Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Week in Review #22: Rebels Return, Sons of Gospel Singers Unite, the Garms Family Catches the Booth Brothers in Concert, and More…

*Rick Fair is reviving the name of the old Rebels Quartet with a fresh lineup, including Fair himself on bass, David Fair on baritone, former Southern Sound tenor Mike Young on tenor, and former Melody Boys/Freedom member Alan Kendall on lead. Aaron Swain has a post with recent concert footage from the group here.

*Some southern gospel kids, including the sons of Brian Free and Michael Booth, have formed a group called Parachute Parade that sounds like anything but southern gospel. Michael Booth warned us about these guys in a webinar a few months back and said that if we liked “our music” (the Booth Brothers), we wouldn’t like theirs! Meanwhile I see Brian Free giving them a hearty endorsement on his Facebook page, so there seem to be some conflicting tastes at work here. As for me… well, I checked out their Reverbnation page and listened to some bits of their music. For the record, my tastes are very eclectic, so I think I have a pretty good idea of what good music in general sounds like, not just southern gospel music. And… I’m with Michael on this one. ;) [Update: I should clarify that Michael's initial webinar comment was very humorous, in that signature Michael Booth way, and Michael has since commented that he fully supports the band's efforts---which I never doubted!]

*The March Madness continues over at Steve Eaton’s. See the latest results here.

*Don’t miss a pictorial Booth Brothers concert review from Southern Gospel Blog favorites, the Garms kids. Great job guys!

*You should read Kevin DeYoung’s Ten Commandments for Commenting on Blogs. Especially if you’re a Star Wars fan. I mean, you should read them even if you’re not, but you’ll enjoy them even more if you are.

*Here’s a funny clip I recently found from Declaration, the trio the Booth Brothers have been mentoring. They attempt to walk across a “bridge.” Uh, guys… we like you. Be safe!

The thread is yours.

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Hallelujah, Thank You Jesus… Or Maybe Not

A while ago, some young, female, Christian vocalists got together on a multi-artist tour, gathered around a guitar, and did a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Since then, the video has been circulating around the CCM community, been featured on Godtube, etc., etc. You’ll hear words like “amazing,” “powerful” and “beautiful” used to describe it, but… well, you be the judge. I believe “bedroom vocals” may be a more accurate description:

So, okay, if you managed to make it through the whole thing… I hope you weren’t too distracted by the performance to pay attention to what’s actually the most problematic thing about this video—the song itself. You see,  these lovely, earnest but apparently not very bright young ladies seem to think this is a worship song. Or at least that it can be easily claimed as one.

Now, to clarify, there is more than one version of the lyrics floating around out there. Some, including the original, make it more explicit what meaning its author  intended to communicate. Other versions, including this one, are still strange, but not so clear. However, the original version is popular enough that I can’t believe none of these girls have never heard it. And ultimately, all of the verses all fit together in a cohesive pattern, and the message they send is decidedly non-Christian.

I decided not to quote the two omitted verses because they are so objectionable (though readers are welcome to use google to confirm what I’m saying), but essentially, this is what they are about: First of all, verse two fleshes out the reference to David, this time focusing on his sin with Bathsheba. It describes his temptation, then uses the word “Hallelujah” to refer to the act itself. Needless to say, this is not worshipful in the least. But it gets even worse in the other explicit verse, which is borderline pornographic and contains a blasphemous reference to “the holy dove” descending on the couple in sin. (Of course this fit right in with the “make love not war” sentiment of the times when the song was written.)

Yet people will still try to argue that really, this song is all about repentance and brokenness, and the “cold and broken Hallelujah” in the most famous verse is a reference to our desperate need for God because we’ve screwed up, just like David did. But when we return to the final verse and put it into context along with the omitted verses I’ve just described, a very different meaning emerges:

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Clearly, the girls view this verse as the most worshipful of them all. What could be more worshipful than standing before God with “Hallelujah” on your lips? Insert closed eyes and raised hands here… yes? No. Look again. It’s a song of defiance, not worship. “Hallelujah” has already been established as having a sexual meaning. Yes, it was sinful, and yes, it all came crashing down. But the singer is proclaiming that he would do it all again, that it was worth it. This is really the opposite of worship. In fact, it’s blasphemous. And who is the “Lord of Song” anyway? Is it the true God? Or is it really a false god of carnal love?

