Keith Green and no compromise

The Standard October 7, 2021

On Friday a documentary entitled “The Jesus Music” hit movie theaters. It chronicles the history of contemporary Christian music, whose beginnings were rooted in “The Jesus People Movement” which started in California in the late 1960s. One of the most important Christian revivals in modern U.S. history, this phenomenon occurred with the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of thousands of young people who had been left with the turbulence of the 60s causing disillusionment with establishment thinking and materialism. Many were hippies who sought love and peace but did not find satisfaction in drugs or free love.  

One such seeker was Keith Green, a talented musician who at a young age was dubbed by Time magazine as Decca Records’ “prepubescent dreamboat.” Although Green had the support of his experienced, wise parents, his dreams of stardom as a young teen were dashed with setback after setback. He continued to pursue a career in music, at times struggling to bring in the crowds required by the clubs where he performed. Green met Melody Steiner, a fellow musician and spiritual seeker, when he was 19. They married one year later. Green asked profound questions about almost everything and was intense in his desire to find answers to the meaning of life. Eastern mysticism, assorted religions and drug use failed to fill the void for him. Out of all of the spiritual leaders he studied, Green kept coming back to Jesus, although he was not convinced Jesus was God. Still, Green was impressed with the way Christ lived and decided to become a follower. Melody joined him in this. After countless late-night spiritual discussions with fellow musicians, one who had become a Christian pointed them to the claims of the deity of Christ in the Bible. A passage in Hebrews finally helped convince them.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.’” (Hebrews 1:1-5, 8)

As with anything Green did, he became all-in for Jesus. He and Melody began collaborating on worship songs. Often, he sang the songs she wrote. One particular song is found in hymnals and songbooks across the globe. “There is a Redeemer, Jesus, God’s own Son, precious Lamb of God, Messiah, Holy One. Jesus, my Redeemer, name above all names, precious Lamb of God, Messiah, O for sinners slain. Thank you, O my Father for giving us Your Son and leaving your Spirit ‘til the work on earth is done.”

Green released five top-selling albums before he was 29, but was convicted that anyone who could not afford his music should get it for free. People could order an album or get one at a concert and simply pay what they were able. He shipped over 200,000 “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt” albums, and 61,000 of those were free. He and Melody mortgaged their home to finance that album. In Christian bookstores, his album came with a free cassette to share with a friend. Green took the call of Christ for hospitality very seriously, so he and his wife opened their small home to strangers in need. Eventually they bought the house next door and rented five more in the neighborhood. They offered food, Bible Study, prayer and friendship.

Often a polarizing figure, Green could not understand Christians who were not “sold out” for Jesus. In his mind, the call of Christ was a call to no compromise. A few years into his ministry Green realized that he often was too hard on growing believers and too harsh on Christian musicians who charged money for their albums.

In the summer of 1982, Keith Green and two of his young children were killed in an airplane crash. He was 29. Melody was pregnant with their fourth child. She continues to oversee Last Days Ministries.

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