I’ve been listening to Christian music for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was in nappies (or diapers, whichever way you call it), my parents instilled in me and my brother a way of looking at the world, that was grounded in the Word of God, and ever since I could understand (in a way that any child would understand complicated terms such as death, hell, sinning, heaven, God, Jesus, the Bible and the rest of it); I understood why my parents nudged me towards Christian music above all else. I mean, I don’t think my parents flat-out denied mainstream music in our family, or even rejected the idea of even exploring mainstream music; but it was assumed and understood (ever since myself and my brother could assume and understand), that music that was edifying and encouraging (and in the same way and token, music that also was grounded biblically in the Word, and demonstrated the gospel through song) was encouraged more so than…well, everything else. My brother and I initially listened to Carman and Delirious?, but then ventured out to explore other artists like Steve Grace, Steven Curtis Chapman, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin and Rebecca St. James, throughout my teenage years. Now as I am an adult, and looking back upon my childhood and teenage years and my music and listening habits as well; I have to say, that even though my parents didn’t outright say ‘mainstream music is bad’ (even when it really isn’t); I learnt that behaviour from somewhere, and if not my parents, then it must’ve been from…I dunno, my parents’ friends? People in authority? Christian artists themselves? The media? The general consensus going around? However, the case that I believed into this false understanding, that listening to mainstream music was the evillest thing a young kid could do; I believed it. Somehow. Someway.
It’s only been in the last few years (to be honest, ever since my brother and I undertook this blogging series about impactful and influential artists in music) that I’ve had to come to terms with this understanding that I unfortunately held for a lot of my life, and really understand, that if God can use (and He did use) a donkey to speak to Balaam, then people experiencing the love of God through mainstream music isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Sure, people may refrain from listening to mainstream music in general, because they believe it to be a personal stumbling block for them on their own personal journey (that if they listen to mainstream music on a regular basis, then it could lead to a snowballing effect onto other things that they may not want to do). But mainstream music isn’t a salvation issue. It shouldn’t even be an issue, full stop (then again, if someone is a professing Christian, but then they’re listening, on the regular, to profanity-ridden artists like Eminem, Jay-Z, will.i.am., Tupac, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Green Day, Panic! At the Disco, Korn, or Placebo; then that’s something that needs to be addressed and discussed on an individual, personal level). I’ve learnt that now.
Listening to a ton of music (and I do mean a ton of music) over the last few years, has taught me this thing that I’m not sure I fully grasped and understood until recently- that music is as subjective as they say, and that God can use someone as flawed as Kanye (through his Jesus is King album, or even Donda or Donda 2), or as ‘righteous’ as Hillsong UNITED, to bring people close to Himself. It just so happens that me and my brother listened to Christian music when we were younger. But it could’ve been different. Who knows what we could’ve (or would’ve) listened to, if I understood this revelation a little earlier, and mainstream music wasn’t as ‘evil’ as I assumed it was. If I realised that God was just as present through a song like LeAnn Rimes’s ‘How Do I Live’ as He was present in R. Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ or even Tina Arena’s ‘Heaven Help My Heart’, just as I’m sure He was through Carman’s ‘Serve the Lord’ or Delirious?’s ‘History Maker’; then maybe, just maybe, I would’ve enjoyed the beauty of discovering artists as they came up onto the scene, instead of now, all these years later.
Throughout this ‘leg’ of the blog series, where myself and my brother have since been discussing iconic and identity-building artists, we’ve gone through 4 thus far- Celine Dion, Lionel Richie, ABBA, and Bon Jovi. Yes, this list of 50 artists is in fact much more ‘clear cut’ compared to the other list of 100 (and the list of 50 up-and-coming artists as well), but even within this list, they’ll be artists that’ll miss out. Dunno who they’ll be, just yet; but rest in the knowledge and comfort, that blog posts on artists like Dolly Parton, Reba, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Queen, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Aretha Franklin, are confirmed posts for later on during the year/next year. And as I’ve since delved into quite possibly one of pop music’s most impactful pop bands ever (myself and my brother write alternative blog posts in this series of 50 iconic artists); I’m here again to again talk about quite possibly one of Christian music’s most impactful and iconic artists…Keith Green.
