Full disclosure: I am not a fan of much contemporary Christian music. I think I can count on one hand the contemporary Christian artists that I find worthwhile. I find it worthwhile when a band is both musically engaging and theologically stimulating. While in college, I worked in the music section of a Christian bookstore and found that much of what was sold was quite shallow both lyrically and theologically. The music was either boring or overproduced all in an effort to make me shut my eyes, throw up my hands, and sway. The music was directed at the Christian’s itching ears. There was no blood, no cross, no resurrection, no hope. I don’t mean to sound so cynical, but I think that if we are going to listen to “Christian” (as if that word were an adjective used to describe a corner of the market) music, it should be about Christ. Quite frankly, I find the band “Mumford and Sons” to be more spiritually engaging than most Christian music.
All that being said, I am not opposed to contemporary Christian music. I still hold out hope that there are Christian artists out there making music with the angels. Artists like Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and the folks at Indelible Grace come to mind. Sojourn is also one of those bands. To the joy of my ever-sinful heart, there are many Christian bands right now which are taking old hymns and updating them into contemporary music. The Water and the Blood is an effort by Sojourn to take the hymns of Isaac Watts, the great 17th century hymn writer, to give them contemporary settings. The result is stunning.
The sound on this album not polished or over produced. By listening to recordings made live on an old tape machine, one has they impression they are sitting in an old, run down church listening to a band pour out their hearts and souls to songs of lament, praise, and gospel. What is more, many of the songs keep the tunes in such a way that they still sound like hymns. It is not hard to sing along if you are familiar with a hymnal.
Lyrically, the songs are full of Christ’s blood, the sinners hope of God’s gracious favor, and God’s judgment and victory at the end of time, as is true of many hymns by Watts. The music carries these heavy themes quite well. The music is not cheesy or cheap, rather, the musicians demonstrate a great respect for the songs, and what is more, to the God the songs glorify.
We may be a bit taken aback by the themes found on the album: themes of lament and judgment. Prayers of lament are noticeably absent from our churches, though they are found throughout the Bible (in fact, there is a whole book entitled “Lamentations” by the prophet Jeremiah!). Songs like From Deep Distress sing of the depth of sin and the desperate need for a gracious God, a theme missing from many of our praise songs.
If that theme is missing, how much more the theme of God’s righteous judgment on the faithless? On The World Will Know, Sojourn warns,
Great was the victory of his death,
His throne exalted high;
And all the nations of the earth
Shall worship or shall die.
Shall worship or shall die.
Wow. Hard to hear. Yet it is straight out of the Bible (for example, see Psalm 2)! But, of course, the wrath of God never has the last word in good theology. This song concludes by rejoicing in the salvation found in Christ’s blood.
Perhaps that is what causes this album to stand out for me so much more than most of the contemporary music I hear; that is, the focus on the blood of Jesus overcoming sin, death, the devil, and even the wrath of God. The highlight of the album, Blest Be the Lamb, is an upbeat, blue-grassy song about Christ’s blood conquering all of our foes, even the wrath of God himself! The chorus sings,
Blest be the Lamb, my dearest Lord,
Who bought me with His blood.
And quenched his Father’s flaming sword,
In his own vital flood.
We are not prone to hearing about Christ’s blood conquering God’s wrath against sinners, and yet that is the very Gospel we find on the pages of Scripture! What is more, it is true for you and for me! Without the blood of Jesus we are captive to Satan, subject to the world’s judgment, and bound for God’s judgment. But, we have been bought with the very blood of our dear Savior! God has no wrath for you and me, only love. I found myself weeping with joy at this song.
Why should you buy this album? Because the gospel of Christ’s shed blood for sinners is sung into your ears and hearts on every song. This album gives hope! It gives me hope, not just for contemporary Christian music, but more importantly, it gives me hope in Jesus!
-The Water and the Blood
-Compel My Heart to Sing
-Blest Be the Lamb
-Let Your Blood Plead for Me