It’s time for another episode of “Christian Rock with NFQ.” This song is by the Newsboys, and it’s called “Born Again.”
I caught this song while flipping around on the car radio blindly (I was driving and focused on the road!) and I thought I was on one of the mix or alt-rock stations I usually listen to. Since then, I’ve stumbled upon it many times, thinking the song sounded familiar but forgetting why. The repeated “waa-aa-aa-aah” sound and phrases with internal rhyme are reminiscent of hip-hop, and the harsh electric guitar and drums make them sound like any other rock group. I mean, good on them for realizing that Christian music doesn’t have to be cheesy and horrible, but until the overall trend changes it still feels a little unsettling, almost like being tricked.
What really gets me is the way that the verses could have been swapped into many alt-rock sounds without seeming out of place. Their basic message is: my life has been going badly, it’s time for a change. The imagery of looking in the mirror and not liking what you see there is way overused. It sounds like any cookie-cutter industry-pawn rock group marketing to the teen angst crowd or the twenty-something never-quite-grew-out-of-teen-angst crowd. But then — bam! — the chorus.
This is what it is, this is who I am
This is where I’m gonna take my stand
I didn’t want to fall, but now I gotta crawl
I met the one with two scarred hands
Givin’ him the best of everything that’s left of
The life inside this man
I’ve been born again
That’s the big reveal. Gasp! This song has secretly been about Jesus all along! I don’t know how I feel about the phrase “the one with two scarred hands.” I guess it lends itself to rhyme better than “Jesus Christ,” but part of me thinks it’s there for this macho, gross-out factor, selling Christianity as something that can be seen as masculine. Jesus was so tough — dig his scars! Yeah brah, being a born-again Christian is super hardcore. (Reminds me of mixed martial arts churches.)
When I saw the music video for the first time, I was really surprised that the Newsboys turned it into some sort of PSA for their “Homes 4 Baja” mission. It really has nothing to do with the lyrics at all, and having heard it just on the radio before I would have never guessed. I wonder if the Mexican people in the video knew that they would be used as props, token images of helplessness and need which we should be swooping in and saving. They don’t really do anything in the video except for stand around looking impoverished in the first half and parade happily around their benefactors in the second half. I’m not saying charity is bad … but something about this presentation just feels grimy, almost exploitative. Like it’s not about Mexicans in poverty, it’s really about how great and special these Christians are for being such good Christians. This message from the band on the Homes 4 Baja website doesn’t exactly change my mind:
Mission trips are such an incredible experience that it is hard to imagine, until you experience it for yourself. We are passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission, and we are convinced that you will not only bless others in Jesus Name, but you will receive a blessing that will change your life.
(Confused about the Great Commission? I wrote about it here. Bottom line: it’s about converting people, not about building houses for them.) I guess it’s no real surprise that many Christians do good because Jesus said so and you better listen to Jesus in order to get his promised rewards, and/or as effective PR to convince other people that Christianity is awesome. It’s not really because they see some inherent value in those good things.