Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Steve Camp
Label: Audience One Music
I am a Steve Camp fan. I have especially strong feelings about his first project, _Sayiní It With Love_. My wife and I played this debut album ragged for the first couple of years of our marriage. When I accepted a new job offer, half way across the country, my wife sent me love letters with drawings depicting the songs on that album. The songs on _Sayin' It With Love_ were musical therapy for Steve Camp, reflective of thoughts and feelings emanating from the death of his father. Musically and lyrically, Camp seemed relaxed, open, and innovative.
Thereafter, with each new album, Camp's approach seemed to become increasingly foreboding, pedantic, and maybe even self-conscious. I continued to purchase Steve Camp albums into the 80's and early 90's and while I could never deny obvious talent and apparent sincerity, his albums and CDs often collected dust on my shelf. Whenever I played one of Camp's later CD's I was always struck by a paradox I couldn't shake: Although he began his career as an innovative, progressive Jesus Music artist - a genre that was founded and developed antonymous to hymns - increasingly, with each new project, Camp's music sounded reflective of paint-by-number traditional church music, nothing like the progressive, inventive creativity of his early work.
Later, I was bemused, bewildered, and somewhat disappointed by what I read in Camp's "107 Theses." Although I have no doubt that Camp was sincere, properly motivated and qualified to write such a project, he did miss the mark. Although on some level, the paper succeeded in providing "food for thought," for Christian musicians, the logic of each thesis was never even marginally developed. What appeared to be significant points were provided with so-called scriptural bases. The implication was that the scripture proved each respective thesis. To the contrary, on most of the points I was left wondering how the thesis was extrapolated from the scripture provided. Many passages had nothing to do with the thesis advanced. Sometimes, I was able to see a correlation, but often the reference had to be stretched to near the breaking point to tie in. Some of the scripture references were taken out of context.
"107 Theses" was presented as a scholarly work regarding the behavior of Christian recording artists and performers, yet any respectable scholar would have to agree that the project was little more than a laundry list of jeers and complaints about the industry. Can you imagine composing such a document for your local plumber? He might laugh in your face! "Mr. Plumber, the business you work for must be owned by a Christian!" Mr. Plumber, plumbing is not intended to be used casually or for entertainment!" "Mr. Plumber, as a Christian plumber, you must only work on projects that will last for eternity!"
So why the double standard? Why should Christian artists be singled out? Christian living is a topic we all can benefit from. Clearly, each one of us in our respective occupations might benefit from a strong scriptural study on how we might glorify God more in our day to day occupations. As much as many of us love music, doesn't a document such as "107 Theses" elevate music to a higher level than it belongs? I take offense with a point of view that attempts to pigeonhole or compartmentalize truth, God, or even music. We don't drive Christian cars, admire Christian mountain ranges or shop at Christian grocery stores. "107 Theses" seemed to lock truth inside of a box!
Desiring God, Campís new release, although still portentous and preachy, does offer a few songs of vulnerability and personality. After Sayiní It With Love, Campís songs often focused on self-righteously and uncompromisingly picking the scab of sin in a world of sinners. And while Godís grace and mercy were still mentioned, somehow those themes often seemed to get lost in the shuffle of delivering the doctrine of wrong-doing. And letís face it. Songwriters wishing to convey biblical truth in song face an uphill battle. These weighty, complex topics are more effectively taught from the pulpit, personal bible study, or in books Ė not a four minute song. While there is no question that Steve Camp is an excellent songwriter, reducing sophisticated though sometimes simple theological themes to concise sermonettes isnít easy.
Most songwriters, including Steve Camp more effectively communicate truth when they creatively and sometimes personally tell a story. The suffering and pain of lifeís most painful events can be illustrated profoundly, particularly when transparent lyrics are meshed with appropriate and touching music. When life is darkest, we can usually see even the smallest hint of Godís transforming grace and mercy so much easier Ė such as that which Camp writes about in "Head of a Broken Home," a track from the Desiring God:
Lifeís been shattered and my dreams taken from me, and all the matters is to keep on living for you.This is the story of a man experiencing divorce, a heart-wrenching, life-changing experience that can leave a man battered, beaten and broken.
Oh the sorrow has brought this strong man to his knees and the hope of tomorrow I could not even see.One introspective, personal song such as "Head of a Broken Home" is far more revealing and instructive than all the tedious musical theological exhortations a thousand artists might muster. Hearing a singer sing about the nuts and bolts of pain and suffering might be instructive, but hearing a singer authenticate and articulate his own pain and suffering resonates with credibility. It may sound like Iím advocating feelings over logic, reason and doctrine, but Iím really not. Iím just suggesting that as a songwriter personalizes truth, whether in his own life or in the life of a character he creates in song, it resonates with more plausibility than a musical rant on some critical dogma.
"Crucible of Grace" and "Desiring God" are fine songs but absolutely fall into the category of musical sermonettes. Take out the modern production techniques, print and distribute this music to any local congregation, and accompanied by organ and piano, these songs would fit right in with the other songs in the hymnal. Contrasted with a song like the aforementioned "Head of a Broken Home," which nearly make the listener sweat blood of compassion. Biblical principles, while instructive and beneficial by themselves, are most useful when we apply them to real life situations. "Head of a Broken Home" does this effectively. "Crucible of Grace" and "Desiring God" do not.
The biggest pleasant surprise on this project is Campís retreading of "If I Were a Singer," which is a song that also appeared on his first album. Camp co-wrote this song with Larry Norman. Itís a song that resonates appropriately with the new age we find ourselves living in. As we hear Camp sing, "These are troubled days, I want to live my life in a special way," although timeless, it seems a sentiment most suitable for today. "Why, Why, Why" is one of the better tracks on this project. Although it becomes mildly annoying to hear Camp repeat the title phrase over and over again, itís an eloquent and effective song which ponders and contrasts the whys and wherefores of evil in the world compared with Godís mercy and grace.
As I listen to "If I Were a Singer," I canít help longing for the poetic, personal Steve Camp style of the early days. Although this particular tune was a shared songwriting effort, Camp has more than proven his mettle in writing vincible, vulnerable songs on his own. No doubt, he can do it. And I miss that songwriting method and tone.
Please donít misunderstand, Steve Camp need not make any apologies for his choices. He certainly has developed and maintained an audience, having sold over a million combined albums, charted more than fifteen #1 singles and 50 top ten songs. Camp is a literate, thoughtful believer and an amazing artist. If I were ignorant of Campís early work, I might be more inclined to find favor with Desiring God . By most measures, itís a solid, quality effort. But Iíve heard him construct better, more personal work Ė and Iíd love to see him return to that style.
Curt McLey 12/2/202