A Man Out Of Me 4: Agents Of Chaos

(N.B. If you don’t do irony, do not read any further. You have been warned!)

What have we here, out in the open air of a public square, on a cool and windy Wednesday afternoon?

The speaker adjusts his microphone, glances at his notes, and then he fumbles in the pocket of his anorak. What has he got in there? He takes it out and holds it aloft for the passing pedestrians to see. It’s a football scarf! Dearie me! Whatever next?

What is next is five minutes on the subject of football and his favourite teams. I roll my eyes in disbelief. Surely he realises that football is the spawn of Satan? All you need to do is to consider the things that it encourages: drunkenness and disorder and obscene anthems, tribalism and fascism, gambling and godlessness on the Lord’s Day, idol worship and injuries, drug abuse and the debauched lives of young footballers who are then held up to others as rôle models! It beggars belief that he should begin his preaching with such stuff!

At last it’s over, and he gets on with the gospel message. But his witness is already fatally flawed by his enthusiasm for such an ungodly activity.

It’s my turn now. I put my microphone in place, spend a moment in silent prayer, and I’m off.

"Those of you who are even older than I am will remember what Eddie Cochran said (and here I burst into song): ‘There, are three-ee steps to Heaven…’”

And then, a few minutes later: “But, with all due respect to Mr Cochran, he was wrong! There are in fact seven steps to Heaven - and here they are!” And then, I get on to the gospel, trusting that my exemplary introduction has made my companion feel ashamed of himself.

Or is it that my own witness that has been fatally flawed by my enthusiasm for popular song in general and Rock in particular? Isn’t Rock and Roll really the Devil’s Music?

It all depends upon your own particular prejudices. We were both doing the same thing: establishing empathy by expressing enthusiasm, then moving on to what really mattered when we had aroused interest in what we had to say.

If you haven’t read the previous parts of this, you might wish to go to the blog archives and do so, in order to set my remarks in context. In the third section, I ended by affirming, in the immortal (no, come on, look up “irony” in the dictionary) words of The Dictators, that “Rock and Roll made a man out of me!” - as it undoubtedly did. The more observant amongst you will have noticed a rider to that remark in the last line: “But not necessarily a good one.” Well, of course not. Every human activity is shot through with sin, as is the nature of every mother’s son or daughter who has walked this earth - with one important exception.

But what was it that Cowper wrote in his poem “Light Shining Out Of Darkness”? “God moves in a mysterious way,/ His wonders to perform…” Some of you will know it from “Olney Hymns”. Is it true? I believe it is. Let me give you an example from my own life.

My burgeoning interest in popular music led me to look closely at the lyrics of some of the songs that I was hearing. I could give you hundreds of examples; here’s one at random.

The bridge at midnight trembles

The country doctor rambles

Bankers’ nieces seek perfection

Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring

The wind howls like a hammer

The night blows cold and rainy

My love she’s like some raven

At my window with a broken wing

Poetry or puerile doggerel? I’ll let you decide. It’s the last verse of one of Mr Zimmerman’s songs, and it sounds better set to music. But lines like these were enough to make me add poetry to my other interests. This had unexpected consequences.

Now I’ll summarise, or we’ll be here all day. I went from lyrics to literature (and poetry in particular), to accelerated academic progress, to the fast track for university, to many months to fill, to life in a library and fun amongst the bookstacks, to friendship with the most amusing man I’ve ever met, to meeting a young Christian, to attending church and sniggering and sneering - but then came the answers to the questions about this weary world that had been troubling me for as long as I could remember.

And then, unsought for and unexpected, light shining out of darkness: Jesus Christ and free and full salvation. If you wish to sneer and snigger at this point, then be my guest. It won’t alter what actually happened.

"His wonders to perform”? It still seems wonderful to me, even after all these years, and even after the times that have been (as James Cameron says of “Aliens”) “like forty miles of bad road.”

It is perfectly true that, in the language of the world in which I grew up, Rock and Roll made a man out of me: it gave me a sense of myself, and a culture that I could comprehend, and companions of a like mind, and an abiding love of music that will be as incomprehensible to some of you as the sports sections of the popular press are to me.

What it never did, and what it could never do, was to make a new man out of me: only sovereign grace and God’s Holy Spirit can accomplish that task.

Here’s an idea for you. If you want to see how Christians from conservative evangelical churches can come to very different conclusions about the same thing, go to SermonAudio.com, and download a selection of sermons on the subject of C. S. Lewis.

There are two main views of Lewis, both sincerely held by those who speak so forcefully either for or against him. To some, he has the words of wisdom that mark him out as one of the leading Christian apologists of the twentieth century. To others, he is a heretic from the pit of hell, whose writings introduce our children to the world of witchcraft and demonology. (One wonders what these critics would make of Philip Pullman.)

The truth occupies that awkward and messy middle ground: he was an excellent writer of fiction, a distinguished literary critic, and a terrible theologian. Was he genuinely saved, or not? I do not know, and it is not my business to pass judgment.

What really matters to you and to me is our own standing before an almighty God who must, whether we like it or not, punish sin in one of only two ways: either in us, in a devil’s hell for eternity, or in His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross at Calvary. Whatever our heredity and our environment have made of us, only Jesus Christ can remake us in His own image, to be born again into a new life genuinely worth living, which will begin when we come to Him in repentance and faith, and will continue with Him throughout all eternity...

Hang on, there’s someone knocking at the door.

I’ll have to stop here, since I now have to look after the young man who has been left in my charge. I can only hope that he will not be led astray in the company of an unwitting agent of chaos.

Now, what shall we do in order to avoid any such accusations? I know: we’ll go and do some gardening. You can’t get into trouble in a garden, can you?

Well, that’s what Adam said...