Last year I co-interviewed Canadian documentary filmmaker David DiSabatino on his second movie, Fallen Angel, The Outlaw Larry Norman. I did so, because in my youth I was quite the fan of Norman's music. There wasn't a whole lot of good Christian music for a long-haired-Led Zeppelin- lovin' Christian kid to listen to. Norman's music definitely came at the right time.Larry could "rock" as they say, the proof is here. He also could be quiet and introspective. He was also quite funny, and also often stressed to his audiences to avoid sin. I still like Norman's music, I probably always will.
The documentary presents Norman as a gifted artist with serious flaws, but despite these flaws, God used him in a mighty way. The documentary asserts Norman fathered a child out of wed-lock, had an affair while he was married, and was prone to devious behavior with his business associates and friends. When I interviewed DiSabatino with Chris Arnzen, I did so because Christians need to constantly root out idolatry in their lives. As a youth, I idolized Larry Norman. We need to be on guard that our favorite Christian author or apologist doesn't become an idol- even Reformed people need to be reminded of this. If you put your faith in any man, they're capable of disappointing you.
The Larry Norman saga continues. A website countering Fallen Angel is now up and running called Failed Angle. The site has posted counter-evidence to question the integrity and conclusions of Mr. DiSabatino. Recently Mr. DiSabatino was interviewed on another radio show, and Larry Norman's brother Charles called in (MP3 here). There was quite a heated exchange as Charles defended the honor of his brother. Charles also recently did an interview by himself (MP3 here), further defending his brother. At this point, I'm not sure who to believe.
When I saw DiSabatino's documentary, I wondered how much trouble Norman would've gotten himself into morally had he been involved with a local church, subject to the leadership of the church. I asked David DiSabatino this question, but his response was along the lines of... artists cannot have their creativity under such restraints.
After going through these recent radio interviews, I decided to leave a comment for the host who recently interviewed Charles here. The comment box only allowed me to post a truncated version. Since I have stuck my foot into this controversy, I'm going to post the entire comment I had intended to leave:
I just listened to your interview with Charles Norman, and then read this article. It appears the last chapter is yet to be written on the Larry Norman saga. I appreciated both your article and interview.
Initially, Mr. Disabatino's movie appeared to make sense of some of the larger-than-life mythology that's surrounded Larry. I've been a big Norman fan for many years as well. Like many who've read your article, I have quite an LN collection, spanning back three decades. About 20 years ago my friends and I would jest about some of Larry's claims- as I grew older, I realized some of Larry's stories sounded a bit suspicious. I never doubted his faith in Christ, the stories though seemed to get bigger as they went on.
Like you, I've interviewed David Disabatino about the movie, and the interview went fine. Probably David and I would have more theological disagreements than anything else.
Recently I heard Mr. DiSabatino claim the song "Baby Out Of Wed-lock" was about Charles Norman. I've grown a bit more suspicious as to exactly what's going on with David's take on Larry. I don't think everything David has put forth is false, but I do wonder if perhaps there really is another side to all this that paints a bit different picture of Larry Norman. Perhaps David's movie isn't telling exactly the entire story. From the response of Charles about also being Larry's son, it appears David may not be checking all his facts as carefully as he should.
I would like to take issue with both you and David over this idea from your article:
"Di Sabatino has a passion for telling what he terms 'biblical stories' where God will use flawed and broken people to carry out his work. As a matter of theological truth and church history many believers struggle with this fact. But as Di Sabatino's powerful films sought to show God used Norman and Frisbee in amazing ways despite their moral failures. There's nothing new in this revelation, of course. The Bible is full of such histories and some of the greatest figures in the Bible struggled morally. But it is still a contentious subject."
While there is truth to this statement, there are serious underlying problems, and I first came across this when I interviewed Mr. DiSabatino.
The problem as I see it with artists like Larry Norman, is that they typically aren't responsible to... anyone. It appears saying something is "art" is a free pass to do whatever one wants to apart from the church, or the leadership of the church. Christ founded a church, and also founded something called (as offensive as this may sound to some) church leaders. I wonder how the ministries of men like Norman and Frisbee would've went, had they sought to be under the leadership of the church. In my opinion, the freedom of "art" is second to obeying Christ. I don't see how anyone reading a New Testament can escape the notion that the Holy Spirit wants believers to be in church, and to be under the guidance of the elders of a local church.
I would really be interested in you interviewing Steve Camp on his 107 Theses for the reform of Christian music:
If you haven't read them, you should. Note Theses #65:
God has designed genuine ministry to be inseparable from the life and leadership of the local church. Any ministry that does not strengthen one's commitment to the local church is inconsistent with the purposes of Christ. (Acts 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:23-25).
Steve outlines Biblical reasons why Christian artists should love the church (theses 64-70), and then states:
71. In response to these truths and to insure a life of godliness and holiness and to guard against blind spots in personal life issues, vocation and theology-submission to the plurality of godly leaders within the church is essential. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
72. We are to obey, honor and pray for the faithful pastors in the church who have been given this sacred trust. They are those who are instructed by the Lord to keep watch over our souls as ones that will give an account. Woe to the shepherds who do not take their responsibility to shepherd the flock of God seriously. They dishonor the Savior. They disobey the Scriptures. They diminish their office and defame their calling. (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-4)
73. In the case of a Christian being overtaken in sin, proper discipline must be exercised within the church to bring about restoration and reconciliation (as prescribed in Matthew 18:15-20; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). This is to confirm repentance and to guard the purity of one's life personally as well as the entire body of Christ corporately.
Steve is right on. If Christian musicians continue to run around, doing and saying, whatever they want to, being responsible to no one, history will probably prove there are a lot more documentaries of Christian musicians for Mr. DiSabatino to make. It's simply an excuse for antinomianism to say "God will use flawed and broken people to carry out his work." That's true, but it's being used as an excuse to justify immorality, and a neglect of church authority. One need only to read Paul's letters to the Corinthians to see how seriously sin is to be taken. It's time for Christian musicians to prove they are Christians by taking the church seriously- it would simply be following the guidelines of the Bible they claim to believe.