Category Archives: Music

The Sublime Song of the Universe

From Augustine’s letter to Jerome (AD 415), as translated and quoted in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1:527–528:

Not in vain has the prophet, taught by divine inspiration, declared concerning God, “He bringeth forth in measured harmonies the course of time” [Isa. 40:26]. For which reason music, the science or capacity of correct harmony, has been given also by the kindness of God to mortals having reasonable souls, with a view to keep them in mind of this great truth. For if a man, when composing a song which is to suit a particular melody, knows how to distribute the length of time allowed to each word so as to make the song flow and pass on in most beautiful adaptation to the ever changing notes of the melody, how much more shall God, whose wisdom is to be esteemed as infinitely transcending human arts, make infallible provision that not one of the spaces of time alloted to natures that are born and die — spaces which are like the words and syllables of the successive epochs of the course of time — shall have, in what we may call the sublime psalm of the vicissitudes of this world, a duration either more brief or more protracted than the foreknown and predetermined harmony requires! For when I may speak thus with reference even to the leaves of every tree, and the number of the hairs upon our heads, how much more may I say it regarding the birth and death of men, seeing that every man’s life on earth continues for a time, which is neither longer nor shorter than God knows to be in harmony with the plan according to which He rules the universe.

On My iPod

A few of the albums currently streaming through the ‘buds:

  • The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow (2011). An album that grew on me after about the third or fourth play. [Amazon | iTunes]
  • Josh Garrels, Love & War & The Sea In Between (2011). Apart from one or two songs that grate on me, I like this album a lot. Don’t miss his track “Farther Along.” Crank it and sing along! Garrels recently told CT, “We were so provided for during the making of this album, by both God and men, that it seems appropriate to give away as freely as we received.” In that spirit, you can download the album for free here.
  • Sovereign Grace Music, Risen (2011). I’ve been listening to this album since before Easter. Why stop now? [Amazon | iTunes]
  • Sigur Rós, Takk… (2005). Because my playlist is always flavored with a little Sigur. [Amazon | iTunes]
  • Glenn Gould, Bach: The Goldberg Variations (1955). It’s unclear if Gould was autistic or just eccentric but it’s obvious he was a prodigy. The energy he brings to the piano in this recording is impressive. [Amazon | iTunes]

What albums currently flavor your life?

Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat

The new album from Sojourn Music is very good, especially the opening song that was inspired by an old hymn written by John Newton. The original hymn lyrics were tweaked and then recorded and released by Jamie Barnes. The song is titled “Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat” and it was released online on JT’s blog this past week (where you can download the mp3 for free). I find myself listening to it over and over again.

You can listen to the beautiful hymn here:

Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat

Approach my soul, the mercy seat
Where Holy One and helpless meet
There fall before my Judges’ feet
Thy promise is my only plea, O God

Send wings to lift the clutch of sin
You who dwell between the cherubim
From war without and fear within
Relieve the grief from the shoulders of crumbling men

O God—Pour out your mercy to me
My God, Oh what striking love to bleed.

Fashion my heart in your alchemy
With the brass to front the devil’s perjury
And surefire grace my Jesus speaks
I must. I will. I do believe. O Lord.

Handel’s Messiah

In December I plan to take the family downtown to see Handel’s Messiah performed at the Washington National Cathedral. To prepare for the event, I recently read the excellent new book Handel’s Messiah: Comfort for God’s People by Calvin Stapert (Eerdmans, 2010). Stapert, a professor of music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, explains the musical and historical background of Handel’s oratorio. But he also provides a very helpful theological commentary on the narrative that traces Jesus’ birth (act 1), suffering, death, resurrection (act 2), and His eternal reign (act 3). Messiah is the gospel set to 2.5 hours of music, complete with a personal invitation (part 1, scene 5).

To enjoy Messiah is—in the words of one friend—to be washed with the Gospel.

The musical score was written, of course, by George Frideric Handel (1685–1759). The narrative (or libretto), is a carefully woven mix of biblical passages, the work of Charles Jennens (1700–1773). Stapert does a fine job explaining how these men worked together to produce the masterpiece. But here is what I find most interesting: Messiah, first performed in Dublin on April 13, 1742, was intended to be something of an apologetic, according to Stapert. He explains on pages 75–76 in an excerpt worth quoting at length:

Messiah tells a deliverance story—the story of God’s ultimate deliverance of his people from bondage to sin and death. But it is a story that increasing numbers of Europeans were disbelieving, and therein lies the motivation behind Jennens’s compilation of the Scripture passages that constitute the libretto for Messiah.

The Enlightenment was in full swing, and the church was severely threatened by those who denied that Christ was the Son of God, the long-promised Messiah who would deliver his people from bondage to sin and death. Of course the church had always faced threats to the faith from unbelievers. But the number of unbelievers in Europe increased significantly during the Enlightenment, a movement that fostered “natural” religion that proclaimed a commonsense social morality and an optimistic view of human nature. Typically it took the form of Deism.

Deism did not deny the existence of a Supreme Being who created all things but claimed that after creation that Being left humans to themselves. According to Deists, humans had no need of a god because they were innately good and had the resources to solve their own problems. Human perfectibility could be achieved by human resources without divine intervention. Thus Deism was fundamentally at odds with Christian beliefs that humans are basically sinful, that they are incapable of saving themselves, and therefore that they need a Savior. In other words, Deists did not believe in the need for a Messiah.

