dan haseltine jars of clay

dan haseltine, jars of clay bid farewell to the evangelical church

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Friday, September 7th, 2012

jars of clay dan haseltine evangelical church

dan haseltine, jars of clay bid farewell to the evangelical church

i caught a bit of interesting chatter last night on twitter concerning a blog post penned by jars of clay lead singer dan haseltine. apparently it’s relatively old news, as it was posted in late july, but nevertheless, after being discovered by patrol magazine, news it was even a couple months later.

i’ve had an up and down relationship with jars of clay over the course of the last (nearly) 20 years. i think their debut album was rightfully lauded as one of the great christian albums of all time. from there, it seemed, to me, like a slow march toward your standard fare contemporary christian music. it wasn’t until 2003 until i found some of their work that i could appreciate and enjoy. who we are instead is truly a great album and the first time the band explored a more folk-driven sound. since that time, i haven’t been very compelled by their music, but i’ve appreciated their lyrical depth and, beyond the music, their social justice advocacy. ultimately, they’ve more or less been ambassadors for the kind of jesus i buy into without doing it in a cheesy, sell-out kind of way like most of the rest of the christian music industry.

it’s with that that haseltine’s blog post is particularly interesting. titled an unfinished record, an uncharted path, the post opens up about the band’s near completion of their forthcoming album and a very different direction their music and career is headed. he writes,

Since the themes of the record are very far from evangelical Christianity, the church community will most likely not embrace this record. Which, on one hand, is a relief. I am pretty weary from years of pretending to be more of something than I am. I am tired of carrying evangelical expectations on my shoulders. I have never been so sure of my faith that I was able to find a true home in the church communities where we played most of our shows. Our particular style of writing and the perspective that we have written from has not been an easy fit into an artistic community that has such a massive agenda and only a single idea of how that agenda gets accomplished. I don’t fit there. I may have at one point. I did grow up as a youth group kid wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it. I did drive a car with a “Christian” bumper sticker on it. And at one point, I was sure of who God was, and how God operated. But I am not that way now. And so it is impossible to write from that old version of myself. I am in the middle space.

several years ago when david bazan released his solo debut, curse your branches, much ado was made about him “breaking up with god”. it seems in this case that rather than haseltine and (presumably) the rest of the band breaking up with god, they’re simply divorcing a very specific brand of christianity—a brand of christianity that has been the driving force of their fan base for the entirety of their career. i doubt the same to-do will be made by haseltine’s revelation as was bazan’s, but still, there will certainly be some extent of fallout with those who take exception to haseltine’s very pointed comments.

God gave us a story, and a space to fill. And it isn’t really in the same neighborhood as the evangelical church. And so our music will be disappointing to many. People will inevitably engage us with the question, “Are you going secular?” or, “Why don’t you sing about Jesus?” or, “How come you don’t share the gospel?” And some of those people will be angry. Some of them won’t have the tools necessary to understand that anger, or the fear that creates it. Some people will see our form of artistic expression as a threat. Some will categorize us as “back-sliders.“ I wish I had more patience and time for those people.

further, haseltine offers a broad critique on the status of church subculture. it’s one in which i can relate to and set forth, several years ago, to address as we forged a new kind of faith community with eikon. we wanted to foster a community that celebrated authenticity and honesty and depth and the embrace of doubt. quite frankly, we wanted to foster a community of things that, as haseltine eloquently states, are the antithesis of what has come to define the evangelical church.

These songs are honest expressions of what life around us looks like. The descriptions of love and pain, loneliness and hope are real to us. It is what frustrates me about the general church audience. If artistic expressions do not have an evangelical agenda, or they don’t explicitly cheer for Jesus, they tend to fail commercially. In my experience, the music with those kinds of agendas is shallow and somehow not ultimately believable to me. Ironically, what people probably want, and have a hard time articulating, is a description that gives voice to their experiences of doubt and faith and life, but they have been tricked into a very narrow view of where those descriptions come from. And so they often settle for the Jesus cheerleaders or worship songs that have been loaded with sentimentality but not reality. People set expectations that they are going to connect with real life during their worship services through the medium of worship music. At the same time, people may forget entirely or dismiss the movie that described a portion of hard life that their soul found resonance with, because it wasn’t in a church context. This doesn’t mean there is no space for evangelicalism. But it is such a tiny sliver of the entire pie. It is, “crumbs under the table. “

i’ve posted relatively large segments of his post, but it’s still worth going and reading it in its entirety. haseltine has lit a match in a room full of dynamite. an explosion is likely, but it just might end up being the thing that sparks a long-overdue conversation about a better way, a better jesus and a better church.

26 Comments

  1. Matt Prihoda says:

    Sir, a reply to your last sentence. There is only one Jesus, and He cannot be improved or made better. He is altogether lovely and needs no reinvention, only better proclamation.

