(It would have been Larry Norman's birthday this past weekend. It made me think back to when his In Another Land album changed my life...)
Larry Norman changed my life. His album In Another Land was the final key that unlocked my belief in God and my realisation that following Jesus was for me.
Oh, I had been reading books. Books that gave me a reasoned argument to the authenticity of the Bible, historical evidence for Jesus and even for the resurrection of Jesus body.
I was in a place where two things needed to come together. That God existed and that if God did exist I was up for God’s vision of how the world should be.
Now, some will say that it really should have nothing to do with me choosing what God’s vision was. It is about me falling in line with God’s vision whether I like it or not. He is God after all.
That might indeed be true but that truth was not the key to unlock anything. Our ways of evangelism often lack the crucial secret to unlocking doors to people’s souls. We have theology. We have formulas. We have liturgies of conversion. We have technical solutions but…
Human lives are more complex and more nuanced. Jesus understood this. There are no evangelistic formulas in the Gospels. There are no four point plans of salvation. What Jesus says to Nicodemus is very different than what he said to the Rich Young Ruler. What Jesus says to the Samaritan woman is not the same as what he said to Zacchaeus (if indeed he needed to say anything to Zacchaeus!).
Jesus way with people was very artistic. Larry Norman had a line “to love is such an art”. Jesus was creative and imaginative with his interactions. He read every human story differently. He assessed everything about them. Then he picked the lock. He doesn’t go in with a manual and go through the tick boxes.
Most of us find faith in different ways. We have different back grounds. We have different needs. We have different baggage. We have different starting places. Therefore we need different keys to unlock the doors.
For me as a seventeen year old I was at a point in my life where I was looking for answers to life’s biggest questions. I had been churning up the questions of rock music for a few years. Love and peace and truth were high on my teenage agenda. John Lennon had been singing:
I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight-short sighted-
Narrow minded hypocrites
All i want is the truth
Just give me some truth
That was what I was searching for. I was quite drawn to Jesus but I had a huge issue with the transcendent reality of God’s existence. When I look back now at my asking God if he existed or not I am aware that God’s answer was to turn up in my own life’s circumstances rather than handing me a tome on apologetics.
One of the very last notches or ridges on the key to my soul was that LP by Larry Norman. Now, I think my mate Philip knew what he was doing. He knew I loved rock music. He perhaps sensed that this was better than handing me another tract.
The cover shocked me. There was this guy with long blond hair, looking as cool as George Harrison. I didn’t know many Christians that looked like this. Could Jesus be rock n roll?
When my stylus hit vinyl and The Rock That Doesn’t Roll kicked in I was surprised again. Not only did this rock but it was really good.
It was then as if Larry started a conversation with me. It was pretty evangelistic stuff. It is even confrontational. Yet the poetry seeped through.
I've searched all around the world to find a grain of truth
I've opened the mouth of love and found a wisdom tooth
(I’ve Searched All Around The World)
Yellow fingers from your cigarettes
Your hands are shakin' while your body sweats
Why don't you look into Jesus?
He got the answer
(Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus)
Two roads diverged in the middle of my life
I heard a wise man say
And I took the one less traveled by
And that's made the difference, every night and every day
I loved it. It spoke my language, almost in my accent. I remember writing “He got the answer” across the desk in school (In pencil). God had convinced me he existed. Now he convinced me that Jesus wasn’t just for “uptight-short sighted/Narrow minded hypocrites”.
There seemed to be that vision to. Larry’s songs seemed to be speak not just to me but my generation. There was something that this Jesus was about that might just fulfil The Beatles’ hopes of love and peace and truth. Larry sings on another album “The Beatles said All You need Is Love and then they broke up”. I decided that Jesus was more robust than John, Paul, George and Ringo.