The Strange Journey of Christian Rock and Roll

Randall Stephens’s history pays attention to political and cultural flash points—without losing focus on the music itself.

Every few years, it seems, what some call the “mainstream media” rediscover Christian rock. Sometimes it’s treated with reverence and respect, as in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s now-classic 2004 account of tagging along at a Christian music festival for GQ. More often, it’s treated like a sociological oddity: a strange footnote in the history of American pop, a foreign culture to be explained with an anthropologist’s rigorous eye. Just this September, The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh wrote a mini-history of Christian music (“The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock”) that took the genre seriously, but still contained whiffs of the incredulous stance preferred by many music writers: Can you believe that band you like—take your pick from among U2, Bob Dylan. Paramore, Evanescence, Switchfoot, Sixpence None the Richer, The Killers, and the list goes on—might actually be Christian?

What Sanneh’s piece got right, thankfully, was its attention to just how common Christian pop music is today—how central it is, in sometimes unrecognized ways, to American popular culture. (Though when he says this would have been hard to imagine in 1969, I’m not so sure; “Spirit in the Sky” was a hit single that year, and the previous year saw the release of perhaps the most overtly religious rock record of all time, The Electric Prunes’s Mass in F Minor.)

Indeed, Christian rock has had a strange and circuitous journey back to the center of American culture. Randall J. Stephens’s The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll describes this sometimes paradoxical path. Stephens traces the roots of …

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John Chau, Missions, and Spreading Disease: What Do We Really Know?

An interview with experts.

Ed: What is the danger when someone from outside comes into contact with an uncontacted tribe like John Chau did with the Sentinelese?

Dr. Kristen Page: Any time you have a naïve population coming into contact with “outsiders” for the first time, you have a risk of disease transmission. There are numerous examples of diseases being moved around by a host (person) who shows no symptoms.

One of the more publicized recent examples is the import of Cholera to Haiti by UN aid workers responding to the earthquake. In U.S. history, the importation by colonists of smallpox, influenza, measles, and tuberculosis caused significant loss of life for indigenous peoples.

I realize that the missionary vaccinated himself and quarantined himself, but effective vaccines for parasites do not really exist. Vaccines are in development for malaria, leishmaniasis, and hookworm, but Mr. Chau would not have had access to them as they are only in the testing stage of development. Most vaccines he would have received would be for viruses. I’m not sure how long he was quarantined, but that wouldn’t necessarily help prevent the transmission of a bacterium or a parasite that is patent (shedding infective stages), but not causing symptoms, because he would not have been treated for them.

Dr. Vanya Koo: Lack of immunity is always a risk for disease transmission. The Conquistadors in South and North America are good examples where the native naïve populations were decimated – some unintentionally, but some on purpose – by the diseases that missionaries brought with them.

Based on my searches, there are no ‘modern’ history records of a missionary transmitting an infectious disease to a previously-unreached population. …

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6.2-carat ring that sent Scottsdale lawyer to prison auctioned off at a discount

A $90K diamond ring that’s at the center of a fraud case and sent a high-profile lawyer to prison hit the auction block Wednesday




Scottsdale offices to be torn down to make way for new Kierland apartments

Homebuilder Lennar Corp. purchased two Scottsdale office buildings in Kierland that it plans to tear down to make way for new luxury apartments




Giving Until It Hurts

God sent his only Son. Why couldn’t I let my husband donate a kidney?

The nurse hands my husband a bag for personal belongings and a bundle that includes a hospital gown, nonskid socks, and a heavy blanket. As Mike undresses, the weightiness of the moment is almost palpable. I do not allow myself to think of our four kids still sleeping right now at my parents’ house, an hour away from us here in the University of California, San Francisco hospital surgical wing. I push back at all the what-ifs that punctuate my thoughts like the beloved freckles that dapple my husband’s face. There is no doubt in my mind that we are meant to be here, but outcomes are never assured, and I tend toward worst-case scenario thinking.

A year ago, this journey had started off with a car ride conversation on the way to a neighbor’s wedding. “What would you think if I donated a kidney?” he asked casually.

My internal reaction: What if you die?! Who would you donate to, anyway? What if one of our four young kids or our relatives needs a transplant someday? What if I do? What if you get kidney disease or get in a car accident and injure the only kidney you have left? What are you thinking?!

My audible reply: “Why would you want to do that?”

It turned out Mike had read a magazine article and, not long after, happened upon a podcast on the possible domino effect of altruistic kidney donation. He thought it would be a nice thing to do. A youth group student of his had received a donation from his brother and it had gone well. Maybe there was someone out there who could benefit from his “extra” kidney as, medically speaking, a person only needs one.

