Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams and the Gospel
A bombshell was dropped on the music industry last week, though you may not have heard it. After months of instagram clips and provocative tweets, alt-country singer/songwriter Ryan Adams released his track-by-track cover of Taylor Swift’s blockbuster album, 1989. The album and feat was released to acclaim and utter astonishment amongst fans and critics alike.
The surprise is not in the cross-genre transferability of Taylor Swift’s songs. The girl can write a catchy tune. She has multiple Grammy awards, gold records, and packed out stadium shows to prove the fact that as a songwriter, she can stand on her own two feet.
Ryan Adams is perhaps best known for being mistaken for singer/songwriter Bryan Adams. He does, however, have a strong cult following and has accumulated indie and industry cred throughout his long career. The fact that Adams would cover a Taylor Swift song is not surprising. He has been a prolific studio professional, often bringing other artists’ songs into his repertoire.
What has made this interesting is not only the cast of characters and gutsy musicianship, nor even the final product itself. The bombshell and ongoing discussion from this album has been what the final product reveals.
Swift’s power-pop beats and carefree vocal stylings have always framed her songs about life and relationships in a positive light. Even in her deepest and saddest of songs, you know everything is going to be okay and she will move on.
Adams’ low-key and melancholy treatment frames the very same songs (and lyrics) in a very different light. The songs are intimate. The words are weighty. Even in the happiest and most carefree songs, you come away feeling that there is a deep wound in the writer. There is a history and a sadness of a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other daily struggle to find hope.
But remember, these are the same songs. Same words. Same author. Same story.
The dual recordings of 1989 convey the truth that you can tell the same story in different ways and still be telling the same story.
So what on earth does this have to do with Jesus and the Gospel?
Ultimately, the good news of Jesus Christ is just that – it’s news. The Bible is not a discordant collection of writings, but a meta-narrative of stories, circumstances, and people all held together with the scarlet thread of Jesus Christ and the story of a great God who displays his glory as he seeks and saves those who are lost.
And we are told to share this story.
Our temptation as Christians is to want to only share the Taylor Swift gospel. We want the lights, packed stadiums, shiny production, and positive feelings expressed in the truth of God’s Word. We get nervous when someone brings up Leviticus or controversial issues that may cause friction. We get nervous about digging deeper into a conversation about God because it might reveal the scars and imperfections we try so hard to hide. We want the Gospel news clean, attractive and celebrated.
While there’s nothing wrong with wanting the Gospel to be attractive per se, we must remember the Gospel as a story contains a lot of grit. There is a lot of pain exposed in a sinful world and depth encountered as a holy God takes on human flesh and dies on a cross to reconcile his harlot bride. There are a lot of stubbed toes and skinned knees as God walks his people through his salvation story.
Sometimes the Gospel is celebration, dance, and the center of a thousand spotlights.
Sometimes the Gospel is stark, stripped down and sounds more like a warbly-voiced traveler with nothing but six strings and a few guys to share the journey with.
The beauty of the Gospel is that regardless of the voice God has given you, you can tell the story. Your background with God, the church, and Jesus may be smooth. It may be marked with potholes. But it all comes down to sinners saved by grace through Jesus Christ.
This should be freeing for churches, pastors, and every Christian who wants to communicate the greatest news in the world but feels vastly inadequate.
Leave it to the professionals – we think.
I don’t have the credentials, the resources, or the charisma – we assume.
No one wants to hear this from me. Who am I to talk about Jesus?
What we have been reminded of recently through the simple songs of a mid-20’s pop princess and an early-40’s rock-country hipster is that when we tell the story in our own voice, it is the story that is highlighted, not our voice. Sometimes the greatest depth is even communicated through the less glamorous of means.
Should we always strive for excellence as we share the Gospel with those God brings into our paths? Certainly. But never assume the best way to communicate the Gospel is through someone else’s voice.
If the story is true, tell it. Share your story. Share the story of Jesus and watch how God orchestrates the most beautiful of symphonies.