Monday, September 7, 2009

Your Kingdom Come - Matt Papa

Missional holy boldness

Your Kingdom Come
Artist: Matt Papa
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 18 tracks/74:00 minutes

On Your Kingdom Come Matt Papa is bold in every way. He incorporates Scripture to declare who God is and challenge believers. He touches on social justice issues, but goes further in songs like “Here Am I, Send Me,” reminding listeners that acts of compassion are not enough. “The world must hear the Gospel,” he says. “They must hear the name of Jesus. And we, the Church, must surrender all we have and go tell them!” He counts his recent marriage to Lauren, who “has always had a big heart for missions,” as a major influence.

And if you are challenging people to look beyond themselves to a world in need, it doesn’t hurt to have fast and furious guitars adding punch. Whether the speed is fast or mid-tempo, the style brings to mind Delirious, although a few songs are enlivened by a punk influence. Think Relient K leading the song portion of a church service. This is raw and raucous modern worship that can also be melodious. It’s broken-up by a few brief but delightful acoustic songs. The production and execution make this a pleasure provided you can handle sound and lyrics that are aggressive.

Papa’s words challenge. “Where is the Difference” and “Woe to You” are confrontational, somewhat similar in style to Derek Webb and the late Keith Green. “Open Hands,” a song of surrender, which also happens to be the first single, is more along the lines of Jason Gray in content and sound.

If you like modern worship, and you want something that is a little edgier than the norm, this is worth checking out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (Updated and Expanded) - Brian Godawa

God loves movies

Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (Updated and Expanded)
Author: Brian Godawa
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 261

“God loves movies,” Brian Godawa writes in the first sentence of Hollywood Worldviews. He goes on to explain that, “Movies are visually dramatic stories, and in the Bible the dominant means through which God communicates his truth is visually dramatic stories—not systematic theology, or doctrinal catechism or rational argument.”

Like it or not, “In some ways, television, music and the movies are the modern arena of ideas.” In light of that, Godawa advocates “interacting with the culture” rather than the two extremes of “avoiding it or embracing it.” He favors a middle ground that encourages discernment but avoids reducing movies to just a set of ideas that are good or bad. “My goal,” he writes, “is to help the viewer discern those ideas that drive the story to its destination and see how they influence us to live our lives—to understand the story behind the story. But we must be careful in our discernment not to reduce a movie merely to its worldview, as if knowing the idea is enough to understand it.… It is ‘entering into’ the story where one comes into true contact with that worldview, not through mere rational analysis. This book is not a call to praise or condemn films simply because of their ‘message.’ Rather, by learning to be more aware of worldviews, we will be more equipped to appreciate the finer elements of what is going on in our movie-watching experience.” A good story is something you experience.

With that end in mind, Godawa educates the reader about the various elements of story, including the worldviews that shape them. Fundamental principles are reinforced with examples from different films, which makes this an excellent resource. There is a wealth of scholarly analysis covering several hundred films that can easily be found by using the index in the back. Practical exercises follow each section.

This book is written for the general public, but it also serves as a mini-course in philosophy covering the predominant worldviews of our time—existentialism, postmodernism, romanticism, monism, evolution, humanism and neo-paganism. The author is an expert at not only highlighting these ideas in films, but also in his knowledge of the many movies that he examines.

Seeing how pervasive and sometimes subtle these worldviews are made me wonder if I want to keep watching. After all, many of these ideas are antagonistic to a Biblical perspective, which can be a rarity in film. Sex, violence and profanity are frequent reasons cited for avoiding movies. However, early on the author addresses this issue showing that context is all-important.

Though some may fail to appreciate the distinction, offensive items may be a little more palatable if they are necessary to the story versus being an excess of the filmmaker. “The key,” as Godawa writes, “is to ask some questions: Is this an educational approach to exposing evil? What are the context and consequences of the vice portrayed? Is it dehumanizing or humanizing? Does the movie celebrate evil, or does it ultimately condemn it? Is the sin displayed as an end in itself, or is it a part of the bigger picture that leads to redemption? Does the movie go overboard in detail, or is some detail necessary to emphasize the seriousness of our behavior?” We must also remember that no work of art, no sermon or anything in this life is perfect. Everyone and everything suffers from our fallen state. We are continually exposed to a mixture of truth and error.