Messiah was born into this world of growing Deistic threat to the church. It was not only that Deism added substantially to the number of Europeans who didn’t believe Jesus to be the Messiah, but also that unlike other disbelievers (Jews, Muslims, atheists), Deists were often within the church, even among the clergy—”profane scoffers among our selves,” as Richard Kidder called them. Committed orthodox Christians like Jennens had reason to be concerned, and that concern spawned an outpouring of works that reaffirmed the historic Christian beliefs, the chief among them being that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah. Jennens’s libretto for Messiah joined a host of writings on the subject. Treatises and tracts, poems and periodical articles were written to prove that Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.

Stapert makes an interesting point. We can pray that the Lord will use the many performances of Messiah this winter for that very same purpose—to open the eyes of sinners to see their need for a messiah, and to see the sufficiency and suitability of Jesus Christ to be the very Messiah for which the weight of our eternity rests.

Note: you can listen to a recording of Messiah online via NPR here.

Next Conference Worship Videos

An annual highlight of mine is attending the Next Conference. It’s always an edifying time, filled with great teaching and outstanding musical worship. And recently four live worship videos from the 2009 conference were released on Vimeo. Enjoy!

The Name Above All Names

Completely Done

Only Jesus

King of Peace

The Prodigal

That is a powerful animation.

You can download the song here.

HT: Bob Kauflin

Who installed that pentatonic scale in me?

“…common grace precedes all that is good and true that we still see in fallen man. The light still shines in the darkness. The Spirit of God lives and works in everything that has been created. Therefore there still remain in man certain traces of the image of God. There is still intellect and reason; all kinds of natural gifts are still present in him. Man still has a feeling and an impression of divinity, a seed of religion. Reason is a priceless gift. Philosophy is an admirable gift from God. Music is also a gift of God. Arts and sciences are good, profitable, and of high value. … Through the doctrine of common grace the Reformed have, on the one hand, maintained the specific and absolute character of the Christian religion, but on the other hand they have been second to none in their appreciation for whatever of the good and beautiful is still being given by God to sinful human beings.”

—Herman Bavinck, De Algemeene Genade (Eerdmans, 1922), p. 17. (bold=mine)

Watch and listen as a crowd expresses the pentatonic scale with natural unison and ask yourself: Who embedded that scale into each of us?


LeRoi Moore (1961-2008)

Yesterday saxophonist LeRoi Moore died from what appears to have been complications related to his June ATV accident. He was 46. LeRoi could rock the flute like no other. He will be missed.

3 excellent new albums

I was blessed in the first half of 2008 to attend three separate conferences for college students. Each of the conferences were God-glorifying and soul-edifying and each of the conferences were marked by an excellence in musical worship. And to my great delight, studio recordings of each conference band allow me to relive the musical worship. Here they are (with links to iTunes):

1) Lu, or, Looked Upon by the Na Band (Na Conference; Louisville, KY). Watching Devon Kauflin lead worship with his dad Bob supporting him on keys was a neat experience at the 2008 New Attitude conference in Louisville. The songs played live at the conference and recorded in the studio on this album are deeply rooted in the cross of Christ. Track 11, “All I Have is Christ,” is fabulous. Lu (short for Looked Upon) is Wg (that is, worth getting). A superb album. Cross centeredness: A+. [UPDATE: You can download several live recordings from the conference here.]

2) Adore and Tremble by Daniel Renstrom (Missio Dei conference; Wake Forest, NC). My first trip to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had not heard of Daniel before the conference and really didn’t know him after the conference either. I thanked him in person for playing, and assumed he was *just* a gifted college ministry worship leader—until I returned home and received a copy of his album. I immediately recognized his songs featured at the conference. The lyrics include some beautiful, pure cross-centered statements. In the song “At the Cross” he sings, “At the cross, wrath was taken away, / and Christ was in our place. / What marvelous grace. / At the cross, justice was supplied, / by the blood of Christ.” And in the song “Where Could I Go” Daniel takes the cross and daily life and ties them together beautifully. Cross centeredness: A.

3) O For That Day by Enfield, the Resolved Band (Resolved Conference; Palm Springs, CA). The album features solid biblical lyrics and strings from beginning to end. And I listen to it from beginning to end on long drives and long walks. Hearing them play live was a great but the album itself sounds “live” too and you can get a sense of being at the conference (if you play the album loud enough). Though on the album you don’t get C.J. on drums like you do live. All said, it’s a great addition to a musical library (track 4 was written from Isaiah 6 and is worth the price of the entire album). Cross centeredness: B-.

Consider each of these three albums for your iPod as you seek to worship God throughout the day. Each will help foster worship to our gracious God. And each of these albums are reminders of the amazing depth of God’s gracious working in the hearts of a younger generation of Christians—in three diverse spheres in North America—who are writing, playing, and recording excellent God-exalting music.

How God must love to pour out the generous musical gifts (like those featured on these albums) to glorify Himself!

Love of music + iPhone 2.0 = Shazam!

For the music lover, Shazam is the single greatest iPhone application I’ve seen to date. If you’re in Starbucks and you hear a song being played, you open this program, it listens for 10 seconds or so, and then tells you the artist and song title. And it’s free!

Download app for iPhone 2.0 here (iTunes).



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