When did your involvement with music begin?
Before I was born. My Mother told me that I kicked during her pregnancy every time she would go near the hi-fi. I should have formed a group called the Fetals, huh? Later, I used to serenade kindergarten sweethearts on the backyard swingset.
What sort of musical environment surrounded you in your formative years?
Well, I grew up in Macon. Georgia. In those days, that was kinda the hub for rhythm and blues - Otis Redding, James Brown, Little Richard were all from Macon, and later, some of the Southern Bands like the Allman Brothers and Wet Willie settled there. Macon had more than its share of local bands for such a small town, and I played in a number of rock & roll and R&B bands throughout my teens.
What types of gigs were available for bands in a small town like Macon?
Mostly dances and fraternity beer parties - you know, the intelligentsia. Being in bands was a real eye-opener for me. I had been exposed really only to Church hymns and classical pieces in childhood, and when I became aware of rock & roll, I thought it was the ultimate. My Mother just kept telling me that it was simply an extension of the old Negro spiritual type of thing she had grown up hearing in the rural South.
So what music do you think had the greatest influence on you?
Whatever was on the radio - I never had too many records. My Dad won this transistor radio for me at the Georgia State Fair in a bingo game when it was legal. I hid it under my pillow and would fall asleep at night listening to it. My folks weren't too excited about the virtues of AM radio. They saw me as a potential victim, I guess.
As you look back on it now, do you think they might have had a point there?
Sure; there's a lot of sorrow in the misfortunes that surround so many performers in rock and roll. though that's not enough to keep a kid who happens to love music away from it. My problem was trying to buy batteries for my radio without my folks finding out. So I guess now they know.
How did you become involved in Christian music?
Well, In high school I became a Christian, and everybody else who was
a Christian told me that I should sell my electric guitar, get an acoustic
guitar, and sing with a folk group I was pretty fed up by that time with
the shallowness of the entire rock scene so I formed a Christian group
and we played at coffeehouses festivals and the like In 1971 we cut an
album but by then I was getting tired of the stereotypes surrounding Christian
music, so I left the group and began performing solo. I was in college
at the time.
Did you study music in college?
No. I mainly ate and slept. Seriously, I was working on a degree in television and film production. After I graduated, I produced and directed a special on the music of a friend of mine, Pat Terry. But I was more interested in music than in getting a job with a TV station. So I taught a Bible course in a Christian high school for a year in order to finance an independent album. The recording budget was rather tight.
Is that how you became involved with Solid Rock?
Yes. A year or two after I made that album, Larry Norman heard it and next thing I knew he was asking me to join Solid Rock. So my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, and we are now helping rid the city of smog by breathing regularly.
Are you involved now in things other than your own records and concerts?
Yes. I do a good bit of work in the way of engineering and producing in the studio, on both Christian and secular projects. I like to spend my spare time in the out-of-doors : you know, hiking, backpacking. I do a lot of photography. I also enjoy making oldtimey furniture.
This is a hackneyed question, but I'll risk it: What are your views on rock music?
Music has always been a changing art-form. I think it will continue to change. though I can't imagine what the music of tomorrow will be like-it's like trying to think up a new color. Rock is simply the present form in which popular music is being created: I think it is a valid art-form, though some would argue that its popularity is waning now.
Some would even say rock and roll is dead. Do you think it is dead?
That's an interesting question, because it depends on who you ask. Those of us who grew up on the music of the 50's and 60's are having a harder time accepting the newer music as it comes. We lament the death of "real rock and roll" but we remember that when the Beatles hit the airwaves, our parents were lamenting the death of "the good decent music of the good old days" also. Each generation seems to have a nostalgic framework for their musical tastes. Don McLean says the day Buddy Holly died was the day the music died. I imagine our parents think music died much earlier. It's possible that music has died a thousand deaths, only to be reborn in each new generation. So, perhaps the definition of rock and roll is changing - let's face it - nobody under 18 is buying Chuck Berry records today.
How do you relate that to music in the Church?
Well, J. S. Bach was doing the "new" music of his day. He got all kinds of criticism from the Church for following "worldly" trends, yet today the same music, Bach, is set up as a Godly example, and Christians have turned their complaints towards today's popular trends. I guess It will always be that way until the Church learns how to take lessons from culture and from history, and stops making its own changing categories of activities, putting labels of "spiritual" and "unspiritual" on things which God never labeled.
What do you think Christians who are musicians should do with their work?
