Jesus Culture: Emotionally Charged and Sensory Driven

March 13, 2015 at 8:55 AM 3 comments


Is it really all about God with Jesus Culture? Not from this photo.

As someone who has been a musician and singer most of his life, I have struggled continuously with the true meaning of worship in churches today. I’ve played trumpet, drums, and piano for years and have been in various singing groups as well. I love music because there is no greater feeling for me than being “in the groove” while playing some of my favorite songs.

But that’s the problem though. Too often, church music directors use music to fuel the way we feel, to make us “feel” something we might not feel if the music was absent.

How many times have you watched a TV show or movie and you come to a part in the program where a leading character is dying. Another character, interacting with the dying character, starts to become emotional and cries. Have you ever stopped to consider that the music you are hearing during that scene was not part of the show when they filmed it? If you remove the music from that scene, the emotional pull is also often gone with it. It is the music that often motivates to be happy, sad, joyous, or filled with emotional pain. It is for this reason that music is often referred to as the “soundtrack of our lives.”

As we go through life, there is no music playing in the background that either defines or directs the way we feel. But create a movie with an ongoing soundtrack that changes from one scene to the next and all of a sudden, the emotion (whatever it is you are made to feel) becomes very pointed and real and you don’t even realize you’re being manipulated by the music.

Jesus Culture is built on musical motivation. The seminars they hold throughout the United States and even into other countries are designed around the Jesus Culture Band and headed up by a guy named Banning Liebscher. The movement grew out of Liebscher’s vision as a youth pastor in Bethel Church in Redding, CA, in 1999.

From their own website, this is what they are about:

Jesus Culture is a global movement, awakening hearts to worship and demonstrate the love and power of God wherever we go. We are passionate to see campuses, cities and nations transformed and we have a mandate: to raise, equip, and mobilize those who were coming to fulfill the call of God on their lives. We do this through the ministry of conferences, events, worship, campus ministries, curriculums, resources and now a local church. Jesus Culture is continuing to grow in bringing young people into encounters with Jesus and equipping them to minister His heart to a broken world…but it wasn’t always this way. Here’s a brief look into the beginnings of our ministry.

There you have it. Their purpose is to “awaken hearts to worship.” They planted a church in Sacramento, CA not long ago called Jesus Culture Church and from there, though they started out as a youth group in Redding, they have managed to expand their base to Sacramento, Atlanta, and elsewhere through their conferences, books, DVDs, and CDs. The emphasis for them appears to be on music. Jesus Culture appears to be little more than another spoke of the Emergent Church.

L. Sharp (for Lighthouse Trails) wrote a review of one such conference from inside the event, as an attendee. Sharp notes the following:

Their main draw is their talented young musicians who all grew up in Redding’s Bethel Church spiritual environment, so for them, everything about God is always experienced through the senses. This is seen through the full-on sensory musical experiences provided during each Jesus Culture performance. Also, on occasion, the band leaders may “prophesy,” “declare,” etc. to this young generation and may lead the attendees into “deeper levels of ‘intimacy’ with God” through their musical-leading techniques.

I am so tired of the gospel presented with this type of sensory overload, when it IS presented. From what I gather, the gospel itself is not even actually being presented at Jesus Culture events.

If we look in Scripture, we can easily note that whenever Jesus (or Paul, or Peter, etc.) preached, there was no music to manipulate people. God’s Word stands alone. Neither He nor His Word needs to be propped up artificially with music, laser lights, fog, or great singing.

As someone who was raised around music and singing, believe it or not, I still love the hymns (played with a piano) more than anything yet they are rarely sung in today’s church environment. Instead, too often, choruses are sung with the “gospel-lite” as part of it. Yet, you will routinely see people with raised hands, reaching toward heaven, allegedly adoring God. But see these people during the week and a different picture emerges. The emotion created by music wanes, but God’s truth remains.

Jesus Culture is a movement that relies on the music to create emotional responses. The music is presented as a way of breaking down emotional barriers so that people will allow themselves to be carried away and susceptible to any message that comes later.

Sam Rodriguez was one of the key speakers at the event held in Sacramento, CA not long ago. “He is leader of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference representing more than 40,000 churches” and has also met with Barack Obama about President Obama’s (illegal) amnesty plan. No worries though, because this same Rodriguez also met with George W. Bush. Please don’t tell me that all presidents don’t work for the same globalists, all right? Thanks.

Rodriguez’ message was three parts (according to Sharp):

  1. Failure (in Egypt)
  2. Surviving (in the desert)
  3. Thriving (in the promise)

When we first encounter God (or He us), we are usually in the place of failure, represented by Egypt. As we begin walking with God, we learn to survive (the desert) and that’s about it. However, God wants us to THRIVE by getting to and living fully in the Promised Land. Sounds like a commercial for Kaiser Permanente.