Here’s what really scares me: the thought that those girls probably aren’t alone. What do you wanna bet you can find a church that uses this in its worship set today? I think it’s overwhelmingly likely. I would be interested if anyone could find a set list or video to confirm that.

What is the Church coming to? I declare, every time I think Christians can’t get any more blind and ignorant… they find a new low. How terrifying.

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Great Songs vs. Good Songs: What’s the Secret Ingredient?

I am a fiercely attentive student of great songs and great music. I spend many hours just absorbing the work of skilled lyricists and musicians, trying to understand the rhyme and the rhythm. As a wannabe musician and songwriter, I am acutely aware of my own limitations in these areas, yet I seem to have a knack for recognizing greatness when I see it.

Still, I realize that my definitions of “greatness” may differ from others’. So I would like to ask you, my readers, what do you think is the ingredient that separates a GREAT song from a simply GOOD song? Some time ago a similar question was going around about great music in general, but I want to tighten the focus to songs specifically.

Let me hear your thoughts. Any genre is game, though if your ideas vary from genre to genre, I will find that very interesting. Feel free to expand on the role of Christianity and Christian themes in song as well. Do you think non-Christian writers can still put truth in their work to make something great?

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The Week in Review #21: More March Madness, Kirk Cameron’s New Movie, My New Favorite Driving Song, and More…

*Round2 of Steve Eaton’s March Madness tournament has begun. Sadly, the Booth Brothers were just edged out by Gold City in round one, so I no longer have a horse in the race. :-(

*You can see high quality footage from the Collingsworth family’s NQC 2011 mainstage appearances by watching their recently taped Daystar program on demand here.

*Earlier this week I read the first issue of a new magazine Signature Sound is trying out. It contains part one of a 25th anniversary interview with Ernie Haase conducted by his manager Trevor King. I found particularly interesting the way he just dispelled the rumors of some kind of falling-out between EHSS and the Gaither company. Worth reading.

*Read MN SG Fan’s review of a Signature Sound concert here.

*Kyle Boreing has chimed in on Signature Sound’s new project. Read his review here.

*Ryan Seaton decided to give my Andrew Goldman article a shout-out on Facebook. Thanks to Ryan and all the Union Street guys for their kind words! However, I got some pushback on Andrew’s glasses… to clarify, the white-rimmed ones were the ones that really struck me as dorky, and Andrew has since confirmed they were a one-night only thing. :)

*Kirk Cameron is coming out with a new project called Monumental. My impression is that it will be a documentary-styled guided tour through the history of our country’s beginnings, from the first colonizations through the War for Independence. The focus will be what the foundational principles were that made our country great. The tagline is “Sometimes the only way to go forward is to go back.” Watch the trailer here.

Of course I share Kirk’s values, but I’m also a bit concerned. One could approach such a project with good intentions and still end up giving a one-dimensional presentation of how things really were. I have a feeling this could be to American history what Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography was to Bonhoeffer. I’ve seen a couple unfortunate clips where David Barton shows Kirk his insanely valuable edition of an 18th century Bible whose distribution was funded by the founders, which is great… but then turns into a “Isn’t it great that people like Jefferson and Hamilton thought it would be a better country if families read the Bible” thing… when Jefferson and Hamilton were not even remotely Christian! [Correction: I appear to have been wrong on Hamilton, who it seems did become a Christian.] Even worse, Barton goes on to refer to the idea of the founding fathers as atheists/Deists/agnostics as revisionist history. Ouch. Jefferson Bible, anyone? So, yeah, I’m sort of worried about some of those issues. It’s already providing fuel for the fire of snarky liberals who do know more history than Cameron, but obviously see this as a great opportunity to patronizingly show up those stupid fundamentalists. When in terms of biblical morality, they’re dead wrong and Cameron is dead right. So it’s a frustrating thing. But I’d still be interested in seeing the film.

