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.