No Line On The Horizon, the latest album from Irish rock band U2, has finally hit music stores in North America after its worldwide debut Friday in Ireland.
And according to a theologian in Alabama, it's "the most thoroughly Christian thing they've done yet."
"Like the last two albums, No Line is much more overt in its Christian rendering of the world, what with lyrics like 'Justified until we die/You and I will magnify/Oh, the Magnificent' from the album's second track," commented Steven R. Harmon, an associate professor of divinity at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.
"Yet what qualifies this album as thoroughly Christian is not so much its pervasive biblical/theological images as its overarching eschatological vision," he wrote Friday in a music review featured by the Associated Baptist Press.
The Christian themes in U2's music have been widely recognized since their 1981 album, October, which was ranked as No. 41 on CCM Magazine's 2001 list of the greatest Christian music albums of all time. Also included in the list was the group's 1987 album, The Joshua Tree.
"The youthful October (1981) set the scene for what was to follow," writes the Rt. Rev. Nick Baines, bishop of Croydon in South London, in his recent book Finding Faith: Stories of Music and Life.
"Songs of spiritual recognition and searching ('Gloria,' or 'Tomorrow,' for example) mingle with the exploration of love and lust," he adds.
Of course, not all the songs included in U2's albums have a Christian worldview, and some are arguably far from Christian, leading many conservatives to question the group's beliefs. Those that are, however, have gone as far as to make their way into churches across the country and around the world, where they used as hymns, particularly in Episcopal churches.
"U2 is good at the art, using language like a poet would, like the classic hymn language," the Rev. Christian Scharen, director of the Faith as a Way of Life Project at Yale Divinity School, told USA Today in 2006, two years after the release of U2's last album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
"Listen to their lesser-known song 'Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car,' which is about grace," the Lutheran minister added. "We mess up, but God is merciful. That's playful."
Regarding their latest album, Professor Harmon in Alabama says seven of the album's 11 songs invoke its central eschatological metaphor, which he says is the "sound of the divine song, heard only by those who have the ears to hear it, yet unconsciously sought by everyone, for all people were created to hear and sing this song."
Within this framework, No Line calls people's attention to the discordant dimensions of our world, Harmon adds, noting that the album's basic message is that earth is not yet heaven.
"[T]he album summons us to 'Get On Your Boots' and work toward the day when things will fully be on earth as they are in heaven – when heaven and earth will be indistinguishable, and there will at last be no line on the horizon," he wrote in his review.
Written and recorded in various locations, No Line On The Horizon is U2's 12th studio album and is their first release since the nine million selling album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb released in late 2004.
Rolling Stone magazine has already awarded No Line on The Horizon five stars, calling the album U2's "best, in its textural exploration and tenacious melodic grip, since 1991's Achtung Baby."
Christianity Today, meanwhile, said the album offers some of the most thoughtful and introspective lyrics put out by U2 frontman Bono, who the magazine noted as being "in love with Jesus and himself in equal measure."
"There are the usual 'is it Jesus or a girlfriend?' teases, but those looking for more depth will find much to savor," the evangelical publication added.
The track listing for No Line On The Horizon includes:
1. "No Line on the Horizon"
3. "Moment of Surrender"
4. "Unknown Caller"
5. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"
6. "Get on Your Boots"
7. "Stand Up Comedy"
8. "Fez – Being Born"
9. "White as Snow"
11. "Cedars of Lebanon"