Yes, I’ve decided to talk about Keith and go there. While people have all these weird and wonderful theories about who the ‘founding fathers’ of Christian music really were back in the day, from artists like Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Andrae Crouch, The Imperials, Barry McGuire and Stryper, to Randy Stonehill, John Michael Talbot, DeGarmo & Key, Rez Band, Chuck Girard, and Love Song; I don’t think anyone can beat Keith Green in my book. Sure, there were artists like Larry Norman and Petra that were also around during that time too (that were discussed at length by my brother in an honourable mentions blog post), but from where I’m sitting, Keith was an artist that took a lot of risks in the shorter time span that he was on earth compared to someone like Larry- in various publications, it was acknowledged that throughout his life, Keith was only a Christian for around 7-8 years, and that’s how long his ministry was as well. Keith tragically died in 1982, and in his 7-8 years of being a follower of Jesus, he released 5 albums (and many more posthumously of course, through unrecorded songs and other demos). I remember listening (because my parents had a few cassette tapes of his back in the day) to songs like ‘There is a Redeemer’, ‘Until Your Love Broke Through’, ‘Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful’, ‘You Put This Love in My Heart’ and ‘Asleep in the Light’, to name a few. And while I wasn’t fully aware of the impact, influence, and all-round legacy that Keith Green the artist actually had (it was around 20 years after I heard these songs, that I fully understood the gravity of Keith’s impact on Christian music as a whole); I as a young boy was connected to these tracks. Songs like ‘There is a Redeemer’ and ‘Until Your Love Broke Through’ became part of my childhood, and even to this day, still remain as some of my favourite worship songs, ever. Keith was a man that was gone way, way, before his time, and I’m sure if we were alive today, I don’t think he would approve of all this CCM commercialisation, especially the Hillsong, Bethel and Elevation arm of it all.
We’d never really know about Keith’s life post-1982 (I think Keith’s untimely death, alongside Rich Mullin’s, shocked Christian music to its core, so much so that both Keith and Rich, because their lives were tragically cut short, have nevertheless impacted people and lives the most), and it’s only 5 albums from Keith that we received. But in the short amount of time that we did have Keith recording material, I don’t think he held anything back. Yes, there are indeed worship songs in his catalogue for us all to hear, experience and respond to (‘There is a Redeemer’ and ‘Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful’ are still, in my honest opinion, some of the most important and impactful worship songs ever), but there’s songs like ‘Asleep in the Light’, a track that was controversial when it was written all those years ago, and quite possibly the song would still be controversial now, if only people really pondered and reflected upon the lyrics of said melody:
Do you see? Do you see? All the people sinking down?
Don’t you care? Don’t you care? Are you gonna let them drown?
How can you be so numb? Not to care if they come?
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
Oh, bless me Lord, bless me Lord, you know, it’s all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts, no one even sheds one tear
But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds, and He cares for your needs
And you just lay back and keep soaking it in, oh, can’t you see it’s such sin?
‘Cause He brings people to your door and you turn them away
As you smile and say “God bless you, be at peace” and all heaven just weeps
‘Cause Jesus came to your door, you’ve left Him out on the streets
Open up, open up and give yourself away, ya see the need, ya hear the cries
So how can you delay? God’s calling and you’re the one,
But like Jonah, you run, He’s told you to speak but ya keep holding it in
Oh, can’t you see it’s such sin?
The world is sleeping in the dark, that the church just can’t fight
‘Cause it’s asleep in the light, how can you be so dead when you’ve been so well fed?
Jesus rose from the grave and you, ya can’t even get out of bed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead, come on, get out of your bed
How can you be so numb not to care if they come?
