Consider This by John Fischer

ONLY A WORLD TO REACH

Last month I suggested that in an important time of self-reflection, the Christian music industry should be careful not to miss a positive new development in Christian music–the current acceptance among popular culture of the Christian group, Jars of Clay.

To what can we attribute this surprise success? To good music done well with a fresh sound and creative lyrics that happened to hit alternative radio stations at just the right time? To the liaison between Christian companies and general market promotion and distribution that was able to support and supply this interest? To the open window of a spiritual hunger at large among a lost generation? You could probably say yes to all of these, as well as to some other reasons we may never know anything about.

What I didn’t know at the time of that writing, was that I was soon to have an unexpected occasion to witness this group in action. Now I normally don’t give this much attention to one artist in this column, but I believe what is happening right now is not normal, and therefore worthy of special attention. Whether this is the beginning of a whole new era of influence for Christians or whether this is merely a brief window of opportunity that may be closed by the time you read this, it still is one of the most significant developments in contemporary Christian music in the last 25 years. A group of young, dedicated Christians are writing contemporary music that dredges some pretty challenging theological themes such as guilt, sin, crucifixion, salvation, belief and unbelief. What’s unusual is that this group is being embraced all over the FM dial in cities across the country, not to mention courting a concert tour of clubs and popular venues that would cause any new band to salivate.

Please forgive me if I seem a little excited. It’s just that for 10 years I have been saying from this page that this could be done, and now someone has done it. But that’s only me saying “I told you so.” What’s really exciting is a guy named William.

The event I attended was a free birthday bash at the Starplex amphitheater in Dallas sponsored by a local alternative rock station. The Dallas Morning News listed the groups to play that day as Cowboy Junkies, Jars of Clay–“one of the few Christian groups that tons of non-Christians have actually heard”–Jewel, Dada, and Deep Blue Something.

The summer night air hung low and smoky from tobacco and some other leaves that were burning. The crowd had thinned somewhat from a long program that started at four in the afternoon. It was now 9:30 p.m. I looked out over rows of shaved, cropped hairdos. The guy next to me had five earrings on his face and only two of them were actually on his ears. Two stage hands were lighting candelabras on either side of the large dark stage when a disk jockey from the local rock station came out and introduced the last group. “Ladies and gentlemen, a new group we happen to like a lot, and I know you will too. Please welcome… Jars of Clay!”

Under cover of fog and loud Gregorian chanting, six young men slipped on stage. Soon two acoustic guitaristsĀ  merged from the fog, rattling their noisy strings to a rhythmic bass and drum. The audience was on its feet–some standing on top of chairs, and some dancing in the aisles. Three layers of tight vocals mimicked the chanting and then the strains of the first lyric could be heard as the music backed off to let the words through: Arms nailed down, are you telling me something?

All I could think of was, “We’ve waited a long time for this.” The guy next to me, the one with the facial jewelry, had been waiting all his life. “Are you with Jars?” he had asked when I first came in, probably noticing the backstage pass I had stuck on my chest.

“Yes,” I said.

“If you’re going to see them afterwards, would you thank them for me? I became a Christian listening to their CD.”

“You mean, he got everything he needed to know to become a Christian off of one CD?,” I asked myself.

“I played it over and over and figured out just about everything. I went and got a Christian friend of mine–pulled him out of a party–and told him I wanted to get saved right away. He didn’t believe me. You wouldn’t have either. I hated Christians.”

But you see through my forever lies/And you are not believing/And I see inyour forever eyes/That you are forever healing. (From “Sinking” by Jars of Clay)

Now here you have a guy who hates Christians, falling in love with Christian music, and following the lyrics right up to the gospel. His name is William, by the way, and I’m sure he would appreciate your prayers. He’s now reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and wants to be a novelist.

Something about this seems fragile. Breakable. William is not the only one who hates Christians right now. It’s as if, in a time of culture wars pitting Christians against the world, Jars of Clay has slipped behind the lines and is playing in the world’s camp. We need to back off, and let this thing happen. Pray if you will, but please, don’t go to hear Jars of Clay at a club and cheer for Jesus. This isn’t a contest. There are no sides. There are only sinners and a gospel. If you want to do something, look for people with lots of earrings, who are finding ears for God they didn’t know they had.

You know when Christian music started, it was a lot like this. You would have gone to hear a Christian group and smelled pot and sat next to someone who appeared at first to be as far from the kingdom of God as you could imagine, until you talked to him and found out he had just walked into it three weeks earlier. Twenty-five years ago there wasn’t a Christian audience to entertain; there was only a world to reach.