I didn’t leave that conversation convinced, but his earnest sense of calling was enough for us to research next steps. …

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John Chau, Missions, and Lessons to be Learned

There are things about Chau’s story that raise questions worth our consideration.

Missions, as the world has seen this month, is controversial.

John Chau’s missionary journey to North Sentinel Island has captured the attention of the world. Many have written their thoughts, and I’ve done my share as well (see part 1 here and my Washington Post article here).

Many hot takes were written, and people were understandably passionate. As this news has faded from its fever pitch, I’d like to think through some of the missiological questions that still need to be addressed.

It is important to note that we can still appreciate Chau’s passion while we also consider and discuss some of his methodology.

We’re going to do that here.

My guess is that many missiologists will be doing that for years to come.

(Wheaton College missions professor, and former missionary working with tribes in Papuau New Guinea, had an early discussion on a recent Facebook live.)

John Chau

Let me first begin by saying that Chau’s death is tragic and grieves me personally as a missiologist and a catalyst for missionaries. We learn from his social media, journals, friends, family, and preparation that John had a genuine passion for unreached people groups, and he was seeking to share the love of Jesus with people around the world. This is commendable and brave, especially all of his preparation in the many years leading up to this encounter.

I wish that so many Christians sitting at home unengaged in God’s mission would be a lot slower to criticize.

His passion is a key factor of his story that is important to note, highlight, and celebrate. It takes a brief moment of bravery to do one extraordinary action, but Chau’s deep conviction is evidenced by his years of working toward his engagement of the people of …

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Maricopa County Sheriff's Office wrestles with bias amid post-Arpaio overhaul

Sheriff Paul Penzone is steadily making progress in carrying out a court-ordered overhaul of an agency found to have racially profiled Latinos.




Woman suspected of child neglect, being intoxicated at Scottsdale resort

Staff at a Scottsdale resort told police Emma Welch was intoxicated and her children were naked in the resort’s pool area last Friday.




The Culture Wars Are Ancient History

Today’s fights over the religion in the public square are replays of fights from two thousand years ago.

In The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), T. S. Eliot saw a conflict between Christianity and paganism shaping the 20th century. Steven D. Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City applies Eliot’s map to today’s culture wars, especially in the United States.

It’s common to portray the culture war as a battle between people who favor a public role for religion and people who want to keep religion locked securely in the private realm. Smith argues, however, that our frameworks and language obscure a deeper reality: The real fight isn’t between religion and secularism, but between two kinds of religion. His book makes the case that today’s culture war shares much in common with the culture war that rocked ancient Rome.

The Romans were pragmatic and worldly, yet they believed their greatest strength was devotion to the empire’s gods. This was evident in public rituals, architecture, the role of divination, and the military. Rome, in short, was a “city of the gods.”

The paganism of Rome treated the world itself as sacred. But Christianity introduced a radically different perspective. Christians—while affirming the world’s goodness—located the sacred in another world altogether. In other words, paganism was an immanent form of religiosity, while Christianity embraced the transcendent.

Take, for instance, their competing approaches toward sexuality. For the Romans, sex provided pleasure and progeny, but they also viewed it as a divine imperative that shared in the energy of the universe. (Some pagan religious festivals included sex shows.) Christians did not claim that sex and reproduction were wrong, though Augustine and others insisted that sexual desire in …

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Reflecting on Our Posture Toward Sexual Abuse Survivors

What can we learn from the story of Tamar and Amnon?

I was moved and astonished as the pastor spoke. He was preaching about the rape of Tamar. Tamar was the beautiful virgin daughter of King David who was raped by her brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13).

The pastor was acknowledging that the people of God caused suffering and that traumatic events could happen in holy places.

I must admit I was surprised at such a bold message coming from the pulpit, and it stirred hope within me.

Unfortunately, those feelings were short-lived as the pastor wrapped up his message with a warning that although these things happen, we ought not to talk about them to people outside of our families—if we dare speak about them at all.

At that moment, my heart broke, and my anger rose. It was as if the breath had been knocked out of me. I wondered how many others in the pews around me had experiences of trauma and abuse, how many were feeling the beginnings of hope, of the opening of space to share stories that need sacred space to be told, to receive help, only to have it crushed in an instant.

Sadly, this is something that appears to be common in many communities of faith—being silent on matters of abuse and silencing and shaming survivors of various forms of sexual trauma.

However, if we examine the story of 2 Samuel 13, we see that being silent and not naming the evil that had been done to Tamar caused more turmoil and wrath within the family unit.

In my work as a psychologist, one of the things that is most detrimental to survivors is the dismissal and silencing of the survivor by those they chose to turn to for help.

After being silenced by her brother Absalom (2 Sam. 13:20), to whom she turned, Tamar is described as a “bitter and desolate” woman. Not only had her rights been violated …

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