I should, perhaps, not admit to the following in print, but here goes.
When I was in fifth grade, in 1973, I bought my first record, taking my dollar to the nearest variety store and buying the 45 of a song I’d heard on the radio late at night. The record: Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” with “Electric Funeral” on the B-side.
I plugged our portable turntable into an outlet in our pink and black monstrosity of a bathroom so that I could hear the songs in all of their splendid glory in that tiled-wall space, playing them repeatedly until my dad (the good Baptist Rev. Fant, Sr.) banged on the door and told me I had heard it enough for one day. I never told him the name of the band; ever since, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Ozzy Osbourne (the group’s singer).
Given how many Christian youth group leaders have castigated Black Sabbath as blatantly satanic over the years, I raised an eyebrow when I read Matthew Perpetua’s recent posting, “11 Bands You Might Not Realize Are Christian,” which included Sabbath at #5 on their list, along with a few lyric excerpts to make his point.
From what I could tell, Perpetua was using lyrics as his sole foundational grid for identification. He starts with U2 (though how on earth someone would not know about their faith commitments and love for scripture is beyond me) and moves through a number of alt-Christian favorites: Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers, Sufjan Stevens, and a few others that are pretty well-known to Christian audiophiles. Perhaps the only two entries that would surprise most would be those of Sabbath and Lenny Kravitz, the mystically cool rocker who has wrestled openly with balancing his faith walk with his celebrity lifestyle.
I would dare say, however, that there is a pretty substantial difference between using “Christian” to signify a cultural framework and “Christian” as a spiritual/theological commitment. What struck me about the analysis in the posting is that Perpetua was using the phrase “Christian” to refer to the basic worldview or presuppositions of a few selected lyrics. To call Black Sabbath “Christian” is to baptize almost everything in the West from the past two millenia.
Defining “Christian” is, of course, a pretty daunting task. Anyone who has traveled to a Muslim city will know that the “Christian” quarter is where one goes to find alcohol, tobacco, or prostitutes. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we would protest that use of the adjective. I suspect that most of us who know even the slightest bit about Black Sabbath would not lump them in with Casting Crowns or Third Day in any way, shape, or form. Just because someone refers to Christian truth in their lyrics does not mean that they are Christ-followers. The true faith is equal parts inseparable orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
As the New Testament makes clear, even the demons know that Christ is the Son of God (Luke 4:41) and that they believe that God is one (James 2:19). Mere knowledge and actual lordship are two very different things. In this life, the difference is significant. In the next life, however, it is of eternal consequence.
h/t: Russell Moore