Stop Idolizing Christian Artists: A Letter from Keith Green

NOTE: I ran across this letter from the late Christian artist, Keith Green, recently. Thought it was worth publishing here. All Christian musicians & speakers are not driven by a hunger for fame or wealth. For instance, I had the joy of youth-pastoring Christian artist, Josh Wilson, for 6 years. He, in my opinion, embodies the humility and passion of Green. So, please don’t misinterpret this post as a “one broad stroke of the brush”, judgmental sort of thing. Green’s letter simply serves as an encouraging reminder for some, and a pointed, strong warning for others. Blessings, Nick 

It was 1978.  I was 15 years old and had only recently started attending church.  A 20-something guy walked up to me one Wednesday evening and said, “Hey man, I heard you like to play the piano.  You need to check this dude out.”  He then handed me a recording of Keith Green’s album, “For Him Who Has Ears to Hear.”  My life would never be the same.

keith-green

I cannot, in mere words, emphasize how much that moment impacted my life, both, as a Christian and as a musician.  (I play and sing his “Easter Song” every Easter Sunday morning to open our worship services.)  Green was unlike anyone I had ever before experienced.  Not since Green have I heard anything similar to his “Prodigal Son Suite” or his “Sheep and the Goats.” He was every bit as much of a theologian as he was an accomplished musician.  Further, he wrote with a rawness that was – and is – all too rare:  “My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard, my prayers are cold; and I know how I ought to be – alive to You, and dead to me.”

And his music was infectious.

The summer of that same year (1978), I worked at a Fireworks Stand to help supplement the income I received at my other part-time job.  My boss allowed me to play Green’s music as we worked.  Many folks would swing by between midnight and 2am to purchase fireworks.  They would ask, “Who is that playing the piano?”  I would tell them and then watch them dance their way back to their car. 🙂

I can still remember, after being given Green’s “For Him Who Has Ears to Hear” that day, visiting our local Christian music store and seeing a unique sticker on all of Green’s albums.  The sticker said, “If you cannot afford this album simply take it to the counter and you will receive it free of charge.”  After reading Green’s biography, “No Compromise,” I learned that when he stood up and informed the Christian music industry he wanted to give away his albums to those who could not pay they thought he was nuts.  But, Green had no interest in becoming a celebrity; rather, he wanted to be a servant and an evangelist.

While still living in southern California, Green and his wife, Melody, used the income from record sales to buy and rent homes in their neighborhood to house the homeless and help get them back on their feet.    Eventually, that led to the purchase of 140 acres just north of Tyler, TX, where Keith and Melody could expand their ministry which they called, Last Days Ministries.

And it’s there in East Texas that tragedy struck.

On July 28, 1982, Keith and two of his children, were flying in a small plane over the new property showing it to some friends.  Shortly after take-off the plane crashed and exploded upon impact.  Everyone on board perished.  Keith was 28.

There is so much more I could write about Keith Green, but I felt that this little bit of background might offer helpful insight into the following letter.  The letter, published in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) Magazine’s 35th Anniversary Issue, was, according to CCM, “birthed out of Keith’s encounters with those who approached him, usually after a concert, to ask how they too could ‘make it big’ in Christian music.”

Here’s Green’s letter:

“My dearest family in Jesus, why are we so star struck?  Why do we idolize Christian singers and speakers?  We go from glorifying musicians in the world, to glorifying Christian musicians.  It’s all idolatry!

“Can’t you see that you are hurting these ministers?  They try desperately to tell you that they don’t deserve to be praised, and because of this you squeal with delight and praise them all the more.  You’re smothering them, crushing their humility and grieving the Spirit that is trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.

“How come no one idolizes or praises the missionaries who give up everything?  How come no one exalts the ghetto and prison ministers who can never take up an offering, because if they did they would laugh or cry at what they’d receive..?

“Do you really believe we’re living in the very last times?  Then why do you spend more money on Gospel records and concerts than you give to organizations that feed the poor, or to missionaries out in the field?

“I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music – and more importantly my life – has not provoked you to sell out more completely to Jesus!

“Quit trying to make ‘gods’ out of [Christian artists], and quit desiring to become like them.  The only music minister to whom the Lord will say, ‘Well done, they good and faithful servant,’ is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life.

“Let’s all repent of the idolatry in our hearts and our desires for a comfortable, rewarding life when, really, the Bible tells us we are just passing through as strangers and pilgrims in this world, for our reward is in heaven.  Let us die graciously together and endure to the end like brave soldiers who give their lives, without hesitation, for our noble and glorious King of Light.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick