Following a provocation by Todd Friel from “Wretched” (here)I dared to Google “Jesus C” and observe the prompt choices that come up. The first choice in my browser’s search bar was “Jesus Culture” followed by “Jesus Christ.”
Through no fault of their own, at least by this metric, the band Jesus Culture has become more searchable and popular than Jesus Christ. Many young Christians are aware of who they are and probably listen to their worship music. Jesus Culture is way bigger then Hillsong was in their prime (early to mid 2000’s) or any other worship band. Ever.
They are part of the New Apostolic Reformation charismatic movement out of Redding, CA based at Bill Johnson’s church, whose theology is very focused on the mandate given to the 12 disciples in Matthew 10: heal the sick, raise the dead and exorcise the demon-possessed. That, and also establish God’s kingdom in Redding.
The question is why are they so popular? I’ve done some research on this including attending their conference in Los Angeles (mostly out of curiosity) and try to analyze this phenomenon. I personally believe that a pure gospel message based on the cross would not bring a band to this level of popularity.
The music is well done from an artistic stand point but this alone does not explain it. While many of their songs do have an uplifting message (some are not written by them), the lyrics are mostly your usual modern worship lyrics centered on what God does for us, and NOT Who God is… So the lyrics do not necessarily explain the Jesus Culture phenomenon.
The answer is that Jesus Culture popularity has to do with the package they have become.
1. In their interviews and concerts they are focused on promoting “deep encounters” with God and experimental trance-like scenarios built around receiving power and baptism with fire. At the Los Angeles concert they performed a maneuver where after a 10 minute instrumental and light show build-up to a climax, everything suddenly stopped, the crowd went nuts and received power on command from the speaker who declared “receive it, receive it, receive it.” This transfer of power is practiced in the “tunnel of fire” at their church as well. Wild expressions of ecstasy on command from the speaker were common throughout the event.
2. They advertise “new experience” when attending their conferences. This makes them highly attractive for those who seek this type of physical stimulation of the senses. We live in a world which loves sensational experiences, and Jesus Culture provides that. For example vocalist Kim Walker’s testimony of her physical/metaphysical encounter with Jesus is astounding (here, starting at minute 28). It sounds like a description of a scene from a badly made 80’s movie, where she hugs Jesus and presses Him to answer how much He loves her, and whether she was really meant to be a girl and not a boy. For comparison… a look back at the encounter Paul had with Jesus on the way to Damascus which left him as dead, reveals a completely different type of encounter than the one experienced by Kim.
3. Another reason for their popularity is the fact that their message and conferences have nothing to do with repentance, the new birth, and the cross. Instead the message is focused on power. Power to perform miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead, etc. That is attractive! It makes the followers feel good, and it empowers them, but in a misleading way.
So, the question will come up… Should we listen to this music because after all, the sound or the lyrics are not different from Hillsong and Gateway?
Can one can separate the recording from the band’s theology and practice, and be edified by songs with a biblical message like “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain…?” One has to use his discerning ability and decide for himself. I will personally never attend another Jesus Culture event, and I will warn the youth about their practices.
But if you really love this music and want to listen to it, I strongly caution you not to get sucked into the bad theology and mystical practice of Jesus Culture.