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
You close your eyes and pretend the job’s done
Don’t close your eyes, don’t pretend the job’s done
‘Asleep in the Light’, from Keith Green’s 2nd album, No Compromise
This is one of the songs by Keith that I’ve recently come to understand the gravity of, and really, really, get what he was trying to say. Keith was warning against this sense of complacency, a sense of comfortableness that comes when we believe that we as ‘cultural Christians’ don’t necessarily need to live outside of our comfort, because, when push comes to shove, it can be easy to just live lives where we’re not pushed in our faith, where we say we believe, but then don’t act it out because of convenience, or we’re worried about people’s perception of us, or we believe that it’s ‘the other person’s job to do’. Whatever the case, some Christians have fallen into this routine, this mundaneness in life, where they’d rather be comfortable with the lifestyle they have, than they would be obedient to the Lord’s calling, even if He calls us out of our zones of familiarity and into zones of uncertainty. For if the Lord calls us, surely, we should answer with obedience, right? ‘Asleep in the Light’ by Keith, reminds me about the Delirious? track back in 2008, titled ‘Kingdom of Comfort’- in it, Martin Smith (the lead singer) speaks about a persona who is crying out to God, longing for Him to come and ‘…save me, save me, from the kingdom of comfort, where I am king, from my unhealthy lust of material things, I built myself a happy home, in my palace on my own, my castle falling in the sand, pull me out, grab my hand, I just forgot where I came from…’
Written in 2008 (at that time, around 30 years after ‘Asleep in the Light’), this proves to me, that the issues in the 70s, are the same issues now- as we come face to face with this notion of complacency, comfortableness, and how quickly any Christian can fall into this thing that slowly grips you from the inside out. It’s this wave of indifference that comes over our lives after we’re Christians, simply because we want to be labelled ‘Christian’, without the responsibility that comes afterward, because frankly, and honestly, humans are just a bunch of people who don’t want to admit responsibility for things, right? We like our own cosy lives much more; and pretend to not see the injustice that is happening around us. We rationalise and justify our actions, we commodify our music, TV shows and movies, and consume these three for purely entertainment purposes. We say we’re Christians, and for many, we are. But if we are to be honest with ourselves, I don’t think we truly grasp the enormity and gravity of being a Christian in the first place, because I’m sure if we did, there’d be a lot more people standing up for the oppressed, marginalised, calling out injustices around the world, and moving out of our comfortable zones of the Western world, to be the hands and feet of Jesus where He calls us and wherever He needs us the most. ‘Asleep in the Light’ hopefully allows us to confront our own indifference in our lives, to see what areas of our daily life that we need work on, and to really hone into answering the question of whether we are obedient to the Lord’s calling, or if we’re just too comfortable in the life we’re currently living at the moment.
Yes, this song is at times uncomfortable, but that is one such reason as to why Keith was (and still is) so iconic, impactful, and challenging all at once- a song like this goes ‘against the grain’ compared to a lot of CCM, both produced and released back then, and now. It’s not ‘cool’, ‘hip’ or ‘popular’ to call out people for being ‘asleep’, yet this is exactly what Keith did with this song. Reminds me when Casting Crowns challenged us all with the song ‘While You Were Sleeping’ way back in the day on their 2005 album Lifesong– in that track, the persona laments that when Jesus came to the earth 2000 years ago, the world was ‘asleep’ and couldn’t recognise the Messiah even if He was standing right in front of them, and then paralleled it all back to America (or in a broader context, the Western world), and lamented the words of how ‘…United States of America, looks like another silent night, as we’re sound asleep by philosophies that save the trees and kill the children, and while we’re laying in the dark, there’s a shout heard ‘cross the eastern sky, for the Bridegroom has returned and has carried His bride away in the night in the night, America, what will we miss while we are sleeping? Will Jesus come again and leave us slumbering where we lay? America, will we go down in history as a nation with no room for its King? Will we be sleeping? Will we be sleeping?…’ Keith undertook something similar with ‘Asleep in the Light’, reminding us of our own inaction when we’re called to be the ambassadors of Christ in a hurting and broken world. Maybe this song causes us all to wake up and to become proactive in proclaiming the gospel and being the hands and feet of Jesus, like we’re supposed to? Or maybe it doesn’t. Whichever way you slice it, this song by Keith is what a confronting song about Jesus should be- convict us of our own failure to live up to the standards that has been ascribed of us when we do decide to follow Christ, and to hopefully spur us on into willing action and a sense of joy that comes from service and the act of servitude to people who may be of less fortune than ourselves.
