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R&V At the Movies: Electric Jesus


While the contemporary Christian music scene today has made room for a variety of subgenres, including Christian punk, Christian hardcore, Christian metal and Christian hip hop, it wasn’t always this way. 

The advent of new ways to express one’s faith and worship through music has a way of shaking up the church. There was a time when the piano was considered a secular instrument unfit for use in church—only the organ was permissible—and the introduction of guitars and drums in church might still ruffle the feathers in some church traditions’ hats. But according to Lifeway Research, 52% of Protestant churches worship with a praise team these days, and only 33% are led by choirs.

Outside of Sunday morning, contemporary Christian music first began in the mid-70s with artists like Chuck Girard and The 2nd Chapter of Acts leading the way. And then came the Christian metal bands, which is where Electric Jesus comes in.

Electric Jesus: What to Expect

Electric Jesus (2020) © 1091 Pictures. Image Courtesy of IMDb.

Written and directed by Chris White and released in 2020, Electric Jesus follows the journey of a high school Christian metal hair band, called 316, as they try to make it into the music scene in 1986. Electric Jesus is a coming-of-age comedy that features Judd Nelson, Brian Baumgartner, and Rhoda Griffis as they tour the country, playing summer youth camps and church youth group lock-ins. They’re on a mission “to make Jesus famous,” but when they start to get frustrated with the church—who already knows Jesus anyway—their road trip takes them to test their chops in the metal band underground.

Electric Jesus captures the essence of the mid-80s Christian subculture many of us millennials and Gen Xers remember well. If you grew up in church during this era, you can probably relate to a lot of this film and some of its cringe-worthy moments, especially the earworm, “Commandos for Christ.” You might just catch yourself singing, “Let’s all go Commando!” like me, days after you’ve watched the film.

Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing

I loved Electric Jesus for its ability to capture this singular era in the American Christian experience and the earnestness of youth. But it doesn’t just leave you there, reflecting back through cynic’s glasses. Instead, the film moves beyond 1986, into the recent past with band members who grew up and moved on, their faith and their rose-colored glasses maybe a little smudged and certainly more complicated than what they grew up believing.

The enthusiasm and passion of the members of the fictional band 316 remind me a lot of Peter in the gospels, ever eager to please Jesus, to do what he thinks Jesus wants him to do and say what he thinks Jesus wants him to say. It makes me want to pinch Peter’s cheek. 

“Look at you, all grown up and following the Lord!” I might say to this zealous young man. “Bless your heart.”

Peter fumbles and stumbles his way through three years of ministry with Jesus, until that fateful night, on the verge of making Jesus famous, Peter denies him three times. Everything doesn’t go the way he had hoped. The Messiah dies. Peter flees. Peter goes into hiding. That definitely wasn’t how Peter expected Jesus’ kingdom to come.

Later, when Peter encounters the risen Lord, he’s wide-eyed and humbled. Jesus says to Peter, “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” He says it three times, to hammer the point home, to remind Peter of the three times he denied him, and to restore Peter as the rock on which Jesus will build the church. 

It didn’t look like making Jesus famous. It looked like service, humility, and mercy. It looked like good news. It looked like showing up and loving people.

Decades after Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter wrote letters to the church. You can hear the wisdom he has earned through lived experience in his words. How different Peter of his letters sounds compared to the floundering apostle of the gospels. “Like newborn babies,” wrote Peter, “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3 NIV), just as Peter has grown up in his salvation.

Peter urged followers of God to live lives of goodness, so that others might be won over by the light of God shining through their behavior among the unbelieving world. This is the move out of spiritual adolescence, into spiritual maturity, a journey with which Peter was well acquainted. 

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV). I think this is how we “make Jesus famous”—we align ourselves with the gospel of Jesus Christ until we’re made complete in him.

Enjoy Electric Jesus! It’s a delight.

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