I want to begin with a disclaimer. Eric Parker was one of my parishioners at my last pastoral post, and is the owner of Music for Missions, which has provided a record label for my own musical offerings for two times now (He Shall Restore, released by Music for Missions with Eric Parker as executive producer, in 2005; and Follow Your Call, to be released on December 15th). He is also a friend. I am very proud of all three of those relationships. But rather than using them to delimit what I want to say, I would rather exploit them in the most positive sense! I am proud of him for his new Music for Missions release, From the Shoulders of Giants (November, 2009) and I am proud of him for this bold new offering in my “own” label’s catalogue. But I speak now as pastor. I speak now as seminary president: I am so proud of this work and I am so encouraged by this latest album and I want to tell you why.
First, From the Shoulders of Giants is a tribute to Spirit of Christ at work in the invisible Church of Jesus Christ stretching across the millennia. More importantly, this album is a musical portal through which you and I may enter and discover the creative work of Jesus’ disciples who lived through those millennia . Eric has located ten hymns, selected from the new Trinity Hymnal, composed from the sixth century through the great era of evangelical hymnody in the Eighteenth century, and into the Nineteenth century, and had set the poetry free to live in a new way. Indeed, Eric Parker, in From the Shoulders of Giants, has accomplished something that, I believe is unique in today’s Christian musical scene. Parker has gone beyond the recent Indelible Grace approach (a wonderful approach I might add) of crafting new worship tunes for older hymns (tastefully so, yet done in a more or less acoustic, folk sound), to create an album of incredible musical and studio craftsmanship that offers his selection of hymns as a listening and meditative journey of progressive rock fused with hauntingly beautiful Celtic strains (as on “Light of Light”) and even medieval chants (as he does in the closing “O Love of God”). Thus, this new music set to ancient Christian poetry is not necessarily for congregational singing (although I would love to preach about the atoning blood of Jesus after a congregation sings Eric’s opening song, “Your Bleeding Love”). Rather Eric Parker’s From the Shoulders of Giants should be ingested repeatedly and always as you read the ancient lyrics so generously displayed on the beautiful CD package. My wife and I did just that and each time we appreciated new things about the project. Though each song can stand on its own (my wife and I both preferred “O Sons and Daughters Let us Sing” and the Sixteenth century “Wake, Wake” which may be the best song on the album), the music is most decidedly connected together in a way that a classical or progressive rock album is a seamless work.
Second, Eric Parker’s From the Shoulders of Giants encourages me not only because his music has awakened the old masters’ works and let them walk before us in a new creative way that magnifies the glorious theological vision of the Scriptures and indeed of the old Reformed faith, but because in doing so Parker is shaking us to see that we are not really so independent after all. Indeed, this album is a confrontational masterpiece that should disturb Twenty-first century Christians’ sometimes apparent contempt for anything that has not been written in the last two years. But Parker’s work does this not with an in-your-face approach, which would require that we sing these tunes ourselves, but by demanding that we pause to give ear to them, that we sit and listen and read and think. In this he not only joins the ranks of others who are re working ancient hymnody, but he brings the art to a new level of excellence. I would suggest listening to this and reading Calvin’s commentary on Galatians. Or listening to this and thinking through what Barth really meant. Or listening to this and, well, maybe praying.
Third, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants makes me want to dig deeper into the great theologically rich hymnody of the Church. And in a strange way, perhaps, listening to this ecclesial progressive rock tour de force drives me to sing, in a broken voice, the old songs of Glory, and yes with some of the old tunes of Christendom. And as I stand next to old people and young people and babies, Asians, Africans and Anglo-Saxons, European Christians from the Middle Ages and South American believers from the twentieth century, I imagine myself standing with them in the Presence of the One who inspired them, and singing words such as these from Eric’s album”
“Lord of the Sabbath hear us pray, in this your house on this your day. And own as grateful sacrifice, those song which from your temple rise” (“Lord of the Sabbath”).
You can purchase Eric’s album through MindandHeart.com (and help support RTS and the education of future “giants” who will shepherd the saints) or through Amazon. The album is also available at the Music for Missions site. I hope many will listen for themselves, savor the songs and then sing to to the Savior with their own voices.