It should come as no surprise to regular (or even semi-frequent) readers of this blog that Team Redd highly endorses The Far Country, the latest CD from Andrew Peterson. Andrew is one of our favorite musicians, so it took all of 5 seconds to decide whether we should make the 1.5 hour drive down to Macon, GA to see Andrew play this past Sunday night. Although we had originally planned to see the show with a couple of friends, by Sunday we ended up leaving Atlanta with a mighty contingent of 13 souls (plus the original two rendezvousing with us in Macon) intent on hearing quality acoustic music.
The concert, as expected, was fantastic. In addition to usual musical compadre Ben Shive, Andrew brought along a bass player (who had apparently played with Counting Crows at some point) and a drummer (who had played on the new album) to play with him. Afterwards, both Andy and Ben separately confessed their concerns about how fans would react to the addition of bass and drums, but personally, I thought it really filled out the songs in a good way. I did have one minor gripe about the rhythm section obscuring Andy's vocals on some of the more up-tempo songs, but that was more an issue with the venue's sound system than with the band. But, sonic muddiness aside, the concert was quite excellent. Andy, as is his custom, interspersed the set list with stories about the songs, about his family, and ultimately, about the Gospel. He played a good mix of songs from most of his albums, as well as (by request) his ode to Mexican food. I was especially pleased to hear him perform an upbeat version of "Isn't It Love," of which he had been playing a much slower version in recent years. Not that the slow version is bad, but the poppy, up-tempo rendition sounded great with a band. I also think this is the first Andrew concert (out of the many, many, many I have attended) where he didn't play "Nothing To Say," his big radio single. Which is fine by me. It's a great song, but I like hearing other stuff, too!
Allison and I are really enjoying The Far Country, and Andy played several selections from it. Some fans have seen this album as a marked departure from previous albums, but I'm not so sure that's the case. Yeah, there are distorted electric guitars in places and more drums than in the past, but the songwriting is still just as solid. Andrew has never been afraid to use a variety of instrumentation, so I just consider these additions as more choices on his musical palette.
My only lingering quibble about The Far Country is not actually about the album, but about some tangential discussions stemming from it. The title comes from a quote which tells us that "God is at home. We are in a far country." The title track alludes to Hebrews, especially in comparing our Christian status as pilgrims in this world to Abraham's sojourn to an unknown land of promise. At the outset, I must make it clear that I don't find anything objectionable in Andrew's longings for heaven, either in this song or others. However, it seems like Christian discussions of death and heaven (like those sparked by the album) usually veer into sub-Christian views on the subject. These discussions are correct to focus on sin and death as deviations from God's ultimate design, and the appropriate human response should be a deep longing for a holy God to make things right. However, the sub-Christian view usually sees the "solution" as God removing the Christian from the world of pain and suffering into eternal heavenly bliss. Death is an escape from a fallen world. I believe that the Bible does not present this solution.
Instead, the Christian hope is that God will act to make all things right: sin and death will ultimately be defeated. Although the Bible speaks of an intermediate state where believers go to be with Christ after death, it speaks far more loudly of a final state of new creation, where God completely redeems His universe. Our resurrection to dwell in a new heaven and a new earth is the content of our ultimate hope that God will finally triumph over sin and death. This fact should be our consolation as we achingly make our way through this fallen world. Because God will redeem and restore the current creation, "heaven" is not a location completely removed from our current experience. Rather, the new heaven and earth are the final state of God's plan of redemption, to be consummated at the return of Jesus. I've found that it is far more useful to think of the distance between "the far country" and our ultimate home with God, between the current and final states of things, in terms of time and not of space.
And thankfully, Andrew's latest album does a great job of capturing that honest longing for God to make right all that is currently wrong with the world.