*Confession: Once in a while, I like to rock out. I mean REALLY rock out. Like this: And I just recently discovered the definitive driving song… with apologies to all other great driving songs, REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” is it. I mean, the other day, it was hot, I was driving home from school, and when the singalong tag kicked in… windows down and whooping at the top of my lungs doesn’t begin to describe it. I’d like to hat tip Tim Hawkins for mentioning the song on Twitter (he was owning the air dashboard organ solo at a stoplight and letting the driver next to him know it), otherwise I never would have discovered it. Yep, it’s retro rock time! (Oh by the way, the aforementioned organ awesomeness starts at around 3:20.)

Now, if you can’t handle relatively hard rock, here is a stripped-down, recent live performance that’s really great too. No piano or Hammond, which is a sad loss, but I could get used to this country-ish-rock sound too. And the song kicks rear end either way:

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Rear-View Mirror Spotlight: Andrew Goldman

About a year ago, I asked Ernie Haase who his picks would be if he were putting together a young all-stars male quartet. He chose Andrew Goldman for baritone, a kid who’s grown up in Ernie’s own town and “has really caught my attention.”

I made a mental note to keep an eye on young Andrew, and coincidentally he has been making recent waves with Ryan Seaton’s new group Union Street. It didn’t take more than a few Youtube clips to convince me that Andrew is a very, very serious talent. People are already comparing him to the young Doug Anderson, and he does have a similar smooth quality. But his more power-house stylings actually recall a young Ryan Seaton for me, though with a lighter timbre—at the moment I’m leaning towards a comparison to Riley Clarke. And Riley’s a tenor. Although Andrew sings baritone with Union Street, he can and has sung lead (for the Conquerors Quartet). His range is astonishing. There are virtually no baritones in southern gospel who can hit the notes he hits, and only a handful of leads. And through it all, he maintains an immensely satisfying purity and cleanness of tone. He’s just plain easy to listen to.

This young man has the complete package. He should already be numbered among the top ten baritones in the genre, at least. I’m going to go a step further and say he should be in the top five. Here are a couple samples of what he can do. First, watch him take a turn at the tenor part for the key change on “The Love of God”:

Now, watch him own the classic “Who Am I.” (HT to Josh on this one):

Andrew Goldman, ladies and gentlemen! What do you think? I say all he needs to do is lose the dorky retro glasses and he’s good as gold.

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Why I Am Supporting Rick Santorum

This post has actually been in the works for a long time, I just didn’t get around to writing it. But I wanted to get it written before the primaries were all over, just so it wouldn’t seem TOO embarrassingly late.

Some people are reticent about how they cast their votes, but I’m choosing to lay my cards on the table and be public about where I stand. Whether or not you agree with my decision, hopefully my case will still appear reasonable.

I want to begin by telling a little story about some friends of mine. Like me, they come from a homeschooling family. Recently, they were at a Santorum rally, and I was struck by their description of the atmosphere. They said that Santorum had strong, no-punches-pulled things to say about God, freedom, and the Christian moral values our country desperately needs to return to. When the audience cheered loudly in response, my girlfriends said it was such a strange, yet wonderful feeling. “We just couldn’t believe that we were surrounded by so many people in the same place who believed the same things we did.” And it was hard to believe they were all listening to a candidate who really believed the same things they did.

In a nutshell, that’s why I’m supporting Rick Santorum. Is he perfect? No, I have my disagreements with him. And yet, when it comes to the foundations of conservatism, the values we have fought for so hard and hold so dear, he is there with us. He is willing to take flak for standing on the word of God when it comes to the sanctity of life and the moral evil of homosexuality. Moreover, he doesn’t just pay lip service to these principles, he lives them. He’s a man of honesty and personal integrity.

It seems like so little to ask, yet the other candidates left in the running fall short one way or another. Newt Gingrich is probably more intelligent than Santorum and may be more skilled as a leader, and he has a way of striking back at the left that’s fetching to conservatives who are tired of playing defense for so long. But to hear him go on and on about how wonderful his third wife is, when not so long ago he was waxing eloquent about how wonderful his second wife was… quite frankly I am left cold. This is not an honorable man. To be honest, I haven’t actually paid all that close attention to exactly what his policy positions are on various issues, because voting for him has never been an option as far as I’m concerned anyway.

