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