Welcome to the evangelical Christian culture of the 1970s. Mark Curtis Anderson describes life as the son of a Baptist preacher, struggling with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll as well as guilt, grace and God. It’s a frighteningly accurate trip into the evangelical universe that charts Anderson’s crisis of faith.
The outlandishness of the evangelical culture is hilarious and painful, and the frequent nods to King James English are subtle and witty. Anderson shows a distain for campy church culture that will resonate with many, especially in the emergent church scene. But as a recovering evangelical, Anderson slides far from the fold. He closes with an appreciation for God’s love, but can’t seem to grasp much more.
It’s the church story you want to read, dramatic accounts of summer camp evangelists and demon rock record burnings. It’s the pastor’s kid who tries to be a good Christian, but also wants to rock out to Lynyrd Skynyrd. In the end you hope to cast off the superfluous Christian culture and embrace the sound theology of God’s grace, but instead Anderson holds on to much less. He still believes in something, but he might not be able to tell you what it is.
It’s downright scary how much I resonated with Anderson, partially thanks to the Twin Cities setting, but more so with his faith journey. I also grew up mired in a fundamental, evangelical culture. My church frowned on rock music (even Christian rock was taboo). I didn’t share the same wild exploits Anderson did with his girlfriend at Trout Lake, but I did have some intimate make-out sessions on church property. Philosophically, I’ve taken a similar slide as Anderson, leaning more toward a liberal theology that acknowledges social justice issues. When Anderson and his band landed in his college’s newspaper for inciting a dancing revolution, I wrote the “God is Not a Republican” editorial that spawned a two-page spread of letters to the editor. Judging from a reading I attended, we’re also both socially awkward.
But where Anderson stopped attending church and trimmed his Four Spiritual Laws to one (God’s love), I transferred to an Episcopal church and found peace in the greater diversity of God’s people.
Anderson currently attends the church-but-not-quite-a-church, House of Mercy in St. Paul, and calls himself a recovering evangelical. Though it’s not quite clear what he’s recovering to, Jesus Sound Explosion offers a front seat to a faith fallout. It’s no Prodigal Son story for the kids, but there’s plenty to learn.