It is 20 years this year since the first Matt Redman album, Wake Up My Soul, and since then he has released 11 albums and written over 120 songs. Redman was at the forefront of a new generation of UK worship song writers that emerged in the mid-1990s (others included Martin Smith, Paul Oakley, Lou and Nathan Fellingham, Stuart Townend, Tim Hughes, Martyn Layzell and Vicky Beeching). Redman et al, were the generation that followed Graham Kendrick, Noel Richards, Dave Fellingham and Dave Bilbrough, who dominated the 1980s and early 1990s. Redman emerged as the face of Soul Survivor and was its chief song writer from 1994 to the early 2000s, at which point he left and has spent time in the US with Passion (Louie Giglo, Chris Tomlin and others), but is now based back in the UK in Brighton.
Redman songs have found a wide audience and some have become a regular feature of UK churches - 'I will offer up my life', 'Jesus Christ (Once Again)', 'When the music fades', 'Blessed be your name', 'You never let go' and '10, 000 reasons (Bless the Lord)' perhaps the best well known.
Within the limits of the rock-pop worship song genre, Matt Redman is its one of the best proponents. He has the abiltiy to stick a set of interesting lyrics to a memorable melody which is (mostly) singable for a congregation. For the most part, I find, Redman a cut above his peers in terms of the content of his songs. The still fairly small and limited critical engagement with contemporary worship music associated with Soul Survivor, Passion, New Frontiers, Hillsong and others is generally very critical (and for the most part not wrong) of often banal, trivial, repetitive lyrics that get churned out year after year. Redman has demonstrated the gift to write songs that offer some depth of content and that got beyond the same recycled phrases.
Remembrance (Communion Song) - Co-written with the Catholic worship leader Matt Maher, this is a song that offers an excellent theology of the table
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made - Co-written with Matt's wife Beth, this song is based on Psalm 139
Befriended - This simple song speaks of the gospel and how Jesus befriends, invites and surrounds and to which we surrender, delight, find ourselves astounded and determined to live in response to the gospel
Light of the World - This is Redman's most Christologically focused song, based on John 1 and Colossians 1.15-20
Show me the way of the cross - Written in 1996 this song shows Redman explores the demands of Jesus' words in Mark 8.34-36
Your grace finds me - The title track from his most recent album points to God's grace present in the world - in birth, in the everyday, at a wedding day and by the graveside - and that God's grace is no different for the saint or sinner, those who are rich or poor.
- that connect with different parts of a worship service - songs for confession, thanksgiving, intercession, illumination (great to see that Your Grace Finds Me ends with song called 'Bendiction').
- that connect with the different seasons of the church: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost (Redman songs land most often in Epiphany or Lent).
- that connect with doctrine - Trinity, Christology, Pneumatology, Creation, Ecclesiology, Eschatology (Redman spends a lot of time writing songs that are doctrinally focused on atonement or providence). Redman wrote a 'Foreword' to Robin Parry's Worshipping Trinity (2004) and wrote his most trinitarian song around the same time 'Gifted Response' (Facedown album), but the four albums since have not evidenced a trinitarian turn, in fact, disappointingly almost the opposite.
- that connect with the life of Jesus - Redman has written little or nothing of songs that tell us the story of Jesus' life, other than incarnation or the cross.
Songs that connect with the worship service, the church year, with doctrine and with the life of Jesus, have all been part of a project by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, who have written a whole bunch of modern hymns that have resourced the church (although stuck in one narrow understanding of atonement). It is possibly easier for them, because the hymn offers more scope lyrically.
When worship song writers are not deliberately writing in these areas, we end up songs dominated by the songwriter's own faith journey and so leave us short of songs that tell the whole drama of salvation.
For two recent studies that include some engagement with Matt Redman, see my article, '"It's all about Jesus"' in Evangelical Theology 81.3 (July 2009) and Steve Holmes' article, 'Listening for the Lex Orandi' in Scottish Journal of Theology 66.2 (May 2013) and in a broader context Pete Ward's Selling Worship.