Prime Cuts: The Paths of Grace/Diary of an Agonistic, O How Good It is, Promise of the Ages
Not long ago Stuart Townend made the headlines of major publications such as USA Today, The Washington Post and the Economist. This is because a committee wanted to add "In Christ Alone," a hymn co-written by Townend and Keith Getty, into their new hymnal "Glory to God." But the committee felt that the lyrical references to the wrath of God and the theology of Christ's propitiation were inappropriate. As a result, they were requesting if Townend and Getty could change the line "Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied" to "Till on that cross as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified." To the dismay of the committee, both songwriters refused to change the words. As a result, the committee vetoed not to include "In Christ Alone" into the hymnal. In hindsight, one has to applaud both Townend and Getty for elevating the truth of God above the strokes of human acceptance. And it is with such a Godly and robust resolve that Townend approaches his latest release "Paths of Grace."
Courtesy of Integrity Music, "Paths of Grace" is Townend ninth album. Coterminous with the many songs he has written to service the church (such as "How Deep the Father's Love for Us," "The King of Love" and the aforementioned "In Christ Alone"), the songs on this new record strike just the right balance between theological depth and poetic expressions. Most illustrative of the core themes of the record is the album cover. Featuring the stunning work of artist Patrick Bremer in a piece called "Outward," the cover is a literary depiction of Isaiah 11 where under the reign of the Messiah, the predator and the prey live harmoniously together, with a child leading them. Though the fullness of this prophecy is yet to come, the songs here do speak of how Christ leading us out of sin and confusion along his path of grace where we have a foretaste of the reconciliation and harmony He will one day perfect.
Most touching within this canon of songs is the title track "The Paths of Grace/Diary of an Agonistic." Rifle with detailed realism, the song chronicles how God leads a man who started with a visceral cry for something more to faith. If you are looking for a theological meaty song to bite on and yet will get your feet dancing (albeit a folky two step), the lead single "Promise of the Ages" is the best candidate. Lyrically "Promise of the Ages" is most satisfying as it tracks the Bible's story line about the promise of the Messiah from the Old Testament into the book of Revelation. "Oh How Good It Is," a track that Keith and Kristyn Getty recorded for their "Hymns of the Common Life" album, captures the celebratory nature of the church gathered in worship with an Celtic swirl.
The album is choked full of notable co-writers. Sharing the pen with Townend on "The Altar of Remembrance" is worship leader Gary Sadler. "The Altar of Remembrance" recalls the kind of spiritual sacrifice Paul speaks about in Romans 12:1-2 set to an alluring melody that even borrows from the hymn "Take My Life and Let It Be." While long time collaborators the Gettys and Fionan de Barra together with Townend contribute the sort of ordinary hymn-like "Good Shepherd of My Soul." Much better is the Susan Ashton and Chris Eaton co-write "This is Grace for Me.' Over the years there has had been many songs that seek to give definition to grace. Coming close to the best is this contribution: "Your kindness reminds me/That there is one who understands/One who walked this lonely road before/One who gives the strength to say/Every hour in my deepest need/There is grace for me." Yes, grace has not been more moving than this.
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