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Album Review – Hillsong Worship, “There is More (Live)”

The Context

Hillsong Worship, not to be confused with Hillsong United or Hillsong Young & Free, is a behemoth in the “industry” of music for Christian worship. Considered individually, each team of Hillsong’s writers has a slightly different generational or demographical focus, with Hillsong Worship being the more “adult” or cross-generational of the three. Each release by Hillsong Worship contains several singles that are given heavy Christian radio airplay, although it is just as often that a new song makes the rounds on social media via a viral video clip. Most of the songwriters on this album are longtime contributors to Hillsong such as Reuben Morgan, Brooke Ligertwood, and Joel Houston.

 

The Content

Though these songs are ostensibly written for the Church to sing, the live versions on this album are arena rock—driving drums, soaring guitars, pads and synths, and lots of reverb. The final four tracks on the album are “acoustic” arrangements that are a bit more accessible for the average church and volunteers who serve in music ministry. In both cases, the key for songs may need to be adjusted, as these songs are intended to be sung in prime unison. Even songs led by Brooke Ligertwood are pitched low for men singing split octave. Average song length on the record is more than five minutes, so several of the songs would also need to be rearranged with less ambient space and/or repetition. As is often the case with Hillsong’s pop songs, the anthems of the song are found in both the chorus and the bridge of the respective song, with a jump of an octave or a fifth guiding the dynamic changes. Singles that have already been well-received from this album include “Who You Say I Am” and “So Will I (100 Billion X).” The strongest songs on this album are the ones that provide opportunities to sing Scripture—“God So Loved” is a powerful setting of John 3:16, “The Lord’s Prayer” adapts just that, and “Remembrance” celebrates the benefits of the Supper.

 

The Conclusion

Each Hillsong release usually contains one or two songs that have strong enough melody/lyric resilience to survive the rearrangement that smaller or more local churches must conduct in order use the song in corporate singing. Although the theological distinctions of Hillsong Church peek through in certain lyrical turns, the songs are rooted in biblical concepts and often paraphrase the Scripture in ways that are adaptable to many languages and contexts. It remains to be seen which song(s) from this album may take hold in the global church.

 

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

ITUNES

 

Review provided by David Calvert, who is the Creative Arts Director for Grace Community Church in rural North Carolina and a PhD graduate in Theology and Worship from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

Introduction

This episode is with composer, historian, and hymnologist Lim Swee Hong. Dr. Lim is the Deer Park Associate Professor of Sacred Music at Emmanuel College, and the Director of the Master of Sacred Music Program. Before joining Emmanuel on July 1, 2012, Swee Hong served as an Assistant Professor of Church Music at Baylor University, Texas.  Prior to his work at Baylor, he served as a Lecturer of Worship, Liturgy, and Music at Trinity Theological College in Singapore.

Swee Hong is widely utilized as a leader for global seminars and conferences dealing with worship and sacred music. Presently he is the Director of Research for the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. In 2013 he served as the Co-Moderator of the Worship Committee for the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches for its meeting in Busan, South Korea and was a member of the Worship Planning Committee for the 2011 Ecumenical Peace Convocation sponsored by the World Council held in Jamaica. From 2006 – 2011, he chaired the Committee on Worship and Liturgy for the World Methodist Council, designed and supervised the worship services of the 20th World Methodist Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Swee Hong holds a PhD in Liturgical Studies from Drew University, where his dissertation won the Helen LePage and William Hale Chamberlain Prize for Outstanding Dissertation. He also holds a Master of Arts in Sacred Music from Perkins School of Theology. He completed his undergraduate work in Church Music at the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music in the Philippines. Swee Hong is well-published in global music, with his monograph, Giving Voice to Asian Christians, especially known among global musicians. He is also a prolific composer of hymnody.

 

Season 1 – Episode 3

An interview with hymn scholar Lim Swee Hong focusing on the history of praise and worship music.

 

 

Listening time: 27 minutes

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Highlights

Every age segment of the population has their own playlist.

 

Contemporary worship at its beginning were songs of the people.

 

There is now a recovery of tradition within contemporary music…That to me is exciting.

 

Charles Wesley’s ‘And Can it Be’ speaks to me about the grace and the power of God’s love.  Even I can be redeemed and that is amazing!

 

Guest Blogger Tanya Riches has published a number of well-known songs through Hillsong Music Australia, including ‘Jesus What A Beautiful Name,’ which reached #6 on Australia’s CCLI worship charts. Along with a team, she administrated one of the most successful worship bands in history, Hillsong United, for its first six years under Reuben Morgan’s leadership. Her song ‘Hear Our Prayer’ was on their second album, Everyday. She is now not only now a respected academic working in Pentecostal Studies and Missiology, but one of the world’s most respected scholars regarding the phenomenon of Hillsong Church. Her PhD research (Fuller Theological Seminary) is an attempt further reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, by bringing attention to the work of Indigenous Christian leaders in some of Australia’s major cities (The Gold Coast, Perth and Cairns). Her deep desire is for justice.

 

Picking Out Great Songs

I can still remember the very first time I heard the song “Oceans.” It was a blurry video performance posted on Instagram and recorded on an iPhone camera. Taya Smith sang it, with a single guitar backing her. Both the camera and her voice shook slightly, yet you could still tell it was an incredible song.

I’ve done a bit of informal research, and lots of songwriters, worship leaders, and publishers agree: it’s possible to pick out a truly great song well before any marketer gets involved. For example, you might remember the moment when “Revelation Song” was released onto video with a teenage Kari Jobe singing in her pink coat. There are so many Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith worship songs that became “hits” just by word of mouth after a worship service … it’s fascinating, isn’t it?!

