I just came across something I wrote a few years ago and decided to post it. It's based on something I wrote for an email discussion list on the topic of Christian worship. Someone had asked about Keith Green…
“Keith Green's name has come up in numerous conversations with me of late… I was not in the church during that period.. Some of you who remember him, what was his impact on you specifically? On people you know? On the music industry? On the church in general? Can you connect him to the Jesus Movement? I'm sorry I missed him…”
To which I responded…
I surrendered to the Lord in 1976 at the age of 18. I guess you could say I was on the tail-end of the “Jesus Movement.” At that time the sources for contemporary Christian music (CCM) were much more limited than they are today.
Keith was a pioneer of the early CCM movement along with people like Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Mark Heard, Barry McGuire, the 2nd Chapter of Acts, Paul Clark, Randy Matthews (and others). I remember the first time I heard Keith’s first album For Him Who Has Ears. I was blown away that someone so incredibily talented could put out such challenging, exicting and completely original music.
But what impressed me more than his music was his zeal for the Lord. I remember it was exciting just to see what Keith would do next. I would eagerly anticipate the next edition of the Last Days Newsletter just to see what Keith was going to say. After releasing his No Compromise album he set the Christian music world on it's ear by severing his contract with Sparrow records and announcing any future records would be distributed for whatever anyone wanted to pay or could afford—even if they could afford nothing at all. We all wondered how the quality of the next record would fare with this policy.
We needn't have worried because So You Want to Back to Egypt was just as good (if not better) than his first two albums. And to my amazement, Bob Dylan made a guest appeareance playing harmonica on I Pledge My Head to Heaven.
Keith was always extremely controversial, but to a young radical Christian like myself, he could do no wrong. He was a true dynamo. First he releases a song that says if you can only go to God on Sundays and Wednesdays, then don't even bother going at all—To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice. Then he starts producing albums and concerts by faith. Then he moves his family and ministry staff half-way across the country from L.A. to Texas and establishes a ministry school and community. His articles in the newsletter were always sure to offend and challenge—especially after he discovered the writings of Charles Finney and Leonard Ravenhill. And his concert at ORU in Oklahoma was the icing on the cake!
You either loved Keith or you didn't. It was hard to ignore him. People have lost sight of it now, but to a large number of the younger American Christians of the era, Keith was our collective conscience. And we loved him for it.
I remember how shocked I was when I heard of his tragic death (along with several of his young children) in the crash of a small airplane. I was on vacation with my wife and family at her parents house in Denver. I was watching the evening news when the story came on with arial footage of the burned plane on the ground. I remember seeing sheets on the ground covering bodies. It was pretty graphic and came out of nowhere. The shock was like a punch in the stomach. I remember telling my wife and she cried. We all cried. It was as if we'd lost a close friend.
I am almost 40 years old now, and it amazes me to think that Keith was only 28 when he died. So young, and yet he shaped and impacted contemporary Christian music and ministry in ways that are foundational. I really believe that there are only a few other artists who have impacted CCM to the same degree.
One regret I have is never being able to see Keith in concert. I've heard live recordings and it was incredible how he could speak and still play his piano without missing a beat. It's strange, but even though he's been gone so long now and although I never met him, sometimes I still miss him.
Note: The photo is from www.lastdaysministries.org.