Best known for modern worship classics like “Everlasting God,” “Lord, Reign in Me” and “Your Love Is Amazing,” Brenton Brown is a South African-raised Rhodes scholar who studied at Oxford, cut his worship teeth in the Vineyard Church in England, returned home on sabbatical after contracting ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), a debilitating condition, and wound up living in Malibu, California.
Our God Is Near, Brenton’s third full-length recording and his second for Kingsway, is an irresistible collection of 10 songs bent on spanning the chasm between joy and death.
“Those two ideas seem totally disparate and juxtaposed, like they could never go together,” he explains, “but that’s what makes the good news good news. When God is near, things change. He can literally bulldoze the mountains in our lives out of the way if he chooses to. We can’t fully understand it, and our language cannot describe it, but peace comes only in the fellowship of suffering. That we can die in him and rise in him confounds the trials of the world. Our music struggles to contain this idea.”
Produced by Jason Ingram and Rusty Varenkamp, Our God Is Near features the musical collaboration of Brenton Brown and his band of brothers—Daniel Ornellas, Scotty Murray and Ben Showalter, collectively known as the Worship Republic. Rich with compelling anthems and prayers set in highly singable, modern-edge melodies, the sonic result puts this ‘worship republic’ squarely in the company of modern worship groundbreakers like Delirious?, David Crowder, Gungor and Robbie Seay Band.
But it’s the songs that most set Brenton Brown apart. Featuring co-writes with some of the finest worship songwriters of the day, like Paul Baloche, Marty Sampson, Matt Maher, Eoghan Heaslip and others, Our God Is Near showcases Brenton’s fine-tuned understanding of the truth that ‘to be profound, it must be simple.’ His years of experience as a worship leader have taught him well.
“In the early days, we were making music for people who weren’t coming to church yet,” he says, “the hymns of the church future, if you will. I still have this teenage spirit, still this geeky kid in a rock band, but it’s not just a job, or a way to make a living. We are reaching forward for the next songs the church will sing.”
In fact, much of the inspiration for the songs comes from what Brenton and his band experiences leading worship at his home church in Malibu, and on the road.
“Many of us feel unqualified or unworthy,” Brenton Brown says, “that sense of not really up to being a Christian, but there’s the Lord throwing open the gate, saying ‘If you don’t have what it takes, come anyway, I’ve got something for you. That’s God’s heart. You don’t have to have any qualification, just believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him, and He’s there. That’s more than enough reason to be joyful. That’s what we’re saying here.”
With the opening track, “Our God Is Mercy,” Brenton Brown sets the tone for the entire project. Powerfully resonating with audiences far and wide, this simple song is already beginning to impact churches around the world.
“People have been touched by God in dramatic ways as we’ve played this song,” Brenton says. “I think it’s just the act of singing it together with other believers, experiencing the nearness of God… what I’ve seen has reminded me of the early Vineyard movement. I’ve wept for joy as waves of people were physically moved, wailing and crying. There’s simply no other explanation but the Spirit of God.”
“Joyful,” the current single, puts a driving, modern spin on the famous hymn.
“I’ve always loved ‘Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,’ he adds. “It’s such an amazing prayer to pray as a worship leader, such a happy, joyful thing at the end of a difficult day. I was even more stoked when I researched it and found out that it was written in 1920 by Henry J. Van Dyke, an Ivy League professor who loved the Lord.”
“We Lift You Up,” with its unmistakable ‘Shout to the Lord’ quality, “Glorious,” a Coldplay-esque anthem, and “His Name Is Wonderful” all herald the power and glory of God to conquer death and rule over all His creation.
“The first five songs on the record are about death and resurrection,” Brenton Brown explains, “about the fact that God is bigger than any challenge we might face. People die every day, so you’d think we’d have death figured out by now. We put a man on the moon, but we still haven’t figured out how not to die. Jesus is the only person to come back, and remain alive, the only person who has conquered death. We don’t get to see Him face to face, right now, but every now and again, we get to see His Kingdom at work, in prayer being answered in dramatic and small ways, and in those moments where we experience His presence.”
Our God Is Near continues with “All I Want,” a love song of a child for his Father, “Higher,” a rollicking rock anthem, “Good News,” an innovative unpacking of John 3:16, and “All for You,” the project benediction that seals this love letter and sets it to flight. “In the spirit of Paul the Apostle, this is just for the Lord in the end,” says Brenton, “an honest offering as much as anything…”
Ultimately, Brenton Brown’s approach to worship is as simple and authentic as the man himself: “I’m not a salesman for God,” he says. “That’s not my gig. I don’t need to sell Him. All I need to do, all I ever want to do is pray some honest prayers and sing some things that are true about who God is. To sing these prayers I’ve written and others have written, to keep it clean and simple and intentional. That’s enough for me.” –Melissa Riddle Chalos