While I found Aaron D. Wolf’s “Solemn Joy and Hot Gospel” (Heresies, December) lively and diverting, in one small point I beg to differ. Larry Norman took the title for his song “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” not from Martin Luther but from Salvation Army founder William Booth. However, Norman would agree with some of Wolf’s insights on Contemporary Christian Music, judging from the interview with him that was published in the December 2005 issue of Gilbert Magazine, published by the American Chesterton Society. Those interested may read it at alivingdog.com/LarryInt2.html.
Mr. Wolf Replies:
My thanks to Mr. Wilson for drawing attention to William Booth and Larry Norman. In all likelihood, Luther did not utter the precise phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the good music?”—although, as I explained in my article, it is understandable why so many attribute the phrase to him.
William Booth did precisely say, “Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?” after hearing “Bless His Name, He Sets Me Free” successfully set to “Champaign Charlie Is My Name.” Indeed, the idea behind Christian rock, setting “Christian words” to popular music, is not new. The so-called Second Great Awakening, led by Charles Finney, was known for its lively popular music, and those who have heard the hymnody prominently used throughout the 20th century in Baptist and Methodist churches may have recognized a musical structure undeniably similar to the romantic tunes of the late 19th and early 20th century. (Listen to “Saved, Saved, Saved!” or “He Keeps Me Singing” or “In the Garden,” for example.) Christian rock, or Contemporary Christian Music, is just a continuation of that tradition among evangelicals (and now just about everyone else).
Larry Norman, as Mr. Wilson points out, is quite disgusted with the genre he helped to create. It is difficult to imagine how a man so well read in George Macdonald, C.S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc, and Chesterton could stomach the CCM industry, which, among its many sins, markets Christianity like bric-a-brac. Norman’s former brother-in-law, Dale Ahlquist, did this generation of Gospel rockers a favor by giving Mr. Norman a forum in which to denounce such marketing as a “lie.” “Pretend it’s just an afterthought that you are explaining Christianity to them and assuming the Holy Spirit will honor this deception.”
Still, we should consider what Christian rock was before it was perverted by the “industry” in 1973 (in Mr. Norman’s reckoning). Mr. Norman is unhappy that the devilishly entertaining rapture movie A Thief in the Night used his rapture anthem “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” as a “scare tactic.” Fair enough: But that doesn’t absolve him from writing the song in the first place.