‘…It’s hard to think of Christian music and not think of Michael W. Smith, who, alongside Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman, have been the artists that have been around the industry the most. Now let me get a few things straight. Michael W. Smith is in no means the pioneer of Christian music. Leave that title to other artists like Larry Norman, Mylon LeFevre, Keith Green, Andrae Crouch, PETRA, 2nd Chapter of Acts, The Imperials and Gaither Vocal Band. But for me, I’ve always felt like Michael W. Smith has been the most influential for me personally, but also influential as an artist in society. Firstly because Michael, alongside Amy and Steven, is one of the only artists, who started their career in the 1980s, to be active currently. But also, I’ve felt that Michael has always had it in himself to re-invent himself if needed to reach a different culture, a different time period, and a different people group, as the years travel on. That’s not to say that any of the aforementioned artists are not musically ingenious, not at all. And I will be discussing artists like Keith Green and PETRA further along in my ‘Influential Artists of All Time’ list. But with Michael being one of the first of many artists to receive crossover success (influence in both CCM and the mainstream arena) throughout his career, his impact and reach, whether it be pop inspirational music, or as a worship artist, is nothing less than extraordinary. Michael’s devotion to creating music that not only is poignant and heartfelt, but also musically fashionable as well as interesting, is what I reckon has been a very big part of his success over the years. Dare I say, that now with Michael into his early sixties, that he could become the Christian version of either Rod Stewart or Johnny Farnham, a man well into his years delivering great hits with no intention of retiring?…’
This verbatim quote above was the opening paragraph into my first blog post that started it all- discussing about Michael W. Smith, and while I can now acknowledge that we as a site unfortunately didn’t discuss about PETRA (they were however in our ‘honourable mentions’ list) when everything was said and done, I am now currently discussing about Keith Green and his impact right now. 40 years after his death, Keith’s music is still impactful, heartfelt, and compelling, and even though people may be more familiar with the music of today, Keith’s songs still ring true. Many of the CCM artists now, drew inspiration at one point or another, from someone like Keith back in the day – it may not have been Keith’s music, but music from decades ago can still impact someone’s musical trajectory even now. While Keith’s music still may not be my go-to artist even after this blog post (I am much more of a Carman, Delirious? and Steven Curtis Chapman person, because of my childhood), I still nevertheless admire Keith’s own braveness, passion, perseverance, tenacity and boldness, in speaking truth in love (though I would imagine the song ‘Asleep in the Light’ be portrayed as being something like ‘truth with the absence of love’), and crafting a career for the history books, a span of years where the main focus, was (and should be always) to lead people to Christ through the way of music. Sometimes I feel as though a lot of CCM artists who are starting in the business nowadays aren’t necessarily like the artists of old- the artists that I grew up on, bands like Delirious?, MercyMe, Third Day, Newsboys or even Casting Crowns, had an earnest vulnerability about their music, and a sense of grit and determination that, for lack of a better term, seems to have mellowed down in recent years, in comparison to all the ‘worship’ bands that seem to pop up every year, that are frankly just carbon copies of mega-bands like Hillsong (in all its facets), Elevation, Bethel and Passion. Nevertheless, maybe I’m just suffering a bout of nostalgia. Maybe listening to Keith and his music, has reminded me of the necessity and crucialness of men like Keith Green, and to not just dismiss his importance and reduce it to a throwaway line (or a few minutes, as unfortunately depicted through the documentary The Jesus Music).
In The Jesus Music last year, the documentary tried to encapsulate 50 years of CCM history into 1 hour and 49 minutes (sure, it’s impossible, but at least the documentary had a good stab at it). But, upon having watched the documentary in full, while on the whole it was a brief, yet needed, encapsulation of the CCM industry at large (and I enjoyed the documentary very much); I still felt as though artists like Keith Green (and to a greater extent, Rich Mullins, and Carman) were just ‘thrown’ by the wayside, relegated to just a mere mention in relation to the history of CCM, when other artists like Rez Band, Stryper, Love Song, Larry Norman, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, TobyMac, even artists like John Cooper (who was not discussing his own band Skillet but rather talking about Stryper) and Lauren Daigle, were heavily featured in the documentary. Nothing against them as artists per se, but with such a rich history of CCM, I felt that this documentary only scratched the surface, and unfortunately didn’t give justice to the impact that Keith’s music (and others like Rich and Carman) had on music, society, and culture than it actually did.
