I might be a bit late to the party, but after finally getting the chance to listen to and reflect on Steven Curtis Chapman’s latest album, The Glorious Unfolding, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to give the Contemporary Christian music veteran’s latest effort a resounding endorsement. I confess, this post is less of a review and more of a full-blown recommendation, for Chapman once again makes a very strong case for being the finest artist that CCM has to offer. In a genre too often saddled with repetition, cliché, and blandness, The Glorious Unfolding is a musically engaging, theologically provocative and deeply emotional ray of creative hope.
Chapman has carved quite the niche for himself in the modern soundscape, and The Glorious Unfolding is another solid progression of his distinct brand of pop rock. The classic Steven Curtis Chapman energy and exuberance is evident on the infectious “Love Take Me Over” and the delightfully resilient “Take Another Step”, hammering home its message of perseverance with percussive force. “Something Beautiful” would be right at home on past Chapman records like Declaration or This Moment, riffing with a consistent but never unwelcome sense of style.
Gang vocals , synth, and stomp-claps are new additions that help to keep Chapman’s signature style fresh throughout the album, but work to particularly great effect on the title track. “Finish What He Started”, easily the highlight, marches relentlessly forward with primeval backing vocals and powerful drums, lending the song tangible potency. Those who enjoyed Chapman’s recent acoustic project, Deep Roots, will be pleased to find that stripped down and earthy feel permeating the record, keeping “Sound of Your Voice”, “Michael and Maria” and “Feet of Jesus” delightfully intimate. “Feet of Jesus” is sonically haunting, moving from acoustic guitar, to flute, to strings, then to a remarkably emotive electric guitar solo, ensuring Unfolding ends on a strong note.
Aside from the simple musical pleasure of the album, it is this aforementioned intimacy that lends Unfolding its greatest strength as a piece of art. Chapman is a man who has stared death in the face, having his beloved adopted daughter snatched from this life in a tragic and heart-wrenching fashion, and it shows. The entire album is an exploration of clinging to the sovereignty of God in the midst of a dark and fallen world, refusing to allow the despair that evil confronts us with to impede our divine call to live the love of Christ in this world, and Chapman’s songs are therefore littered with encouragement. The title track exhorts the listener to “lay your head down tonight, take a rest from the fight”, and realize that life is a “glorious unfolding” that only One can understand and lend meaning to. Chapman is also to be commended for calling Christians to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of the poor and destitute in “A Little More Time to Love”, making the kingdom of heaven manifest while looking forward to creation’s eventual perfection. “Sound of Your Voice” is remarkable when heard with Chapman in mind, as he struggles to listen for God to speak in the midst of trials, and freely admits that he is still listening, not necessarily that he has heard. The distinction is refreshingly honest.
Chapman’s uplifting spirit is no cheap and sugar-coated belief that God works out man’s problems, but instead the result of a hard-earned and mature faith that often doubts. Chapman is baring his heart for us, reaching out to those experiencing darkness in their own lives and saying “if it wasn’t for God’s mercy and His grace, there’s no way we’d be standing here today” (as he sings to his wife in “Together”). And, try as we might, we cannot brush aside his encouragement as mere sentimentalism or simple religious fervor, for his is a faith that has weathered the fiercest of storms, a faith that acknowledges confusion and tragedy and wrestles them rather than fluffs over them (the fact that Chapman has the strength to both pen and perform “Michael and Maria” is miraculous). The Glorious Unfolding is the artistic testimony of one man who clung to the feet of Jesus through the most ferocious of storms, who is lying there broken, bruised, and drenched in both rain and tears, but is clinging tenaciously all the same.
That, my friends, is a glorious picture worth unfolding.