A Lamb Roars Back
Jars of Clay lead singer tells his side
BY: Dan Haseltine
I would like to offer some criticism of David Drury's critique of the "Roaring Lambs" compilation album.
I believe Drury may not have been the most appropriate of critics for this recording. His writing betrays an overt bias toward artists beginning their career in the Christian marketplace. The belittling of Jars of Clay, Sixpence None The Richer, and Ashley Cleveland as unworthy of the title "roaring lambs" made it clear that he was writing from a very skewed perspective.
Drury implies that as long as we wear the label Christian, we have little chance to affect the culture at large. He goes on to say, "Most of these bands are better examples of bleating lambs than roaring ones." Drury lists some artists who are truly "roaring lambs": Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, Lenny Kravitz, Johnny Cash, Bono, and Alice Cooper. He further hails Emmylou Harris' contribution to the "Roaring Lambs" album, saying she should have her own song. These artists are all deeply rooted in the mainstream music industry.
At the risk of offending Drury's sensitivity to cliché, this is a sure case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. I was sad to hear that Drury thinks the church and popular culture have no hope of ever integrating. If it's true that artists carrying the Christian label will never be as effective as those artists who do not acknowledge any ties to the church, we truly have a problem. If you have to disown the community of Christ in order to do evangelism, if you have to be completely "non-Christian" to be a viable conduit of the Gospel, Drury is a genius, and Christ was truly a fool. I do not believe this is the true nature of evangelism.
Drury might have been able to write a well-thought-out critique if it had not been for such a glaring blemish upon his objectivity. I could have let his opinion slide if he had not discredited Sixpence's No. 2 hit song last year, "Kiss Me," and their brilliant explosion from the Christian circuit into the pop music world, or my own band Jars of Clay's frequenting of the mainstream club circuit and our consistent presence on mainstream pop-alternative radio. In Drury's opinion, if Sixpence had no ties to the church or Jars of Clay had disowned their Christian fans, they would have been powerhouses for the Kingdom of God. I suppose we will just have to settle.
If Christian artists do seem to lack credibility, it's most likely due to people neglecting to champion us. Perhaps we should spend less time perpetuating long-standing stereotypes toward Christian artists and more time opening the ears of those around us to some increasingly credible and excellent music. If we have created music that is substandard, I beg you, make the proper criticism. But if we are making art that, given the right set of circumstances, is worthy of mainstream radio play and MTV attention, then leave the unfounded biases to the bigot and the anarchist. These are not the tools of the educated critic.
I also found Drury's reasoning behind the record's purpose to be a bit misguided. David seemed to think the songs on the disc were primed to live out the Briner philosophy by themselves. I think the point of this recording and Briner himself was sorely missed. Briner wrote a series of books for Christians. His purpose was to teach Christians how to live an influential lifestyle, so that the culture would be enlightened to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Briner's books were not written to impact culture apart from the body of Christ. He relied on the church. He trusted that we, the lambs, would read, learn, and turn toward mainstream culture with the new knowledge he had given us. The artists collected on this project want to affirm what Bob Briner has taught. When Drury wrote, "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?" he posed the wrong question. It was not about answering anything, it was about affirming. It was about standing next to. The proper question was: How can we help teach the Body of Christ about this amazing approach to living the Gospel? Using the model Briner established, we created a record that will hopefully stand alongside the "Roaring Lambs" books and continue to grow the church.
Drury asks, "What is the musical equivalent of dining with prostitutes and tax collectors?" In other words, what sets us apart and at the same time endears us to the culture we need to connect with? I believe the answer is unity. We live in a world where independence is king, and the feeble god of the individual needs only to serve the purposes of one and never impose itself on others.
I have just spent a week in China and Vietnam, where the single greatest threat to the government of the largest nation in the world is Christian love and unity. I am convinced of the Body of Christ's inherent power through unity. It has influence, and it has strength. We must not cut at the root and think we are freeing ourselves to minister. We may quickly change some lives, but soon enough our own life will wither. True Roaring Lambs are those who have the courage to embrace a church inhabited exclusively by sinners and failures, losers and weaklings. This is all to the end that we die to our selfish ways and long so much to see Christ live in us that we are provoked to radically serve not only our brothers and those who believe what we believe, but those we could never hope to understand or love. I believe this is what Bob Briner and this recording is about. I pray that Mr. Drury will examine further the heart of this project.
Peace and Grace,
Singer, Jars of Clay