Reviewing Hillsong: Let Hope Rise
One thing I sometimes like to do is throw something on the TV while I work. Often documentaries are a good source of this. Mildly educational, mildly entertaining, but not too hard to just keep one eye on while still being productive. Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is not good for this type of half-way watching. Full expectation of getting work done was laid by the wayside as this docu-music video kicked into gear.
My first introduction to Hillsong’s music was probably “Mighty to Save,” sung years ago in youth group. Other songs like “the Stand” and “From the Inside Out” filled the setlist of more contemporary worship music services. To me, Hillsong always had an aura of mystery to it. I didn’t really know who they were and there were so many names to keep straight: Hillsong United, Hillsong Young and Free, Hillsong Worship.
Since then, I’ve come to appreciate Hillsong’s Spirit-filled, truth-packed lyrics and beautiful creativity of shimmering pads, soaring leads, and intricate melodies. For just one example, consider one simple but powerful verse from their recent track based on the Apostles Creed, “This I Believe.”
Our Judge and our Defender
Suffered and crucified
Forgiveness is in You
We could talk for hours about the concept of that first line.
Among many other ideas, Hillsong: Let Hope Rise brings a behind-the-scenes look at how these tracks are created, and how seriously they take the lyric-writing process (insert Australian accent here, PRO-cess). Joel Houston, co-pastor of Hillsong NYC and one of several lead singers in the group, makes it clear that Hillsong is not a band in the traditional sense, but is first and foremost a worship group: “For us, you’re putting words into the mouths of people. These songs are written for people to sing, not just to listen to.”
While we watch onscreen how much work and revision goes into their production process, Mr. Houston references David’s words in 2 Samuel 24:24: “…I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.”
In a strange moment of the documentary meant to show the steadily increasing world-wide impact of Hillsong’s music, a fast early-years rock cut plays underneath headlines of their songs moving up the charts. It’s an odd music choice, since it makes it feel like their notoriety is just another rock band success story. Whether this is meant to contrast with the “Mighty to Save” section below, I’m not sure, but it undercuts the message of the film. Thankfully, it’s short.
Another section, a much more effective (and moving) way of conveying Hillsong’s positive impact world-wide shows cuts of “Mighty to Save” being sung and played all over the world, cutting from clip to clip in recreating the song. Jumping from home churches, to car karaoke, to outdoor campfires, to third-world slums, to dirty kitchens, in a whole variety of styles, it’s an inspiring snapshot of the united Church all across the world. My favorite part for sure.
As for the music itself? It’s fantastic. There are several extended cuts of Hillsong playing multiple songs in several venues, including the massive Forum in Los Angeles. On what makes them different as a worship band, as opposed to just a group filling a stadium, one Hillsong band member allows, “We’re put in a position to draw attention to ourselves, to draw attention away from ourselves. It’s the paradox of worship leading.” Louie Giglio weighs in on how music can be key to a spiritual awakening in someone’s life: “Music is the tip of the spear. It cuts through man’s heart. What then comes through is the message of Jesus.”
What was so engrossing about the film? It’s a story of how a bunch of people who love Jesus have committed their lives to His service, and how human creativity and beauty work, through song, to elevate His name. Brian Houston, the founding senior pastor of Hillsong Church, frames it: “(I like to think that) Hillsong music is the sound of a vibrant, healthy local church.” Vibrant comes through loud and clear in this film. Healthy is more subjective–an issue of the heart, and it takes more than just good music to get there. But when the vibrancy comes from healthy, solid gospel truth? It’s great. I’ve never heard a Hillsong sermon so I can’t speak to that, but the music? Always great.