Maybe there’s The Jesus Music Pt. 2 that’s coming. Or maybe there isn’t. Whatever the case, 1 hour 49 minutes is just too short to say everything that needs to be said about CCM. Sure, we can talk to all the cows come home about Stryper, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, but I’m pretty sure an artist like Keith Green laid more of the framework and challenged more of the status quo in my opinion, don’t you agree? Keith dared to be different, and I’m sure didn’t fit into the mould of a ‘typical’ CCM artist back then. Nor did an artist like Rich Mullins, for that matter. Or even Carman. And yet I felt it was those three that were seemingly bypassed (intentionally or not, it doesn’t matter) in the documentary. Maybe it was just an innocent oversight, or maybe it was something more intentional. Whatever the case, I really, really hope there’s another part to The Jesus Music, or at the very least, a documentary coming soon about the ‘forgotten’ artists, like Keith, Rich, and Carman. For it is sometimes the people that even the CCM industry deems as ‘irrelevant’, ‘different’, ‘weird’ or even ‘heretical’ that God uses the most.
Sometimes not fitting into the cookie-cutter CCM that is present in the Western World now, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and if a song like ‘Asleep in the Light’ is as ‘offensive’ as I imagine it could be, if created now in today’s climate of CCM; then guys like Keith, Carman and Rich have been doing things right all along. Maybe it’s the listeners who have a somewhat different preconceived idea of what CCM is (instead of what God sees it and what He deems it should be?). However which way, Keith’s music is crucial to understand and appreciate if you want to gain a more complete picture of CCM and it’s roots. It’s crucial if you want to widen your appreciation of CCM, period. It’s crucial if you want to see the life (through song) of a man willing to be different and weird, for the sake of the Gospel. Keith’s music is crucial, iconic, identity-building and culture-shifting, full stop. And yes, I’m only to discuss Keith’s music (and Rich’s) in this blog series of 50 artists, and while people could claim that _____ is more worthy of being in this iconic artist list (pick whichever other ‘founding’ CCM artist that is not Keith Green), I still assert and hold firm to the understanding, that Keith’s music for me, feels more real, raw, honest, and authentic, compared to his own contemporaries.
Yes, I’m to admit that not discussing about Petra and Larry Norman was a bit of a misstep on our part as a site, but that doesn’t detract from Keith’s own importance in music. Who knows, maybe Larry (or Petra for that matter) fits more for this blog series of 50 iconic artists more so than the 100 influential artists list. However which way you can view this, one can hopefully agree upon this- that Keith’s short presence within CCM revolutionised CCM as we know it. Or as Banning Liebscher puts it (founder and director of Jesus Culture), ‘…Keith Green gave the church more than just music; he gave us his life. His daily wholehearted devotion for the Lord has created a lasting impact on a generation. Keith was the message. His music was merely an extension of his life. Even today, he challenges us to live boldly for Jesus and to burn for the One who gave it all. My heart continues to be stirred by how Keith’s passion for Jesus showed up in his extravagant love for people. He would not allow the walls that can so quickly form in the church keep him from expressing his sincere love for believers. I am so grateful for the life of Keith Green and the impact he continues to have on us…’
Keith Green the artist may be gone and not with us any longer, but the songs that he created in such a little time, are nevertheless equally poignant, emotive and hopefully action-spurring, especially songs like ‘Asleep in the Light’ and ‘The Sheep and the Goats’ (a spoken word live track unveiled in 1981 where Keith himself recounted the Biblical telling of the sheep a the goats [Matthew 25]), whilst worship tracks like ‘Until Your Love Broke Through’ (originally made famous by singer-songwriter Marcia Hines), ‘There is a Redeemer’, ‘You Put This Love in My Heart’, ‘Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful’ and ‘Make My Life a Prayer to You’, are just some of the many, many songs throughout his career that firmly place his centre upon the gospel of Christ and the love Keith has personally, for Jesus, something that seemingly isn’t directly discussed and publicised in CCM nowadays. Yes, CCM is a great way to showcase your own public faith (or it should be), but as with anything, CCM is a business just like any other. And while you do have your Keith Greens’ of today (Andrew Peterson, for KING & COUNTRY, Jason Gray, Katy Nichole, Anne Wilson, We the Kingdom, Steven Curtis Chapman, Matt Redman, Martin Smith [of Delirious?]), people like Keith and his bold (and maybe even ‘controversial’) views are becoming less and less of a normalcy, and now more and more of an exception, and that’s an unfortunate shame. Maybe it’s the fact that the business side of CCM is winning over. Or maybe it’s the fact that people aren’t as bold now with their music compared to back then.
