NASHVILLE — When John Cooper, the frontman and bassist for the Grammy-nominated band Skillet, first emerged on the Christian music scene in the mid-'90s, he was under the impression that everyone in his sphere held the same fundamental Christian beliefs, like the exclusivity of Christ and His death and resurrection, and adhered to a biblical view of sexual ethics and morality.
“[I thought] if we disagreed on stuff, it would be tertiary issues,” he said. “Most certainly, we would agree on the stuff that really matters.”
But around 2012, Cooper said, he began to realize a change in the Christian music world. He saw his peers increasingly drifting into progressive theology in response to cultural issues, reacting out of emotion and a desire for acceptance instead of leaning on Scripture.
“I just didn't understand what was happening,” he recalled. “I didn't recognize it. And I was like, What is going on?”
Cooper, who is married to bandmate Korey Cooper, said that during this time he consumed countless books covering history, theology, philosophy, social science and critical theory to try to understand how his CCM peers had gotten so immersed in liberal theology.
“I went, ‘OK, all of this is the same liberal theology that we dealt with 100 years ago, the same sort of anti-Dominionism that Spurgeon fought in the downgrade. It just comes back around and now it's our time to fight it,” he said.
So, he decided to speak up.
Now a 47-year-old father of two, Cooper is the first to acknowledge he’s considered a bit of a “firestarter.” He regularly uses his platform to address hot-button issues like sexual ethics, post-modernism, abortion and deconstruction from a biblical — often unpopular, he said — perspective.
“I didn't realize that's what this is; we are actually at a really important place in Christianity in the faith, I think, a real crossroads about the Gospel that we hand down to our children,” he said. “What is that Gospel going to look like? How is Christianity going to even be defined? What are the tenets of the faith going to be? That's why I started speaking out so boldly about things.”
Cooper’s boldness has come at a cost: He shared that when he was seeking a publisher for his recent book,Awake & Alive to Truth: Finding Truth in the Chaos of a Relativistic World, publishing companies were afraid to touch it.
“My band Skillet, we have 5 million Facebook friends, 3 million YouTube followers, a million followers on Instagram. And I wrote a book that no major Christian publisher would publish,” he said.
“I've got a huge platform, right? Wouldn't publish it. But not because I was saying stuff that was too crazy; it's because I was saying things that are too orthodox. So the same publishers will publish someone a lot less famous than me, sell less books, make less money and print heresy. At the same time, they won't print a book for me that is just talking about nothing that would be controversial for any lowest common denominator Evangelical … original sin, why Jesus died, why you cannot trust your emotions, the Word of God is the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Scripture … this is not controversial stuff, but it is now.”
The "Standing in the Storm" singer said he believes there’s a shift occurring in Christian music, not just among the artists but those behind the labels and radio stations too.
“If I said today, we're going to make a lowest common denominator creed that you have to agree with to play Christian music, we'd see 40 percent of the industry gone tomorrow. And if you added in sexual ethics to it, I bet there'd be 30 percent left. My guess is 30 percent of the industry still holds to what we would call traditional biblical sexual ethics. That's my guess,” he stressed.
Based on his decades in the CCM industry, Cooper said that hymn writer Keith Getty was “one hundred percent accurate” when he told CP that many Christian songs are “written by people who you wouldn't trust to be your kids' Sunday school teachers.”
“Now, just to be clear, there are some amazing people as well, friends of mine that I look up to, that I respect, they are absolutely there without a doubt,” he clarified.
“But it is very alarming,” Cooper added. “It's alarming that it's happening in the industry, the musicians, it's also alarming to me — I can't believe the things that I read pastors and public people say on public Christian platforms that I used to read and trust. I can't believe the stuff they say, especially after just diving deep into the theology and the social sciences … it’s just humanism, just being bombarded into Christianity. I just can't believe the stuff that they write that's just not in line with historical Christianity, certainly.”
Cooper reflected on the inconsistencies in some of the ideologies permeating the Church under the guise of “justice” and “equality.” The artist, who lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin, cited the backlash he faced after speaking out against the violent protests that erupted following the police shooting of Jacob Blake who was wielding a knife and resisting arrest. In Blake's case, a female had called 911 to report that he was trespassing at the same residence where police had been called weeks earlier which led to Blake being arrested and charged with one felony count of third-degree sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct related to domestic abuse at that residence.
“We had riots, houses three blocks from my house were burned down to the ground,” he recalled. “I was on TV, I was just saying, ‘I can't believe this is America, my kids are here. We don't know what's going to happen.’ I just said, ‘I'm going to have to sit up with my AR and make sure nobody tries to kill my family.’ That, to me, doesn't seem even like a controversial thing. I had friends, Christian friends, who were just like, ‘This is so unChristian.’”
But those same critics, Cooper said, also praised Ukraine for defending their country from Russia: “You have no consistency,” he said. “Why does Ukraine have more sovereignty over their country than I have over my family? This is just a misunderstanding of self-government. This is a misunderstanding of liberty under God's law. … If I don't have a right to protect my family, then Ukraine doesn't have a right to protect Ukraine, right? It's the same type of thing.”
Even some pastors are “going very soft” on the issue of abortion and approaching the subject from a humanistic point of view in an attempt to seem empathetic, the rocker lamented.
“I think a lot of pastors, maybe that meant well, going soft on the issue of abortion say, ‘No, no, we're still against abortion. But we have to also be for the rights of the mother.’ That is a code word for saying, ‘We're going to stop caring so much about this issue because the world doesn't look at it like that anymore.’ So now it's an issue of justice … that we make sure that a woman has free and easy access to abortion, and if not, that's another way the patriarchy is oppressing us.”
Cooper posited that Scripture is authoritative and applies to every aspect of life, from education and parenting to COVID-19 mandates. Yet, he said, biblical illiteracy among professing Christians has led many to a place where “we no longer believe that the Scriptures are authoritative.”
“Either Christ is Lord of everything, or you're saying there's a sliver of the pie that He's not Lord over, and He doesn't speak to; that's just a neutral territory,” he said. “And we really are seeing bad, bad fruit from thinking that there are a lot of neutral areas.”
Still, Cooper offered the reminder that as society increasingly delves into chaos, more and more people will turn to Scripture, the ultimate authority, for answers. He shared that during Skillet’s latest tour, he’s seen an unprecedented number of young people give their lives to Christ.
“It’s like they’re seeing it now,” he said. “When you live in a world where nothing means anything, there's no male, there's no female, there's no sex. It's like everything's changing every week, they are feeling this incredible anxiety. … I feel so bad for young people; imagine growing up right now as a young person, and being like, ‘Whatever I thought was true today might be untrue tomorrow, and then I might be yelled at for saying it a day too late,’ canceled, taken off social media or whatever the next thing may be. That's going to devolve to a place where all of the sudden, people will finally realize this is not working, and we need a new answer.”
Christians, he stressed, need to get sharper on the Word of God to speak knowledgeably into cultural issues, adding: “I've just found an immense amount of peace in believing the Bible and seeing it play out in culture. You speak to it, and eventually, [people’s] eyes are going to open and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I see that maybe the Bible is real.’ And that's when we need to swing those nets. Swing nets wide.”
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org