This post is very personal because it has to do with the particular type of music I love and my favorite artist in that genre. Neal Morse is not a well-known name in mainstream entertainment, but he is famous in the smaller circle of Progressive Rock, a sub-genre of rock music that features complex (and often long) musical pieces, odd time signatures, classical music influence, and lyrics that often include spiritual themes. One of the reasons I love Neal’s music is because he is a fellow follower of Jesus, and the message of the Gospel is the central theme in most of his compositions.
Culturally Relevant Evangelism
Paul, the Apostle was responsible for the Gospel breaking the wall between Jews and Gentiles. His writings made the Gospel accessible to “the rest of us,” who don’t share a Hebrew heritage. This is what he had to say about cultural relevance
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22b)
The Gospel “in Rock”
So, how do you “become all things to all people in order to save some” fans of “Progrock” as we call it? Here are three lessons I learned from observing (and enjoying) the music of the Neal Morse Band over the years.
Tell your story and be open. Neal’s first solo album after his conversion is aptly called “Testimony.” He writes from his heart and shares his struggles and disappointments, personal encounter and surrender to Christ, and the challenges that didn’t all suddenly disappear with conversion. Stories can be powerful. People identify with them because if God changed your story, he can change theirs too.
You don’t have to be “preachy” to preach. I believe one of the main reasons non-believing fans continue to enjoy Neal’s music is because though it is unequivocally Christian and often calls the listener to a decision, it never comes across as pushy or judgmental.
Don’t ever compromise the message. Please don’t get me wrong, many songs invite the listener to embrace Christ in a really direct way. In his second album, called “One,” the entire History of Salvation is sung in 80 minutes of non-stop electrifying music (yeah, that’s Progressive rock). In another song from another record, he sings:
It's for you
I'll give you what this world could never give
It's for you
This goes beyond the life that you now live
Take my hand,
Trade everything you are for everything I am
And so, it is that, for the last 15 years, thousands of fans of “Progrock” have been hearing the clear message of the Gospel through the complex music that they love. This music is unapologetically evangelistic and yet sung with cultural relevance, sensitivity, and power, so that the eternal truth of the Gospel can be understood and received by those who listen. I have been to several of their concerts, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those fans around me will find faith in Christ and I will get to spend eternity with. To paraphrase the old hymn:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
we’ve no less days to [play and] sing God’s grace [in the style of progrock]
than when we first begun.