 

Sharing Songs

There are many reasons as to why Christians share songs: they can be incredibly useful for teaching biblical and doctrinal content, they unify congregations in glorifying God, they can give prophetic words to particular moments, and they can allow us to grasp a sense of the church universal as we sing together words written by a fellow Christian. This is perhaps why the Christian music publisher Hillsong has largely abandoned the word “products” in favour of “resources” for their music.

Apparently, according to Amy Stillman from the University of Hawaii, the phenomena of song-sharing was even happening well back into the 1890s in Oceania. Well before the mass hysteria over The Beatles’ single releases, Christian songs were being passed from village to village around the lagoons in Papua New Guinea. Songs like “Onward Christian soldiers” developed a certain appeal in parts of the Pacific, and were sung until the missionaries couldn’t bear them any longer (and maybe even a little past that point).

 

Tensions

Most worship leaders will understand the tensions that these missionaries must have faced. We tend to harness this kind of enthusiasm for sung worship. We know what is truly catchy, and what will assist the congregation in singing. This means that sometimes we use songs that we would prefer personally not to sing in order to encourage the congregation to magnify and glorify Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith. But it’s the age-old question for a worship leader: what happens if you don’t like the lyrics of a song, especially if it is just one line of an incredibly popular song?

There are so many instances of this, and many of the discussions seem to be about the use of contextual language. For example, it’s become clear to me, as an Australian, that some North American Christians just can’t bear singing the line “the darling of heaven crucified” or, for that matter, the word “hell” used in the vernacular sense in a worship song. For Australian Christians, however, the word “darling” and “beloved” are almost interchangeable. Similarly, our (over?) use the word “hell” is troubling for some and has even confounded Oxford Dictionary experts (https://www.betootaadvocate.com/uncategorized/oxford-dictionary-send-experts-to-terrigal-to-study-the-use-of-hell-as-an-adjective/). Even if you understand the meaning of the term in the Australian context, however, it may not be appropriate to use in your own congregational setting.

In addition, there are also various theological issues. One famous example is the Stuart Townend and Keith Getty song line “the wrath of God was satisfied” which, some congregations have claimed, paints a particular picture of the relationship between God and Jesus which betrays the Trinity’s inter-mutuality and love (https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/on-the-cross-when-jesus-died-was-the-wrath-of-god-satisfied/ ). The authors, however, disagreed that this was the correct interpretation of their work. So what can you do if you deem one line of a song theologically incorrect?

We tend to harness this kind of enthusiasm for sung worship. We know what is truly catchy, and what will assist the congregation in singing.

In order to sing contemporary worship songs, it seems, some global cultures are expected to learn to adapt more than others. Yet the context of some worship songs seem not to be a problem for people in the southern hemisphere who regularly sing about snow at Christmas time, sometimes even while packing their swimming costumes and preparing to head to the beach after church. Some of us can surely only imagine how incredibly hard it is to understand the line “his eye is on the sparrow” when you’ve never seen a bird that fits that name. It’s an exercise in trust to believe that not only does such a bird exist, but that God watches it with dedication. Yet such popular songs are regularly sung in Australia.

 

What To Do?

So what is a worship leader to do with these song texts outside of their original contexts? There are a number of ways to answer this question. Copyright law insists that the song is the work of the writer. That means that even if you love the tune, it would be inappropriate for a song leader to change the lyric “sloppy wet kiss,” for example, unless given expressed permission from the publisher. And yet, in this case, for example, David Crowder decided that there was enough outcry to allow for a new version of the song.

Still, despite the legalities in most countries and the publisher’s clear explanations that the author must be contacted, some worship pastors are under the impression that CCLI allows them leeway to change lyrics. Newsflash: it doesn’t, see: http://support.ccli.com/can-i-change-the-song-lyrics/

Often, the church learns new worship songs through the radio, or online. So do you include a tune in the worship service at the recommendation of a congregation member who loves it? And do you omit the troublesome lines because you can’t stand to think that the believers would be led into theological error? The tension for the worship pastor is real! The worship leader can often get caught between the pastor’s teaching, the congregation’s expression, and the songwriter’s legal protections.

So what is the answer? On this the law is clear. You can omit lyrics. But you can’t change lyrics without the express permission of the author.

Therefore, rather than expecting songs to be able to do this work, perhaps worship leaders should see ourselves as missionaries to our own cultures.

But what is ideal in this instance? Well, perhaps we need to stop believing that we can and should all be singing the same repertoire globally? Although it is a beautiful thing for churches to share their resources, the agency to make decisions about what is included in worship still remains with (and has always been) with the local pastors to prayerfully consider song texts and decide whether they should be incorporated into the worship service. The best scenario is when the worship pastor or leader is given the right to negotiate with the various parties and set the right songlist for their context.

 

Different Ways of Speaking

The truth is, language is not universal. We recognize that we have differences in the way we speak, but we also have differences in the meaning of our speech. And so, unless we have verbatim quotes of the biblical text, we cannot expect that all songs will translate across all cultures —and even then we know that biblical translations carry various theological emphases. The Gospel, in contrast, is renowned for its translatability. This message can be told and retold in many different languages, and with a consistency that allows its essence to remain.

Therefore, rather than expecting songs to be able to do this work, perhaps worship leaders should see ourselves as missionaries to our own cultures. If we hold to the goal that the Gospel be understood by the people we serve, and that the scriptures would transform us as we gather in worship together as the people of God, then we can evaluate the usefulness of songs on this basis. This type of ministry, immersion into local culture, is based upon the model of the incarnation of Christ.

But we can certainly acknowledge that it is incredible that some songs do seem to manage to cross the language divides in order to unify believers of various nations. That’s enough to make you praise Christ, who promises “I will build the church” (Matthew 16:18).