This is not the first time I’ve addressed the theologically thorny issue of Christianity and heavy rock - and my love of both! In 2020, the Belfast Telegraph reproduced my Pensive Quill column on my relationship with the rock industry as a mainstream Irish Presbyterian minister’s son,
So why return to the issue? Ironically, it was a column urging the Christians Churches to have a serious debate on trans issues which sparked a rebuke from Free Presbyterian cleric, the Rev Ivan Foster, who not only penned a letter to the Belfast News Letter (where I had the pleasure of serving as the paper’s Education and Religious Affairs Correspondent in the 1980s), but also decided to vent his spleen at me in his own Burning Bush website.
This year, God Willing, I will clock up 45 years in journalism. Can I state for the record that as a journalist who believes passionately in the democratic concepts of both a free Press and freedom of speech, I fully defend the right of Rev Foster to express his honestly held opinions, even if that includes his damning critique of my latest column.
What slightly baffles me about Rev Foster’s Burning Bush article is the relevance of my late dad to the original column on the Christian Church and trans rights. By mentioning my late dad’s past links to the Free Presbyterian Church (dad was minister of Mount Merrion Free P Church in Belfast in the 1950s) and the mainstream Presbyterian Church (dad was both minister and minister emeritus of Clough Presbyterian Church, near Ballymena), I suspect there is the perception that the real agenda behind Rev Foster’s letter and Burning Bush article is to ‘have a go’ at the Presbyterian Church!
For the record, this is not my first appearance in the Burning Bush. I’ve had a more positive critique in the January to March 1987 print edition, when it was billed as the magazine of Kilskeery Free Presbyterian Church and Independent Christian School. I visited the school in my capacity as Ed Corr at the News Letter.
|The front cover of the January to March 1987 print edition of the Free Presbyterian |
magazine, The Burning Bush, which said I had written a ‘fair and impressive report’!
The Burning Bush said:
Belfast Newsletter Education Editor, Mr John Coulter, visited our School on Friday 6th March and interviewed Mr and Mrs Foster at length on the formation and running of the School. An accompanying photographer took photographs of teachers and pupils at work in their classrooms. The report in the newspaper was watched for with mixed feelings by one and all in the School. When the article was read no criticism could be made concerning the fairness of the writer and Mr Coulter is to be congratulated for that.
The day following the publishing of the article a family contacted the School as a result of reading the story. They had recently returned from Australia where their children had been attending a Christian School and they were anxious to enrol them in another Christian School. The press report was for them an answer to prayer. Their two children started School the next Monday along with another little girl.
Not a bad accolade from The Burning Bush given that the magazine presumably now regards me as being one of these so-called ‘apostate Presbyterians’!
| Screen dump of the review of my article praising my |
visit to a Free Presbyterian Christian school!
The current Burning Bush is not so sympathetic towards my assertions of the use of rock music in Christian witness. Carrying a photo of me wearing one of my AC/DC tee-shirts, the Burning Bush stated:
John Coulter, the son of a Preacher man who believes that a path to the “Saviour” can be found in heavy metal music.
Given my time in the music recording industry, and especially the Gospel recording scene, heavy metal and punk genres were never ever going to be popular tools of praise evangelism for militant fundamentalists.
For many of these militant fundamentalists, only two instruments could be used in Christian praise - the church organ and the piano. Guitars (especially the electric variety), percussion, and anything else was probably viewed as being ‘off the devil’.
However, it was the globally renowned singer and born again Christian, Sir Cliff Richard, who promoted the Christian rock song ‘Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music.’
Even today, Christian heavy metal bands, such as the American group Stryper, are still pushing a strong and clear evangelical message through the medium of rock. As a young trainee journalist in the late Seventies, I would spend some of my holidays working with the Portrush-based Christian outreach group, Project Evangelism.
It was the traditional Easter outreach and we were holding an open air outreach near the West Strand carpark promenade. There were plenty of Hell’s Angels, bikers and rockers in the audience, but as soon as we produced our acoustic guitars for the praise section, they left en masse.
When I asked them why they had left, their response was blunt - your music sucks, therefore, Christianity sucks!
So, for me, it was a matter of communication method; not diluting the Gospel message of Salvation, merely explaining it through a musical genre rockers could identify with.
And so in 1979, I launched Budj Recordings specialising in Christian punk, metal and rock music. Over the next few years, I produced three albums - the punk band What Of The Night; the heavy rock band Tempest, and the light rock band, Therefore. See link on history of Budj.
I see my use of punk and metal music genres to promote the Christian message of Salvation in the same light as Bible translators have written the Scriptures in, for example, some of the African languages when missionaries are working with the various tribes, especially where English is not the mother tongue.
Likewise, many militant fundamentalists believe that heavy metal music can never be used as a tool for evangelism; that only the organ, piano, and occasionally an acoustic guitar. Given my experience with Budj Recordings, I beg to differ!
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.