Servants of God,
“And the three men I admire the most
The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost,
They caught the last train for the coast,
The day the music died.”
-Don McClean in “American Pie”
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
-1 Corinthians 3:18
Has the music died? When he wrote “American Pie,” the musician Don McClean was a theologian in action—we all are. McClean’s theology was warped and hopeless. His rambling song about “the day the music died” is clearly a conglomeration of disillusionment and social commentary and a tune that captured the ears and minds of a generation coming of age in a turbulent time.
The song is a hodgepodge of pop culture references. McClean wove together a lamentation over the death of Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper with thoughts of angst and civil unrest. The chorus in the song bids “bye, bye Miss American pie.”
America, like the rock stars, is dead. When the singer drives his Chevy to the levee, he finds the levee is dry and “Them good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singin’ this will be the day that I die…
” The song signaled a warning. Much of America’s youth felt disconnected and disillusioned. Like McClean, they no longer had a reason to smile. Optimism was gone; life must be medicated with alcohol and death looms.
It is never easy to live well in a time when a nation forgets God. America appears to be begging God to take the last train for the coast. That way, this bothersome deity, with all his ideas about sin and salvation and boundaries for life, will be both out of sight and out of mind.
American Christians face tough challenges and far too many are not equipped for the coming trouble. Our culture is being “de-Christianized.” Many of the kids who came of age when McClean wrote “American Pie” grew up to be movers and shakers in our culture. They are being followed by a generation that is even less God-friendly.
The constant drumbeat for the so-called separation of church and state and the growing acceptance of immorality as the status quo means that genuine Christians are out of step with the culture. The prophet asked: “Do two walk together, unless they have agreed to meet?” (Amos 3:3). Christians had better wake up and engage the culture at every opportunity if we desire to stem the tide of paganism that is rushing into our nation.
Why does there appear to be so little alarm among Christians? Why does there appear to be more capitulation to evil than robust challenge to it? The answer is quite simple. Christians in America have weak theology. We have dangerously weak theology in at least two arenas: sanctification and eschatology. We do not have a robust idea of what it means to be holy and we have a skewed view of how to live toward the end of time. How so?
For far too many American “believers” the Christian faith is largely a “neck up” issue. If they intellectually assent to some facts about Jesus, they consider themselves to be believers. The idea that conversion is a “decision” that was made “once upon a time” seems to be all too comforting to many folks who have shown precious little interest in God since the moment of their “decision.”
Of course, conversion involves our wills and it does involve a moment in time when we come to understand that we have passed from spiritual death to new life in Christ. But that moment of conversion is a gift from God. It is a beginning, not a destination. From the moment of our conversion God constantly disturbs our lives. He remodels us from the inside out. It is a gloriously complex and mysterious reality. It is far more than just escaping hell. It is the joyous reality of becoming a radically different person as God the Holy Spirit shapes us and hones us and cleanses us from sinful thoughts, affections and actions. Christians are new creatures with a new destiny and a glorious mission as part of a new humanity that lives to joyfully proclaim “…the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).
Christians are not people who are smugly waiting around for the world to go down the tube. We are a people who are fighting passionately for the glory of God in our lives and those of others. We evangelize and nurture one another into Christian maturity because God’s glory is at stake. God deserves worship. We are called to oppose evil and exalt righteousness because both bring honor to the God who saved us by his grace and has commanded us to live out lives that exhibit the changes God can make in a rebel that he has transformed into a worshipper.
We are all being changed into beings who truly image God into a fallen world and who fight to make God’s goodness and his authority known to all. That means we will have an increasingly problematic relationship with the world, the flesh and the devil. If there is no dramatic spiritual change in the life of someone who professes to believe in Christ, then that person needs a strong dose of reality therapy. The Bible warns: “…whoever says he abides in him (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6). Far too many Americans who call themselves Christians go along to get along with a culture that despises God as Creator and Jesus as Savior and the Holy Spirit as counselor and guide.
God hasn’t taken a train to anywhere. He is here and he is not silent. He is working through the genuinely converted and through the congregations he calls them into. He is changing us that we might be his change agents in a world that thinks the music has died. It hasn’t.