CCM stalwart tobyMac has a synthesizing talent (literally and figuratively) for weaving the sounds of the moment into songs that don’t end up feeling derivative or imitative. This veteran sonic prestidigitator effortlessly molds and melds a diverse admixture of styles—pop, rock, rap, R&B, reggae, EDM—into infectious tracks focused on a rock-solid purpose: exalting Jesus and bolstering our faith in Him.
If that’s not enough to pique your interest, here’s one more tasty detail: This Is Not a Test also features tobyMac’s old bandmates from dc Talk on one track.
Album opener “Undeniable” proclaims, “I know I was made to glorify Your name.” It also gives props to parental influence (“the hymns that my daddy sang/ … the prayers that my momma prayed”) in shaping children’s faith. Likewise, “‘Til the Day I Die” admonishes believers to give their very all until the very end: “For the rest of my days/I’ll lay it all on the line/’Til the day I die/ … It’s Your name I’ll glorify.”
“Like a Match” says that when we experience a gospel that “won’t leave us empty, won’t leave us craving more,” we can’t help but tell others the good news: “I call up all my friends, I gotta let ’em in/I tell ’em, ‘Take a drink of this and never thirst again.'” And love, tobyMac tells us, is at the heart of the gospel message we share: “You and me, we gotta love/Strike it up, like a match/That’s who we are.” “Lights Shine Bright” explores similar territory.
“Backseat Driver” uses that metaphor to explore the idea of relinquishing control to God and letting Him be in the driver’s seat: “I want Your way, Yahweh/From dirt roads to highways/You’re showin’ me a beautiful view from this backseat/ … It’s a whole new journey, a brand-new path/And Ima fix my eyes so I won’t look back.” On “Feel It,” we hear, “When I sit back and imagine/Life without You, I can’t fathom/How I ever thought I’d make it on my own.” “Love Broke Thru” describes God’s pursuit of us when we were broken and lost in darkness. And on “Beyond Me,” tobyMac sings about how God sometimes allows us to linger in hard places because they compel us to depend upon His strength instead of our own (“You take me to the place where I know I need you/Straight to the depths that I can’t handle on my own/And Lord, I know, I know I need You”).
The title track encourages us to make the most of each moment, “‘Cause there ain’t no practice runs in life/This is not a, this is not a test/This is the real thing.” “Move (Keep Walkin’)” counsels perseverance amid discouragement (“I know your heart been broken again/I know your prayers ain’t been answered yet/ … Well, lift your head, it ain’t over yet, ain’t over yet, so/Move, keep walkin’, soldier, keep movin’ on”).
As for that dc Talk reunion, it shows up on “Love Feels Like,” where we get this description of love in action: “This is what love/Feels like/Poured out, used up, still givin’/Stretching me out to the end of my limits.” Lyrics also quote 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain/Faith, hope and love/But the greatest of these is love.”
Jesus Freaks ate up dc Talk’s premillennial music, coming to crave the rap-pop-rock smoothie that tobyMac, Michael Tait and Kevin Smith concocted. Fast-forward (or maybe track-skip?) two decades, and tobyMac has perfected the recipe that he and his fellow Talkers cooked up. This Is Not a Test is a seriously well-crafted musical treat, a mélange of swirling styles that testifies to Toby McKeehan’s talent and practically begs for repeated listens.
Fans who do spend extended time with his seventh solo release will find more sustenance here than merely melodic ear worms or reunions with old friends. They’ll find a winsome, earnest, inspiring reminder that Jesus is Lord … and that being a freak for Him is still a very good thing indeed.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.