I think that should be left up to the individual. I think it is a mistake to set up rules and stereotypes for Christian musicians to follow. It seems like there is pressure from the Church community on a Christian musician to use his abilities "for the Lord," and by that, some type of evangelism, or some type of service to other believers is usually meant. I think the concern Is good, but just because a person has musical abilities does not mean he is properly equipped in the areas of evangelism or ministering to the Church in ways that are expected and needed. I know this isn't the popular thing to say, but I don't believe God wants every Christian who plays an instrument to try and form a ministry from it. After all, you don't expect a tire salesman to form a ministry with his expertise on tread design as the basis.
Then what should Christians write music about?
Well, songs dealing with truth, whether it is truth about God, about man, about the universe, whatever. Most Christians would say that the music should in some way glorify God. Obviously, one assortment of notes on the scale can't glorify God more than another. Neither can certain assortments of words. Most Christians seem to think the words themselves do the glorifying, because so many Christian songs contain theological words. If you are an up and coming Christian singer and you have to sing for a Christian audience, you'd better throw in as many words like "saved" or - "Hallelujah" or "Sweet Jesus" as you can, otherwise your spirituality will be discussed behind your back. But anybody can say the words. Marjoe Gortner had sermons chock full of Biblical rhetoric, but he freely admits he was not trying to glorify God. but to make money. Like Groucho says, "Say the secret woid, the duck comes down, you win a hunnid dollas."
So, how can music glorify God?
Music cannot; but people can. Glorifying God means that He really gets
something out of what is being sung, regardless of what people think. It's
the attitude of the singer or songwriter. Like if a kid makes his Dad a
clay ashtray, and he really gives it
as a gift out of love for his Dad. how can anyone have the right to say, "Gee, what a cheesy gift - what you really should give him is a tie from Neiman Marcus!" It is important that Christian songwriters love God. but a Christian is free to write songs a
bout anything he wants to. He only has to answer to God for his choices, not other people. I like to write songs about things which cause me to glimpse the worth of God. Sometimes that might be the ocean, sometimes it is love for my wife, sometimes it can be absurdly simple things. After all, we shouldn't search for a spiritually symbolic rationalization for every activity we enter into. It is not evil to enjoy a good laugh or a hike in the Sierras for what they are. The more we understand these "ordinary" things, the more we see that they are not ordinary at all, but great things, created as such and simply taken for granted by us to the point that we call them ordinary. Can you imagine a blind man who regains his sight ever taking for granted the playing of sunlight on the bark of an oak? Surely we aren't nearly thankful enough to God for our physical senses. When man was created the earth was for his enjoyment. Man's Fall twisted that, but we, being reborn, should strive to see and experience things as they were created to be. A lot of times I wonder what Adam would have written songs about.
So what Is the difference in songs about "ordinary" subject matter written by Christians, and similar songs written by non-believers?
Like I said, the attitude is more important than the subject matter. I can't judge a song by a Christian or a non-Christian. I listen to and really enjoy a lot of music written by non-believers. When I hear Jackson Browne lament man's inhumanity to man, it makes me mourn too. By the way, Browne seems to do a better job of exposing evil in the world than most Christian writers. When I hear a Paul Simon. or a Don McLean, or a James Taylor, there is much truth to be gleaned, regardless of where they stand with Christ, because they are true artists. I enjoy and appreciate their creativity, even though I may or may not agree with the things they say.
What if some of these songwriters you admire were to become Christians? How do you think it would affect their music?
I have no idea. I would hope that it wouldn't be altered beyond recognition. I've seen admirable artists become Christians, and then the believers around them and the Christian record people jump on them and in a sense force them to write songs that are watered down in art and pumped up and injected with religious content. That is sad to me. I'm glad to see the artist using his abilities for furthering the Gospel. but I'm dismayed to see the stifling effect on his art.
Do you think there is a danger that a Christian performer can fall into pride about his work?
Anybody can fall into pride. There are a lot of warnings about it in the Bible to everybody. It can be a bad thing when we forget Who gave us creativity in the first place. I think because of that, however, there is an unnatural phobia about pride today in the Church. The twisted pride that causes men to be arrogant to God and one another is a sad consequence of Man's Fall. But there is another side to pride. It can mean to have proper self-esteem, or true self-respect. This part of pride has been lost many times by Christians seeking to rid themselves of the bad forms of pride. The baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. It isn't wrong to feel fulfilled in seeing others enjoy something you have created. If it was, then God Himself would stand accused, and everyone knows how important praise is to Him. True, we aren't God, obviously, but why, as beings made in His own image can't we learn to be properly proud of our own creative endeavors. or how to tell someone else how much we enjoyed something he did, without getting all uptight about pride? Sometimes it Is downright silly. I have met people who deny themselves use of their creative abilities because of a fear of falling into pride, and they think that is such a spiritual thing to do. This is sad to me, and must make God sad. It is really a kind of a slap in His face to refuse to use the abilities He gave us just because there is danger involved. Just because adultery exists is no reason to avoid marriage. Just because gluttony exists is no reason to quit eating. We shouldn't be anhedonics under the guise of spirituality.
