Saturday, January 6, 2007

Review: no compromise

I just finished reading no compromise: The Life Story of KEITH GREEN, by Melody Green and David Hazard. As is obvious from the title, the book is a biography of Christian recording artist (and, many have said, prophet) Keith Green, whose years of ministry lasted from 1978 - the year he was saved - to his death in 1982. In that short time, he helped reshape the entire (young) world of Christian music and influenced thousands (perhaps millions) of Christians across America - and through them, across the world - to dedicate themselves to pursuing God at a deeper level. The book chronicles his life from his birth through his death, in greater detail in some areas and in less in others where the authors had less knowledge to draw on. Throughout, the picture painted is that of a man with a divine call on his life - a call that ultimately, despite his own flaws and weaknesses, he answered and fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit. The title alone describes Keith Green to a "T."

The book is a mostly chronological retelling of Keith Green's life. The early chapters skip backward and forward in a way that give insight on the "current" events being described by the narrator of the text, Keith's wife Melody. The narrative opens before Keith and Melody's conversion to Christianity, in days when they were searching for spiritual truth everywhere, in everything - from drugs to Eastern mysticism... to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The very first anecdote recounted is that of an encounter with a common friend of theirs outside of a cafe where Keith had been playing a gig. The encounter - like most with that friend - turned to discussion of the supernatural. As Keith started discussing how he'd been studying Jesus Christ, the discussion took a turn as the man clearly came under demonic influence, proclaiming he was Jesus Christ, and then being repelled when Keith instinctively snapped back a Scripture refuting the claim. The rest of the book is similarly aware of the interaction of the real spiritual forces of darkness so active in the lives of those given over to the drug-soaked and cult-obsessed ideologies of the late 70's - ideologies which largely remain unrefuted in the public at large even today.

From that one encounter on, Melody traces her and Keith's spiritual journeys, as well as examining Keith's early life as a musical prodigy who almost - but never quite - made it big in the unforgiving recording industry. From drug-loving, "free love" (that is, free sex) hippies of the 70's, Keith and Melody walked a path that took them ever closer to the saving power of Christ. They first came to see Him as a good teacher, a "spiritual master" to be followed in the tradition of following Buddha and others of that sort, then even a divinely inspired messenger from God. For a long time, they struggled with the notion that He was truly God Himself, that all Scripture was actually and completely true. When, after continuing to interact with Christian friends of theirs, they became convinced of Scripture's claims of Christ's divinity, both of them continued to struggle - no longer with their intellects, but now with their wills. Committing to Christ meant absolutely surrendering to Him.

One of the points that became increasingly clear to Melody the longer she and Keith were married, and that becomes clear to the reader the farther along in the book one goes, is that Keith was not a man of compromise. Whatever he believed, he believed with all his heart, and he brooked no deviation from that belief in his own life. He understood, then, that committing to follow Christ was truly a commitment to give up his own will and to live a life of holiness dedicated the glory of God. When he committed his life to Christ, he did precisely that. When he began to realize just how short of God's standard most of his Christian friends were falling, he set out to proclaim that standard. He and Melody opened their house to the needy, eventually taking over several houses in their area to support those walking away from old, broken lives into new ones changed by the power of Christ. Keith finally saw musical success, when at last he was able to surrender his dream of success and give himself wholly to working for the Kingdom of God. His music provoked the nation, and his tours led to changed hearts and awakenings of people's understanding of what it meant to truly follow God - to give their all for Him. I'll leave the rest for you to discover - as well as the details of all I wrote above. It's worth reading for yourself.

The text is easy to read. Melody Green, writing with David Hazard (who is mostly invisible as a co-writer and editor), tells the story mostly from a first person historical perspective, remembering the events as they happened to the two of them. In the cases where she was not present, she uses a third person voice, relying on the first-hand accounts available to her - first from Keith himself, either from conversation with him or from his extensive journals; then from those who knew him and participated in his life at the various junctures she chronicles. The book flows and reads well, as if listening to a story told by a friend. The simple power of their testimony helps, too. And I'm sure that Hazard helped immensely. He's an award-winning writer and editor, and it shows. The book never lags pace-wise, and it maintains interest easily simply by telling Keith's story in an interesting and compelling way. Each chapter is titled by the title of one of his songs - one that fits the material well. It's interesting to see how one's perception of those songs changes after reading how and when they came about. All of them become even more compelling than they already are. The pictures scattered throughout the text provide a nice glimpse into the man at a level beyond what words alone can convey, are well-placed, and generally add to the text.

The pros and cons are difficult to discuss in this book. On the positive side is pretty much the whole text, which is inspiring at a number of levels. It is full of reminders of the surrendered life we're called to live, and also of God's amazing grace to save us and continue to work patiently as we are sanctified after salvation. I cannot think of a single reason not to recommend the book. There really aren't any cons... save perhaps that it seemed too short. I read the entire thing in two or three sittings stretching over perhaps four or five hours total. It'll probably take a bit longer than that for most people (I read sickeningly quickly), but given that's the only con I can think of, I certainly have no reservations recommending it - with the single exception that you won't enjoy it if you don't appreciate being challenged and convicted, because reading about the convictions that Keith and Melody seized and ran with will challenge and provoke you. It did me. And it has a lot of other people along the way as well. It's my hope you are encouraged by that.

Keith Green's unflinching commitment to holiness, to purity, to the standard of perfection to which we as Christians are ultimately called, rubbed a lot of Christians the wrong way in the early 80's, and continues to do so to this day. In our modern and post-modern church culture, the focus is all too often on our salvation - our justification - alone, and in many churches in America, the message of sanctification is never preached. Rather, we want God to give to us, and have no desire to hear of the expectations that He has on our lives. To be sure, we must always remain aware of His grace and His mercy. But grace is not a license to sin; to the contrary, it is a free gift that ought to ever humble us and, if we truly understand it, break our hearts and draw us ever more to pursue holiness. Why? Because our holiness can only come through surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit - and it thus brings glory to God the Father by pointing to the mighty work accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross and in His resurrection. Sanctification is a vital part of the Christian message, and it has been passed up in a way that seeks to win more souls by not telling people the difficulty of the road before them (nor of the reward inherent in being made more like God!). In so doing, God's grace has been cheapened. Keith Green was a man who saw that cheapening and knew how marvelous God's free gift truly is - and went out to proclaim it to the world. I recommend that all of you read this book, and as soon as possible. You will be convicted, encouraged, and provoked to ponder again the marvelous work that God has done in us.

God bless you all. May you walk in His peace. May His understanding light your way. May His word be the light to your path and the truth to which you cling every moment of every day. May His grace be real to you like never before. Go in the power that dwells in you in the person of the Spirit.

- Chris

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