As for Romney, although I concede that some of the things other people have against him are completely ridiculous (he’s Mormon, he’s white, he’s rich… puh-leeze), I don’t think he’s deeply committed to the social issues. One clue of this is his outright endorsement of the three exceptions to abortion. There’s an important distinction between voting for an anti-abortion bill which happens to contain the exceptions if that’s the best that can be done at the moment… and refusing to vote for such a bill unless it contains those exceptions. Which Romney has done. Granted, he is following in an unfortunate Republican tradition, but Republicans have been known to change their mind on these issues (Rick Perry being a notable recent case). I suggest we withhold our vote from any Republican who has not yet seen the light on this issue until they get the memo that we care about it. And honestly, Romney isn’t in this game as a culture warrior.

And as for Ron Paul… well, do we really need to go there?

Now let’s face it, Santorum winning the primary would be an upset. Romney is the favorite. And some would argue (though I’m actually not so sure), that Romney is “more electable” in the general, therefore we should put all our support behind him as the one with the best shot of ousting Obama. I disagree with this argument. I believe you should vote according to your conscience. Ask yourself simple questions, questions like, “Would I be proud to have a yard sign for this candidate?” If your answer is, “Well, not really,” then follow your conscience and don’t give your endorsement to that person. That’s what a vote is—a gesture of endorsement. I was shocked in 2008 when I was chatting with another homeschooled friend who said, in a moment of candor, “Yeah, McCain sorta stinks, but he’s better than Obama.”

Why? Why would you give your vote to somebody who, in your own words, “sorta stinks?” If Hitler and Satan were running against each other, would you vote for Hitler because he’s “the lesser of two evils?” I hope not.

And if you should stay home, this is not equivalent to a vote for the other side. It doesn’t take mad math skillz to see this. Yet you’ll hear the sound bite tossed around quite a bit as an argument for voting no matter what.

So, yes, I’m voting for Santorum in the primary. Not because I think he’s “electable” (though maybe I do, but in any case that’s irrelevant), but because I believe in him. He stands for what I stand for. He is actively seeking the support of people like me, people on the far right who are sick and tired of being neglected by Republicans for mushy middle and left-leaning voters. The strategists can hem and haw all they want about how this or that comment was “overly rash” or “likely to appeal only to the far right” or “ill-judged due to its controversial nature,” but I say good for him. Good for him.

I want to close with another story. This is a story from a summer I spent campaigning for a friend who was running for U. S. Senate against the more liberal Republican incumbent. It was a long summer. Others worked even harder than I did, but I put in many hours of volunteer labor. Data entry, folding T-shirts, licking envelopes, phone calls, phone calls, phone calls… and did I mention phone calls? But I vividly remember one phone call in particular. I was working alone in a room, with one laptop full of names and numbers and one cellphone. I dialed one number and waited for the next person on the list to pick up. It was an elderly lady—I don’t even remember her name. But she picked up, and I trotted off my little half-scripted, half-improvised introduction. We had been told to focus mainly on economic issues in our initial spin, so that was essentially what I gave her.

I still remember the pause. At this point one of several things might happen. She might say something polite and hang up. She might say something rude and hang up. She might say nothing and hang up. Or maybe, just maybe, she might ask for more information. I waited with the cellphone pressed to my ear in anticipation. Then, she cleared her throat and asked, “What’s he like on the abortion issue?”

My heart leaped. Honestly, the economic stuff all made sense to me, but deep down I knew those weren’t the real reasons I was working for this man. And suddenly she was asking a question I could answer from the heart. Fortunately I had been given some information I could provide on the topic if people requested it. So I told her all about the candidate’s commitment to life. I told her how he had personally helped found our local Crisis Pregnancy Center. And then I began to tell her that I knew him personally, and that he was a good man, an honorable man. I told her he lived what he believed. Finally, I stopped and waited, again. There was another pause, and again she responded, “Oh my, that is so good to know.” Then she told me that she was a Christian, and that the abortion issue in particular was very close to her heart. She was moved by what I had told her about the candidate’s personal integrity. She was so glad to know that he was a man of God. We chatted a little more. She said she would like to have even more info, and I got her physical address down so we could mail a packet to her. Then it was time to move on in the list. She thanked me repeatedly for calling her. And I thanked her.

