Subscribe now

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the perils of Christian rock

By Gregory Thornbury
September 2019 | Review by Matthew Cox
  • Publisher: Convergent Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-10190-707-8
  • Pages: 288
  • Price: £19.99
Buy this book »

What are we to make of Larry Norman, the controversial pioneer of Christian pop music in the late 1960s and ‘70s? Gregory Alan Thornbury (son of occasional ET contributor John) tells the fascinating story with riveting style and careful accuracy.

Unlike other Christian artists, Norman’s extraordinary musical and poetic gifts were lauded by his non-Christian contemporaries, Paul McCartney purportedly declaring that he’d be a star ‘if he’d just shut up about religion’ (p3).

But he wouldn’t! Immersed in the Californian ‘hippy’ scene, Norman saw himself as ‘a disciple of the risen Christ hidden behind enemy lines’ (p.46). His hard-hitting evangelistic songs were uncompromising in pointing out the emptiness of drugs and ‘free love’. One can’t help but admire the long hours he spent counselling fans after concerts, leading home Bible studies for Hollywood celebrities and evangelising bikers, addicts and prostitutes on the streets of Los Angeles.

But conversely, one can’t help but see serious defects in his character and ministry. Norman had a chip on his shoulder about organised religion and was unsparing in his criticism of traditional churches. An awkward, provocative personality with a fondness for self-promotion, he struggled to maintain meaningful relationships. His business dealings, friendships and two marriages were blighted by acrimony, with grudges, disputes and accusations of immorality often being aired in public.

Larry Norman’s dramatic tale is full of highs, lows and sobering lessons. Readers will profit from emulating his radical devotion to Christ, while learning from his sadly misguided errors.

Matthew Cox

Bethersden, Kent

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God
Kevin DeYoung

This year sees the anniversary of the Synod of Dort which concluded its deliberations in May 1619. Much has been written about this, mainly from a Reformed perspective which rightly views its findings as worthy of being set alongside other…

See all book reviews
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care
Kathryn Butler

Dr Kathryn Butler is a Christ-centred trauma and critical care surgeon with years of experience caring for patients in the intensive care unit. She has observed relatives struggle to reconcile what is happening with their faith, asking questions such as…

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost
Melvin Tinker

A book offering to tell us ‘how the West was lost’ has set itself a very ambitious target. Perhaps it needs a few more pages to quite hit that target. But it succeeds admirably in drawing our attention to a…

John Henry Newman: Becoming Rome’s first ecumenical saint
Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating
John Henry Newman: Becoming Rome’s first ecumenical saint
Richard Bennett and Michael de Semlyen

The German-born Pope Benedict XVI is due to carry out a state visit to the UK from 16-19 September. The climax of this visit is a Mass in Coventry at which the Pope will beatify John Henry Newman (1801-1890). Newman…