I haven’t done this in a while – so let’s see what’s changed!
1. Rush – Snakes and Arrows – This CD over the past six months shows up in my cd player every once and a while. Full of great songs, philosophy, incredible musicianship, and an agnostic overtone that makes me glad to know the Creator, but gives me a glimpse of what my thoughts might’ve been if I didn’t.
2. Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now – I heard some critiques over this album; people complained that it was overproduced and didn’t have the same organic sound that previous Punch Brothers albums have had. Pfff, forget that – this is progressive bluegrass at its finest and it reminds me of how much I miss Joy Kills Sorrow being together.
3. Within Temptation – The Silent Force – I literally hadn’t listened to this album in years. I came upon it today while I was cleaning. For a pop album (according to Finnish/Swedish standards), the orchestration and development is out of this world. Within the verse, chorus, bridge, etc., form – the composers and orchestrators build their orchestrations and motifs well enough to make a classically trained composer smile. Reminds me why I got into writing metal to begin with.
I am profoundly moved by the Unblack Metal movement in Poland. At it’s heart, it’s true life on life brotherhood & discipleship in a
metal circle. If you’re unfamiliar with Unblack Metal or what is sometimes referred to as White Metal is the Christian antithesis to what is known as Black Metal. While Black Metal is notorious across Norway for church burnings, satanic rituals, murders, & suicides, it maintains a strong & loyal following in a region of the world where Christianity isn’t very prevalent.
In the documentary, which is a few years old now, these musicians commune in rehearsal & performance of this music while also praying together. I can only imagine the possibilities of this kind of brotherhood in other circles. This is no different than the Acts 2 church meeting together, the underground church meeting in China, and church plants meeting house to house all over the world. Often, when we see a sect of people that are so vastly differently than us, we will consider them hopelessly lost to the world. When we see a culture that we identify with evil, we think there’s no way Jesus can prevail. I applaud the underground culture of the Unblack Metal genre and further encourage ‘iron sharpening iron’ where men and women better each other in Christ . Discipleship is powerful and is certainly not limited to circles that look “Christian.”
How many other cultures, sub-cultures, & counter-cultures can be transformed in this way; where people meet together and celebrate life & the Holy Spirit? I often think I’m alone; how can I lead people to Christ; there’s no one I can relate to in this art/culture/business – whatever you want to call it.
I’m calling out the lie. You are not alone. And there’s nothing keeping you from making disciples in your very own counter-culture. From missions in the Middle East to Unblack Metal in the Nordic – God is on the move!
When I was in middle school, Napster was the newest big thing. And on my whopping 56k internet connection, I’d let music download overnight and wake up to a nearly Christmas-like feeling of hearing new music – mostly early metal stuff like Metallica, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. This was a pivotal point in my life because it would ultimately lead to me discovering the music that influences my writing to this day. On the other hand, this season was pivotal for a totally different reason.
And I don’t know when exactly the age of accountability begins, and all “universal-reconciliation-ers” would argue that we’re never mature enough to be accountable; however, at that age, I certainly became aware of the idea of doubt and our choice whether to believe or not when my pastor said in his sermon, (given that it’s been 12 or 13 years, this isn’t verbatim) “...even if Christianity wasn’t real, the lifestyle would still be worth living.‘ Wait… WHAT?! What do you mean “even if it wasn’t real!?!?” This just came out of my pastor’s mouth!? Up until then, all I knew of was of life as a Christian without doubt. Of course I knew the typical thing – “if you don’t believe in God, you’re going to hell” – but doubting the very existence of God never seemed possible to me – and it was terrifying, even though doubting in the existence of God is simply the embodiment of the former “if you don’t believe in God…”
All of a sudden, I felt like my life was in crisis, even though I still knew what I believed. Suddenly, all of the music I was falling in love with seemed evil for no reason. And this feeling seemed totally unrelated to what I had recently heard in the sermon. Songs like “Heaven & Hell” and “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath scared me even though I was drawn to it. At this time, it was never the lyrics that had any kind of impact on me, it was the texture of these songs, the guitar tone, riffs, mix & production that seemed to sound evil. Many a Christian would argue that heavy metal is legitimately evil anyways.
That phase just kinda faded away in a way that phases usually do; however, this moment of my childhood seemed to have some sort of significance. Now it seemed that believing in God wasn’t just something that occurred automatically; rather, it took effort now. In hindsight, if believing in God was ever automatic for everyone, I don’t believe that would make the love of God very special – essentially, we’d be programed to love Him just like Windows comes with Windows Paint.
So now, looking back, was what I just experienced the divide that separates innocence and conviction; the birth of the age of accountability? I was saved years before this happened; however, while giving my life to Christ at that young of an age matters, I feel like God might say to me “yeah, that’s super sweet and all, but kid, at that age you were going to heaven anyways.”
And so, I have continued on this path ever since – being drawn to heavy metal that for some reason seems evil while loving God and fearing my own mortality. And this is probably where this article begins to make a bit more sense with these 2 seemingly unrelated concerns “is my enjoyment of brutal heavy metal a sinful thing?” and “where is the dividing line between salvation & damnation?” The culmination of these two questions is this – “Do the things I enjoy have any effect towards the salvation or damnation of my soul?” It seems so silly to ask that question, after all, God loves us and wants us to be happy – but the deeper I go, the more legit the question seems.
We’re all familiar with the great confession, the one that saves us that we attest to just before water baptism, sprinkling, or whatever ritual is associated with our beliefs -“I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and I accept Him as my Lord and Personal Savior.” This confession is commonly tied to John 3:36 and several others in the New Testament. On the other hand, I don’t believe Salvation to be quite that easy; in fact, the above confession is only the first step. When we look at Matthew 7:21-23, we see there’s more to it…
“21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!“
Prophesying, casting out demons, miracles; these are the commandments & works resulting from the Great Commission; And still, one can be sent to hell!? Even if we are following through with Christ’s final issue to us, there’s nothing we can do in the realm of our own works that can save us for it also says in Ephesians 2:4-9 –
“4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.“
So, according to Matthew 7:21-23, God wants a relationship with us; dialogue, interaction, & conversation – and without that, he doesn’t know us and therefore denies us. In accordance with Ephesians 2:4-9, there’s nothing we could create to win over Christ’s love for us, in fact, it is simply us that he wants for His grace saves nothing else. Still, this doesn’t address the fact that I enjoy and often compose heavy metal – a genre that’s often seen by Christian’s & non as anti-christian.
I’ve heard it said that sin is anything that separates us from God. I’m not sure which verse that is from; however, it doesn’t sound too far from the truth and I’m sure it’s also tied to several verses. We must ask ourselves “is the way I’m living separating or keeping me from loving God?”
Upon accepting God as our Personal Savior, if we are going forth and always seeking God in an active and ongoing relationship without letting things of the world come before Him nor placing it higher (a la letting it separate us from God) do we then receive favor to receive eternal life?
If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves scaring ourselves again searching for this answer. In fact, I find the most damning and convicting affirmation here –
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
It’s easy to start twisting scripture. We can’t turn this around to condemn something as trivial as a genre of music. It’s like going to hell for enjoying cake. These are not “lust of the flesh, …eyes” or “pride of life” unless we immerse ourselves with an unhealthy amount that defines us. I would certainly argue the division between salvation & damnation lies in the existence of your personal relationship with Jesus & if there is anything keeping you from Him. To know the answers for sure, we should spend time quietly in prayer – asking these things and receiving the answers we need with the much-needed grace attached.
The EXPLICT JESUS MUSIC newsletter was sent out this past week! This most recent issue of the newsletter contains details on the new Atmoshear release as well as ‘Whippoorwills & Thunder’ in the studio! Sign-up! There’s always updates on Johnny Newman, Atmoshear, Merchandise, Manuscripts or Worship. It takes only a couple of seconds!
EJM Podcast – Writing has been going on this past week – narration recording is upcoming this week on ‘Location, Disappointment, & Worship’ – Stay tuned!
Earlier this week I launched the Kickstarter project for ‘The Great Mistrial’ – The album following Christ from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Crucifixion, & Great Commission. We’re a few days into the campaign & we would certainly love to see you join the cause. We ultimately need $5,000 for drum production & recording, our session bassist, and mixing & mastering. There’s not a lot a whole lot a time left – Get Involved!
Meanwhile, I’m still in the studio wrapping up guitar tracks for ‘Tribulation Poem.’ While there’s still much work to do, this is the last that has to be completed before the album can be sent to WaveTransform Recording Studio for drum preproduction. Check out a clip from the studio below!
Progressive music, rock & heavy metal, in Christianity has a terrible habit. It is only Christian by its themes, teaching of
postive lessons, condemning what’s considered bad, and mentioning God as if He’s not in the room. The terrible habit is that God is hardly ever really worshiped; which is a shame if these bands are wanting to glorify Him.
Lyrically, “You” don’t exist
I’ve heard the excuse that these musicians don’t want to come off as “preachy;” And I won’t mention what band has said this.
And I’m not saying that they all really feel this way; however, to me, this shows a lack of conviction & a fear to profess the name of Jesus as Lord & personal Savior through their craft. I’m sure these musicians, in their own personal lives have no problem worshiping God or calling out or professing His name. But, when it comes to communicating a belief & a relationship with Jesus on a mass scale (I’m assuming these artists want to reach a great multitude), it sincerely bothers me that a musician or band would be afraid of being too “preachy.”
As a Christian, this comes uncomfortably close to “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:33 NLT)
Is this the definition of the difference between “Christian” music and “Worship” music;
the difference between “me” and “You”?
As an advocate for progressive rock & metal -I’m saddened that these musicians and this genre as a whole doesn’t worship God directly…instead, passively.
I absolutely applaud Gungor, Misty Edwards & Rend Collective Experiment for writing consistently progressive music that worships God while being lyrically aggressive & musically creative. Are there more like you? I want it!
By the way, a couple of albums worth checking out.