It was a sweet moment. A sweet moment. And somehow, after I got off the phone with her, the other names on the list mattered less to me. I had reached one person about this man, one person who didn’t know his name and was now very, very glad to know it.

It brightened my day. It brightened the next day too, and the next, and the next. It kept me going for the rest of the campaign. And even though we lost, I wasn’t sorry.

So I pass this on to you, my dear readers: Vote without regret. Don’t be sorry.

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Sing it Again: “Love Them While We Can”

Most people might not know what a smooth pop singer Steve Green was before he launched his solo career. But he turned in some truly silky work with the Gaither Vocal Band in his early years with them. One of their best albums was 1983′s Passin’ the Faith Along. The title track has stuck around, of course, but a lot of the other songs on that project have been left in the 80s.

One such lost nugget is the Steve-led song “Love Them While We Can.” It’s simply carried with acoustic guitar and strings. And the lyrics tenderly portray the love that we should have for our parents, even after we’ve moved away from them. But it’s not at all patronizing. We should respect our parents’ wisdom too. “The silver secrets of the world/Lie beneath those crowns of gray.” The combination of lyrics, music and Steve’s golden young voice is just gorgeous.

As I was listening, it occurred to me that this would fit Ronnie Booth to a T. It calls for exactly the sort of tender delivery he brings to the table, and the song’s warm, easy-listening feel would perfectly complement the Booth Brothers’ harmonies. Take a listen and see if you agree:

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The Week in Review #20: Southern Gospel March Madness, Remembering Roger Bennett, and More…

*Steve Eaton is running a March Madness tournament for southern gospel groups.  There was a window of time in which you could pick an artist to represent, but even though that window is past, you can still vote in the match-ups. Round one has already been posted, so head on over and make your voice heard! (Pssssst, and be sure to vote for the Booth Brothers, because I’m representing them. :) )

*According to Brian Free & Assurance’s facebook page, they are set to release a new album in a couple of months. Hooray! That’s going on my wish list already.

*Speaking of BFA, check out The View From the Pew’s review of a recent BFA concert.

*Should I divorce if I’m miserable? For once, Russell Moore gets something absolutely, knock-it-out-of-the-park, spot-on correct in his response to a husband who wrote in asking this question.

*There’s a new book out called Dallas and the Spitfire: An Old Car, an Ex-Con, and an Unlikely Friendship by Christian Reformed pastor and author Ted Kluck. It’s a fresh, hilarious and insightful look at discipleship, telling the true story of his relationship with an ex-con named Dallas and how they both grew in the process. Denny Burk has posted a widget with the intro and 1st chapter for free. Recommended reading.

*Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ve likely heard of this new video “Kony 2012″ that’s going viral right now. For both of you who have no idea what it’s about, essentially the purpose is to “expose” this Ugandan war leader who recruited child soldiers and taught them to commit unspeakably horrible violence on innocent people. It sounds like a good cause, right? However, there has been some controversy over the video, and I found this blog post, which quotes responses from Christian missionaries who are actually on the ground in Uganda today, to be very helpful. I think that if you read what these people have to say, it will put the whole thing in a better perspective. The bottom line is that this campaign is all about good will… and more good will… and more good will… but ultimately has no concrete, practical relevance. Boy, does that ever sound familiar. Not to mention that America’s young people could do a lot more good standing outside an abortion clinic than clicking “Like” on a Youtube video. But I digress…

*Today is the fifth anniversary of Roger Bennett’s home-going. Here is an older clip of him in his prime, thrilling George to a rousing medley. I like it already:

By the way, Legacy Five is offering a huge discount on a bundle of Roger-related products in their store for the month of March, so check that out while it lasts.

