Monthly Archives: April 2018

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman, Christian Rock, and Evangelical Identity

Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock. It is a great biography, but it is also a brilliant look at the state of Christianity in America.

Larry Norman: the undisputed father of contemporary Christian music. Decades before Chris Tomlin, Michael W. Smith, Downhere, and Hillsong, a guitar player with long, blonde hair was singing about Jesus on a major secular music label. The Beatles’ Paul McCartney told Larry Norman, “You could be famous if you’d just drop the God stuff.”

I was a teenager in the late 1970s, when I went over to a friend’s house, to listen to a 1972 vinyl record, Only Visiting This Planet. It blew me away. I had only recently made a decision to follow Jesus, but I had invested a lot of lawn-mowing dollars previously to buy albums recorded by Led Zeppelin, Rush, and The Who. Larry Norman, though, was different. He sang about Jesus. But he simply did not fit into the “churchy” box.

I can still remember that first time I heard the song, “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus?,” as the needle passed along the record grooves, about the life of Janis Joplin. Larry Norman and Janis Joplin both performed their separate acts, at a number of the same concert events during the “Summer of Love,” in the late 1960s. Joplin died an early death, due to a heroin overdose:

Sipping whiskey from a paper cup,
You drown your sorrows till you can’t stand up,
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself,
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf,
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes,
Your hands are shaking while your body sweats,
Why don’t you look into Jesus, He’s got the answer.

You will have to listen to the rest of the song, as displaying the lyrics for the next verse may or may not pass your Internet content filter.

 

This is was a Christian singer? I was shocked, but believe me, I was hooked. Larry Norman seemed like a real person, with whom I could relate. Though I did not use drugs, a number of my high school friends did. But when I started my journey with Christ, I got the distinct impression that Christians should avoid people like that. I was fearful, and I had no clue how to relate the Gospel to my “druggie” friends.

Hearing Larry Norman, on the other hand, singing about loving drug addicts, with the love of Jesus, gave me the courage to witness to my friends. Along with the two other albums in the Norman famous trilogy, So Long Ago The Garden and In Another Land, I ended up listening to Only Visiting This Planet dozens and dozens of times. Pure classic rock.

Larry Norman was a “Jesus Freak,” but that designation never seemed to bother him.

Sure, there were rumors, some harder to substantiate than others, but much of it all true: Larry Norman knew just about everyone in the 1960s/1970s music industry. He got his start opening for acts like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Larry Norman had hired one of Led Zeppelin’s sound engineers to record his albums. Bob Dylan made a commitment to Christ after attending a Bible study, first led by Larry Norman.

What I did know for sure is that Larry Norman was despised by the conservative Christian mainstream. The folk music of Nancy Honeytree was tolerable, Amy Grant was cute and sweet, but Larry Norman’s “rock and roll” was a bridge too far. Tele-evangelist Jimmy Swaggart considered his music to be “spiritual fornication.” But I could not trust Swaggart with a ten-foot pole, so that only added to Larry Norman’s reputation. Some rural preachers made headlines, dismissing all rock and roll music because of claims of “backwards-masking.” Yet Larry Norman, in his concerts, would mock that mentality, by noting, who cares what they were saying backwards, when what they were saying forwards was bad enough?…. And that old claim that the beat used by rock drummers came from Satanic cults in Africa? Larry Norman exposed that canard for what it really was: RACISM.

Norman’s songs were quite radical at the time. His lyrics addressed topics that you rarely hear talked about in many Christian circles, even today. He spoke out against racism and war mongering among Christians, and he criticized America’s efforts to land a man on the moon, at the expense of allowing hungry children to starve to death. I could not agree with all of his views, but that was not the point. The fact was this: Larry Norman, was different from your stereotypical evangelical Christian, and he got my attention.

I really was inspired by Larry Norman. I considered him a hero.

And that became a problem.

But it is more than just my personal problem. It is also about the very identity of the evangelical church, particularly in America. Larry Norman’s story gives us a bird’s eye view into why the contemporary church now finds itself so much at odds with the dominant, secularizing culture.

As Russell Moore, a leading Baptist thinker and theologian puts it, in his review of Gregory Alan Thornbury’s masterful, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, there is a “dark side of Larry Norman.” This dark side tells us a lot about contemporary, evangelical Christianity’s obsession with celebrity personalities, exposing the blindspots of Christians, including myself.
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James Comey, William and Mary, … and Truth

It is not all that common when your place of employment, and hometown, take center stage in the national spotlight. But that is exactly what happened last night when former FBI director, James Comey, was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, at a “Town Hall” meeting, at the College of William and Mary.

Phi Beta Kappa Hall was packed with college students, and several of my Information Technology colleagues were given the opportunity to ask questions on live camera. I opted not to attend in-person, as part of my job was to provide background assistance to the CNN tech crew, to make sure that they had the technology support to pull off this televised event. Instead, I was keeping an eye on my geeky graphs and computer logs.

