Power Ballads for Jesus

MAKE NO MISTAKE: David Stowe glorifies longhaired hippie Christians with acoustic guitars. Moreover, he loves their successors, Christian rock stars who fill stadiums and blow out speakers with eardrum-shattering songs about living in the light. In his new book, No Sympathy for the Devil, Stowe doesn’t just hail the way that evangelicals effectively embraced aspects of 1960s popular culture to suit their needs. He celebrates the Jesus-loving leaders of the era who carved out a place in contemporary worship practice, where many believers felt estranged from mainstream values and society at large. Using music to spread their message, 1960s evangelicals began experimenting with rock and roll and folk music as a way to reach deep into—and beyond—their base. Stowe believes their work was both transformative and highly successful in making worship relevant to the post-World War II generations of believers.

Stowe’s premise is that the imagined conflict between evangelism and popular culture, in the 1960s or the present day, is just that: imagined. Rather, a symbiotic relationship between the two means both flourish, dependent on the other. Accordingly, Stowe dives into his animated, comprehensive history of the rise of Christian rock the way some believers might dive in for an ocean baptism. His chronicle begins in 1967 California, when the Summer of Love and the Jesus Movement sprang up harmoniously parallel to one another. He lovingly describes a time when Beatles songs were appropriated for covers such as “Jesus in the Sky with Angels,” and notes that many young Christians “found it easier to give up (or never try) free love and drugs than to give up rock music.”

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