Struck by Russ Ramsey, Free for CAPC Members
Death’s party-crashing ways are detailed in a new book by Russ Ramsey, titled Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death.
Popular contemporary Christian art, especially music, has the earned reputation of not fully dealing with uncertainty, unbelief, and doubt. It tends to traffic in empty platitudes, over-value positivity and encouragement, and ignore some of the hard realities of a broken world. Certainly there are Christian artists across art forms that counter this characterization, but their work is the exception rather than the rule.The album is at its strongest when it strays farthest from the path of conventional contemporary music.
Describing their debut album Deliverance & Doubt as “an honest and fresh exploration into unbelief,” South of Royal attempts to fill this gap in contemporary Christian music. The first project from The Village Church Music, Deliverance & Doubt’s seven tracks are a clean collection of synth-pop/rock songs with catchy hooks that would feel at home on any new Hillsong or Coldplay album.
Lyrically, Deliverance & Doubt weaves together biblical allusions with personal reflections on the faithfulness of God. The imagery is familiar and the thematic ground has been tread before, but South of Royal adds enough originality to keep it from being too stale.
The album is at its strongest when it strays farthest from the path of conventional contemporary music. The final track, a benediction from the book of Jude, wraps the project up nicely. And the track “The Unbelief in Me” is a leveling with God that I’m sure all believers can relate to. Opening with the line, “I was all in, ’til we ended up here/I was expecting the desert, but I wasn’t forty years,” the track attempts to express the reality that the Christian life is not a guarantee of certainty.
Sometimes belief is a newly paved interstate, but most of the time, at least in my experience, belief is more like a wilderness trail with downed trees, unexpected detours, and muddy paths. Evil is a real thing in the world, and life can break us. We learn from Scripture that these are realities not to be ignored or blindly accepted. God welcomes our full emotional experience and many times art is able to help us engage in this space when our reason and intellect cannot.
Unfortunately, “The Unbelief in Me” is the only track that takes on the questions of doubt and uncertainty full stop. The description of the album as “an exploration into unbelief,” let alone an “honest and fresh” exploration, however, doesn’t quite hold up for me. Deliverance & Doubt offers the typical reassurances of God’s goodness and faithfulness while spending very little time dwelling with the feelings or circumstances of doubt.
Rather than sit in the mire of the complexities and sometimes overwhelming sadness of being a human, it seems to speak to the oversimplified question of belief in God, as if that answer alone will overcome these feelings. I wish the album had interrogated doubt and unbelief rather than simply try to will the listener back into a state of belief. This would have been the honest and fresh exploration that Christians could really learn from. It’s possible the title is simply incongruous with the content, which offers good listening rather than spiritual direction for those caught in seasons of doubt.
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