So you think God's creativity should be reflected in human experience without shame?
Yes. It is a God-given pleasure to do something creative. When God created the universe, He sat back and rested and looked and said, "It is good." He gives us the same ability as well, though quite obviously on a different level.
Do you have any creative outlets besides music?
Yes. I love to do things with my hands. Sometimes I take them out to
dinner, or to a movie, Seriously, when I get an idea for a song or a piece
of furniture to build. it excites me, and I give it my best shot. When
the thing is completed. I step back, loo
k, and in a sense say, It is good."" Of course I can't always do that, because sometimes things don't turn out too good. In that case. I say, "It is bad," or "It is lousy." But I am fulfilled in having done a creative act and I feel very thankful to God
for having made us in His image. So God gets something out of it, I get something out of it and maybe somebody else gets something out of it. What's wrong with that?
How do you explain the creativity exhibited by non-believers?
It's the same as for Christians-all men are created in God's image.
I think a lot of non-believers use their creativity more fully than Christians.
That's doubly sad, because you have these non-Christians creating beautiful
works of art and not even under
standing that they do so because they are made in God's image. Then. here sit the children of the Lord saying, "God. I don't want to mess with this pride thing so I'll just abandon my abilities and do something spiritual." That burdens me tremendously.
I understand that you spent some time living in Europe studying at L'Abri under Francis Schaeffer. Did you go there because of their emphasis on art?
Partly. I also went because of questions I had as a skeptic. L'Abri
is more than a community of Christians in the arts. It provides an honest
atmosphere where both Christians and non-Christians can study things which
undergird the Christian faith. It's a good place for a doubter to go, because
you really have to be on your toes. It's a real test of the axiom that
if Christianity is real, then it should be real in the midst of any situation.
Many people who don't believe in God end up there, and L'Abri see
ks to meet their objections to the faith. Having been a skeptic myself, and having many unanswered questions as a Christian made me able to appreciate Dr. Schaeffer's work. C. S. Lewis has the same effect on me-he really understood that there are tougher questions than many Christians are willing to face. He knew they must be dealt with honestly.
In my skeptical days, people who wanted to appear very spiritual were always telling me to forget my questions, to shove them under the rug and go on in "faith." In fact, some of my friends thought my questions were my own devices to dodge the "real issues." They thought I must be morally decadent to voice such questions. I guess they heard some Christian lecturer say that, and they were parroting it to me. But I knew my questions were real and important. I knew Jesus wouldn't have put me off. When people had doubts about Him, He usually tried to help them, so that their faith could grow. Look at Thomas. Look at Peter. Anyway, I couldn't ignore my questions. Much of modern theology is saying, "It doesn't matter what really happened historically, just believe. It is your faith that is important, not the actuality of a past event." They take reason and faith away from each other. They say. "It doesn't matter if one day we find out God really doesn't exist - if it makes you feel good to pray to Him, then by all means do so." That is the mysticism that is preached by many today. And I knew that if I continued to proclaim Christianity, and yet ignored my questions, I would be just like them. So that is why I studied at L'Abri.
Isn't "Christian doubter" a contradiction in terms?
No. I think many Christians have doubts but are afraid to admit it.
We Christians like so much to appear full of faith to others that we can
suffer with unexpressed doubts. But doubt and questions are not sin in
them-selves, rather they can act as a warni
ng system that lets us know our roots aren't deep enough. Reason and faith are not opposed to one another, they should go hand in hand. We shouldn't be afraid of our intellect-it's another part of God's image which He gave us in creation. I have heard people say that reason leads to agnosticism, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. It was the other way around for me - it led to faith.
If a Christian has doubts, what should he do?
