Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Awesome God: CD Review

In December I signed up for the opportunity to receive a free CD in exchange for reviewing it on my blog. The CD was is entitled Awesome God: Worship Songs for Children, put out by Sovereign Grace Ministries. Sovereign Grace Ministries is a Reformed Charismatic group led by Pastor C.J. Mahaney, who served for many years as the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD. Mahaney is a regular contributor to the Together for the Gospel blog.

My only previous exposure to anything connected with Sovereign Grace Ministries was reading Joshua Harris' books, I Stopped Dating the Church and Not Even a Hint (now republished as Sex is Not the Problem, Lust Is). Harris is Mahaney's successor at Covenant Life church. These are both excellent books. I highly recommend them. Since then, I have come across several songs written by people associated with Sovereign Grace, such as "In Christ Alone" by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, which is an excellent song.

When I first saw the offer of the free CD I was intrigued because my wife and I were expecting our first child. So I listened as a new father considering my own son. (He’s amazing … Did I say that yet??) Is this what I want him to grow up listening to? So I have listened to it, several times. In fact, I have it on now, even as a write (which is, quite distracting).

My initial reaction was "Wow! What in the world is this?" In fact, it took me several sittings to listen to the whole thing. I literally had to force myself to sit down and play the whole thing through, which is one reason it has taken me this long to write this review.

So here are my thoughts:

The lyrics are excellent. These are the kind of lyrics I want my son to grow up learning. They teach the truth about God in a plain, clear way that is easily understood. They are not particularly deep; they are, after all, geared for kids. One of the benefits of music is that the truth of God from Scripture can be encapsulated in easily memorable, concise statements, and for the most part, this fits the bill.

The songs are not great "sing along" songs. One key idea for me in Christian music is "Is this easily singable"? I don't think these songs are. The meter in some of them has some strange twists and turns in it. Just when you come to a place where you are ready to belt out the next phrase, there is a vocal break. I think that is one of the drawbacks of much of contemporary Christian music. It is not easily singable for a group. I think children's music is better if it is easily singable, so that children can sing with the recording with minimal confusion and work. That is, after all, part of the learning process.

The music itself is less than desirable. I believe that the music does not fit well with the themes of the songs. My response to the music was one of tension and agitation. That's not entirely bad in some settings, but it seems to me, in my limited knowledge of child psychology that tension and agitation is not what you want to create in their life. The message this music sends does not seem to me to be conducive to good spiritual, emotional, and musical growth in the life of a child.

While I was in the middle of writing, song #8 came on and I remember my initial response when I heard it the first time: Somebody's angry. Before the words ever registered in my mind, I had an understanding of the song. Unfortunately, the song sent the wrong message. The words begin "Your love will last forever, It's like a mighty river that flows and flows forever." These words are packed with the greatness of God's love that protects us and corrects us, and most of all sent His Son to die for us. But those words don't fit the tone of the music or the tone of the vocals. The vocal quality sounded harsh to me, like someone yelling at their kids. This is, IMO, the worst cut on the disk. The first nine songs seem to have little musical variation. When you get to song #10 (For You Are Holy) there is a distinct and welcome change. It is much calmer song and the disk finishes out this way.

Overall, this is not a recording I would recommend, and to be honest, I was greatly disappointed. I was hoping for something that I could use with my son. I think music plays a huge role in shaping our emotions and intellect. My reflection on this, after listening three or four times is that this shapes it in the wrong direction, especially among young minds that are very impressionable. I think most, if not all of these songs could be greatly beneficial if the musical setting were changed. Perhaps one day, they can be.

But if you get the chance to read those two books mentioned above, please do so. You will greatly benefit. And by all means, find the song "In Christ Alone" and sing it.

7 comments:

Chris Anderson said...

Thanks, Larry. What a shame, but you're exactly right.

"Three in One" may give "Your Love" a run for its money in the disconnect between lyrics & music category. Perhaps it bothered me more to hear what I'm assuming is a girl's voice sing in a very...um..."non-childlike" way.

Bob Kauflin said...

Larry,

Thanks for taking the time to review the Awesome God CD. Sorry it was such a disappointment to you. We at Sovereign Grace Ministries certainly don't think that every parent will appreciate the contemporary sound, but know that many do.

Just a note on the song, "Your Love," which I wrote. While the arrangement wasn't mine, I thought it effectively communicates a strength, energy, and power in God's love that many children's songs don't. I wrote it specifically to teach older children the truth that God's love not only forgives us but seeks to change us, and that correction and discipline are rooted in His love, not antithetical to it.

By the way, have you heard of Judy Rogers (www.judyrogers.com)? She has put out some excellent CD's for children that I think you'll find more musically appealing. Great lyrics and more moderate music.

Thanks again for taking the time to evaluate the CD, and for recommending the books. May God give you and your wife much grace as you seek to raise the next generation for His glory!

Sam H. said...

Larry,
kids4truth--a catetchetically based children's program has some good music that they have produced to use in coordination with their program. We use the program for our church plant, and are working to integrate the singing.

Thanks for the review...

PLJ III said...

Larry,
I agree with your assessment after listening to samples of the children's music. Similarly, I first heard the song "In Christ Alone" at a conference sung congregationally and was highly moved by it's tune and lyrics. I listened to the same song on a clip of a Newsboys cd online and felt their style and accompaniment fell far short of the majesty of the songs Christological message.

Larry Castle said...

Larry, My wife and I came across a series that had our three daughters walking around the house all day singing scripture word-for-word. It's called Hide 'Em In Your Heart Songs: Bible Memory Melodies - Vols 1 & 2. Christianbook.com has the best price I found in a quick search and you can even buy online and download. We have found this set to be a great way to teach our kids the Word. We also have the DVD's. The kids would watch them over and over when they were younger.

Larry Castle said...

I forgot to mention that if you were to get just one of the two, vol. 2 is the one we really liked. It's the one I still remember every melody to because they listened to them a lot! :-)

J Wredberg said...

Larry,
My wife and I bought this CD several months ago for the same purpose that you have mentioned. We have a 14 month old, our first, and have been trying to find music that will teach her sound theology as she grows and matures. For my wife and I, this CD was exactly what we were looking for. Alhtough the sound will probably be more suitable for her as she grows a little older (I believe I heard Bob K say somewhere that this targeted to ages 9-11ish)... when that time comes, it will be a part of her regular musical diet.
I am with Bob on the musical style of "Your Love"... I thought it matched the power and the strength of the lyrics quite well.
While I do not agree with your assesment of this CD, I appreciate your desire to find theologically rich, Christ-centered music for your children. Too many settle for the cute little meaningless merry-go-round choruses for their children.

Grace and peace,
Jason

p.s. I would agree with the gentlemen that recommended the "Hide 'em in Your Heart" CD's as well.