Whatever the case, I do wish we see someone as bold as Keith Green, on our airwaves who is not afraid to tell it as it is in their music. Yes, music can uplift, and yes, you need to be ‘seeker friendly’ in this society that tolerates anything and everything, but sometimes, you need someone to boldly come and to just say things as they are, not beating around the bush for the sake of people’s ‘experiences’, ‘feelings’ and ‘identities’. Keith told it as it was, albeit somewhat harshly, but nevertheless, told it matter-of-factly, which is one of the reasons why his music has stood the test of time, in my opinion. Sure, you can receive all the respect and admiration from the mainstream music industry that you can, and you can become a crossover success to the nth degree. But if that is at the detriment to your own Christian values, and what you know to be Biblically correct (for the sake of clout, fame, notoriety, and adulation), then something has to change. Maybe a wake-up call in the form of ‘another version of Keith Green’ somewhere down the line (in fact, I don’t think there’s been another society-shaking artist post-Rich Mullins, though artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith have always come close). Or maybe just more music created that is Biblically based and gospel-centric. Or maybe people should just read more of the bible for their theology and not just rely on CCM artists and their favourite songs. However, it plays out in the future, one thing’s for sure- CCM as it stands, is becoming more commodified and business-like than it should be. It’s a ‘means to an ends’ for some people, then just, ‘an ends’.
There’s unfortunately more ‘restrictions’ placed on CCM (to create this perfect, idyllic image) of what you can and can’t say, as opposed to mainstream music (which is why, I believe, mainstream music is becoming more and more popular amongst Christians even now, because at least mainstream music is honest, raw, real, and truer, than a lot of current CCM…and that assessment of where CCM right now is- is unfortunately true). So, what is needed is the boldness of another ‘Keith Green’…and maybe it’s through someone like Anne Wilson or Katy Nichole, who’ve burst onto the scene with songs like ‘My Jesus’ and ‘In Jesus Name (God of Possible)’ respectively, artists who aren’t ashamed of boldly declaring Jesus’s name. Maybe it’s in the appeal of someone like for KING & COUNTRY, who’ve now become a duo that’ve bridged the gap between CCM and pop. Or maybe it’s someone like Elias Dummer, who since the disbanding of The City Harmonic, is now creating music that I’m sure Keith Green would’ve been proud of. Whoever it is, to take the mantle from Keith (and Rich) and to run forward with bold faith; needs to do so without being apologetic of offending _____. We live in a society where unfortunately speaking the truth takes a back seat compared to not offending _____. And what I’ve learnt through listening to Keith’s music, is that the time of not offending _____ needs to come to an end. The gospel, by nature, will be offensive to a group of people, no matter how it’s tailored, curated, and packaged. To hear that you’re a sinner in need of a Saviour, cuts real deep. No one likes the idea of the sheep and the goats, or this idea of hell without Christ Jesus, but that’s the reality. We need to know what we’re saved from. We need to know why we need Jesus.
