The worship music CD review I have posted below, published in 1998 by Worship Leader, showed a certain willingness to go against commonly held opinions. At the time, Hillsong Music was on the rise, and it is still a force today. I was not particularly inspired by some of the material on this album, so I was less than glowing in my comments.¹
These days, my personal inspiration level upon hearing this kind of music is far lower and is still on the decline. For years I had advocated “contemporary worship music” in my little-but-significant corners of the world. I was always more selective and discerning than the typical patron of a Christian bookstore, but I went to great lengths to consume what I perceived to be better-quality worship music. I persistently championed traditional hymns with rich content, as well . . . but I was searching for the new, the fresh, the captivating. For a while, I found sources and was regularly inspired, but it was only for a while — approximately 15 years, give or take. These days, it is rare that “Christian music” reaches into my soul and teaches or lifts or draws me to God.
Looking back, I hope and trust that I inspired others periodically as a leader during the 1990s. A few folks from that time period do recall and affirm what I was attempting to do, anyway.
I often found myself moving “ahead” and trying to pull others along with me. I distinctly recall one conversation with a devoted mother of two who was worried that, if she absorbed and followed that I was putting in front of people, she would be putting her children at risk with the congregation. In other words, they would grow up thinking and worshipping with values that were neither common nor likely to be seen as acceptable. Ironically, this woman (and several others, similarly) have ended up moving on from the traditions about which they were concerned. Some of me feels as though I’m left in the dust!
I cannot be other than who I am, though. I am still the same person who found something less than fully inspirational, authentic material in the Hillsong album Touching Heaven, Changing Earth. Every now & then, when some spiritual reality or biblical text or song penetrates, I still have a burst of worship leadership (and wouldn’t mind if He fanned that old flame a little in 2015). The connected notions of touching heaven and changing earth do call me upward and outward.
Touching Heaven, Changing Earth
Hillsong Music Australia (Integrity)
by Brian Casey (1998)
Hillsong Music Australia’s momentum is unquestioned — with positive press for several past releases — but the music on this recording is a notch or two down, for instance, from “Shout to the Lord” (1996: Integrity’s Hosanna!). It is cordial but commonplace, and the lyrics, sometimes lacking character, penetrate only sporadically.
The dichotomous image of touching heaven and changing earth enticed me, but even the title track’s lyrics disappointed me by not going deeper.
Russell Fragar’s “Church on Fire” could be said to exhibit too much congregational self-concern, yet it does capture a certain spiritual anticipation: The Holy Spirit is here / And His power is real / Anything can happen / And it probably will.
Fragar’s expressive “My Greatest Love Is You” is my favorite, and “Holy Spirit Rain Down” is a tasteful, believable plea with an atmospheric ad lib passage that evokes images of wind rushing all around the worshippers. Somewhat predictable, “You Are Holy” is still sweet and decidedly worshipful.
Of the five songwriters represented here, Reuben Morgan’s lyrics are the most luxuriant. His music, though, doesn’t always match. “Lord Your Goodness” does express a sweetly dependent desire to worship — authentic, intimate, adoringly cognizant of God’s work.
For content, this album rates a C+; such a strong concept deserves better and more substantive development throughout. Worship leader Darlene Zschech’s stock pop vocalizations (musical and spoken) don’t quite reach the “inspired” mark, and the musical and lyrical clichés are apparent. If you need some feverish, get-‘em-excited stuff (“Yes and Amen” will catch on congregationally), you’ll find a few, but the project gets a B- overall.
– Brian Casey
¹ Shortly after that review, I was offered no more reviewing opportunities. I was told that my being “fired” had nothing to do with the partly negative review I gave this album, and that it had something to do with the new magazine editor. I’m still not sure I believe that. I’ve seen too much.