Chapter 15: We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus and a Lot Less Rock and Roll

The summer sun was taking its toll in Denver. The mountains disappeared into a smoggy atmosphere reminiscent of Los Angeles, and Denver residents apologized, saying it was usually not so bad. I had longed for the weekend when I could head for the mountain peaks and breath in some cooler and more refreshing air.

   I stayed in the Denver area for a few days in July 1978 to reminisce with Tom Stipe and Danny Taylor about the past eight years or sowhere Jesus music had been and where it was going. I'll never forget our enjoyable conversations at Tom's home near Boulder and at the park where we picnicked high in the Rocky Mountains. Much of what was discussed in those hours has been shared in the earlier chapters of this book.

   During one of those afternoons in Colorado, Danny, Tom, and I had lunch with evangelist Bob Larson, whose headquarters are in Denver. Bob's reputation had been that of a notorious antirock preacher who broke and burned rock record albums by the hundreds during his crusades. His books were no doubt the objects of burnings themselves by some devotees of rock music.

   We were invited to lunch with Bob and his wife at a restaurant on the outskirts of Denver. Thousands of questions were bubbling inside, as the three of us wanted so much to get to know this evangelist who for years had been so vocal concerning rock musicincluding Jesus-rock music.

   Bob told us of his ministry of spiritual warfare. In his crusades around the world, Bob speaks on the sinfulness of the occult, drugs, and numerous other pastimes and practices. He is an outspoken preacher, pulling no punches in delivering warnings to his audiences of the sins of the world.

   Because of his outspokenness on so many subjects popular to

Page 106

the world (yoga, drugs, marijuana, alcoholism, pornography, and the occult, as well as many others), Bob explained that he had what he called a ''lonely ministry'' a description which especially applied to his views on rock music.

   But talking to the Bob Larson of 1978 and reading the Bob Larson books of the early seventies were two different matters in many respects.

   ''The book Rock and the Church should be looked at in the proper perspective,'' Bob explained to us. ''When it was written, and even now, my stand on rock music was not a major part of my ministry. It is one night's sermon in a week crusade. But people like to categorize someone and simplify his personality into what they want. With me, it was my preaching on rock music.''

   Of course, Bob's earliest books were all to some degree devoted to his views of rock music: Rock & Roll: The Devil's Diversion (1967), Rock and the Church (1971), Hippies, Hindus and Rock & Roll (1972), and The Day the Music Died (1973). After 1973, Larson's books centered on other subjects, but the scar remained to be healed.

   Referring to Rock and the Church, Bob told us, ''The tone of the book was very defensive, and to a certain extent condemnatory, because I was a young preacher, and I was emotionally involved. I hadn't been out of rock music long myself.'' (Larson had been a pop musician before becoming a minister.)

   ''Also,'' he continued, ''I did not know the state of church music, because I had not come out of a church background. So, I did not know how truly archaic it was.''

   Jesus musicians who plodded through the formative years to spread the gospel were greatly upset at any ministry which would seek to destroy what they were convinced the Lord had wanted them to build. So Bob Larson was seen as a man making money off antirock books, and very little more.

   ''Rock and the Church was written in 1971,'' explained Bob. ''That was before there were any Jesus-music groups. There's hardly a day that goes by in which someone doesn't write to me and lash out at me for my anti-Jesus-music views. The first thing I ask them is, 'Did you see when the book was written?'' I ask them to put the book into historical perspective.

   ''In Rock and the Church, I was criticizing the shallow, superficial attempts at copying the sound of the world's music in some sort of vague frame of reference. The book was written before I knew of Love Song, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, and other more solid musicians like that. I did not perceive that a truly authentic and spiritually mature statement of faith and expression of faith would come out of

Page 107

the contemporary field. All I saw was a copy of what the world was doing.

   ''The second point I try to make to those readers of Rock and the Church is to read for basic principles. I still stand by many of its principles today. But the music has matured to a depth that I would not have ever anticipated. What has developed in some quarters is an authentic idiom that isn't just a copy of the world. The one thing that does impress me is, even though I still find some musical elements objectionable, the lyrics are not of the sort of throbbing substance they originally were. They now really say something of depth. The change has come from musicians who developed their talents as Jesus musicians, not older musicians trying to copy the sound of the young. In the past six to eight years, musicians have developed Jesus music which is saying some profound things.''

   But Bob cautioned that his comments did not indicate a blanket endorsement of all Jesus music, and certainly not all rock music. He believes that a rock beat can be a dangerous thing when it brings with it erotic response or even mental response.

   ''I still believe that music has the power to transcend one to a spirit plane, and the really super-heavy stuff I see as portending that possibility, to the extent that I don't think the Holy Spirit is pleased with being expressed in that frame of reference. That's obviously a subjective line that I'm drawing, but I'm still drawing some lines.''

   Bob also said he had picked up a copy of an album by Maranatha Jesus-music group Bethlehem, and was especially impressed by a song entitled ''Dead Reckoning,'' one of the hardest rock selections on their album. ''There's an example of a song that musically I don't feel comfortable with, not totally. I can understand why that sort of hard, raunchy style had to be used, because the sort of spiritual sarcasm they're using in speaking to the old man does fit it. I agree that the whole mood created is necessary to an extent. But if it had been me producing the album, I would have laid it back. But I think the song does prove a point. In other words, musically it doesn't fit into my frame of reference. But the message is so deep, it has to be genuinely born of the Holy Spirit.''

   Bob then cited instances when certain Jesus-music songs had been instrumental in even his work with people. He cited the Pat Terry Group's song, ''I Feel Free'' as an example. The lyrics of the song helped in Bob's ministry with a woman heavily into witchcraft. He recounted with joy the anointing that song carried.

   In another instance, he remembered how ''Abraham,'' a song written by Buck and Annie Herring and recorded by Phil Keaggy on the album Love Broke Thru, likewise ministered to a person with

Page 108

whom Bob was counseling. ''That particular individual had been involved in the occult. The Lord used the song in a supernatural way to show us the steps we needed to take in our counseling procedure.

   ''There are two things I look for in any Christian song,'' Bob added, ''the motive behind it and the ultimate intent. Some of the earliest forms of Jesus music were only meant to be entertaining.''

   I asked what advice Bob would give to aspiring Jesus musicians. He replied, ''I would tell them to let the Holy Spirit do something unique and authentic through them, that would be born of the Holy Spirit, and that it would genuinely say something that would cause reflecting and rejoicing.'' (A popular contemporary Christian song expressed a similar thought: ''We need a whole lot more of Jesus and a lot less rock and roll.'')

   Finally I asked Bob about the current explosion of popular Jesus-music artists, with some almost reaching a superstar status among Jesus-music fans. Is he fearful that it would get out of hand?

   ''I am just as fearful as ever,'' he answered. ''It's a natural evolution, bound to happen. I'm very disturbed by the commercial overtones of it all. My advice to any 'fan' of any Christian music would be to read Psalm 101:6'My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me.' ''

   Bob informed us that his upcoming book, Rock, would give parents positive ways to prevent their youth from selling out totally to rock music. ''I want to give parents positive ways to handle it, other than going in and smashing all of their kids' records.''

   One of those positive ways which Bob suggested was through ''Jesus music which genuinely glorifies Christ.''

Chapter Sixteen  ||  Table of Contents