And Keith did that (and Rich as well); all those years ago. I just hope that someone has the guts, determination, and boldness to do so again. There was a time way back then, when Keith started to give away his albums for free, because he believed that people shouldn’t pay to hear the gospel. That was radical then, because everyone was assumedly ascribing to the notion that music, all kinds, had to be purchased because…well, after all, it was a business, right? That’s a fine line now with Christian music- is it an art form, a ministry, or is it just a means to rake in the cash? That’s something artists need to answer and reconcile for themselves, but how Keith rationalised his choice all those years ago, was this- that people should be able to hear the gospel, that no amount of price should be placed upon it, inclusive of his music. While people right now could say that not charging for something, no matter how noble the cause, could be unfortunate career suicide; that wasn’t the case for Keith back then. The message of Christ through song, grew and grew, because of Keith; and while in 2022, Keith’s albums are now sold again (in fact, the idea of giving out anything for free is indeed frowned upon in today’s culture because, well…everything is business, even when it shouldn’t be); the very act of giving his albums away for free back in the 70s and 80s, at least sparked discussion around music, Christian music, and whether people should be able to place a monetary price on hearing the gospel, full stop. Keith did something that wasn’t popular back then, and maybe paid the price personally for it (monetary-wise), but in the end, it was God that was glorified through that- as Keith’s songs formed the basis and reason for a lot of people coming to faith around the world- then and now.
He was a trailblazer, a pioneer, someone who thought outside the box, and who wasn’t afraid of not being liked, all for the sake of the gospel. Is there someone like that, today? Maybe. Hopefully. Time will tell though. Don’t know or even think that the CCM industry (as it stands right now) can even accommodate someone with the boldness of a Keith Green, today; but there’s always hope. Maybe I’m just someone in my 30s having a bit of a griping session; and using a blog post about Keith Green as a cover for me venting my frustrations about what I see in Christian music nowadays. Or maybe I just like Keith’s music, and just wish that there was something like that now, for people who long for confronting (yet equally compelling and heartfelt) music about their faith. Or maybe I just wish for the tide to turn, and for there to be less of a commoditisation of Christian music, to get back to the fundamentals of the faith, and what we truly believe. Regardless, it’s been very therapeutic, me writing this blog post about Keith Green and his music, and being reminded that the CCM of old, can still impact someone and change their trajectory in 2022, if the Lord chose to use that method of music. Or He could choose something that we may not even have expected…and if someone felt as though the Lord was speaking through something from Bon Jovi (and was able to back it up through reading the Bible), then…well, the Lord works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He? Much more mysterious than we could fathom, that’s for sure.
Keith’s music in 2022 is just as powerful now, as it was back when these songs were created. Had he had not died so young, I’m sure Keith would’ve been creating more music, and probably would’ve become a missionary in a third world country, or something like that. Because I don’t think it really was the music that was the legacy that Keith lived- I mean, sure, we have these songs, but it was the way that he executed his life, with passion, enthusiasm, vigour, joy, even a sense of purpose, urgency, direction, and intention. Matt Papa, an independent worship artist, recently wrote in The Gospel Coalition about his own thoughts about Keith, and the impact he thought the humble singer-songwriter had, not only on CCM, but on music in general- ‘…the thing that first attracted me to Keith’s music was the thing that attracts me to all music: passion. When Keith sang, you got the sense that he needed to. When he played the piano, you got the sense that the piano would be injured. Keith was sheer intensity, but it wasn’t just the music. The only thing that eclipsed his musical intensity was the almost-awkward intensity of his lyrics. He was A. W. Tozer behind a piano – blunt, abrasive, cutting – but the prophetic fire in his bones was always set to a melody that somehow made the medicine palatable. He had that “thing” all real prophets have: the anointing to offend with enough grace to keep you listening…I think Keith was right [about speaking out against the development of the Christian music “industry” from a financial standpoint] because there is much that is disgusting about the modern Christian music industry. There are plenty of artists out there who hide their greed behind a trite Christian lyric. Keith was certainly not one of those. He once said: I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into godly jealousy (Romans 11:11) or to sell out more completely to Jesus! As many people know, Keith ran his entire ministry by faith – by the love offering. He would not allow money to “hinder” the gospel, and he spoke out violently against the future compromise (and demise) of the Christian music machine. There was a purity to Keith’s