The thread is yours…

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“Filler” and Brian Free’s Philosophy of Song Selection

During an NQC interview with BFA, Brian was asked how he goes about choosing songs for an album. This was his answer:

We don’t pick “filler” songs. A lot of groups will pick 2-3 good songs and then… they’ll need 7 others to fill the album. We don’t do that. I don’t want a filler song. I will not stage a filler song. We try to pick ten singles, knowing that any one of those songs could be a single. And if you don’t do that, you’re shorting the people, number one, when they buy a CD, ‘cuz you get a couple, three good songs, the rest of it’s junk. And besides that, we want to be able to say something. We want the message to be the whole CD, the whole project. And we have to choose carefully.

I for one applaud Brian for this approach. I must confess that even though I may prefer how some other groups in the industry sound (not that BFA is anything to sneeze at in that category by a long shot), BFA stands head and shoulders above virtually everyone else when it comes to consistent, strong songs.

Do you agree or disagree? Is Brian’s evaluation of the rest of the industry pretty much spot-on in your view? If so, what do you think of his choice to break from the pattern?

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Steven Curtis Chapman, Godliness, and The Death of Squeaky Clean

The church today has a problem. Well, actually, it has many problems, but we’re just here today to discuss one of them, and that is the problem that modern Christians seem to have something against “good boys.” You know what I’m talking about. There was a time when the wholesome, the upright and the clean-cut were held up as admirable examples, but today, that admiration has been replaced by aversion. Godly people are no longer admired for their godliness. Instead, they are stereotyped and labeled as “goody two-shoes” by fellow Christians.

This prejudicial attitude manifests itself in a variety of ways, some more vitriolic than others. Generally it comes out as sheer hatred among the more liberal Christian types. Yet it can manifest itself in subtle ways as well. In a sense, the latter is more pernicious because when it’s worded in the right way, it can hold a certain attraction for more conservative Christians who might not be so easily taken in by its cruder forms.

I most recently encountered one of these subtle manifestations from someone for whom I have  a lot of respect—Andrew Peterson. Andrew is one of the most gifted Christian songwriters in the industry today, and even though he may not be the best tunesmith, he has a wonderful way with words that recalls the work of Rich Mullins or Paul Simon (two writers he’s repeatedly cited as major influences). So before I launch into this post, I wish it known that I am a big AP fan, and I think his heart is in the right place. What’s unfortunate is that he has picked up some misconceptions about Scripture and its application to the Christian life, including that aversion to “squeaky-clean-ness.” This came out in a piece called “What I Learned From SCC,” a tribute to Steven Curtis Chapman that he wrote a few days ago. The piece was inspired by the fact that he had just completed a tour with Steven and was moved to express his gratitude. I was excited to read it. But as my eye flew down the page, this paragraph caught my eye, where Andrew talked about his expectations before meeting and working with Steven:

… I’ve never heard a single negative story about the guy. I’ve been in Nashville for 15 years now, and, well, you tend to hear less-than-flattering stories about folks from time to time (I’m sure there are a few about me floating around out there), but I have yet to hear one of those about Steven. What that might lead a rascal like me to conclude is that either a) Steven is so squeaky-clean he must be hard to like or b) he’s a complete wreck and he’s hiding it. I didn’t realize until this tour was underway that there’s a third option. Here it is: Steven is a wreck, he’s not hiding it, and because of the mighty presence of Jesus in his life, grace abounds to those around him.

Now watch what Andrew did here. He equivocated—he took the phrase “he’s a wreck” and introduced it with one implied meaning (skeletons in the closet, un-confessed sin, etc.), then turned around and used it again with a different implied meaning (broken sinner who needs the grace of God). Probably he thought it was profound, but really it’s just misleading (not to mention linguistically sloppy). Yet the wording of this proposed “third option” reveals quite a bit. Why, for example, did he not say it the other way around: “Steven really is squeaky clean, he’s not hard to like, and  because of that, I realized that I’m needlessly prejudiced against the ‘squeaky clean’ types”? It’s because “squeaky clean” in his mind automatically carries negative connotations—Pharisaism, pietism—rather than pure, real, honest-to-goodness wholesomeness. The solution he found allowed him to keep holding onto that prejudice. Here is an even more direct excerpt from a little later in this piece:

Everyone I know in Nashville who knows Steven has said to me something like, “I love Steven. He’s a good man.” But from the first week of the tour I discovered that Steven isn’t a good man. He’s as sinful as the rest of us [my emphasis]. He wears his weakness on his sleeve. He’s quick to share his pain and his struggle. That doesn’t make him mopey–he’s quick to share his joy, too. But what’s so wonderfully subversive about the Gospel is that our ability to honestly bear our grief and woundedness just makes room for God’s grace to cast light on all that shadow; it makes room for us to love each other.