    • Amelia K says:

      THere may (or may not) have been one Jesus, but there have certainly been many interpretations as to ‘who/how’ he was/is. My father for example. My father entirely interprets Jesus as the commander of an army. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in an entirely military fashion. There is absolutely only one way to look at Jesus in that mind set.

      That said, there are interpretations that fully see Jesus as the Jesus slain on the cross. That is all that is seen and the only way to interpret his words and actions.

      Other strains of Christianity look only through the lens of Jesus as the infant Son of God (that always makes me think of Will Farrell in Talledega Nights praying to the Sweet Baby Jesus).

      So, your idea of there being only one Jesus may technically correct to an extent. The Jesus you know may be completely foreign to the Jesus another wing of Christianity knows. So, yes, maybe it is time for the Western (read = American) Evangelical church to start seeing Jesus in a new way, to focus on different aspects of his teachings. No strain of Christianity owns the full truth.

    • darrell says:

      Re – Asking for a better Jesus – why not ask for a better tomato soup. At least that has merit and is possible. Of course, when doing an impersonation of intelligence anything becomes possible for you and Haseltine. I repent of ever buying their albums

    • Angela Terilli says:

      Oh my goodness! Matt, that is absolute truth and the very best reply I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Awesome. Thank you.

    • Angela Terilli says:

      Matt, well said. I totally agree.

  2. Kevin Bradley says:

    What about “a better presentation and understanding of Jesus”? He certainly showed different aspects of himself at different times. The Bible tells us that God does not change. However, the ways God approached His people in the Old and New Testaments are very clearly different. I believe He presents Himself in different ways to different people, because He made each of us different. My relationships with my wife, my kids and my parents are all very different, but I’m still the same person. I think what Ryan is saying is that the way we describe Jesus can and maybe should change. (Honestly, I don’t know, this is the first entry of his that I’ve read)

  3. Tony says:

    @Matt, He’s not referring to who Jesus actually is, but rather the perceived person that the evangelical community has painted him to be to the “lost.”

  4. Alana Andrew says:

    So I guess I’ll be supporting Jars of Clay, even more now….
    Tell the story of HIS real life, His real Love and His real light!!

  5. Ron White says:

    I loved Jars of Clay when I first heard them in 1997. From what I read in this commentary, I’m going to love their music again. Since that time, I have reached 63 years of age, attended seminary, preached itinerantly in a small number of churches, pastored a conserving church for a year as an interim pastor, joined an LGBTQI church as a straight, happily married grandfather,and have continued to study and grow in my faith past the conservative evangelical line that I used to preach and teach.
    I encourage everyone to learn with an open mind instead of a fixed idea about life after death based on a theology created thousands of years ago by a relatively ignorant people in a very limited culture. Celebrate what the creation can teach us about our inconceivable creator. For example, quantum science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that we exist in one of multiple universes. How does one grasp that truth when that science has no place in most versions of the christian religion? Read about the discoveries in physics of the last hundred years. Then think about what that means for the kind of god you worship. Science shows a far more magnificent god than the standard bearer written about within the ancient pages of the Old Testament, a god barely even discussed in the New Testament. Verses like “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God” can be understood ONLY in the context of physics which postulates that at the subatomic level everything vibrates – everything. When two tiny particles that vibrate collide, matter is created. What is a word but something that vibrates? Another verse says that “the universe is held together by his word of power.” Did you know that when things stop being “word,”that is when they stop vibrating, they fly apart, no longer held together by “word” vibration? Get up to speed in science and then reexamine your “faith.”

  6. Harold Bloemendaal says:

    It’s about time a bnd like JOC realizes they don’t have to live up to the expectations of what the “evangelical” church expects of them, but what God expects of them, to be real and honest about their faith and doubts! I cannot wait to hear their new music!

  7. Josh Martin says:

    I wish I could read this blog post by Haseltine in its entirety, but based solely on what’s provided here I couldn’t agree more with him. I have been discovering these same sentiments I’m my own life the last few years. My fear is that the majority of the Christian sub culture has become a facade disconnected from the realities of life as a Christian. It’s almost fake. I think the road he and the band are taking is genuine and honorable, especially for people like me who have seen this for so long.

