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.