Thomas Aquinas had a substitute title for his favorite author, Aristotle, it was simply the Philosopher. When Aquinas spoke of the Philosopher he meant Aristotle. I am a music lover and listen widely, particularly of Christian contemporary and modern worship music, but Steven Curtis Chapman (SCC) is the only artist with a dedicated playlist in my mp3 library. SCC is for me, simply, the Artist.
It has been 20 years since SCC debuted in the world of CCM with his first album, First Hand. In that 20 years, he has released 12 theme albums, 3 Christmas albums, 4 compilations, 1 live recording, and 1 new and upcoming album for a shocking total of 21. Add to that the many songs he has written or worked on for films (The Prince of Egypt, The Chronicles of Narnia, The End of the Spear, even We Were Soldiers...) and other projects, and the volume of output is simply amazing. He wrote much of this work himself displaying an impressive ability for combining deeply-felt, thoughtful lyrics with captivating melodies and cutting-edge pop, rock, and country sounds. The sales of his albums top 9 million and 45 of his songs have reached number one on the CCM charts.
In short, SCC has proved to be one of the most productive, consistent, and steady artists in the world of CCM. Of course, the CCM movement has stopped to thank him for this many times, rewarding him over the years with a record-breaking 51 Dove awards. In addition to that he has been awarded with 5 Grammys.
SCC's music first appealed to me as road-burning music. Certainly, not Sunday morning music but songs for jamming down the highway. I had rarely listened to anything but southern and black gospel music, having been taught that anything with a rock beat was wrong. I can remember when that notion was forever destroyed for me: I was riding along with a friend and his father to some event and they popped in The Great Adventure, and that was it. By the time I had my own vehicle, it was windows rolled down jamming with The Great Adventure, No Better Place, My Turn Now, The Walk, Treasure of You, Facts are Facts, Let Us Pray, Land of Opportunity, Only Natural, Rubber Meets The Road, and others blaring from my poor boy's factory car speakers. And it just kept getting better with the later great jam songs Dive, The Change, See the Glory, Jesus is Life, Fingerprints of God, Declaration of Dependence, Live Out Loud, Bring It On, Only Getting Starting, Whatever, and I Do Believe.
What drew me the most to SCC's music however was the depth of meaning in the lyrics of his some of his slower songs. The first to grab my attention was Heart's Cry, with these words:
This is my heart's cry
I want to know the one who saved me and gave me life
This is my heart's cry to be so close to Him that all my life becomes
A testimony of my Savior's grace and love
This is my heart's cry
Many of his songs have such a richness of meaning pointing to an obvious deep commitment to the Lord and much meditation on what worship and devotion to Christ is all about. For instance, ponder the words of this song, Much of You:
I want to make much of You, Jesus
I want to make much of Your love
I want to live today to give You the praise
That You alone are so worthy of
I want to make much of Your mercy
I want to make much of Your cross
I give You my life
Take it and let it be used
To make much of You
I would say that there is a depth of understanding of worship in that song rarely found in Christian music today. Other great SCC songs of this type include Hiding Place, My Redeemer is Faithful and True, His Eyes, Wait, His Strength is Perfect, Way Beyond the Blue, Waiting for Lightning, When You Are A Soldier, Miracle of Mercy, Be Still and Know, God is God, Savior, and Moment Made for Worshipping. The words of this last song, I can't resist including here:
This is a moment made for worshipping
'Cause this is a moment I'm alive
This is a moment I was made to sing
A song of living sacrifice
For every moment that I live and breathe
This is a moment made for worshipping
Between all the jam songs and the slow, deep songs are many great songs, some them ballads and some of them just easy listening. Songs such as The Mountain, Free, Burn the Ships, Remember the Chains, Walk With The Wise, In This Little Room, More to this Life, Love You with My Life, For the Sake of the Call, and Magnificent Obsession.
SCC hasn't always written CCM music exclusively. One of his classic songs, I Will Be Here has become a wedding standard. His album, All About Love, was dedicated almost entirely to love and romance songs, being an album devoted to the love he and his wife share.
Easy to overlook, but worth checking out are his joint project songs. Of note is By His Wounds with Third Day, and I See Love with MercyMe.
When it comes to style I'm not exactly sure where SCC falls. He has proven capable of driving rock songs, energetic blues-influenced numbers, acoustic based worship songs (precursors of the praise & worship movement), orchestral sounds prefacing or behind songs, and all sorts of blended genres from alternative to country. The key stylistic influences are certainly country and rock, but it is obvious that SCC appreciates and enjoys a wide variety of styles. The oft-repeated criticism of CCM is that it is merely Christianized pop music copied a few years after the real thing and marketed for a clean, Christian audience. I believe SCC resists such criticism easily, whatever can be said of other CCM artists, cheap imitation would not survive 20 years. And through the years his sound has evolved considerably and when a new release comes out often it is with a new sound, and whatever the new sound is it is clean, tight, and well-executed.
How does SCC do all of this? I'm not sure-God is the One who provides such gifts. SCC's got the voice, the musical ability, and certainly the passion, but the key, I believe, is his song-writing and his devotion to the God he sings about. His song writing demonstrates a grasp of the deep, wholistic nature of biblical worship and he crafts the lyrics so that it is communicated in words and images very relevant to the contemporary generation. His devotion is shown most completely in the some of the lyrics of the songs, some quoted above. Other little things demonstrate his devotion as well, like his habit of providing related Scriptures for every song in the liner notes of each album.
I also appreciate SCC for his consistency. As far as I know, he never attempted to crossover to mainstream rock and pop music which so many try to do. What he started out doing-making great music for Jesus-is what he is still doing today.
I appreciate and enjoy the music of SCC not in order to exalt SCC or indulge in some form of Christian rock idol worship, but rather because SCC has helped me through his music to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ in my personal thought life, worship, and prayer.
Thus, I commend to you the work of Steven Curtis Chapman.
For a full discography, see here.
Also, make sure to watch for his upcoming release Live in this Moment. He is also on tour this fall and in the Spring 2008, so check out the SCC website, and if he's coming close to home go!