First he should recognize the fact that his doubts are real. You can
be honest with God about that, if you like. Second, it helps to put the
doubt into the form of a definite question so it's not just a vague, unpleasant
negative feeling. Try to determine
the cause - is it a philosophical question dealing with ideas, or is it a question about events? Third, we have to seek the truth, not just an answer. There are an overabundance of pat answers around today, and they can be too easy to accept, so we shoul
d dig as deep as we can. We must deal competently with our questions, or they'll just crop up again later. I think seeds for doubt can be sown when a Christian is taught a narrow perspective in certain areas, and later, when that teaching is challenged by alternatives, the person panics. I think therefore that in the learning process all points of view should be thoroughly discussed. The Church could help, but that hasn't always been the case. Remember when Copernicus supplied evidence that the sun, not the earth, was at the center of the solar system? The Church was saying, "No, the Bible says the earth is at the center," which the Bible doesn't really say. So you can see why many unnecessary doubts can arise. That's why it's so important not to ridicule or skip over subjects like evolution. Shoddy answers here will collapse when a person confronts real opposition.
What can the Church do to aid Christians with questions?
I think the Church should show support and help doubters, not discourage them by treating them as unspiritual or weak persons or by labeling their questions as moral smokescreens. The Church community should be conducive to belief. not critical of doubt.
Did you know that Bertrand Russell dropped all belief in God because he wasn't able to voice his doubts in the company of believers?
So can all questions be answered?
I think that for most questioners, there may always be some element of doubt, but if God tells us to love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds, then surely that must be possible. Surely the axiom of seek and ye shall find must apply satisfactorily. That has been my experience.
Do you think the Christian Evangelistic effort, music included, has been successful in its attempts to take the Gospel to the people?
Probably not as effective as it could be. If by success you mean numbers,
it seems to involve a good number of people, but if success means that
people are brought to a full comprehension of what life in this universe
as created and responsible beings is
all about, I would say we have been deficient. In my days as a skeptic, standing on the outside of the Christian circle, whenever I heard Christian music. to me it was pure gibberish, and I don't mean theologically - it was so wrapped in Christian culture. It seemed like the artists were speaking only to those already in the Church. They thought they were reaching people like me, but I saw them as reaching only themselves, and then patting themselves on the back for it. How can we expect non-believers to understand our messages, whether musical or not, when we mark them with so many cultural aberrations?
So you think our culture, as well as our faith, is often preached?
Yes, definitely, both the American culture and the Christian subculture. If you are an American and you go abroad, you will soon find out how much of the American culture is ingrained in you. That's part of the point of the TV show, - 'Mork and Mindy." Go abroad and you will see our culture in a way you never saw it before. You will feel obnoxious at times. We Americans go to other countries and we treat the natives like they are the foreigners. We expect every German to speak with us in English. In the same way. we who are Christians may not realize how many of the things we think are products of our faith are only products of our subculture. In other words, when we are trying to communicate with someone outside the Church, he may resent us if we continue to speak our own language on his soil, regardless of what we are saying. Until we learn the language of those outside the Church, the language of their hearts and the language of their minds, we will never be able to communicate properly.
But why all this to-do? Aren't we Christians to simply plant seeds and if they end up on rocky soil that's God's concern, not ours?
This is, sadly enough, the attitude seen most often in respect to our
responsibility in evangelism, but I think there is more to loving people
than that. When the seed was planted in my soul, the soil was very rocky.
Had it not been for a handful of peopl
e who cared for me and determined to help plow the soil, I doubt if I would have ever come to faith. People who treated me as a sown field, and therefore not their responsibility anymore, painted a horrible picture of love to me. Instead of yelling at th
e ground because it is parched, and screaming doom because it won't sprout growth, why not water it, plow it, hoe it, weed it, put time into its cultivation? Sometimes that may mean dealing with questions we've never had the bravery to face before ; sometimes it may mean showing more human concern and not treating a creature of God as a spiritual commodity; always it will mean treating the person as an equal to ourselves in God's eyes. It's too bad that so much of today's mass evangelism fails so miserably on these points in its efforts to siphon souls into the Kingdom. If every Christian would treat just one other person with real love, I'm sure more would come to faith than do at present, with all our mass harvesting techniques.
How can we as Christians communicate our faith to the world effectively?
We must learn to understand the worldviews of those around us and not be so smug in our separatism, especially in education. We must understand why the world believes the things it believes. We must go beyond the point of simply confirming the sin of every man - we must get specific, and use our minds like never before. We must care for the people. If we don't do these things, we can't really offer any good criticism in their eyes-we will only continue to condescend. Any parrot or chimpanzee can mimic what he has heard or seen. but we Christians in the 80's need to learn how to think for ourselves. When we begin to see God's Truth as the actual TRUTH, not just as something we know because we wrote it down in our notebooks, we will be able to carry our faith on to its proper conclusions. We will learn how to really love God and our neighbors, and ourselves.