Hear No Evil

By

In his new book Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost, releasing February 16th from WaterBrook Press, Matthew Paul Turner tells the story of the time God called him to be the Christian version of Michael Jackson.

I had a similar experience in my childhood, except God’s message to me didn’t quite go along with what he told Matthew, as the still, small voice of God is wont to do. When I was 18 years old, after being convinced along with many of my friends about the evils of dating by Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, God told me to write a book in the same style and with the same target audience. Except this one would let teenagers know about the evils of rock music. It was the role I was born for. I grew up believing that rock music was evil–and by rock music, I meant anything by Steve Green or Michael Card.

Of course music made by non-Christians like the Beatles and U2 was evil; that wasn’t even up for debate. But what many of my friends didn’t know was the danger of listening to music by people who called themselves Christians but used a style of music that was indistinguishable from the world. They didn’t realize the peril they were putting their souls in by listening to sounds that came straight from hell, music that caused natives in the depths of Africa to become possessed by Satan. Fortunately for them, I did. I’d read all the books explaining exactly how and why rock music is evil, the most influential one having been written by the music minister at a church my great uncle pastored. I wrote twenty-page e-mails to friends, under the guise of a Bible study, sharing the information I’d learned. I’m sure they counted themselves lucky to have someone watching out for their souls.

Matthew’s story of when God called him to be the Christian version of Michael Jackson started when his family was at Sea World. For one of the shows, an otter named Ollie went through a routine set to Michael Jackson’s Bad. When the music started, his sister was the first one to realize what it was. ‘”Cover your ears,” she said in her demanding Christlike tone. “That’s a syncopated beat if I ever heard one.”‘ After the show, realizing how catchy the tune was, Matthew realized that there needed to be a version of Michael Jackson that kids like him could listen to and look up to. “I imagined God’s Michael Jackson being exactly like the Devil’s Michael Jackson, except without catchy drumbeats, sexual dancing, and changing skin color.”

When Matthew finished high school, he knew that to follow God’s will for his life, he needed to attend Belmont University in Nashville. Upon arrival, he found he wasn’t alone in his reason for being there. Matthew writes, “During college, my friend Shawn was incredibly sensitive to onions, dairy, and the Holy Spirit. But unlike his allergies to food, Shawn bragged about his susceptibility to God’s earthly essence. When he and I met, one of the first things he told me was that the Holy Spirit had led him to Belmont to become a church music major. I wasn’t surprised, considering God’s spirit called me to go to Belmont, too. Belmont was a Christian school, so lots of us attended because the Holy Spirit told us to. It was such a common occurrence that sometimes I wondered if the Holy Ghost worked part time in Belmont’s admissions office.” Even though God had told him to go there, he didn’t immediately fit in because, he writes, “I couldn’t play guitar, which for a believer at Belmont was like being Jewish and uncircumcised.”

The rest of the book chronicles Matthew’s adventures at Belmont, the first time he went to a movie theater at the age of nineteen, his time as the manager of the coffeehouse/music venue Jammin’ Java, and his days as editor of the CCM Magazine, among other things. Chasing Amy, the chapter that documents his love for Amy Grant’s music growing up–when he was finally allowed to listen to “rock music,” that is–and the behind-the-scenes story of a time Amy appeared on CCM’s cover only after Matthew’s boss made up statements that he attributed to her because she didn’t fit his version of what a good Christian should be, is among Matthew’s best writing, and worth the price of the book for that chapter alone.

Matthew sent me the manuscript for Hear No Evil when he finished it back in late October, and I immediately cleared my calendar for the evening and dug through my record collection to select the requisite soundtrack for the evening, LP’s by Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. I loved Matthew’s last book, Churched, and have recommended it countless times, but when I turned the last page of Hear No Evil a couple hours later, the general impression I was left with is that Matthew’s writing has somehow become more compassionate. Maybe it’s due to being another year or two older; maybe it’s a clearer focus that has come from the stories Matthew gets back from readers who find permission in his story to process and heal from their own religious upbringing, messed up as they often are. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for it. And don’t worry, it’s still at least as funny as Churched. Still plenty of satire, still plenty of stories that will have you nodding along in agreement and familiarity.