A lot of people have strong opinions about Mr. Comey. The current United States President has expressed dismay over certain statements Mr. Comey has made. Likewise, a former presidential candidate believes that Mr. Comey’s actions helped her lose the recent presidential election. William and Mary has invited Mr. Comey to teach a class on “ethical leadership” this fall, something that has stirred up endless controversy, including Christians that I know on all sides. Mr. Comey had attended the College as an undergraduate, co-majoring in chemistry and religion, where he wrote a thesis comparing the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to the televangelist Jerry Falwell. Questions about “truth,” and who is telling it, seems to be the center of discussion.

If I had been permitted to ask my question, this is what I would have asked: “Mr. Comey, much of the controversy you are embroiled in is not just about public policy. It is about moral standards, personal integrity, and truth telling. You co-majored in religion when you were an undergraduate here. Do you have a particular faith commitment, that informs your moral perspective? For example, would you consider yourself a Christian? Why, or why not?

If given a further chance, I would probably also like to ask Anderson Cooper a very similar question.

When it comes to questions about “truth,” it really puzzles me as to why no one bothered to ask a question like this at the “Town Meeting.” Moral foundations are important, are they not?


Fragments of Truth

Interested in the integrity of biblical manuscripts? Don’t miss this one-night-only showing on April 24th, 2018.

Local showings: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/fragments-of-truth

Buy your tickets through the above link (they are going fast).

HT: Dave Rudy


Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design: A Book Review

If I had to pick one book that concisely gives an overview of the controversy over human origins, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design would be it. Part of Zondervan’s Counterpoint series, this book manages to pull together four of the leading Christian thinkers, about science and faith issues, to have them dialogue with one another in a spirit of charity and mutual respect (…for the most part).

I have been looking forward to this book for some time, as the writers are the most visible representatives of their respective positions in the evangelical Christian world today. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum and Kentucky’s Ark Encounter, defends a Young Earth Creationist position. Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, defends an Old Earth Creationist position. Deborah Haarsma, president of Biologos, defends an Evolutionary Creationist position. Stephen C. Meyer, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, defends an Intelligent Design position. Each contributor wrote an essay for the book, and the other three contributors wrote a response to that essay, followed by a rejoinder, by the original essayist.

There is simply no other book resource available today that gathers these differing points of view together in one volume, on this difficult topic. That, in and of itself, is a major accomplishment. A verse in Proverbs makes the point: The first to state his case seems right, until another comes and cross-examines him (Proverbs 18:17 CSB). Sadly, many Christians only hear one point of view, failing to consider other perspectives, leading to mistrust of other believers who might see things somewhat differently.

This is not to say all points of view are correct. They are not. There is but one truth. But it is difficult to properly uphold the truth, if you have not taken the time to consider other biblically responsible options. Proverbs suggests that we should hear one another out before making a firm judgment. Continue reading


Paul, Apostle of Christ, The Movie

Nero’s Torches , 1876, by Henryk Siemiradzki (1843–1902). Nero used Christians as torches in Rome, in the last days of Paul.

Who was the Apostle Paul, and what was it like to be a Christian in Nero’s Rome, in the A.D. 60’s? Paul, Apostle of Christ, a film directed by Andrew Hyatt, and made by Affirm Films (who also made Fireproof and Courageous), tells the gripping story in a creative way.

Normally, I am a bit skeptical about Christian films, but this one was fantastic. The premise behind the film is that Luke, a physician and companion of Paul, comes to visit Paul, when he is imprisoned in Rome’s Mamertine prison, awaiting execution. Unfortunately, while the film’s premise is very interesting, there is a lot we do no know about the last days of Paul, or how Luke wrote Acts, with any particular degree of certainty. We know from Eusebius, an early church historian, that Paul was held in the Mamertine, and we also know that the madman, Emperor Nero had blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians, using Christians as torches to light the city.

Did Luke write the Book of Acts, in Rome, during the last years of Paul’s life? Were Priscilla and Aquila in Rome, when Luke came to visit? We have no evidence for these speculations made in the movie. But to focus on these historical questions misses the point of the film. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, we get a glimpse into what motivated Paul, as well asking some very real questions as to how the Christians might have thought about Nero’s persecutions.

Should the Christians fight back and resist Nero? Should they flee Rome itself, and avoid the Romans? Should they stay in Rome and pursue a non-violent course? These are tough questions, and the film rightly explores them, as the persecuted Christian community looks to their imprisoned leader Paul, for help.

Many Christians today think of the so-called “Great Tribulation” solely in terms of a future event, that will happen prior to the Second Coming of Christ. Yet Paul, Apostle of Christ makes a very convincing case that the “Great Tribulation” was just as real, and bad enough, in those terrifying days, in Nero’s Rome. Along the same lines, another recent film, Tortured for Christ, tells us that such “Great Tribulation” even happens in our own day, but that much of American Christianity seems rather oblivious to that reality.

If anything, viewing Paul, Apostle of Christ, should encourage any person, believer or non-believer to take the time and seriously read the Book of Acts. Be thankful for the freedoms that many of us take for granted. Find your faith in the Risen Jesus, just as Paul did. Pray for the persecuted church.


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