- Gray Sabbath: Jesus People USA, Evangelical Left, and the Evolution of Christian Rock by Shawn David Young
Historian Candy Gunther Brown has noted that since the mid-twentieth century, "evangelicalism has reemerged as the normative form of non-Catholic American Christianity, supplanting what is usually referred to [End Page 366] as mainline Protestantism."1 However, in the 1970s few people predicted that this would occur. In Gray Sabbath, Shawn David Young describes a lesser-known countercultural side of evangelicalism. Young explains, "This book explores a post–Jesus Movement 'Jesus People' commune that does not conform to our common understanding of evangelical Christianity (at least in the United States) or popular Christian music" (3). Through ethnographic and historical research, Young offers an analysis of how Jesus People USA (JPUSA), the Cornerstone Music Festival, and the music industry experienced ideological change in response to cultural pluralism. Young offers three core arguments. First, historians have demonstrated that most American communes are short-lived. Yet JPUSA has continued far beyond its 1972 inception. Young argues that JPUSA's commitment to engage and evolve with American culture has contributed to its longevity. Second, JPUSA and Cornerstone have offered new ways to understand evangelical popular music. Third, JPUSA and Cornerstone sustain a vestige of the original Jesus movement. Both the commune and the music festival have contributed a counternarrative to establishment evangelicalism (i.e., what is most commonly associated with evangelical Christianity).
JPUSA began as a traveling music group and an offshoot of the larger Jesus movement in 1972. After a year of traveling, the group came to understand itself as an intentional community. Young points out, "Despite heart-felt attempts to create utopian worlds, these groups have mostly ended" (27). The ones that have sustained longevity have only succeeded in anachronistic expressions of isolationist Protestant Christianity (e.g., Mennonite and communal Amish groups). However, JPUSA settled in Chicago and quickly became involved with the local community in the Uptown neighborhood. Based on their interpretation of the New Testament, the community engaged the problems of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness in Uptown. They understand their actions to be a type of humanitarianism that Jesus demonstrated in his life. In an interview with a member of the community, Young describes, "The mainstream evangelical church often evangelizes, she argued, without regard for the poor. When she considered whether the concept of evangelism includes social justice, [she] replied with shock, 'How can it not mean that?'" (76). For JPUSA, identification with the poor is an essential aspect of life in the community. While JPUSA's choice to remain an activist group defies common [End Page 367] understandings of communalism, Young argues that it is the reason why the group has been able to survive. The people who joined JPUSA all have some sort of interest in service. For some, their reading of the Bible has motivated this interest, and for others, it was due to their frustrations with American materialism. Whatever the case, it is this shared commitment to service that makes the community different from other utopian communities but also ensures its survival and longevity. Young explains, the founders of JPUSA "are still haunted by the failings of their evangelical brethren on the right" (77). The humanitarian efforts of JPUSA in Uptown are a response to the perceived failure of establishment evangelicalism to address real issues rather than engage in evangelism detached from good news.
Young describes, "Members often note that longevity is merely a result of ideological flexibility and a continued ability to accommodate (absorb) the surrounding culture" (93). JPUSA's flexibility and ability to accommodate the surrounding culture are due to the community's evangelical roots—the vestige of the original Jesus movement. The Jesus movement challenged mainline Protestantism by reaffirming a commitment to a literal interpretation of the Bible. In order to appeal to younger people, the movement "maintained the evangelical heritage of cultural engagement by embracing pop culture as a means of social outreach" (13...