catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 19 :: 2004.11.19 — 2004.12.02


Apocalyptic draw

It's always fascinating to me that liberal folks, who are seen by some as anti-religious, have a deep, conflicted respect for the faith of artists like Nick Cave, Johnny Cash and Bono. For seemingly inexplicable reasons, they are drawn to the apparent contradiction between the music of these songwriters and the institutionalized religion their experience tells them is Christianity.

In a recent article on about Nick Cave, for example, Thomas Bartlett recognizes that "Cave's use of Christian imagery is different" from other songwriters using religious imagery "in that he is a believer." But he then lays out the contradiction many find so puzzling:


Rock 'n' roll, which so prides itself on being anti-establishment, and Christianity, the ultimate establishment, make uncomfortable bedfellows—is there [a] genre of music more reliably atrocious than Christian rock? Dylan went electric and his fans revolted. Dylan went born again and they were so stunned and horrified that they went into denial and pretended he didn't exist—at least until he distanced himself from Christianity a decade later. But with Dylan, there's always the niggling, in this case welcome, suspicion that he doesn't really mean it, that he's just toying with the world, having some fun, being cryptically ironic. With Cave, that interpretation does not work. He is a deeply, unsettlingly sincere artist. Fans and music critics alike seem to have settled on a policy of just ignoring Cave's religion.


The fact that Christianity can be seen as the established order is more than a little disturbing, particularly because the Church's prophetic calling would seemingly prohibit it from becoming just that. The apocalyptic work by Cave and others, then, is vital in its prophetic voice, uncovering a radically different Kingdom reality than even many Christians see or understand. And I think it is precisely in challenging Christianity as "the ultimate establishment" that these artists find their appeal. The Kingdom reality to which they attest is attractive precisely because it witnesses to a world that wouldn't make sense if God didn't exist.

It's jarring to think that even the institution of Christianity itself needs to transformed and redeemed. But it makes perfect sense. If we acknowledge that the entire cosmos is fallen and is actively being redeemed through Spirit-filled work done in the power of Christ's resurrection, then it naturally follows that systems will also be redeemed—including Christianity as a system. The people involved in this work are calling all of us, including themselves, to lead more faithful and obedient lives in service to God and others. Such a call takes Bartlett's accurate assertion, flips it on its head and makes Christianity the most anti-establishment force in the world today.

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