Just as a quick aside here, don’t you love it when people blur the lines between sin on the one hand and general “brokenness” on the other? Godly people constantly suffer pain and grief through no fault of their own. In fact, Steven is a prime example of that. But even waiving that little issue, this whole paragraph just comes off as a long way of saying, “Phew!” Though of course that’s not how Andrew looks at it.  I think his idea is, “Hey, we’re all sinners in the eyes of God, and nobody is any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than anyone else, so we might as well not pretend by calling anybody ‘a good man.’”

But that pretty much defines “non sequitur.” Yes, we’re all sinners, and…? Let’s put it this way: Mother Theresa needed Jesus just as much as Hitler did, but even so, one of them murdered 6 million people and the other lived a life devoted to caring for the poor. Now kids, which of these is not like the other? I am not preaching works salvation here. I am saying that moral relativism is the bane of clear thought. We can’t pretend that there is no difference between people, and it can be wholly legitimate (and not idolatrous, as Andrew seems to imply at one point in the piece) to say that Mother Theresa was “good” and Hitler was “bad.” Moreover, we repeatedly see in the Scriptures that God delights in those who glorify Him, and He is angered by those who despise Him. Man demonstrates his love for God by keeping His commandments. This truth resounds through Old and New Testament alike.

“But Jesus came to abolish religion!” No he didn’t. Get off of Youtube and open your Bible to Matthew 23:23.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

What did Jesus say? Did he say “Tithing is stupid. Forget about it. It’s all a heart issue”? No. He said that tithing and other “externals” by themselves, when they are not accompanied by mercy and faith, are empty. It does not follow from this that there is anything wrong with “keeping the rules.” On the contrary—it’s both/and. So in other words, you can wear a suit to church on Sunday, watch your language and listen to praise songs while still being unsaved. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to dress like a bum and swear like a sailor.

Now, on an individual level, people can have a genuine rebirth of faith where they look back on their life and say, “I have been hiding behind the appearances while my heart was really selfish, prideful, and far from God.” I have heard testimonies like this from Steve Green and others who share similar reflections. This can be wholly appropriate and biblical. The problem comes when we move out from the individual level and make sweeping generalizations for Christian society as a whole, to the point where some Christians automatically suspect other Christians who seem to “have it all together,” as if there’s something “not right” about that. Or they simply feel a distaste for it. “Ugh… too perfect. Too nice. Too Mayberry.”

Now, this is obviously not Andrew Peterson’s attitude towards Steven Curtis Chapman. But that’s because he’s convinced himself that a proper understanding of grace involves an aversion to all things he deems “legalistic,” therefore “messy” is better than “[squeaky] clean.” And since he doesn’t have an aversion to Steven (to the contrary, he loves him and enjoys being with him), Steven must not be “one of those types,” where “those types” means “the annoying squeaky clean types.” Because you see, under Andrew’s view of Christianity, it’s downright unbiblical to say, in the words of the old poem, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

And yet, for all that, I believe Andrew Peterson is wholly sincere. His tribute came from a full heart. I’m quite sure he wasn’t saying to himself at the beginning of it all, “Well, it would be really awkward if Steven were just a great guy because that would make me feel inferior, and I’m embarrassed by that.” But subconsciously, I think it’s the psychological process that leads Christians like him to their larger spiritual conclusions about grace and godliness.

Is Steven Curtis Chapman a sinner saved by grace? Yes! So are we all. But is Steven Curtis Chapman also a godly, upright, and yes, good man who is walking in righteousness before the Lord? Yes! So we should all aspire to be.

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