Worship releases seem to come in two forms these days. There is either the cover album version, where an established artist puts their own spin on worship standards, or the kind where a group movement, for instance, the Passion conferences or a church, like the Hillsong folks in Australia, composes their own entire body of work and release both studio and live versions of these songs. It's hard not to be impressed with the latter kind of album. The creative will it would take to make a whole new worship liturgy for your church body is laudable, and the Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina has written a commendable and solid batch of songs, as they demonstrate on their new live recording For The Honor.
The Elevation worship team, going by the name Elevation Worship, wisely picks the set's best rocker "Exalted One" to start things off, and the tune's modern rock sensibilities and aggressive guitar and vocal attack translate surprisingly well into the corporate worship setting. It is a similar scenario with the second song, "Lord Is My Rock / You Lifted Me Out." Their ability to put a creative spin on the worship genre, which can at times be a creative dead zone of 4/4 timing and stolen U2 chord progressions and sonics, is admirable.
The album's title track and set highlight "For The Honor" takes a few dynamic cues from fellow majestic songwriting brethren Coldplay, but combines the ambient keyboards and vocals with a lyric that is grounded in hymn-like theological truths and presented in a traditional four stanza format. The trinity-celebrating lyrics, "For the honor of the Savior, at the cross we lift him high, for the great exchange of love and grace, came down to give His life, and the third verse For the honor of the Spirit, whose power lives in us, that we might see more greater things, as we embrace your love," demonstrate much stronger writing than the average popular worship ditty, and seem to draw a bit on older church traditions, like the creeds recited in the "High Church" tradition. The fact a group of young twenty-something songwriters came up with a weighty lyric like this speaks highly of the depth of teaching at Elevation Church.
While not every song here achieves the depth and dynamics of the title track, the rest of the set contains songs that are structurally sound and create a full worship experience for the crowd and listener alike. "All Things New" and "The Church" are standout numbers and are good candidates to transition to a local body of believers near you. A slightly suspect theological moment mars the end of the album though, with the lead pastor addressing the "audience who is listening or watching this concert at home" to give their life to Christ as the music plays. While it is certainly true that the decision to follow Christ can happen anywhere, even while watching a DVD from the comfort of your easy-chair, authors like Francis Chan and Dietrich Bonheoffer would take issue with the "easy believing" theological point of view demonstrated here. Jesus did not invite his followers to "drop everything and say this magic incantation" but to "follow him." The easy believing point of view implies that the words save you, not the repenting heart and changed life that the Spirit coordinates. Most of the time it is an "unintentional" bad theology espoused by well meaning folks.
It's slightly ironic that moments of good theological insight can be found along moments of arguably bad theology here. But in truth, these inconsistencies are found in the heart of every believer, and demonstrate the need of both the grace of God (that covers all theological inconsistencies of the redeemed) and the need for the body of Christ (each other). This is a theme that the Elevation Worship team expresses well musically in this release.
- Review date: 11/21/11, written by Tincan Caldwell of Jesusfreakhideout.com