Thankfully, this author is one that believes that growing in discernment does not have to take away from the benefits of watching a movie. We are better served when we understand what is being communicated through a film, but Godawa wants us to hear what is being said through movies. “Let them challenge us, allow them to help us see the world through different eyes, let them help us experience human existence in ways that we haven’t before. By entering into the story, we can experience a part of human existence and truth that we cannot reduce to abstract ideas or philosophy.” Movies are an artform and to the degree that they reflect truth, they transcend their format and enrich our lives. Godawa wants Christians to embrace the truth found in movies while being informed by a Biblical worldview.

The Real Thing - pureNRG

Real talent, great support and growing maturity

The Real Thing
Artist: pureNRG (http://www.purenrgonline.com/)
Label: Fervent Records
Length: 13 tracks/41:00 minutes

Even though Jesus is that real thing they sing about, in another sense, pureNRG is becoming the real thing. Since signing with Fervent Records in 2007, the group has now released five albums when you count this one, which may be their best yet. They have a polished pop sound courtesy of producer Rob Hawkins, who also plays a slew of instruments, and vocal producer Mark Hammond. Both have done an outstanding job.

Though this is similar to what they have done before, you can hear a growing maturity in their style and lyrics. It doesn’t hurt that they chose “Live to Worship,” a song that Scott Krippayne helped write, and “Sweet Jesus,” which includes Matthew West in the credits. Both of these songs plus “Overwhelmed” move the group into modern worship territory.

A little added heft in the guitar tracks is evident on songs like the catchy “Radio,” which affirms that individually and together we can change the world. “Savior” flirts with an urban groove before it gives way to a bright chorus where they seek to introduce the listener to Jesus. “Cover of a Magazine” is a song that needed to be written. It recognizes that none of us can measure up to the artificial perfection that we find on those glossy covers.

The CD also includes three sing-a-long tracks at the end. These songs have been stripped of some of the vocal tracks so that anyone can join in.

This group is on track in fulfilling their clearly defined mission statement, which you could summarize as being a Godly influence and positive role models for their generation.

Love’s All Around You - Devyn

West Texas singer seeks to inspire

Love’s All Around You
Artist: Devyn (myspace.com/missdevynrocks)
Label: Independent
Length: 3 tracks/11:55 minutes

Love’s All Around You by Devyn is the three-song debut from this West Texas pop singer. But she is not a newcomer. At only 18 months—yes, before she was out of the infant stage—family folklore has it that she could sing a pitch-perfect rendition of “He Touched Me,” the Bill Gaither classic.

It didn’t take long for Devyn and those around her to recognize that this was her calling. But with any calling, challenges and adversity are inevitable. As adolescence set in, Devyn suffered from debilitating anxiety and depression. She found herself in dark places as she also battled sever migraines. She finally emerged from her wilderness experience after praying with her parents. As the old hymn put it, she took her burdens to the Lord and left them there.

Thankfully, that trying time is now a distant memory. She is back in the bright light of some high profile performances, which include opening a sold out coliseum show for Phillips, Craig & Dean. She shared a home church date with Trent Monk (of acoustic rockers Monk & Neagle).

It’s what makes the opening song, “How Great Your Are,” so fitting. This guitar-driven pop song affirms God goodness and gives Him praise. The ballad-like “Next Chapter” explores choices made in hard places and their subsequent consequences. Regardless of what we have done or where we have been, it’s never too late to turn the page. This is a song whose style fits with pop or country. Devyn has the voice to sing either style equally well.

The title song is an energetic finale that recognizes that pain is temporary and life is good. It could be autobiographical, even though all the songs are written and produced by Michael and Ron Morales. One minor drawback is the synthesized production on this song. A remix that provides a more organic sound would make this better.

Lyrically, there are no overt references to Christian faith, which is intentional so that the songs will appeal to a wider audience. It makes different interpretations possible, but Christians will have no trouble reading between the lines.

Devyn’s purpose, however, is clear, “I just want to glorify Him and move other people to do the same when they listen to my music, and even if they have different beliefs, I want them to walk away inspired.” This is a good start toward that end.

The Legacy - Michael Phillips

Passing on a vision of life with God The Legacy (Secrets of the Shetlands, Book 3) Author: Michael Phillips ( www.fatherofthein...