NewReleaseToday is celebrating 20 years of covering Christian music and through much of our history, Kevin Davis has been speaking with Christian artists about the Biblical inspirations behind their biggest songs. After more than a thousand conversations with artists, it's a remarkable series that is still going strong today and since Davis has spent all of his time here at NRT peeling back the curtain on Christian music, I thought it was time to do the same on his process, his own inspirations and a series that has stayed strong for over 13 years.
First of all, congrats on the massive success of the Behind the Song series. After 13 years, you've now conducted close to 1,100 interviews with Christian artists. That's quite the accomplishment. How did it all start?
Thank you! My theme verse for writing these behind-the-song devotionals has long been John 3:30 (NKJV): "He must increase, but I must decrease." The reason this series started is connected to my testimony. In the Lenten season of 2008, my pastor, J.R. Briggs, challenged me to consider fasting from music and focus on the Biblical truth that led me to Christ. I credit the Biblical messages in Christian songs, starting with the debut Jars of Clay album, that caused me to truly hear and read the gospel truth that I could never be "good enough" to earn salvation, and I needed to trust in Jesus alone as my Savior. I pulled over to the side of the road and said the sinner's prayer along with a Christian artist listening to a hidden track at the end of the album by the band Raze. Since my pastor knew my testimony, he wanted me to consider whether music had become an idol in my life, and instead focus on the truths that these songs are based on. As a result, I had already been writing music reviews on NRT, and I approached you to see if I could start a "behind the song" series where I wrote about the Biblical truth behind the songs I most enjoyed in Christian music. You graciously said yes, and God has done all the rest. He deserves all the glory!
There's obviously drive and passion behind what you do. But what compels you to keep doing this week in and week out?
It's been hard to write close to 1,100 of these song-based devotionals, as the prep time, Bible study, artist interviews, transcription, and devotional writing is approximately 3 hours per song. Rough math–that's 3,300 hours! The average work month is 130 hours, so that's 25 months or over 2 years of doing nothing but devotional writing!
What compels me is my testimony of how I was led to Jesus, and my deep desire to pay it forward. I feel called by the Lord to share this passion with both readers and these artists, and naturally my family and I have been very blessed to dig into these rich Bible passages connected to our favorite songs.
Who has been some of your favorite artists to talk to?
That's a fun question! The first time I spoke with Dan Haseltine from Jars of Clay was an absolute blessing! Since I credit songs that he wrote–including "Love Song for a Savior" and "Worlds Apart"–for leading me to Christ, I'm eternally grateful that I had that privilege, and the first song we discussed was "Oh My God" which has a great message. My most featured artists are among my favorites; Jason Gray, Francesca Battistelli, Meredith Andrews, Skillet, JJ Heller, Big Daddy Weave, Sidewalk Prophets, Matthew West, Natalie Grant, and Rend Collective. I've featured all of them more than 10 times each, with Jason Gray up to over 20 songs in the past 13 years. I'll add in some special memories were interviews in-person with Hillsong UNITED, Lecrae, Delirious, Matt Maher, Jeremy Camp, Bebo Norman, Sara Groves, MercyMe, Phil Wickham, Scott Stapp of Creed, Switchfoot, LEDGER, and NEEDTOBREATHE as they are all among my favorite artists. Getting to meet in-person and talk Scripture has been a dream come true. On my bucket list, I've had the chance to speak with Brooke Fraser of Hillsong twice, and she was absolutely amazing!
I'm sure you've heard patterns of stories that keep coming up again and again. God works in so many ways, but we, at times, make His work a lot more complex than what it needs to be. What are some themes that have continually come up as artists write all of these amazing songs?
I've started cross-referencing frequently cited Scriptures, and naturally, God's plans for us as described in Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28, His mercies as described in Lamentations 3:22-23, and our identity in Him as described in Psalm 139, are some of the most common themes. One of my favorite Bible verses to write about is Romans 8:11: "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Especially coming off this past year with COVID-19, singing songs based on the power of the Holy Spirit living in each of us has been impactful to me personally. There's a great translation of that verse in The Voice that words that passage this way, "If the Spirit of the One who resurrected Jesus from the dead lives inside of you, then you can be sure that He who raised Him will cast the light of life into your mortal bodies through the life-giving power of the Spirit residing in you." As I do Bible studies, I love the power of God's Word and how it speaks to each of us personally. Check out my interview with Skillet about "Terrify the Dark" which brings that passage alive.
You're able to get a lot of great information about the Biblical inspirations behind some of the biggest songs in Christian music? What do you attribute that to?
I give God all the glory. As it says in Ephesians 3:20-21: "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." I started out just being faithful to connect God's Word to my favorite songs and God has done exceedingly abundantly above all that I could possibly ask or think. It says in His Word in Isaiah 55:11: "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." I attribute that focusing our conversation on the power of God's Word doesn't return void.
As you look back on the past 13 years, talk about some of the things you've learned about yourself as you've had so many conversations with artists?
I've learned that I am continually in awe and moved by the power of God's Word and that even as I revisit a passage, connecting the truth behind the song to what God says about us is consistently humbling and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I have learned that staying focused on my theme verse, John 3:30, and allowing Christ to be pre-eminent in these conversations is allowing me to be a better, broken vessel, like jars of clay, to better let God's light shine through me.
Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.
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