What Would Jesus Play?

This CD, packed with the usual suspects, won't carry much outside the Christian arena

If a lamb roars in the forest, does it make a sound?

Television executive Bob Briner's 1993 book, "Roaring Lambs," was an open challenge to Christians to rethink their ideas about ministry in popular culture. The book had such a widespread impact on artists in the Christian industry that in 1997, friends of Briner's at Squint Entertainment approached Briner with the idea for a "Roaring Lambs" album--a compilation of artists, each of whom would have "in their own way, journeyed beyond the invisible walls of the evangelical subculture." The album, released this month, is being touted as, "part celebration, part manifesto, and part tribute" to Briner.

The premise of Briner's book was that Christians ought to do far less "bleating" and far more "roaring," that is, to enter into culture and engage it, rather than looking down one's nose at it from a safe distance. To live loudly and proudly.

And so it must have been spoken, deep within the bowels of some Nashville war room: What are we going to put together to answer this call?

Unfortunately, they've answered with artists who carry their Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in their wheelbarrows. The album includes Jars of Clay, Sixpence None The Richer, Steve Taylor, Ashley Cleveland, Michael Tait (DC Talk), and PFR--all playing the accessible acoustic and pop melodies they are known for and have even earned secular airplay for--well-produced, lots of harmonies, and (ouch!) a fair share of Christian clichés.

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If you listen to these artists and like their music, you will love the album. Go out and buy it. But for Christians, it's hardly a challenge to go forth into the world. When Squint founder Steve Taylor writes on the liner notes that these artists "have, in their own way, journeyed beyond the invisible walls of the evangelical subculture," it is a hard pill to swallow. With the exception of Over the Rhine, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, and Vigilantes of Love, all sell and play primarily to Christians.

The evangelical subculture loves Jars of Clay, who also appear on "Roaring Lambs," because they are hardworking Christian artists who have scratched the surface of the secular music scene by staying away from the routine Christian venues, choosing to play smaller mainstream clubs instead. But do secular kids trust them as musicians, much less as advisers on matters of faith? Not as long as they are branded Christian by their labels.

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