When I was a teen, I didn’t know much about Christian rock music, but I did know that it was for losers. Big losers. Big losers who were probably barely Christian at all. Those sad, sorry people listened to those sad, sorry bands playing their silly, shallow little ditties. But not me. No way.
My best friend became a loser right around age 14. I had hopped a Greyhound from Hamilton to the far side of Toronto to spend a weekend with Paul. We sat down to do what boys that age do—probably something destructive—and he popped a new tape into his stereo. “These guys are Christians.” I scoffed. “They’re called Petra. The album is Beyond Belief.” I laughed. What a weakling. It really was beyond belief. He and I used to listen to Duran Duran together. Bon Jovi. Guns N’ Roses. And now we were going to listen to this tripe? Come on. Plus they can’t actually be Christians. Not good Christians, anyway. They play electric guitar! They’ve got long hair, for pity’s sake!
I endured it for the weekend, though I’m sure I griped and complained all the while. Or maybe I played along—I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember that moments before I left for home I scrounged up a blank tape and copied just one song—just one song to take home to my friends so we could laugh together. I ended up with the first song on the second side: “Underground.” Then I went home.
Sure enough, I played it for my friends and we laughed. After all, we were Reformed and baptized and catechized—we didn’t need Christian rock. Christian rock was for Arminians or Pentecostals or Baptists—weaklings all of them. It certainly wasn’t for the likes of us.
I played it for some more friends. I played it for my family. I kept playing it until I realized I was playing it for me. This song was saying something to me. At some point I had started to hear the lyrics—to really hear them. I realized “Underground” was a song about professing Christ instead of denying him, of being bold instead of intimidated. That was strong, not weak. Was I willing to stand for Christ? Or was I a weakling? Uh oh.
“Mom! Can you take me to the Christian bookstore?”
I bought the album and listened to the rest of the songs. It started with “Armed and Dangerous,” a song about relying upon God, then went to “I Am on the Rock,” a proclamation of confidence in God. “Creed” was simply The Apostle’s Creed set to music, “Beyond Belief” was about current and future hope, while “Love” was an adaptation of 1 Corinthians 13. And that was just side 1. I listened to it until I wore it out. I listened to it on my ghetto blaster, in my parent’s minivan, on my awesome walkman—whenever and wherever I could. I listened until I knew every one of John’s words, every one of Louie’s beats, every one of Bob’s solos.
I listened until I became a Christian.* Late one night I caught a glimpse of the ugly depravity of my heart side by side with the heart-stopping holiness of God. (A night, as it happens, when I was also reading a Frank Peretti book, but that’s a story for another day.) I was undone. I was redone. I was reborn. All of that parenting and Bible-reading and sermonizing and catechizing had done its work in me, but somehow it was just waiting for one more thing—for news of the warm and personal relationship with God that Petra kept singing about. It was as if their music was saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you’ve memorized the catechism, I know you go to church, I know you read your Bible. That’s all great. Way to go! But do you know Christ? Do you love him? Will you live for him?” I realized that I didn’t really know him, that I didn’t really love him. I resolved that I would live for him. I resolved to God and the four walls that I would live for him for the rest of my days. And on that night I began a whole new life. Petra had rocked me out of my self-sufficiency, out of my complacency, out of my depravity. Petra had rocked my soul.
*Or maybe I already was a Christian but it was here I determined that I would take my faith seriously and live like a Christian—I’ve never been too clear on that. I do intend to ask the Lord some day.
Petra fans: Remember this epic video for “Beyond Belief?” It was, of course, excerpted from the hour-long movie they created. Also, you purists, don’t bug me about using the “Petra Praise” photo for this article instead of the “Beyond Belief” photo. It proved remarkably difficult to find big, reasonable-quality photos from so long ago. Here, just watch this video of the 2015 “Beyond Belief” reunion and leave me alone.