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ARRIVING (2004)
Arriving - Click to view!Reaching a destination in worship should never mean taking up permanent residence. Instead, continual growth is needed. How else could the God of the universe be discovered by His creation? Instead of setting up camp on the first mountain, we should press on to the vast range we observe in the distance. When considering Chris Tomlin's newest project, I take the title to mean a process of arriving, one that will take an entire lifetime to attain. This album is not a worshiper arriving to a place of conclusion. If anything, this is the portrait of the artist entering a place of realization that God's grandeur can never be adequately captured through the medium of music.

The central theme of Arriving is the majesty of Jehovah. The majority of the songs completely remove the human worshiper from the picture and are consumed with the splendor of God. "Indescribable" begins the album with images of nature and how they proclaim God's beauty: "Indescribable, uncontainable / You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name / You are amazing, God / All powerful, untamable / Awe-struck, we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim / You are amazing, God." "How Great Is Our God" talks about how "He wraps Himself with light / And darkness tries to hide / It trembles at His voice." Tomlin is mimicking the Psalms with his imagery of nature bowing before God. Tomlin calls God "Mountain-maker," "Ocean-tamer," "Star-creator," and "Wind-breather" in "You Do All Things Well." The compound names give the descriptions a Native-American feel and appeal to my poetic sensibilities. "All Bow Down" tells of thunder, rain, and fire escorting God across the cosmos and onto the earth. The focus on nature reflects Romans 1:20, which talks of how the earth itself speaks to the existence and supremacy of God. There are a few songs that deal with man's relationship to such majesty ("Your Grace is Enough," "Unfailing Love," and "The Way I Was Made," for example), but the tracks that focus on the natural world stands out the most.

While the imagery amazes, the musical accompaniment leave me wanting. Except for two tracks, the album blends together so well that is sounds like another Passion worship undertaking. There are no revolutionary steps being made with regard to musical diversity. "On Our Side" does surprise me with its black gospel feel, but it ends up sounding like every other white guy trying to capture the depth of African-American soul. But all is not lost: the simplistic use of acoustic guitars and violins on "Mighty is the Power of the Cross" saves the record. Another male voice harmonizes with Tomlin's soft tenor, creating a beautiful moment of supernatural intimacy with Christ. At the end the voices split into spontaneous praise, and it captures a moment that feels entirely real and entirely pure to whom Tomlin is as a worshiper.

No, Chris Tomlin has not arrived. He is instead arriving at new levels of praise and worship that will continue to grow as he draws closer to Christ. I believe this to be one of his best studio albums to date. The words create visceral images, and the music does nothing to take the focus away from the primary Receiver of our worship. It's a soothing collection of music for anyone trying to arrive at a new place in Christ—a place that is always changing shape.
- Hollie Stewart
February 2005
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