When Christians first tried to rock: We review “No Sympathy for the Devil”

Posted by Jason Diamond

No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism

by David W. Stowe

University of North Carolina Press, 2011

Remember when we were all trembling at the thought of Harold Camping’s rapture prophecy? Oh, what’s that?  You say you weren’t trembling?

Chances are—if you’re reading this at least—you were tweeting hilarious 140 character musings on the pending prediction FAIL, rather than quaking in your boots.   But you know what?  A whole lot of Americans might not have believed that Camping’s date was accurate, but they believe that end times will begin sooner or later.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anybody.  Even though many of our founding fathers were into the idea of separation between church and state, America is essentially a Christian country, with over 75% of our citizens identifying themselves as followers of the guy with the long hair and the beard who got nailed to the cross.

But around the 1960’s, a lot of Christians fell out of touch with Jesus.  It was a godless era when people wanted things like peace, love, and equal rights for every man and woman on the planet earth.  People were smoking drugs, getting naked, and listening to devil music.  On the opposite end of that spectrum, America was on a mission to rid the world of the commies, and started a senseless war with an Asian country just because it was the American thing to do.

And while progress was made in the spheres of racial and sexual equality, other people wanted a return to the way things were, or at least the way things were supposed to be: that “way” was Jesus.  So from the open mindedness of the hippie movement came an opportunity embraced by a new generation of Christians called the Jesus freaks.  These longhaired Christians took to the streets and looked for the burnouts and the confused.  They wrote pamphlets, and most notably different from previous Christian movements, they created rock bands.

David W. Stowe’s No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism tells the tale of how American evangelicals used rock music and the counterculture to boost their stature, and draws lines to everything from Jimmy Carter’s presidency, to the idea that Christian rock could have been partially responsible for the Reagan Revolution.

The book focuses on a number of characters and works, from Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan to Jesus Christ Superstar, but seems to omit the fact that the church has just as much claim to the creation of rock n’ roll as the Devil does.  The entire foundation of rock music is based on a shaky teeter-totter between the righteous and the profane.  Just look at Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard’s well-documented struggle between Jesus and stardom.

No Sympathy for the Devil does tell an interesting tale of how lost in the wilderness America was, and makes a good case for blaming the free love lifestyle of the hippie movement for legions of vulnerable kids that were seduced by evangelical preachers.


  1. No mention of Christian rock’s renaissance in the 90s with such bands as MXPX? I can’t blame the author for wanting to skip that either.