Favorite Albums of 2010

Top Ten Progressive Rock Albums of the Year

10. Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth, by Steve Hackett
hacket-out of the tunnels mouthThis is the 22nd Hackett solo album for the former guitarist for Genesis (he was with them during their artistic progressive rock era, 1971-77). A legendary guitarist who has influenced guitarists for years (think Steve Rothery of Marillion, Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, and Nick Barrett of Pendragon), this is the second best album he has ever made (after “Watcher of the Skies,” which was a revisioning of old Genesis classics). With this album, Hackett offers an eclectic sound experience. Download the proggy “Fire on the Moon” (a song that sounds like it could have been on “A Trick of the Tail” by Genesis), or the middle-eastern flavored “Last Train to Istanbul,” or even “Nomads” with its Flamenco guitar styling which then ends with the classic Hackett soaring electric guitar, or the truly dreamy “Sleepers.”

9. The Underfall Yard, by Big Big Train
bigbigtraintuyWith this album, Big Big Train (Gregory Spawton, Andy Poole, David Longdon, and Nick D’Virgilio) continue to impress with a sophisticated symphonic progressive sound, similar to old-school Genesis and Yes. The new singer, Langdon, was a finalist to replace Phil Collins in Genesis ten years ago, and you can tell why: he sings very well, and reminds us of the Peter Gabriel / Phil Collins style. Drums are handled by our old friend D’Virgilio, singer/drummer for Spock’s Beard. Download the emotional “Victorian Brickyard” or “Last Train” (which reminds me of something I could have heard on “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis).

8. Scratch My Back, by Peter Gabriel
gabriel-scratchLeave it to Peter Gabriel to try something totally different. With Scratch My Back, he performs covers of some of his favorite songs by other artists. Only there’s a catch: No guitars, no electric bass, and no drums. Just Gabriel's vocals accompanied by strings, woodwinds, brass and piano. This “limitation” inspired Gabriel and John Metcalfe to arrange the songs in innovative ways. Download his rendition of “Listening Wind” (originally recorded by The Talking Heads) or “Mirrorball” (originally done by Elbow).

7. Grappling Hooks, by North Atlantic Oscillation
north atlantic oscillation grapplingHere’s a different sounding band, and they’ve created a very modern and accessible album with catchy melodies, yet with adventurously quirky sounds and rhythms. For anyone with interest in Radiohead, Elbow, or E.L.O., try them out by downloading “Some Blue Hive” and “Alexanderplatz.”

6. Size Matters, by Marillion
marillion size mattersThis 2CD live album is available exclusively from the Marillion website through their personal label, Racket Records. Recorded at the Marillion Weekend Festival in Holland in 2009, the band decided to do a set of all their longer songs (the 10 songs clock in from 9 to 17 minutes), including the Fish-era “Kayleigh/ Lavender/ Heart Of Lothian,” to the excellent “Neverland” from Hogarth-era Marbles.

5. Someone Here is Missing, by The Pineapple Thief
pineapple thief-someoneFor those that yearn for the musical style of early Radiohead (OK Computer, The Bends, Kid A) featuring accessible melodies and rhythms yet innovative sounds, textures, and transitions, then the new album from The Pineapple Thief is right up your alley. It also is in the same vein as Muse and Porcupine Tree, with plenty of progressive rock influences throughout. Download some excellent tracks like “3000 Days” and “Nothing at Best.”

4. X, by Spock’s Beard
spocks beard xHas it really been 10 albums for the venerable leaders of the new Progressive Rock genre? Amazing. It seems like only yesterday that I first discovered this band and was re-invigorated in my passion for Prog Rock. Spock’s Beard has carried the banner of symphonic prog forward into the new millennium, following the tradition of bands like Genesis, Yes, Kansas, Gentle Giant, and Jethro Tull.  Of course, the last four albums have been in the “After Neal Morse” era, the founding member and artistic driving force behind some of the finest music made in the last fifteen years. But when Neal Morse left the band for a solo career, they courageously struck out on their own (brother Alan Morse on guitar, Nick D’Virgilio on drums and vocals, Dave Meros on bass, and Ryo Okumoto on keyboards). With X, they show that they have indeed matured into song composers of their own, with the prime examples being “From the Darkness” and “Jaws of Heaven” – both around 17 minutes with four accessible movements featuring incredible melodies and amazing playing. These two longer songs are available for download at amazon.com, but not through iTunes.

3. Victims of the Modern Age, by Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One
star one - victimsStar One is one of the many projects from the incredibly talented Arjen Lucassen, who is also the mastermind behind Ayreon (and other side projects including Guilt Machine, Ambeon, and Stream of Passion). Lucassen’s modus operandi is to write and create music journeys and then employ the best instrumentalists to play and various vocalists to sing the roles of the people in the songs. Star One’s “niche” is Progressive Metal coupled with science fiction themes; all the songs on the two Star One albums are all based on science fiction films. Check out “Earth That Was” (based on one of my favorite television shows, “Firefly”) and “24 Hours” (based on the cult classic film “Escape from New York”).

2. Night is the New Day, by Katatonia
Katatonia_-_Night_Is_The_New_DaySpeaking of Arjen Lucassen, it was on his last Ayreon album, “01011001” that I was first introduced to the incredibly haunting vocals of Jonas Renkse (Lucassen, remember, recruits the best vocalists for his projects). Renkse’s voice is full of yearning, melancholy, and expression - like no other I’ve ever heard. Renkse’s band, Katatonia, had established themselves earlier in their career as a leader in the “Doom Metal” genre (which features harsh sections mixed with calm sections along with lyrics and vocals characterized by despondency). Hints of that past are apparent in this album, but this album is much more melodic and textured. This album is more in the vein of Porcupine Tree and the melodic side of Opeth. It is quite clear that these are artists that understand musical composition. Have a listen to “Liberation” and “Forsaker.”

1. Wintercoast, by Touchstone
touchstone-wintercoastTouchstone creates the perfect blend of symphonic melodies and soundscapes with the edginess of aggressive guitars and drums. Rob Cottingham wins best new musical composer, hands-down. Cottingham plays keyboards and sings lead and backing vocals, but he has wisely placed Kim Seviour at the front of the band as the key vocalist. She provides the melodic vocals that make these songs resonate with the listener long after the iPod is turned off. I am very glad to have discovered Touchstone, and Wintercoast is one of the best albums in my music collection. Download the title track (“Wintercoast”), “Zinomorph,” and “Joker in the Pack.”


related posts:
Top 20 Albums of 2009 (20-11)
Top 20 Albums of 2009 (10-1)
My Top 10 Albums of 2008
A Brief History of Prog


Local Churches as Missional Training Outposts

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

missional training outpostIn light of the mission of God (to reconcile all things to himself, i.e., to usher in the Kingdom of God), new missional leaders must be willing to shape local congregations into missional training outposts for incarnational ministry, equipping believers to infiltrate all of society with the gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Ministry leaders in the 21st Century will need to reshape their thinking as to the nature of their calling. We must concentrate on training Christians to infiltrate society and culture with the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  We need a new discipleship model based on the Kingdom mission of the reconciliation of all things, providing Christians the tools to be change agents as they engage the culture.

Perhaps some churches will embrace the idea that they could become missional training outposts for Kingdom ministry, but it would take a major paradigm shift for a local congregation to not think in terms of its own church growth priorities and embrace this paradigm. I do see signs of hope, however, in that some churches and ministry leaders are focusing on these things, and in my doctoral research, I intend to study these congregations intensely and interview ministry leaders (see my next post on who I see as leaders in this area).

Instead of focusing on new methodologies for invigorating local congregations to be more attractive to the next generation for the sake of church growth, we need to focus on the mission of the Kingdom. We need to develop discipleship strategies to develop Christians into ambassadors of the Kingdom, fully yielding all spheres of their lives to the reign of God, and then seeing their mission as being witnesses and instruments of God’s Kingdom in their areas of influence.

New strategies need to be established through which Christians can be agents of God’s reconciliation of all things to himself. I believe that a possible model of discipleship can be to form cohort groups (based on vocation, geography, interests, passions, and callings) as the witness and instrument of the Kingdom of God in our current culture. Perhaps local church congregations can become missional training outposts for incarnational ministry, equipping believers to infiltrate society and culture in their particular areas of vocation, locality, interests, passions, and callings.

roxburgh-romanukThe goal for discipleship is to have people know God and his purposes for them in life. As Al Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk astutely state,

“Our telos is to know God…To know God is to know the Good. Knowing God is also participating in a life infused with proper calling, and to do the work we have been given to do in this life. Only by participating in the life of God can we live out our telos and live into our work and purpose. By doing our proper work in life, we know happiness in the sense of knowing God. As human beings our quest for the Good is a quest for the telos of our life, which can only be known in God” (Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, p. 117)

Joseph and Mary on Facebook, Sharing the Story of the Birth of Jesus

ht: Matt Robinson


The Church’s Mission for the Sake of the Kingdom of God

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

The Church functions for the sake of the Kingdom of God, not the other way around.

Over the centuries, the Church has placed itself at the center of God’s plan for the world, but God’s plan is the reconciliation of all things to himself (see me previous posts), where all things again submit to the rule of God.

This is The Kingdom of God.

Tladd-theologyofnewtestamenthe church is the people of the Kingdom, not the Kingdom itself. As George Eldon Ladd outlines in A Theology of the New Testament (in chapter 8, “The Kingdom and the Church”) , the Kingdom creates the Church, and the Church witnesses to the Kingdom, is the instrument of the Kingdom, and is the custodian of the Kingdom. Ladd correctly states, “The Kingdom is God’s reign and the realm in which the blessings of his reign are experienced; the church is the fellowship of those who have experienced God’s reign and entered into the enjoyment of its blessings” (p. 117). This is no subtle nuance of semantics. It makes all the difference in the world.

The late Ray Anderson, who was Professor of Theology and Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, correctly assessed that “the temptation for the church has always been to identify its own existence and institutional life with the kingdom of God. When that occurs, the existence of the church tends to take priority over the mission of the kingdom of God” (The Soul of Ministry, p. 161).

Alan Hirsch makes the argument in his influential book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, that “we have so divinized this mode of church through the centuries of theologizing about it that we have actually confused it with the kingdom of God.” (p. 51)

My hope for the Church is that it would be less institutional-focused and more Kingdom-focused. Kingdom-focused ministry leaders, in the words of Reggie McNeal, are not limited to “one congregation or to just church real-estate programming,” but are “more collegial than competitive, more community focused than merely focused on church culture agenda,” and are busy “reconceptualizing and practicing a Christianity that is not dependent on the prevailing church culture for its expression” (A Work of Heart, p. 103).

Many churches, since they see themselves as the center of God’s plan for the world, spend the majority of their time, money, and resources on strategies for getting people to come and become members of their church. But this strategy severely limits the scope of their Kingdom influence.

The Church must change its manner of ministry to better match its mission. If God’s mission in the world is to reconcile all things to himself, and if he has called his people to do this ministry of reconciliation (that is, to be the witness and instrument of the Kingdom of God), then our mode of being local church congregations must follow. Alan Hirsch correctly insists that a missional reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) “requires that we see that Jesus’s strategy is to get a whole lot of versions of him infiltrating every nook and cranny of society by reproducing himself in and through his people in every place throughout the world” (The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).

There is hope because we are witnessing a new and fresh movement of God’s Spirit in the North American evangelical church. I see a reawakening of our call to be restorers of God’s good creation, ambassadors of God’s reconciliation of the all things back to himself, agents of redemption and shalom in a broken and hurting world.


The Kingdom of God and the Reconciliation of All Things

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

People in the current culture have watched the Church’s dualistic approach to life (see my last post) and have determined that we are sheltered and out-of-touch.

UnChristian at amazon.comDavid Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in their essential book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters write,

“Outsiders think Christianity is out of tune with the real-world choices, challenges, and lifestyles they face. Only one-fifth of young outsiders believe that an active faith helps people live a better, more productive life.” (p. 122)

This is a sad indictment on the Church. If we would have had a positive witness through our mission of reconciliation, there would be no doubt that an active faith has a direct impact on all of life.

This is the very definition of the Kingdom of God: it is God’s way to a better, more productive life (though the good life of the Kingdom of God does not align well with the ill-defined “good life” of the kingdom of this world). Jesus explained that he was sent to “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

In our twenty-first century culture, the desire of people outside of the Church is to see their lives have meaning and purpose. According to a report from the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, college student volunteering increased by 20 percent between 2002 and 2005, more than doubling the growth in the adult volunteering rate. 3.3 million college students volunteered in 2005, almost 600,000 more students than three years before.

Desiring the Kingdom at amazon.comPeople in today’s culture, without even knowing it, are seeking to do Kingdom work, but are like sheep without a shepherd. James K. A. Smith, in his new excellent book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, writes

“To be human is to desire ‘the kingdom,’ some version of the kingdom, which is the aim of our quest. Every one of us is on a kind of Arthurian quest for ‘the Holy Grail,’ that hoped for, longed-for, dreamed-of picture of the good life—the realm of human flourishing—that we pursue without ceasing.” (p. 54).

What can we do to offer people in our culture the Kingdom of God?

More in this series next week. We will explore the relation between the Kingdom of God and the Church. The temptation for the church has always been to identify its own existence and institutional life with the kingdom of God. When that occurs, the existence of the church tends to take priority over the mission of the kingdom of God.


Book Gift-Giving Guide from Byron Borger

Byron Borger
Byron Borger is one of the wisest and best-read men in North America. I am not kidding. He owns a bookstore called Hearts & Minds and is the go-to bookseller at many major Christian conferences on the East Coast.

Byron offers a wonderful in-depth Christmas gift guide at his website. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

Hearts & Minds gift giving guide---for moms, dads, sports fans, film buffs and those with interests from science to art

The Holistic Christianity of Reconciliation

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

God’s mission through Christ is to reconcile all things back to himself (Colossians 1:20). This begins when he “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and continues when we, as his “ambassadors,” perform “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).

The Hebraic understanding is that “God is One” which undergirds the Christian view is that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all things.

The problem, however, is that the evangelical Church in North America has embraced a Greek (Plato and Aristotle) understanding of reality that separates the sacred from the secular. This false worldview led to the Gnostic heresy of the early Church, and in the 21st Century, the North American evangelical Church accepts a neo-gnostic understanding of reality. Alan Roxburgh writes, “Gnostic movements have always sought to dematerialize and spiritualize Jesus, limiting God’s engagement to some inner, spiritual experience that is disembodied from most of the public and material engagement of the world.”

Here N. T. Wright explains the gnostic heresy:

N.T. Wright on Gnosticism

Alan Hirsch correctly states, “There is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh’s lordship.”

The evangelical Church has neglected the Hebraic understanding of life in favor of the dualistic view that separates the secular from the sacred. Instead of seeing its ministry in terms of “the reconciliation of all things,” it sees its ministry in terms of growing and managing its own institutional life. As Alan Hirsch points out, it sees its ministry as the “mediating institution” between the sacred and the secular. The diagram below shows this mistaken idea of the church’s mediating position between the sphere of God and the sphere of the world.

dualistic spirituality -1

If we are to revitalize our ministry of reconciliation, we must no longer see the church as a mediating institution. Rather, we must see our ministry as the equipping and empowering of God’s people to be God’s agents of the reconciliation of all things back to God in Christ. Jesus is Lord of all.

non-dualistic spirituality

(diagrams adapted from Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways)


Entrusted with the Ministry of the Reconciliation of All Things

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

reconciliationGod’s mission to reconcile all things to himself drives his purpose in calling a particular people to be the Church. As Ray Anderson states, “Mission precedes and creates the church” (The Soul of Ministry, p.158).

The Church’s mission is determined first by God’s mission through Christ, which is the mission of reconciliation.

Let’s compare Colossians 1:15-20 with 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

God’s mission, in a word, is reconciliation. The scope of Creation was “all things;” the scope of the Fall was “all things,” and the scope of redemption, therefore, is “all things.” That is God’s mission in the world. This brings us to our mission in the world.

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

God’s mission through Christ of reconciling all things back to himself begins when he “reconciled us to himself through Christ,” and continues when we, as his “ambassadors,” perform “the ministry of reconciliation.”

In other words, our mission is to be God’s agents of restoring all aspects of the created order back to God’s loving rule and standards, reconciling all things back to God through Christ.

The Forgotten Ways at amazon.comGod the Creator is the ruler of all of his creation, not just the natural created world, but also of the human endeavors in society and culture (see my previous post). As Alan Hirsch says in his excellent book, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church,

“Therefore, everything—one’s work, one’s domestic life, one’s health, one’s worship—has significance to God. He is concerned with every aspect of the believer’s life, not just the so-called spiritual dimensions…There is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh’s lordship. All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.”

In other words, God is in the process of reconciling “all things” back to himself, not just the individual souls of people, not just the natural creation, but everything, including society and culture. All things were created by him, and he wants it all back.

But there’s a problem in American evangelical Christianity: we have lost the biblical understanding of God’s reconciliation ministry, and have replaced it with a neo-Gnosticism that truncates the gospel. More on that next.


What is the “CREATION?” What is God Redeeming?

God’s Mission and Our Mission of Reconciliation

The mission of God in Christ is to reconcile all things back to himself. According to Colossians 1:15-20, Jesus Christ is the creator (v. 16) and sustainer (v. 17), of “all things” (τὰ πάντα), and God’s purpose is to “reconcile all things” (ἀποκαταλλάξαι τὰ πάντα) to himself by making peace through the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

God’s desire to reconcile to himself “all things” is larger in scope than simply individual salvation for human beings.
The scope of Creation was “all things;” the scope of the Fall was “all things,” and the scope of redemption, therefore, is “all things.” God’s mission, then, is the redemption of his entire creation.

As N.T. Wright says, “To put it bluntly, creation is to be redeemed; that is, space is to be redeemed, time is to be redeemed, and matter is to be redeemed.” The purpose of redemption is not simply to usher human souls off to some heavenly non-corporeal existence for all eternity; it is to restore that which God had deemed “very good” in Genesis 1.

We must be clear in our definition of the “creation” that God so treasures that he is reconciling it back to himself. 

It is certainly the natural creation, but it is also much more. In the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, we learn that the pinnacle of God’s creative work was creating humans in the divine image. Then he rested from his labor, expecting the creative work to continue in those that carry that divine image. The human race was commanded to rule, fill and subdue the creation (Genesis 1:26-28).

creation_regained_new_woltersAlbert M. Wolters, in his essential book, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, writes,
“Mankind, as God’s representatives on earth, carry on where God has left off. But this is now to be a human development of the earth…From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature. In a single word, the task ahead is civilization.” (p. 41-42)
The scope of “creation,” then, includes the natural created order that God originally made, but it is broader than that. It also includes that which God had predetermined human beings to fashion as an extension of his creativity. All structures of society and culture must also be included in what we call “creation.”
“Creation is not something that, once made, remains a static quantity…The given reality of the created order is such that it is possible to have schools and industry, printing and rocketry, needlepoint and chess…We are called to participate in the ongoing creational work of God, to be God’s helper in executing to the end the blueprint for his masterpiece.” (Wolters, p. 44)



Check out the new series that starts tomorrow,
God’s mission and the Church's mission of reconciliation

It is the fruit of my first doctoral course at Fuller Theological Seminary.