As for my own journey with music, thankfully, I’ve come a long way in the past 10 years. I no longer believe that God only approves of music created by dead white guys or that I’m supposed to write a book advancing that point of view. And the music of Steve Green and Michael Card ended up opening up a new world to me–I even ended up touring with Mike for a season, as a part of his road crew. Like Matthew, I’m thankful that we don’t stay who we were as children, thankful for grace to grow, thankful for hope.

Read the first chapter of Hear No Evil.

Buy the book from Amazon.

Matthew’s son, Elias, convincing you to buy the book.


17 Comments

  1. rebekka

    Hillarious! Especially the part about Belmont…I have first-hand experience with the Holy Ghost in the admissions office. So funny. I’ve got to read this.

  2. Amy

    Great review of a great book, Chasing Amy was my favorite story in the collection.

    I just read this yesterday in the warm sunshine and enjoyed laughing, remembering, but also it made me think a little about just how much I’ve changed and I’m so glad for it.

  3. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Great post, Stephen. I’ve known Matthew for years now (I played at the DC Jammin’ Java when he managed it) and am happy to see him grow as a writer. I was on the phone this afternoon with Fred, the drummer from a band I was in back in 1992, and am always deeply grateful that I’m not who I was then. And maybe it’s not that I’ve changed so much. Maybe it’s that I’m growing farther from who I was trying to be and closer to who Christ has made me.

  4. Tabitha Croucher

    Stephen, great review. Glad I got to know you better in your post- ‘Rock (and Michael Card) music is evil’ phase. I don’t know if we could have gotten along. But didn’t you know that Mike is the ‘broccoli’ of Xian music? how could broccoli be rock?

  5. David H

    Some of the best records I ever owned came out of a dumpster at my Christian college.

    I attended Messiah College in the late 1970s and early 1980s after growing up on lectures regarding the evils of rock music. I just happened to take up residence in a Messiah dorm only a few days before the school radio station, no doubt guided by the Holy Spirit, decided to purge their record racks of all demon LPs.

    Some of my dorm mates had not been raised quite as properly as myself and two of them stood outside the dumpster as I hoisted albums into the air and inquired: “What about this one?”

    I scored some secular gems like “The Dobbie Brothers Greatest Hits” from that dumpster, but also pulled out “The Master and the Musician” by Phil Keaggy. When I inquired later, after discovering the Keaggy was a Christian musician, I was told that instrumental records (’cause they didn’t have lyrics with proper message) were also deemed UNSAVED.

    Perhaps my sheltered upbringing was a blessing. Unlike most of my friends my search for new and interesting music has continued throughout my life. I am not fixated on what was popular when I was in high school because I didn’t get to listen to that and never had those records.

    The dumpster-diving may also have prepared me for the 10+ years I spent reviewing music and going to clubs for my newspaper employers. That dumpster at my college was more hygienic than some of the dives I attended to hear new acts and interview musicians.

    But what I remember most from that experience was the sense of revelation. There was a whole world of great sounds I wasn’t hearing (why should the Devil have all the good music, indeed). But more than that, it was clear many of those singers and songwriters were searching — just like me.

    Maybe the confines of Christianity just seemed too narrow or the allure of the flesh was just too strong. Some of my classmates strongly asserted that point of view. To me, though, those tunes and even the worldly words insisted that beauty and, beyond that, truth were not the private property of those with a proper religious practice and pedigree.

    Today my iTunes is stocked with Casting Crowns and Counting Crows, DC Talk, David Wilcox and The Decemberists, Bebo Norman, Beck and Ben Folds. I don’t always agree with them nor expect them to be completely sympatico with me. I listen to some for the assurance I need and others because their longing, their uncertainty resonates with mine.

    How can I deny the ineffable joy and sadness of words like “And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot what sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought”? My hope, my faith is that those words are true.

    But by the same token I can’t discard someone who sings:
    “Town to town
    broadcast to each house,
    they drop your name
    but no one knows your face
    Billboards quoting things you’d never say
    you hang your head and pray”

    I see that truth every day and feel obligated to embrace someone who can so artfully voice such an irony, such an indictment.

