The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian

Jazz-Shaped Evangelism

Johncoltrane2 John Coltrane was not a Christian.  Though he was reared in his grandfather’s church and was familiar with the ways of Christ, he pursued God outside of Christianity.  Why he did not he come back to the church we don’t know, but I think the church has something to learn from him.

All too often, we as Christians assume unbelievers have had no experience with God.  Coltrane shows us that perhaps we should examine our evangelistic methods.  Instead of trying to get people to have an encounter with God, maybe, we should assume they have already had one!


Coltrane had had a profound encounter with God that was catalytic to his becoming drug free and had an acute effect upon the rest of his life.  What if getting people to repent of their sins is not the only way to convince someone to come to Christ?  What if the opening question is more along the lines of, “Tell me when you first experienced God?” ( I have been utterly amazed at the responses I have been receiving to the latter question.)

            That’s what Epiphany is all about…some wise men that were doing something they were not supposed to be doing…seeking guidance in the stars, astrology, instead of God.  God met them in their sin and gave them an astronomical experience of the Christ.  The woman at the well didn’t need to be convince of her sin all she wanted was to know how, where and who to worship.  Jesus told us that the work of the Holy Spirit is to convince the world of it’s sin (Jn. 16.8-11) this frees us up to focus on what it means to know and be known by God.


            Coltrane had experienced God and was in search of a religion that could reconnect him with God…the classical approach to evangelism seeks to convince people about who they are and what God says about them.  Maybe that’s the problem…people want us to present God not facts about God…when you've experienced God only God will do!

Comments read comments(14)
post a comment

posted January 22, 2006 at 6:43 am

I think you are correct. There are many people who experience God without a direct relationship (and/or belief) with him. All of creation is setup to give glory to God so we should find God in many places. I enjoy your writing. Thank you.

report abuse

Pete Gall

posted January 22, 2006 at 7:08 am

In fiction and in movies, the vast bulk of stories are built around the structure of the “Hero Myth.”
Oridinary world is interrupted and the hero (most often a reluctant hero) is launched out into the world to find the magic elixir. There is usually a gatekeeper character who explains some of the rules and who often shows up in at least one more “narrow place” in the journey. The journey involves trials and eventually grasping the magic elixir, followed by a journey home. Sometimes the hero has been so changed by the journey that the hero can’t return to the former life (in Hollywood sometimes the big explosion and a kiss is enough to put a bow on it… which is fine because we don’t really see the character as all that real anyway).
I think the Hero Myth is all about exploring what happens at the ends of ourselves. Ultimately it is about exploring what will happen if we follow God.
But I think the Hero Myth falls short because it is always told from the hypothetical human perspective – the journey has to make sense to people who still live in the hero’s pre-adventure, ordinary world.
Our real stories are not about a hero’s journey – even though they often take place within a hero’s journey. Our real stories are not about where we go or what we accomplish but about what we admit. What we confess. Who we say He is.
Romans 1:20 talks about there being enough evidence of God in the world that there’s no excuse for denying Him. This is true in our lives as well, and should be – to your point, at long last – a larger portion of how God is discussed. He does not take place in a parallel world, or in some Far Away Land – He’s been with us the whole time. Sometimes it takes the departure from the ordinary world for a person to see Him, to admit – to confess – to seeing Him. And even then it takes another huge leap to believe what Jesus says to do about it.
The Hero’s Journey sells because it makes sense to the Hobbits who still live in the Shire. Classical Evangelical tactics sell for much the same reason.
Here’s the rub I find when I think about a different sort of story… testimony is unfair fiction (because you can’t make God a character, and you can’t very well leave Him outside of the Machine, able to just drop in and fix everything… because then the tension means nothing) and it is lousy non-fiction too, because its core causes can’t be fact-checked and it demands a certain level of faith from the reader.
A faith that seems to have to be built by personal credibility, which happens either in personal relationshp, or else through a display more like Coltrane’s, where there’s something – some ache – created by his music that makes a person willing to believe his story when they ask what that ache is.
Almost like we’re supposed to let our light shine before others because that light somehow helps us see God.

report abuse


posted January 23, 2006 at 3:34 pm

What it be right then to classify him as an “unbeliever”?

report abuse


posted January 23, 2006 at 4:45 pm

That is the question…technically speaking I think that would be accurate. What I think though is that while people may be unbelievers they are not “unpursued” by the hound of heaven and most likely have encountered Him many times in their life.
I like the category of “God-fearer” that the Jews had in new testament times. An in and yet not in mentality. A “Court of the Gentiles” in our conversations with unbelievers.

