Saturday, August 15, 2009

No Place Left to Fall - Bill Champlin

Champlin cuts loose on smokin’ R&B recording

No Place Left to Fall
Artist: Bill Champlin
Label: DreamMakers Music
Length: 13 tracks/68:15 minutes plus a documentary DVD containing over one hour of content

Bill Champlin may be the best known unknown artist. Until recently, I did not know that he was the singer on “Look Away,” the 1988 song recorded by Chicago that topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. I also just discovered that he sang on “Lead Me On,” the title track on one of Amy Grant’s best recordings. For years I followed the Sons of Champlin—one of the best unknown groups—, but lost track of Champlin once the Sons began to wane. This was before Champlin joined Chicago in 1981, becoming an integral part of the band.

He has now left Chicago (August 2009) to devote himself to his solo career. He has released a series of recordings in the past, but No Place Left to Fall is his first in more than 10 years. One might assume this to be an extension of his work with the Sons and Chicago, but that assessment misses the mark.

There are some similarities; the voice is the same and at times the sound borrows from both groups, but what sets this apart is the R&B backbone heard throughout. Having been influenced at an early age by Lou Rawls and James Brown, Champlin is a soul man at heart. That makes this work closer to the Sons than Chicago, though there are obvious pop influences. That is especially true on the title track, which could easily follow “Look Away” to the top of the charts. Chicago has done an acoustic version of “Look Away” in concert, which has now been retired by the band. A new acoustic version is part of this CD.

You can’t help being reminded of Chicago on “Never Been Afraid,” which includes Chicago’s former lead singer, Peter Cetera. The song is a duet featuring Champlin and Michael English. The two join Cetera on background vocals, creating an all star trio.

With the exception of “Stone Cold Hollywood,” which has outstanding horns courtesy of Sante Fe and the Fat City Horns, the brass associated with Chicago and the Sons is left behind for simmering, smoldering R&B with nods to rock and pop. One of the highlights is Champlin’s organ and keyboard playing. He’s been doing this for more than 40 years and his organ solo on the opening “Total Control” and the funky, jamming intro on “Tuggin’ On Your Sleeve,” is hot. Whenever I hear great art like this, the world suddenly seems alive with possibilities and becomes a brighter place.

The musicianship is stellar, and the music is not hidden under a bushel of clutter or distortion; the notes shine with a crispness and clarity such as I rarely hear. Major kudos to the producers (Bill Champlin and Mark Eddinger) and Jason Corsaro and Mark Eddinger for making these mixes such a delight to hear.

Lest you fail to appreciate what you are hearing, the CD comes with a DVD that includes a brief overview of each song. I so appreciated Champlin’s humility on the personal vignettes. He even has a few words to say about Dylan and The Beatles. There is a bonus for Sons’ fans: a live 12-minute version of “Gold Mine,” recorded in Las Vegas.

This is a solid effort, and I know from communicating with Champlin, that he is already collecting songs for his next solo outing. For fans of the Sons, this is the next best thing to a new Sons’ recording. If you like R&B, this is your chance to hear Champlin cut loose on the music that is part of his being.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision - N. T. Wright

Jump into a conversation on justification and God’s righteousness

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 279

Many years ago, a Charismatic friend of mine said that he would never read a book by someone who was not baptized in the Holy Spirit. It was a sincere conviction, one I have thought of, when I realize how much enrichment I might have missed had I adopted his stance.

This is the first book I have read by N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, Church of England (or Anglican church). Unless you have a keen interest in literature, you may not know that he has become well known in the Christian literary world for his many books and articles. If you are evangelical, and have wondered if anything good can be found in the Anglican church, you need to read N. T. Wright.

I thoroughly enjoyed the depth of scholarship and the masterly exposition of Scripture found in this book. I have heard evangelicals lament the seeming indifference today to doctrinal precision, but I found it here, even though some might disagree with Wright’s conclusions.

This book is part of a conversation between the author and John Piper, the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. It’s a rebuttal to Piper’s book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. With the publication of these two books, the debated has gone beyond academic circles to the public arena.

Not having read Piper’s book, my knowledge of his views on this subject comes from Wright’s book. Wright is irenic and charitable toward his opponent (if I can call him that), and I don’t get the impression that Piper’s views are misrepresented. This is a civil debate, and as it says in Proverbs 18:17 (ESV), “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” I find Wright’s views convincing, but this book may elicit another response from Piper and shed even more light on the whole subject, which would serve us all well.

As I followed Wright’s exposition and logic, I realized how inadequate my own study has been and the teaching that I have received. One might be tempted to think that only scholars can accurately interpret the Bible. But Wright comes to my aid on that point, noting, “The many-sidedness of Scripture, the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, and God’s mercy in answering the preacher’s prayers regularly enable genuine understanding, real insight into the love and mercy and purposes of God, to leap across the barriers put up by our faulty and partial understandings.” He goes on to acknowledge that, “We all live within the incomplete hermeneutical spiral, and should relish the challenges this presents rather than bemoan the limitations it places upon us.” This spirit of humility is found throughout the book.

One key difference between the two men is their understanding of what is meant by God’s righteousness. Piper sees it as God’s concern for God’s own glory, which Wright counters as implying that “God’s primary concern returns, as it were, to himself.” In Wright’s view, “ ‘God’s righteousness’ is regularly invoked in Scripture … when his concern is going out to those in need, particularly to his covenant people.”

This is where Wright’s analysis gets expansive and, in my view, thrilling. The way he tells it, God has always had a single plan to save the world through Israel. He “always intended to call into being a single family for Abraham.” Israel’s unfaithfulness created an obstacle to the fulfillment of this promise. But the apostle Paul tells us that through the faithfulness of the Messiah, God’s plan of providing a family for Abraham is realized. In other words, “the believing-in-the-Messiah people” are “the new reality to which ethnic Israel pointed forward but to which, outside the Messiah, they could not attain.”

Wright’s all-encompassing view of justification brings new relevance to passages like Romans 9-11 and others that deal with the law and Israel. Don’t think for a moment that this is replacement theology, the view that the church replaces Israel. On the contrary, in the second part of the book Wright examines every New Testament passage that deals with justification. He succeeds admirable in weaving the many verses into a coherent narrative of the “single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world” realized through the faithfulness of the Messiah. If evangelicals sometimes don’t know what to do with Israel, they will find help here. God’s plan remains unchanged. Jews and Gentiles make up that single family promised to Abraham.

One interesting difference between the two men involves the commonly taught idea of imputation, where, as in Piper’s view, Christ’s perfect righteousness and punishment are counted as ours. With Wright, God declares righteous those who are in Christ, but the result is a change in status rather than a transfer of substance.

Regardless of where a person might stand on these issues, this debate is worth following. This book is essential reading on the subject.

Rock Gets Religion - Mark Joseph

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