On December 8, 2013, I published a blog post titled, “No Compromise,” which highlighted the life of Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and was nicknamed “The Iron Lady” because of her uncompromising politics and leadership style.
This blog post focuses on another individual born here in America and who is a product of my own generation—the Baby Boomers—who rocked the world for a short time before his death in 1982 in a plane crash and who’s legacy (his writings and his music) lives on through his wife, Melody Green, at Last Days Ministries. His name is Keith Green (Oct. 21, 1953 – July 28, 1982) and his life story can be read in a biography written by Melody Green, first published in 1989 and expanded and updated in 2008, titled “No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green.” Keith Green also lived a life of “no compromise” and the forward in this book, written by Winkie Pratney, gives a clear snapshot of who Keith was—a voice crying out in the wilderness of his generation. Here is the forward from the book found on pages ix-x (2008 edition):
Once upon a time, in a generation steeped in much emptiness and spiritual darkness, a boy was born who was given a great gift. Deeply talented, trained as a musician, he had a unique ability (some would later say genius) to take spiritual truth and put it in the language and vocabulary of the common people of his time.
His biographical writings (now available for others to see) record the intensity of his struggles, his early odyssey into pathways that promised so much but sadly lead nowhere. These records chronicle the search of a young man seemingly out of step with his age—a young man not afraid to risk everything for what he found to be real and right. He was nothing if he was not intense—and in that intensity he questioned everything and everyone that seemed to hold a key to life and reality. Once he found that Answer (as we know now he did), nothing could turn him from it.
That commitment given, he began a lifelong crusade to see his world likewise transformed. No one who knew him would deny that he offended many. He often especially shocked established religious people in his youthful zeal to bring compassion, honesty and reality back to the church. Perhaps the truest practical test of a real prophet is this: “Does he make me uncomfortable?” If he does, he probably is. If he doesn’t, he probably isn’t. After all, you never read in the Bible of a popular prophet except the false ones who always went around telling people the things they wanted to hear.
So this young man was blunt. He was funny. He was tactless and sometimes even crude. He steadfastly refused to accept the spiritual status quo. He quietly mocked hypocrisy with laughter while he laid bare his own struggles and fears with tears. Many of his songs are simply sermons set to music—prophetic pieces in harmony that set standards for a generation. He was controversial. He was criticized. He was cut off by some and almost canonized by others—but he was impossible to ignore. His life and work literally affected millions around the world. Although gone from us now, he impacted his generation like a spiritual H-bomb, and the reverberations of his life, courage, and commitment will still be felt for generations to come.
Most people today who have never before had the opportunity to read his writings and journals know him only by his music. (After all, not everyone can write a song that will still be sung five centuries after his death!) We remember him today as the man who launched the Reformation; the musician with the hunger to know God and to make Him known by faith; the man called Martin Luther.
And this, of course, is not his story. But in another century, another culture, and in another country, on a smaller scale, with not as much time to accomplish a task, it might have been. Keith loved Jesus. He did what he could in the few intense years I was privileged to know him. If you have never had the opportunity to share in the life of someone like him who lived for Jesus, you will catch a glimpse of that love in this, his story. He was my friend. I miss him. ~Winkie Pratney, May 1989
(Winkie Pratney has studies every recorded revival in history, and is a world authority on true revival. He has written over twenty books and speaks to over a half-million young people a year. His background in science and pop culture allows him to interpret current trends for the welfare of youth in our technological and media-dominated society.)
Keith Green did not live long enough to witness the ever-deepening spiritual malaise of our day. Our nation is now saturated with mega-churches focusing on how we can have “the good life” with God’s blessings and with a focus on self and material prosperity while remaining calloused towards the sin in our own lives. These elements were apparent in his day, but have exploded exponentially in ours. Who preaches on sin and the need for repentance today? In a two-part series titled, “What’s Wrong with the Gospel?” Keith wrote the following regarding the removing of the cross from the gospel (p. 363):
Paul said, “I determine to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Nowadays it’s “Jesus Christ and what he can do for you!” You cannot have more exact opposites than the Bible’s Christ-centered gospel and our modern, cross-less, self-centered gospel.” . . .
Unless people are truly convicted of sin . . . then it is virtually impossible to show them a need for a savior. Why, what would they need to be saved from? Fun? Today the Lord is presented as a sort of “ice-cream man Santa Claus,” and the church is the candy store where you can get every goodie your heart desires.