report abuse

Forrest Drennen

posted March 23, 2007 at 12:45 pm

I have been studying the spirituality of Coltrane for a few years now And have just discovered your site. I have included a link to your site on my Saint John Coltrane page that I have on my church’s web site. As I write this I am listening to Meditations I have to turn the record over!

report abuse


posted March 24, 2007 at 8:14 pm

Thanks for stopping by and even more thanks for the link on your web site. I’m jealous, I’ve always wanted to listen to jazz on vinyl.
blessings and I look forward to continued discussion.

report abuse

tim atwater

posted June 8, 2007 at 1:18 pm

does this strand continue…?
i was blessed to grow up listening to Trane in my teens and a small batch of us got to hear him live with the classic quartet in a small club (Jazz workshop) in boston…probably this would have been winter or spring’66 (when i was 17)…
I believe for this unchurched white kid from the suburbs, hearing John Coltrane was a very big part of getting me to believe that God is real… and God is Good…
John Coltrane deeply believed in God… (and even if he was a bit hyper-inclusivist, better than the other polarity)…
Didn’t he do an album with a cut titled The Father The Son and the Holy Ghost?
I believe also that its not so easy to ‘categorize’ folks into believers and unbelievers… ala Romans 2, Acts 17… we may be believers in formation not yet knowing where we are…(prevenient grace)
anyhow — i’ve given away my vinyl but still have a half dozen or so albums taped and sprung for the Live version of Love Supreme a few years ago… which doesn’t quite measure up to my memories of hearing him in a small club… where the room was whirling the whole time…
thanks for this website!
tim atwater

report abuse


posted June 9, 2007 at 8:37 am

I’m jealous! I wish I could have heard him live.
You asked if this strand continues. It does. What you read was the final piece of a strand. Either look at the right hand column of the blog under categories and find “John Coltrane” or go to this link
thanks for stopping by,

report abuse

tim atwater

posted June 14, 2007 at 8:52 am

we were v fortunate to be in a right place for somethings at a right time… we also heard Mingus live (at Lenny’s on the turnpike in Lynn Mass), Dexter Gordon… Sonny Rollins… Monk… Charles Lloyd (i heard a few cuts from a recent spirituals albume a few years ago)… Sunday matinees were a dollar cover and a one drink per set minimum (a buck a coke for us) — multiply times maybe 5 for inflation, and we were working minimum wage jobs $1.25/hour after school… still — quite affordable compared to today…
We grew up w an odd mix of jazz classical etc… in our house, Bechet, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman (my dad knew Jimmy Rowles in high school who pianoed w BG and that made a big impression), also Jimmy Rushing… Ella…
as i grew up i went through a heavy New Orleans stage, then small band swing, then moderns and beyond, all running together then w soul and rock…
It is a good affirmation to find this strand of God working through jazz… as i struggle now as a still pretty new to pastoring small church pastor… i find texts yield much more for me if i can think and feel out the changes like, for example, now a Lester Young, now a Sidney Bechet, then a Johnny Hodges… Trane… Ellington… not that i am literally able to do this… but the Holy Spirit does help me remember riffs and rhythms that breathe interpretatively through the text…and help me connect w the ‘text’ of congregations and ‘fields’ of people…
I will go look again at your Sabbath post… because Come Sunday is always playing… somewhere…

report abuse

Rebecca J. Schaefer

posted May 4, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Lately I’ve noticed many treasured friends and relatives have been classified by me as non-believers, or pre-believers. I’ve been trying to listen more intentionally & attentively to the longer versions of their stories. What I’m hearing is that many of these loved ones were introduced to the biblical, historical Earth-pilgrim Jesus, typically in a formal church setting. They were taught the stories of miraculous healing and Christ’s altercations with the religious intellectual elite of His day. They know what happened to Him.
Somewhere in their personal story they may have risked an initial contact (or prayer) asking/hoping Jesus would save a life, DO something they needed special help with, answer a dilemna, or relieve some deep pain. The greater their hope, the greater their disappointment when the expected result didn’t pan out…Many times I’ve heard, “I’m glad that works for you, but I tried doing things God’s way and it never worked for me…” I’m left wondering, if the Trinity is immutable, then “why not?”
If these friends and loved ones are studying how Jesus worked & is, or is not working in their lives…then, by definition, they are Christ-followers. I’m left thinking my role may need to be one of tracing back with them where the break down in communication happened. Looking for biblical precedent, then leaning forward while entreating the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete) to draw them near enough for another conversation.
Just like me to rely on my own ingenuity…hopefully I can be malleable and attentive enough in the process so as not to push them further away from The Truth.