    And beyond all that, I must admit, I sometimes just like to hang with those who rock. I want to join with that passion, dance with that joy, vocalize — even scream — happiness, desire, indignation and anger at the good and bad of the world around me.

    Perhaps it is a bit pat, but that’s another lesson from the day of discovery in college: Yes, the world often seems like a dumpster, but there is more than trash inside and even the garbage sometimes has a great beat.

  6. Profile photo of Stephen Lamb

    Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Thanks for the comment, David. I, too, love that Ben Folds song.

    These days, I have almost zero interest in listening to most of the CCM recorded today – it just doesn’t do anything for me – but I’m glad when I have the chance to work on projects for artists like Casting Crowns and Natalie Grant, because I know what that kind of music did for me growing up (once I started listening to it, that is), and I’m sure it is touching other kids-and adults-the same way.

  7. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stephen,

    Babies and bathwater.

    If I could only listen to music, and read books, and watch movies with which I agreed 100%, I’d be right out of luck.

    CCM can easily lose its connection with humanity and be merely a Christian version of political correctness – saying whatever will get the desired response (a record deal, sales, or approval, or whatever). An example of this occurs in Lewis’ The Great Divorce:

    “Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause.”

    Music, like all other art, and Biblical truth as well, is paradoxical. We must maintain a full recognition of Christ’s humanness, while at the same time recognizing He is God. If we lose our hold on the humanness of Jesus, we lose our connection with Him, because He came as our representative; to redeem us He had to become one of us.

    If Christian music only recognizes God as God, and does not explore our humanness, it loses its connection with the listener. Our humanity is a “handle” by which others can get a grasp on who God is. Without it, the truth is impossible to grasp, like the painters who strive so hard to express a universal that they completely lose all particulars, and thus lose all connection with the viewer; the viewer stands there and says, “What the heck?”

  8. Stacy Grubb

    When I was growing up, ALL music that didn’t have some sort of “Christian” tag was strictly forbade in my home. My dad, a rocker at heart, however, did keep us swimming in Christian metal and Christian rock/pop artists. Petra, Michael W. Smith, Russ Taff, Mylon LeFevre, Leslie Phillips…all among my childhood favorites. In fact, I still listen to those CD’s from time to time and sing the songs in the shower. The bad part, though, is that the “restriction” kind of added allure to what we weren’t allowed to listen to. My parents both worked evenings, so us girls found a certain thrill in finding Bon Jovi and Richard Marx on MTV and blaring them as we went about our daily chores. It was fun to know we were sneaking around and on the lookout. Thankfully, we could hear Whitecross spilling out of my dad’s black Monza from a mile up the road. When my oldest sister started driving, we were always diligent to remember to place the radio dial far, far away from any station that picked up reception (and being in southern WV, we could only pick up two, anyway) before getting out of the car. God forbid Mom or Dad get in the car and secular music be playing. We still feel that thrill when we recall the fun of keeping our music a secret. In a strange way, it’s something that brought otherwise feuding siblings a little closer. We were truly partners in crime.

    Somehow or another, though, the rules became lax and the devil’s music started finding its way into our household. Then I met a boy and he introduced me to The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Bob Seger, The Steve Miller Band…and I married him for it. Dad started pulling out old Waylon Jennings and vintage Aerosmith records. He rediscovered his love of Goose Creek Symphony and I followed him into that world of better music than I was hearing on the radio.

    I run into people pretty often who declare “Christian Rock” an oxymoron and anything with drums or that required electricity to play on an instrument the absolute Satan of music. So sad for them. I won’t argue their own convictions, but I will point out that their “wholesome” music often contains more acts of extreme debauchery that any James Taylor song I’ve ever heard (seriously, are they listening to their bluegrass lyrics at all? There have been songs about giving your heart to women of ill repute centuries prior to “I’m In Love With A Stripper”). Sometimes, songs serve to show what life can be like when God is absent. Sometimes, songs are just pure trash.

  9. Margret

    Wow! As usual, I absolutely love this—and all of you! The humor, the passion, the irreverence toward human tradition, the ability to fully express flawed humanness while pointing to the One who is unflawed and always there for us…. Thank you; thank you; thank you!