  8. […] blog post (Note: Haseltine’s blog has since gone offline, but excerpts can be found here) the singer dropped lines like […]

  9. stephen underwood says:

    No one is obligated to do something they don’t want to do. But the last words JESUS told us before departing to Heaven was to go preach His Gospel unto the ends of the earth. For me as a recording and touring musician, I can’t do it for no other reason. There are those who like to show the Jesus tag three feet out in front but have no less sin than anyone else in their own life. Jesus talked against those who prayed out in the open to make themselves look important, He said those people have their reward already. They were promoting themselves.
    But I look at the ex drug users, the ex alcoholics, the ex sex addicts, the ex abusers, the prisoners, the people who have been emotionally hurt, physically hurt by others that have all been changed by God’s love and you’ll see the real people who are thankful and are only too happy to place the name of Jesus anywhere they can display it, those people are not fake, they’ve been down all the other roads before.
    I also look at the people who lived their life dedicated to building Churches in their communities, sacrificing everything they had, praying everyday for hours, crying out to God for their family and friends and to see their Churches survive financially and in other ways so that they could reach out to the surrounding communities for people to come and know Jesus. They are only to happy to put Jesus wherever they can display Him, those are not the fake Christians.
    I think Judging people can go two ways and we have to be careful on either point of view of Judging the other side.

  10. james says:

    Just another fraud. I’m close to abandoning CCM period!

  11. Pamela A says:

    “so they often settle for the Jesus cheerleaders or worship songs that have been loaded with sentimentality but not reality”

    What I hear from people, and it’s how I feel as well, is that during worship they want worshipful songs about God, not about “me.” They aren’t looking to “connect with real life during their worship services,” They’re looking to connect with God.
    All that other stuff is fine when you just want to listen to music but it won’t work for worship – and some of us worship all over the place, not just in church.

    Just my two cents, for what they’re worth.

  12. robert says:

    As many Christian music groups these days, Jars of Clay are primarily about making money from the very beginning. Groups like Jars of Clay enter Christian music to get exposure. Once they’ve saturated the Christian market for all they can get (once they lose the popularity they once had), they turn their backs and expose the truth of who they have been from the very beginning. It figures.

  13. Ando says:

    “but it just might end up being the thing that sparks a long-overdue conversation about a better way, a better jesus and a better church”
    There IS NO OTHER WAY, NO BETTER JESUS, NO BETTER CHURCH than the one God is sanctifying. God is not mocked, whatever a man shall sow that shall he reap.

  14. ando says:

    you make it sound so forensic and mysterious “finding the real Jesus”. How about ya’ll shut down every other book, movie, commentator, and musicians and just read the BIBLE ALONE. “All scripture is inspired” says the inspired scripture. Read it and the truth will set you free.

  15. Kim says:

    What Dan described himself as is lukewarm. There’s really nothing else to say but pray for them.

  16. Jax says:

    Translation: “My interpretation of Jesus is right and yours is wrong.”

  17. mark says:

    He sounds really arrogant. He makes the statement that others won’t have the tools necessary to deal with the anger they will feel as a result of Jars of Clay doing their own thing.
    I’m sorry but it appears he didn’t have the tools to deal with his faith when things got a little bit hard, it seems as if when he had questions instead of searching for answers he deciding God doesnt just do the Gospel.

  18. mark says:

    There are certain things you don’t just chalk up to artistic differences. Amelia K there was in fact one Jesus, this has been substantiated by secular and relivious scholar alike. A Christian is a Christ follower and unfortunately in our world people think everything is an interpretation, but my God (The God) deals in absolutes.
    If you don’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible fine but don’t turn around and claim to be a Christian. We’ve dilluted and compromised the message someich as to not offend anyone that we’ve lost distinction from this world in many ways.
    When Jesus saw something desecrating the faith he fashioned a whip and flipped tables.

  19. mark says:

    Then what could you possibly preach? You’ve stuck yourself on talking points rather then truth. If you don’t preach the Word of God you preach a different/false Jesus. This idea that Christians need to catch up on science then reexamine our faith is a sheltered one that is the culmination of never strengthening your faith. Maybe you should John Lennox, one of the world’s leading experts in mathematics, that he’s ignorant. Or maybe you can reexaminr your faith and see that God’s word is as relevant today as it has ever been. Or I guess you’d rather not read the sections about a great falling away or false teachers.

  20. lisa says:

    you might want to change the link to the whole article – NOT safe.

  21. Jo says:

    When I was at bible school we were constantly being encouraged look for the character of Jesus/God in each passage we read in an objective manner. This was an excellent way of seeing all the different aspects of his being. Some aspects would be what people like, others would be the opposite but in all we saw the truth of His character. I’d really encourage people to get a note pad and do a psalm a day asking God to show him his character. And not just to look for or dwell on certain traits but be open to those that make us uncomfortable. This transformed my way of finding out about who God is. The truth shall set you free.
    God bless all.

  22. Jo says:

    When I was at bible school we were constantly being encouraged look for the character of Jesus/God in each passage we read in an objective manner. This was an excellent way of seeing all the different aspects of his being. Some aspects would be what people like, others would be the opposite but in all we saw the truth of His character. I’d really encourage people to get a note pad and do a psalm a day asking God to show him his character. And not just to look for or dwell on certain traits but be open to those that make us uncomfortable. This transformed my way of finding out about who God is. The truth shall set you free.
    God bless all.

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