report abuse

Richard Maegraith

posted May 17, 2009 at 3:56 am

Thanks Robert for this website. I’m an Australian saxophonist in the beginnings of starting a church for jazz musicians. As far as I know, no one has done that here before. I see a great need to disciple and encourage musos and we do that at my place where we jam, eat, hang out and read the bible and pray.
Thanks for this article on John coltrane.
I’d never thought of the angle that you brought up on the wise men – very true it would seem!
Thanks again.
I’d like to send you my CD. Please send me a postal address,
In Him,

report abuse


posted June 7, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Not a fan of the term “unbeliever.” Nonchristian does not always equal unbeliever. More often, it’s a case of believing differently (as opposed to not believing at all, which is rare).

report abuse

Deacon Mark Dukes

posted April 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I think we should be careful to be so dogmatic in saying who is or who is not a Christian. By what standards are we saying this? Is it rote church attendance that makes one a Christian? Or is a matter of the spiritual treasures of the heart? I think such labels as “being a Christian” which is so easily applied to ourselves like some kind of merit badge that even hate and identity groups associated with the Ku Klux Klan can and does apply to themselves. But what makes a Christian (if the definition of a Christian is being a Christ like being) is the formation of Christ within ourselves and the love character of the spiritual seeker’s life. And if this is so than much of the so called Christians and pew sitters have fallen away in plain sight for could they even answer a simple question like, “Who would Jesus bomb?” in accords with the word of God. (The hell with church tradition!) For even though no disciple is greater than his master it is sufficient that the disciple be as his master. And our master is A Love Supreme and Jesus proved it on the cross. Jesus Christ is the incarnation of a Love Supreme made flesh. So here we have a child brought up since birth and filled with the master’s teaching and in adulthood duly he re-informs us of the very same Word of God that many of the apostate Christians have forgotten and you so dogmatically say he is no Christian? Good! For perhaps it is no longer good to be called such. Perhaps because that label have lost it meaning of holiness and transformation into the image of a supreme love. And perhaps this is the reason that John Coltrane sought God in other traditions and holy books and scriptures because he saw the hypocrisy of childhood religion. Perhaps he needed to do this to see God and even Christ more clearly and become more like him. On the album of A Love Supreme John Coltrane says, “Yes seek and ye shall find (quoting Christ) only through Him can we receive the most wonderful bestowal.” I wonder who is the “Him” that Coltrane is referring to? He is not quoting Krishna or Rama is he? Or perhaps the Bhagavad Gita or the Quran? No he quotes Christ and saying only through Him (who?) can we receive the most wonderful spiritual gift. There is the mystery of the Gospel and simplicity of the Gospel. And truth of one’s relationship with God and his Christ can be as complicated as the twists and turns of our path to truth and every unspoken thought of our minds. I would not so easily dismiss the idea that John Coltrane and even Gandhi a Hindu that was profoundly influenced by Jesus Christ don’t have the spiritual treasure of the heart that makes them a disciple of the Word of God personified in Christ. Would that make them Christians. God forbid! I hope not. Because this I see that many Christians no longer seek A Love Supreme but godliness as financial gain of filthy lucre that exalts American culture and white flesh. Such righteousness hates the poor for they see poverty as sin, thinking that the search for wealth is the path of holiness and the reward thereof, being distracted. Many of them that have said, “Lord! Lord!” will receive rebuke when Jesus says, “Begone from me you workers of inequity. You have never known me.” And as many that walk in love walk in God for God is love even A Love Supreme.

report abuse

    Robert Gelinas

    posted April 3, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    The simple, straight forward answer to you question is this: John Coltrane never claimed to be a Christian. I’m just being true to his own description of himself.

    Thanks for stopping by,

    report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting The Jazz Theologian page. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent ...

posted 9:08:40am Feb. 14, 2012 | read full post »

Celebrating National Adoption Month
November is National Adoption Month.  God is up to something.  The Bride of Christ is waking up all across this nation to the need to care for orphans through adoption and foster care. James 1.27 makes it clear that to be Christian is to ...

posted 1:42:26pm Nov. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sermon of the Week: Your Lot in Life (P6)
This book just keeps getting better! [vimeo][/vimeo] ...

posted 3:00:02pm Nov. 05, 2011 | read full post »

Guest Blogger: Patricia Raybon
A Ghost? Or Our God?   By Patricia Raybon It’s dark, cold and early. But I’m excited. On this morning, the most important thing I have to do is hear from God. And not just a little bit. I want to hear without limits. Isn’t that what ...

posted 6:00:00am Oct. 31, 2011 | read full post »

Sermon of the Week: Your Lot in Life (P5)
Good News:  Pure Motives Are Not Required Before We Serve In The Kingdom of God! [vimeo][/vimeo] ...

posted 3:56:39pm Oct. 28, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.