No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism. By David W. Stowe. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. 291. $37.50 cloth)

Stowe's book is a far-ranging sociocultural examination of the convergence of American pop music with the Jesus Movement that resulted in "a peculiar new cultural formation with unexpected consequences for the religious and political affiliations of large numbers of Americans" (p. 5). Rather than seeing music as a static artifact, Stowe emphasizes that music is a social activity produced by complex interactions of artists, fans, record companies, as well as, in the case of "Christian" music, ministers, worship leaders, and deacons. Throughout No Sympathy for the Devil, Stowe traces the connections among these diverse groups.

The book begins with and focuses on the Jesus Movement which sprang to life in the early 1970s and ends with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Stowe argues for a significant connection between the Jesus Movement and the rise of the Christian Right. The focus [End Page 508] is on evangelical Christian youth and their attempt to blend popular music with a Christian message that tended to focus on evangelism in light of the assumed coming apocalypse that would accompany the "end times." He adroitly outlines the history of the movement and the significant roles of such key players as Lonnie Frisbee, Chuck Smith, Arthur Blessit, and Hal Lindsey. While alternative religious movements got a disproportionate share of media attention at the time, Stowe rightly notes that it was the Jesus People and their new evangelical churches that would have much more impact in terms of both membership and eventual political influence.

Music played a key role in the formation of the Jesus Movement and its lasting significance. At times, Stowe seems to give disproportionate attention to events and people (Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cat Stevens, and George Harrison) that the members of the Jesus Movement nearly unanimously viewed with suspicion or considered completely outside the fold of Christian music. While these artists contributed to a cultural context that made the blending of popular music with religious themes more readily acceptable, Stowe likely overestimates their influence within evangelical circles.

He highlights the influence of Larry Norman, Andre Crouch and the Disciples, Barry McGuire, B. J. Thomas, and Keith Green, colorful characters who helped make Christian rock acceptable to evangelicals. Much attention is given to Explo '72 in Dallas as a significant milestone in the history of Christian rock, but surprisingly Stowe does not follow up on the important role of Christian music festivals such as Icthus, which blossomed to life in the years immediately following Woodstock. Likewise, Stowe gives much attention to pop artists with roots in the African American church, but he barely touches on the racial segregation so evident in both contemporary Christian music and evangelical churches.

Stowe does a particularly good job of spelling out the relationship between the launching of contemporary Christian music and its legitimization through its utility for evangelism as well as the urgency [End Page 509] given to the enterprise by the "end times" eschatology that pervaded the Jesus Movement. His emphasis on the impact of Calvary Chapel's Maranatha! Music, which helped carry the music and the impact of the movement beyond southern California, is also quite appropriate.

Stowe concludes his book noting that while the Jesus Movement may have had its roots (at least partially) in left-leaning politics, Christian music artists and fans ended up rooted uniformly on the right, which helped to fuel the popularity of conservative Republicans among Christians. In so doing, he paints a picture that is too monolithic. For example, Christian rock artists have long held ties with organizations such as Compassion International and World Vision in the battle against world hunger. Another example is Jesus People USA, an intentional community with a common purse that advocates for the homeless and poor in Chicago, which launched Resurrection Band and the influential Cornerstone Festival. One can find a strain within Christian rock wherein the equation of right-wing politics with Christianity is challenged (see...