Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to the Rock - A Chastisement of Today's Christian Music

In case you haven't heard, Christian rock band Petra is attempting a comeback under the moniker of Classic Petra, bringing back, Greg X. Volz on vocals, Mark Kelly on bass, John Lawry on keyboards, Louie Weaver on drums, and the only band member to never leave the band, Bob Hartman on guitar. They have recently released an album of '80s Volz-era songs online, available at  I have not bought the album (yet), but have listened to the samples, which basically sound like they did in the '80s. Volz's voice has not changed, much, if any. There are two new songs, "Back to the Rock" and "Too Big to Fall." Other songs include, Bema Seat, Clean, Angel of Light, Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows, Godpleaser, Second Wind, More Power to Ya, Let Everything That Hath Breath (Praise the Lord), Grave Robber, and Adonai. They have even brought back the sword logo from the '80s. They're all songs that fans of Petra will know, but will they garner Petra new fans? They are planning a world tour and a live taping in Nashville sponsored by TBN on November 20. To date, no dates are posted yet. I'm wondering if anyone would book them, as much as I like them. Stryper has been semi-successful at coming back, but can Petra after only being retired for about 4 years.
One thing I've always appreciated about Petra was their stand on the Bible. Every song on their albums were backed up with scripture verses, listing them alongside the lyrics in the liner notes. There's a story that one time the record company did not print the verse references and Bob Hartman wasn't happy about that, but it was too late as the album had gone to press. Petra was offered compromises with record labels if they would tone down their Jesus content, but they constantly refused, and in turn, that may have been what led to their popularity waning in the '90s. Other artists seem to have compromised, such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, which led to their increased popularity among the secular crowd, though Smith not so much. Petra was perhaps the first band to get me interested in music, more specifically Christian music. I have fond memories of attending my first Petra concert in 1989 at the Atlanta Civic Center when Josh McDowell was touring with them. The last concert I attended with my dad was the Petra/Whiteheart co-headliner tour with opening acts Grammatrain and Johnny Q. Public in 1996. It was in Gainesville, GA, 4 hours from where we lived at the time. It was raining and hailing as we drove to the concert, but we had an awesome time. My dad even liked Johnny Q. Public. He got extremely sick and died over the next 4 months. 
So, how is this new album a chastisement of today's Christian music? As this blog updateputs it:
We are quite aware that we are not Gods’ only plan to shake up the Christian world again, but we are sure that we will be part of the big plan. Gospel music, as well as mainstream, in my opinion, has hit an all time low, with very little music I would consider interesting. The melody got lost somewhere along the way both musically and spiritually………….. There are some exceptions such as Switchfoot, Skillet, Lou Gramm (Foreigner), Casting Crowns, etc but you can count them all on your fingers.
He's right, Christian music, and music in general, has flatlined. Lyrics are shallow and insignificant. Christian music has become mostly about making us feel good. If you listen to Petra's lyrics or other's lyrics from the '80s and early '90s, you'll find that the music was about discipleship. I remember a twitter post where someone asked Steve Camp why he left Christian music and he replied that it was too much about money. All the Christian labels are owned by the world. He's right. They are. Now one could say that we should be salt and light to the world, and we could not compromise. Christian music isn't about discipleship anymore. It's about making money by offering feel-good lyrics that are all about me. Or perhaps they're just plain superficial. Artists that are still making good music: Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, P.O.D., Steven Curtis Chapman, Lecrae, and I could go on, but you won't hear these artists latest albums on Christian radio, unless you're listening online or to Air1. Our local Christian station hasn't played a single new Jars of Clay song for at least the past two albums now. And when they do, it's from their first album, released over 15 years ago. Petra? They play "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High" from Petra Praise 2. It took them 6 months before they played the first single from Steven Curtis Chapman's "Beauty Will Rise." I hardly hear it now. TobyMac? They jumped on his music right away, as superficial as it is.
Christian music could hardly be called Christian anymore. We need artists who are willing to take a stand on the Word of God and provide scripturally-based lyrics, that are about following God and not about feeling good. It's about discipleship. I've heard Christian artists get up on stage and say they're not theologians, blah, blah, blah. But, if you're writing words that we are hearing and singing, and billing yourself as a Christian musician, then yes, you are a theologian. You are writing what you think about God. You better make sure it's based on scripture and not on your feelings, however. 
To conclude, one of the new songs on Petra's album is titled, "Back to the Rock." There's a double meaning there. First, it is a return to the rock of the '80s, in a way. Second, the lyrics speak for themselves as the Rock is referring to Jesus. "Back to the Rock that is higher than I..." goes the song. Let us remember that as we listen to Christian music, that we should be focused on Jesus and not on what makes us feel good.