ministry that is unparalleled. I think he was probably wrong in some ways, too. Early on, Keith was somewhat of a legalist, as many of us tend to be early on in our faith. He expressed blood-earnest conviction about things which, later on in his life, he recanted when the grace of God began to tenderize his heart. The music industry could have been one of those things. The existence of an industry in and of itself is not a bad thing: Christian music, Christian book publishing, etc. It is good that products are created that manifest the beauty of Jesus Christ and serve people. It’s also good that artists and writers are able to pay their bills. The danger exists because these industries are filled with sinners who can make success an idol…Keith’s greatest strength was probably also his greatest weakness – it was the fire. Keith was so utterly convinced about everything. I’m sure it was that confidence that made his ministry so compelling. He was reckless, unafraid to offend. I believe these qualities were used by God to awaken a generation. So many people I meet, still today, have been affected and are still encouraged by his ministry. But along with this certainty, he crossed the line into ungraciousness at times. He reminds me a lot of Peter. Another virtue with (perhaps) a vice was his pioneering spirit. Keith and Melody had four kids. They had a traveling ministry and a magazine (newsletter). They went on mission trips, they started schools, they opened houses for drug addicts, and the list goes on and on. So where’s the vice, you ask? One general oversight of the 1970’s was (in my opinion) a lack of involvement and connection to the local church. The “hippie” spirit was a pioneering, wandering one. I’m not sure where Keith and Melody landed on this issue, but my guess is their contribution to a local body was minimal…’
It is in this quote above, that I write my final paragraphs about Keith, his music, and my reflections that I’ve gathered, as I’ve written this ‘blog post about him’. A way that I was able to write about my own musings and observations about CCM at the moment, I’m once again unfortunately saddened that no one is standing out in CCM, just as how Keith Green (and to even a greater extent, Rich Mullins) stood out when he was creating music, back then. Sure, there’s the odd CCM artist that moves the needle a bit and really tugs at our hearts and challenges our notion of what it means to create CCM (artists like Zach Williams, Anne Wilson, for KING & COUNTRY, Riley Clemmons, Katy Nichole, Apollo LTD, Tauren Wells, Cory Asbury, Aaron Cole, Crowder, We the Kingdom and Colony House, to name a few); but none as impactful as Rich and Keith. I dunno if there’ll ever be, and maybe that’s ok. I am hopeful and excited for the future though. Listening to the new albums from Riley Clemmons, Anne Wilson, Katy Nichole, Apollo LTD, for KING AND COUNTRY, Zach Williams, and We the Kingdom; gives me hope that CCM is lively, fun, vibrant and enjoyable again, as it once was in the 1990s and the 2000s. There were distinct artists around the 1990s and the 2000s that always offered up something new, and it’s a great welcomed change to see similar artists coming back around and creating CCM that is equally biblically sound, as it is artistic, interesting, and just enjoyable.
Keith’s music may have only lasted 5 albums, but his legacy is 40 years and counting. Sure, we will never know what Keith would’ve been up to if he didn’t die, but that’s ok. He’s in heaven, worshipping the Lord our God. As for us down here, we are inspired by the life he’s lived, and if someone who was only a Christian for 7 – 8 years, could create such awe-inspiring music like what has been created, then surely us listeners (some who have been Christians for decades upon decades) should have no excuse. The Lord is writing our stories, and sure, we may never be as ‘great’ as Keith Green, but that’s still ok. The Lord will use us in other ways, ways that we may not have ever conceived. For we ought to only be faithful in what we do know to be true- the gospel, and I’m sure that the Lord will take care of the rest. Work out our faith with fear and trembling, thereby reminding ourselves, of the wonderful and glorious love of our Father, that it is ‘…like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed, until Your love broke through, I’ve been lost in a fantasy that blinded me, until your love broke through…’ (‘Your Love Broke Through’). Keith is a treasure, not only to CCM, but to music, full stop. Yes, his life was cut short, but let his life be a lesson to each of us, that we don’t know when our time is up. So let us all live it well; and be confident of the hope we have in Christ, that the same power that raised Christ from the dead, lives in us. What a joy that is, and surely, Keith’s life alone ought to be enough for us to be talking about Keith’s life and music, here in this blog post, part of this blog series about iconic artists. So long Keith (we’ll see you in heaven). Now off to listen to songs from Rich Mullins (and maybe Carman as well!). Who’s with me?
Does Keith Green make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Iconic and Identity-Building Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Your Love Broke Through’, ‘Asleep in the Light’, ‘The Sheep and the Goats’ and ‘Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful’, that has impacted you on your journey through life with Christ thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!