Introductory Note: In appreciation of Petra’s fortieth year in music and ministry, I am ranking their albums from least best to greatest. You can read my opening post here.
Not of This World (1983, StarSong)
Lineup: Greg X. Volz (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Slick (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)
Following up on the success of 1982’s More Power To Ya, Petra came back a year later with Not Of This World, the middle album of a trilogy marking the apex of the Greg X. Volz era, and an album contains three of Petra’s greatest and most enduring songs.
The introduction of synthesizers into the Petra sound start right from the beginning, with “Visions” instrumental pieces which bookend the album, transitioning nicely into the first song and out of the last.
And that first song, oh boy, is a ballad, yes, but a passionate call for believers to realize their identity in Christ in relation to their place in this world. It’s a song in the indicative, and it’s the title track. The lyrics by Bob Hartman are powerful: “We are pilgrims in a strange land / We are so far from our homeland / With each passing day it seems so clear / This world will never want us here / We’re not welcome in this world of wrong / We are foreigners who don’t belong // We are strangers, we are aliens / We are not of this world.” But that I, and all Christians, especially in America, would realize this important truth on a daily basis and live as though it is so.
From the opening ballad the album transitions to a genuine rocker, “Bema Seat.” In light of the reality of “Not Of This World,” this song calls the believer to examine his or her life. Will our treasure pass the test or will it burn up with the rest? It recalls the old poem by C.T. Studd, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Lest the believer be discouraged that he is not of this world and feel out of place, the next song is a call to take heart, because the ultimate victory has already been won. “Graverobber” has stood the test of time as one of Petra’s most memorable songs, and with good reason. It’s 1 Corinthians 15 put to song, with Volz belting out a rousing chorus: “Where is the sting? Tell me, where is the bite? When the Graverobber comes… like a thief in the night! Where is the victory? Where is the prize? When the Graverobber comes… and death finally dies!” This song has long been one of my favorites.
“Blinded Eyes” is up next and it’s about how an unbeliever can’t see that he can’t see. He doesn’t know he’s spiritually blind. That’s followed up by “Not By Sight,” which kind of plays on the song before it except this one speaks to how the believer’s sight doesn’t come through physical eyes, but through the eyes of faith. I’ve always loved the hooks in this song.
I’m not the biggest fan of “Lift Him Up.” It’s intended message is surely a worthy one, that a Christian need not be an expert in all things Bible to praise the Lord and share his faith. However, as a pastor I suppose I have a predilection against songs that could even be construed as anti-intellectual. The phrase “It doesn’t take any Bible degree” is fine in and of itself, but “It doesn’t take much theology” bothers me, as the knowledge of God is all about theology in the head, heart, and will. “Pied Piper” follows and it’s directed either at Satan, false teachers, or believers gone astray and the dangers of following lies. “Occupy” then is a complementary song about standing firm. And while these songs are fine, these three pale in comparison to the rest of the album, which is the only reason this album isn’t top three or four.
This album closes with a rousing call to discipleship, “Godpleaser,” which actually sounds even better on the live Captured In Time and Space than it does on this album. Nevertheless, this song is in the pantheon of Petra songs and, as many have life verses, this song is personally one of those which is my mission in life, not to be a man pleaser, but a God pleaser. I just want to do the things that please the Father’s heart! “I just want my life to glorify His Son / To make my Father proud that I’m His child before I’m done / No need to pat me on the back or stop to shake my hand / I just wanna hear my Father say, ‘Well done! Well done!’ / I just wanna hear my Father say ‘Well done!'”
Overall, Not Of This World is an absolutely fantastic album, with standout tracks in “Not Of This World,” “Graverobber,” and “Godpleaser.” Listening to it again and writing this review, I shake my head as to why it isn’t higher, but I don’t know what I would drop. A GREAT album.