    With regard to Christian music, my experience is a bit different. In the religion of my youth, at least back when I was a card-carrying Witness, their belief that all other religions were wrong also spilled over into their view of music and what was acceptable to listen to. They were so concerned about being corrupted by false religions that we could not listen to any music by someone who believed in God. Yet, we could listen to everything else. In fact, it was encouraged. Strangely, they really did believe it was better to fill your mind with lyrics from a God-hating rebel than listen to anything faintly suggestive of God. And if you liked music from certain artists (even the dead white guys from hundreds of years ago) then found out they were believers, you had to stop listening immediately and warn others of the dangers therein.

    Twenty-one years ago I said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of life and relationship and immediately discovered a broad range of music praising God and/or describing our stumbling progress along the path of life. At the same time, the ears of my heart were opened to hear songs to His praise everywhere, even from those who weren’t designated worship leaders. What a delight!

    Living in grace after experiencing life as a Witness helps me cut through lots of legalistic garbage so when someone tries to pigeonhole music by insisting only some of it is acceptable, I remind them of what’s really important. Often I also point them to Jesus’ words about accepting others (the context is expelling demons, but the principle is the same): “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (Mark 9:39-40, The Message). Not that we shouldn’t do our best. We definitely should. However, when someone tries really hard and their intentions are good, I prefer encouragement to criticism.

    Thanks again constantly and consistently delighting us all.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

  10. Margret

    Okay, I need to amend what I recently posted: “Not that we shouldn’t do our best. We definitely should. However, when someone tries really hard and their intentions are good, I prefer encouragement to criticism.” Not that I no longer prefer encouragement to criticism, in fact I’m hard wired that way. But I just read reviews for a book I’m adding to my have-to-read-this-someday, Velma Still Cooks in Leeway, and my heart was so grieved that many people voiced the same sentiment, surprise that Christian fiction could be good. THAT has got to change! So I’m revising my closing thoughts as follows:

    Not that we shouldn’t do our best. We definitely should. In fact, we should think long and hard about anything we do lest the quality detract from the Giver of all good gifts. Holding that thought ever close to our hearts, when someone tries really hard and their intentions are good, encouragement and constructive criticism will help them do better.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

  11. Amy

    Margret–
    I just wanted to thank you for your thoughts because when I read your first comment I was challenged to think about it, I often feel the lone voice of criticism regarding Christian fiction. (from one who actually reads a fair bit of it as opposed to simply having read one or two books) but I always believe it can be so much more than it is. So I really appreciate your amendment because I don’t think we should ever be cruel, but I do think constructive criticism is essential.

    Also I think there’s a bit of a difference in judging who the artist is as a person or where they’re at with God than judging the actual quality of the art they produce. Learning that this is true for myself as well has been a long hard journey–I am not the work I produce.

    And lastly, I enjoy reading a full spectrum of response to art be it music or books or film or images because it reveals something about the person who has interacted with it.

    Anyway, a bit off topic, but your comment inspired all that thought in me. 🙂

  12. ToilingAnt

    I am so ashamed of the times I walked out of church because the youth pastor was playing Michael W. Smith… and of the time I wrote a letter (a nice one, but still) to the local Christian radio station about how close to the “edge” I thought they were getting with the music… and the times I was probably an embarrassment to my friends because I was so stubborn about not going somewhere or doing something that might “corrupt”.

    Praise God for his mercy to a Pharisee like me.

  13. MarE

    There is the other side, you know. The people who believe that if it’s over a decade old, God can’t possibly use it–and they’re becoming more and more prevalent.
    That is not the way you want to go. The hymns of our faith have been tested and proven-at least most of them have.
    Rich Mullins had good things to say about this, but I can’t remember where

  14. Joe

    Thank you “Thew” for the book. Just finished it. I enjoyed being able to laugh at some of the behaviors I took so serious before. Finding myself ridiculous is a bit closer to repentance than my early life’s version of gnashing of teeth. In Acts: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” This may be an out of context KJV quote but I like it anyways. Thank you for a great read, fun laughs, and a thousand “oh yeah, I remember that”s.

    And thank you for reminding me what a gift Amy Grant is.

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