Just about everything taught by the speakers in Jesus Culture is so passionately general in nature, that it leaves everything totally up for grabs as to meaning from one person to the next. There is nothing specific about it. There is no talk of sin and how God wants to save us from our sin. None of that. It’s all about “thriving” for God and once again, the emphasis is on PEOPLE’s reaction, instead of God’s purposes. Throw in some more of that powerful (and loud) music, with laser lights, fog, and you’ve got the makings of an altered-state experience.

I also note that these events take place at halls or arenas. The one near Sacramento was held at UC Davis and seated 8,000 people. The one upcoming at Long Beach also holds 8,000 people. The promoters of the event do not take a “love” offering at the event to cover costs (trusting God to provide). Instead, each attendee must pay at least $85 in advance to attend. If we multiply that times 8,000 people, we get the tidy sum of $680,000, over half a million dollars! According to L. Sharp, it appeared that the UC Davis event was sold out. I’m sure that’s the case for many of them.

Jesus Culture has events scheduled for Brazil too, or you can simply attend Jesus Culture Band events at places like Sleep Train Amphitheater in Sacramento, CA.

The big push from Jesus Culture is to “encounter” God because an encounter with God changes everything. I cannot help but wonder why the conferences are so heavily reliant on music? I thought God changes things, but it appears that Jesus Culture is built around sensory-overloaded music. The big push from the Bible is to seek His salvation and submit yourself to Him so that His purposes will be accomplished in and through us. In that way – yes – we “thrive,” but our circumstances may not change at all, though our outlook and understanding likely will.

Music is the caboose and that is spoken AS a musician and singer. It is NOT to lead the train. The engine (God) does that, but too often today, emotion and emotional virtue have pushed God out of the driver’s seat and replaced Him with music that traps and directs us emotionally. It’s not supposed to be like that.

If you remove the music, the lights, the fog, the upbeat nature of Jesus Culture events, you have virtually nothing, except platitudes and out of context theology. People like Banning Liebscher and his traveling circus say they want communities, states, nations, and the world changed for God. That’s great, but has Sacramento changed for the better since Jesus Culture came there?

Do the folks at Jesus Culture have any clue as to how many people have actually become saved in and around the Sacramento area? What has changed in Sacramento? If the crime rate has gone down, can Jesus Culture claim to have caused that?

What exactly does Jesus Culture do besides put on conferences that – through music – heighten the emotional senses? What do attendees do when they get back to the “real” world of work and play? Go to their “store” and you can buy T-shirts, DVDs, and CDs related to Jesus Culture Band.

Jesus Culture reminds me of the Charismatic Movement that I was involved in during the early 1970s. Everything was emotionally charged and expectant. You had to go to a physical place in order to “encounter” God because apparently, that’s where He would show up. He also only showed up after a time of high-energy music, prayer/praise, and prophetic utterances. Oh, and sometimes, healing. But all this was the result of our “faith,” not God Himself. Through our “faith,” we can get God to do just about anything and conversely, it’s our lack of “faith,” that keeps Him from moving mountains. I’m sorry, but God’s purposes WILL be done with or without us.

Today, any time I see or hear of a movement that is growing inordinately, I tend to shy away from it. We are living in the End Times, the Last Days. Jesus warned us that false teachers would come in droves. Paul told us just how bad society would be in the end times.

Of course God continues to save people. It’s part of what He does. He also is allowing this world to become thoroughly evil in order that He will pour out His wrath on it in a final effort to save as many people as possible, who will call on His Name.

The reality is that the Bible never speaks of huge revivals happening the last days. It speaks of horrors that are difficult to imagine, persecution that is off the charts, yet in the midst of it, people will be saved. They won’t be saved because of Jesus Culture’s loud, sensory-driven (and manipulative) music either. They will be saved by the solid preaching of the truth – God’s Word – just as occurred with Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). There was no music, no lights, no fog machines. There was simply one man, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to speak the truth (not platitudes) to people who desperately needed to hear it.

While 3,000 received the truth that day, many thousands more rejected it. It’s not about the music, the hype, the catchy phrases. It’s about the truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God.

Entry filed under: Banning Liebscher, emergent church. Tags: , , , , .

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  • 1. Sherry  |  March 23, 2015 at 4:47 PM

    I don’t know if the Christian youth of today understands what preaching the full counsel of God means… so many Christians are being loved into hell by those who believe that saying a prayer is all that is needed. To mention one’s sinful nature/sins would offend the seekers! They forget that Jesus said, “Unless you repent you will all, likewise, perish.”


    • 2. modres  |  March 23, 2015 at 5:58 PM



    • 3. modres  |  March 23, 2015 at 6:03 PM

      Did you mean professing Christians being loved into hell?


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