through four “Pew Reviews” so far, and have found that 1) they are harder than I thought, B) most contemporary praise choruses are remarkably similar, and III) most struggle to meet three basic guidelines for using music in worship. That said, I’m taking the easy way out and saving myself some time and effort and reviewing the rest of the Top 10 in rapid fire succession. Fasten your seat belts.
5. “Open the Eyes of My Heart” (Baloche): Short, repeating praise chorus whose words don’t match the music. Singing “Holy, holy, holy” in an upbeat, candy-coated way just doesn’t do it. The words “I want to see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory” aren’t quite right, either. Anyone who saw any bit of the holiness of God in Scripture (e.g. Moses, Job, Isaiah, John) were forever changed by it and were thrown prostrate to the ground and cried “Woe is me, for I am undone.” Not really candy-coated praise chorus type of stuff, eh? As Calvin writes, “Men can never know their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.”
6. “Everlasting God” (Brown/Riley): Speaking of the majesty of God, here’s a song about it. Discard the “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord/We will wait upon the Lord/We will wait upon the Lord” and it’s not half bad. A song about God’s deliverance of His people when they are in need.
7. “Shout to the Lord” (Zschech): Some decent lyrics here about the greatness of God in the earth and in His redemptive acts for His people. A shame that the music doesn’t fit the lyrics. “Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing/Power and majesty, praise to the King.” If we’re shouting these majestic words and asking the whole earth to join us, I wouldn’t pick a crooning feel-good tune like this one.
8. “Holy is the Lord” (Tomlin/Giglio): One verse, one chorus, one bridge, and lots of “Together we sing/Everyone sing.” The verse is reminiscent of Isaiah 6, but more repetitive, while most of the verse is made up of singing about the congregation’s actions. In general, lacks substance and is inconsistent with the scriptural response to God’s holiness (see above). The bridge seems odd and out of place, too (“It’s rising up, all around/It’s the anthem of the Lord’s renown”).
9. “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” (Tomlin/Giglio/Excell/Rees/Newton): How does one improve upon arguably the best known and most beloved hymn in the world? One apparently doesn’t since four tried with this version. It took four guys to add just one chorus while slightly altering the tune (just enough to throw a congregation off, in my experience). Tough song to review because it has a lot of sentimental value for me and my family, but I’d still say that this version isn’t a good congregational worship song. In researching this song, I found that the final verse (“The earth will soon dissolve like snow…”) is actually a Newton original, and there’s definitely a reason it’s been left out of nearly every hymnal I’ve ever seen. Thanks, Chris Tomlin (et al) for bringing back the overly-sentimental verse that doesn’t fit with much of the rest of the hymn. Also, I’ve been trying to figure out the phrase “Like a flood/His mercy reigns” for months and it still doesn’t make sense – even if reigns is rains. For corporate worship, congregations would do better to stick to the original (sans the weird last verse).
10. “Forever” (Tomlin): I feel like Tomlin is to modern praise choruses as cranberry juice is to all the other juices – he’s everywhere (with a nod to Brian Regan). Why don’t you tone it down, cran-man? If his songwriting was better, I would understand. They aren’t bad pop songs, but since they’ve been embraced by the contemporary worship movement, I don’t think they are appropriate worship songs.
1. Briefly, these three mostly common sense criteria can be formulated as questions: 1) Are the words orthodox (biblical/true)?; 2) Are the words significant (just because the words are true doesn’t mean they are fit as vehicles of praise; also poorly written but true lyrics would fall under this category)?; and 3) Is the song suitable for the context of corporate worship (individualistic lyrics, words that don’t match the tune, tunes that are not suited to congregational singing, etc.)?