Keith Urban, Faith, and Millenial Spirituality

Keith Urban just released the very catchy “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” Just so we’re clear it isn’t country, rather it is that ever prevalent mix of pop-rock dressed in redneck sentimentality and designer cowboy boots. Urban speaks the language of the average country music fan – nostalgically patriotic, harmlessly rebellious, and deeply fond of Jesus. It is a formula that works, and that isn’t meant to be a criticism.  I have been shamelessly listening to it on repeat all morning. Don’t judge.

Country music gets away with songs about God, church, and Jesus in a way that other secular music can’t.  Carrie Underwood may be able to ask Jesus to “take the wheel,” but other genres have an unspoken rule to be more subversive. Lady Gaga and Kanye West juxtapose Jesus with four letter expletives and sexual imagery. Meanwhile, U2 and Mumford and Sons use language that have spiritual tones, but sound ambiguous for the average listener. And therein lies a fundamental difference.  Our culture is accepting of spirituality, but skeptical of Christianity.

Many believers in Christ are faced with the reality that Christianity gets a bad wrap these days, especially online. Spirituality, however, is more palatable. One can believe in God and even Jesus, but there is something about the words “Christianity” and “religion” that rub people the wrong way. In my early twenties when people would ask if I was religious, I would say, “No, but God is the most important thing in my life.” People generally respected that answer. I considered it just to be an issue of semantics. However, time has turned those semantics into reality. Many have traded Christianity in for positive feelings towards Jesus, and an individually designed spirituality.

Does Christ meet us in individual ways? Absolutely.

Do we get to throw away Church? No. Even a deeply flawed Church.

In March of 2013, Rolling Stone published an article about Mumford and Sons, and highlighted the spiritual history of the band. Mumford, the son of the founders of the Vineyard church in the U.K. was asked if he “still consider(s) himself a Christian.”

Mumford replied:

“I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. … I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

Americans do a similar dance when traveling. The U.S. can get a bad wrap overseas; as a result I’ve witnessed a few American travelers pretend they are “Canadian” to avoid confrontation. I never played the “Canadian card” myself simply because the French thought I was Indian, Italians thought I was Greek, and Spaniards never bothered to ask. Strangers often complemented me on my excellent English speaking skills. At the end of the day, though, none of us ever considered trading in our citizenship simply because our passport wasn’t popular.  At the end of the day, we were still Americans and enjoyed the freedoms that citizenship afforded us. The same should be true for faith. We don’t get to deny our faith identity, no matter how unpopular Christianity might be these days.

Sometimes Christianity isn’t professed because it is illegal or disbelieved.

What a waste to abandon Christianity because it isn’t fashionable.

I understand presenting religious and spiritual ideas in a manner that others can understand.  Urban expresses his spirituality appropriately in context with his audience, he isn’t evangelizing. That isn’t the point.

But are we taking cues from artists who use ambiguous language and imagery, and applying that same method to our own faith? Are we trading words like “salvation” and “holiness” for “spiritual” and “good?” I use to think it was semantics, but realize it has become something else. This personal path has become its own religion, despite the fact that millennial Christians now seem to hate that word.

Let’s be honest, being a Christian isn’t exactly a selling point in our culture today, but I still consider myself one. I finally got over the whole label thing when I became Catholic. But that’s another conversation for another day…

As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read, and welcome your thoughts!

John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16

Written by Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman and Josh Osborne. Produced by Keith Urban and Dann Huff. Relased in June 2015 by Hit Red Records under license to Capitol Records Nashville.

I’m a 45 spinning on an old Victrola
I’m a two-strike swinger, I’m a Pepsi Cola
I’m a blue jean quarterback saying I love you to the prom queen
in a Chevy
I’m John Wayne, Superman, California
I’m a Kris Kristofferson, Sunday morning
I’m a mama and daddy singing along to Don McLean at the levy

Well, I’m a child of a backseat freedom
baptized by rock and roll
Marilyn Monroe and the Garden of Eden
Never grow up, never grow old
Just another rebel in the great wide open on a boulevard of broken dreams
And I learned everything I needed to know from
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16

I’m Mark Twain on the Mississippi
I’m Hemingway with a shot of whiskey
I’m a TV dinner on a tray trying to figure out the Wheel Of Fortune
I’m a Texaco star, I’m a Gibson guitar
Still a teenage kid trying to go too far
I’m a jukebox waiting in a neon bar for a quarter

Well, I’m a child of a backseat freedom
baptized by rock and roll
Marilyn Monroe and the Garden of Eden
Never grow up, never grow old
Just another rebel in the great wide open on a boulevard of broken dreams
And I learned everything I needed to know from
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16

I spent a lot of years running from believing
Looking for another way to save my soul
The longer I live the more I see it
There’s only one way home

I’m a child of a backseat freedom
baptized by rock and roll
Marilyn Monroe and the Garden of Eden
Never grow up, never grow old
Just another rebel in the great wide open on a boulevard of broken dreams
And I learned everything I needed to know from
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16

Yeah, I’m a child of a backseat freedom
baptized by rock and roll
Marilyn Monroe and the Garden of Eden
Never grow up, never grow old
Just another rebel in the great wide open on a boulevard of broken dreams
And I learned everything I needed to know from
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16

Keith Urban, Faith and Millennial Spirituality

One thought on “Keith Urban, Faith and Millennial Spirituality

  1. just ran across your old post looking for something else. kudos to you “Many have traded Christianity in for positive feelings towards Jesus, and an individually designed spirituality.” true so true individual relationship but every believer a part of the Body of Christ. She is a beautiful church & I will never be ashamed of her because He isn’t

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