Keith goes on to say:
First and foremost, today’s “gospel” appeals to the selfish. If people come to Jesus mainly to get a blessing or only to get forgiveness, they will ultimately be disappointed. But if they come to give him their lives in honor and worship, then they will truly have forgiveness and joy—more than they could ever imagine!
In part two of the series, Keith talked about “the traditions of men” which include “the alter call and the easy assurance of salvation just because someone came forward” as well as an examination of “the sinner’s prayer” (p. 364):
It is obvious that there is no set sinner’s prayer. The words are not important. It’s the state of the heart of the one saying the prayer. I believe that a true sinner’s prayer will gush out of anyone who truly is seeking God, and has been enslaved to sin.
And he spoke about “cheap clichés and Christian slogans” such as (p. 365):
“Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” This can be really a horrible replacement for “I’m sorry!” It puts the blame on the wrong person. “The reason I’m such a creep is because God isn’t finished with me yet!”
Then there is that other fabulous excuse that absolutely ends all quests for expectations for holiness: “Christians aren’t perfect . . . just forgiven!” What we are saying by this fabulous piece of prose is, “You cannot trust your teenage daughter with my Christian son. You’d better keep your eye on him. He’s just forgiven!”
He summarizes by pleading with Christians to examine what they are doing (p. 365):
Don’t you see what fools we are! We preach a man-made plastic “gospel.” We get people to “come forward” to the altar by bringing psychological pressures that have nothing to do with God. We “lead them” in a prayer that they are not yet convinced they need to say. Then, to top it all off, we give them “counseling” . . . telling them it is a sin to doubt that they are saved!
Beloved family, the world around us is going to hell. Not because of fanatical dictators, television, drugs, sex, alcohol, or the devil himself. It is because of the church! We are to blame! We alone have the commission, the power, and the truth of God at our constant disposal to deliver sinner after sinner from eternal death. Even though some are willing to go . . . they are taking a watered-down, distorted version of God’s message, which God has not promised to anoint. That’s why we are failing. And unless we admit that we are failing then I’m afraid there in no hope for us or the world around us. We have the choice between causing eternal tragedy for our whole generation, or bringing our beloved God a whole family full of good and faithful servants.
“We preach a man-made plastic ‘gospel’” . . . What was true in Keith’s day is exponentially true in ours. Today it’s called “easy believism” and it saturates our landscape, and it does not produce changed lives—not in us or in others. We end up instead with a “religious, churchy” spirit that is easy on our own sin but judgmental of others, and not with a truly changed life. And Jesus is still left on the cross because our sin has never been dealt with. As Keith stated, it’s not about saying a prescribed “sinner’s prayer,” it’s about the state of our heart as he stated when he said, “a true sinner’s prayer will gush out of anyone who truly is seeking God, and has been enslaved to sin.” Especially in our day today, our own sin is treated casually and with great indifference, and mostly as a nonessential, irrelevant to our relationship with God. We come to Jesus to get his blessings and never think twice about actually laying down our very lives in service to him. And that, folks, is a false gospel that can’t save anybody, and it certainly hasn’t saved us.
In the closing thoughts of the book (pp. 481-482), Melody states that one of Keith’s favorite passages in the Bible is found in Galatians 6:7-10 (NIV):
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
At the end of the book in a section titled “Retrospective” by John Dawson, President of Youth with a Mission and Founder and President of the International Reconciliation Coalition, he states the following about Keith (p. 489):
Keith had the heart of a child with an Ezekiel 37 assignment: “This is what you need to tell the people. They are not going to listen but you need to tell them anyway.”
Keith was a revivalist at heart. He wanted to see the open heavens of God, in a time of the outpouring of the Spirit and of the harvest. We were talking about all that, but it hadn’t turned into song lyrics yet. It was being processed by prayer. Keith was getting ready to prophesy to those dry bones . . . .
Life is long and messy for most of us. But Keith was like a comet. He came and went and left the rest of us here to mop up and run the marathon . . . .
Romans 12:1-2 states:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
So let’s not be conformed to the pattern of this world . . .
But be transformed by the renewing of our minds . . .
And let’s run that marathon . . . .
YouTube Video: “So You Want To Go Back to Egypt” by Keith Green: