Jesus and John Wayne

So a radio station has now pulled Gaither Vocal Band’s “Jesus and John Wayne” from the air after listeners complained about the song’s allegedly bad theology. What rubbish.

Regular readers will know that I don’t like the song one bit, but reading this kind of nonsense nearly roused me into a fit of defensive pique, just out of spite for the stupidity of these complaints. Then I went back and listened to the song again just now … and yeah … well, my gallant tendencies sort of hitched their giddy-up to ole John Wayne’s trusty steed and cantered off somewhere around the second chorus.

The problem with the song isn’t its theology (there’s hardly any there to speak of, really). It’s the writing. This is a classic example of a concept (”Jesus and John Wayne!”) in search of some lyrics to justify the hook. When I first saw the title when the album came out, I braced myself for a “Baptism of Jesse Taylor” redux, with labored lyrics about a picturesque mischief-maker-who looks mean but means well deep-down despite his gruff exterior¬† and conspicuous (but endearing!) irascibility. And though this probably would have made my eyes roll, it would at least have made a decent amount of sense within the lyrical conventions of country gospel.

Instead we get this boilerplate ma-and-pa lyric about how daddy sang bass, mama sang … oops … wrong song … daddy was a COWBOY, this time, hard as a rock, and mama was quiet as a prayer. Or a bible verse. Or a nap. Yawn.

I mean, I get it. The singer is somewhere between the spiritual austerity of his father (John Wayne)¬† and the sweet piety of his mother (Jesus). And of course the fact that Guy Penrod actually looks a little like Jesus and John Wayne is probably no small reason why the song ended up getting written, cut, and staged in the first place. Which is fine. Songs get written for particular singers all the time (“God’s Little People,” anyone?). Then again, most songs don’t rely on lyrical syllogisms that call to mind an image like the love child of the son of man and the Duke.

But the real hoot about all this is that the song’s downhome spiritual angst and hokey attempt to capitalize on Penrod’s country-Christ look was probably written with the very sorts of people in mind who are now howling the song off the air. Jesus and John, meet rock and hard place.

PS: I wonder if the song would have gotten this reaction if Penrod were still with the Vocal Band?

PPS: For once, it’s nice to see someone else’s comments section get swamped by the Sister Bertha Better Than You Brigade.¬† We need the break over here!

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  1. Extra Ink wrote:

    The bottom line is that it just isn’t up to par with what we expect from the GVB lyrically. It’s weak. Radio is bearing this out, as the song sits on the Singing News chart for April, 2009 at #80.

  2. Extra Ink wrote:

    Conversely, their next radio release will be “The Diff’rence Is In Me” and it’s a great song, destined to do well at radio.

  3. Tim wrote:

    In case anyone cares, I have no problem with the song. It tells a personal story of how a person feels and perceives himself. It actually might create some thought provoking from people that feel like the writer of the song does.

  4. Joshua Cottrell wrote:

    I loved your line- “…Sister Bertha Better Than You…”, from a song with actually more theological clout. LOL

  5. Matt Baker wrote:

    i think the biggest problem with the song is pulling a Hollywood star who had all kinds of problems as the focus of a GOSPEL song…maybe we should make the focus more on Christ than John Wayne…i don’t care where we’ve been…i don’t care how close we are to John Wayne..i care how close i am to the Lord..

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I still like the lyric. Great concept. Great performance. Thinking of Guy’s legacy and all the work he has done for the GVB in the past, I’m just happy the Guy-led GVB will have another swan song on radio.

    True story. Rick Hendrix asked Facebook members for input on which GVB song to single next. I suggested the title cut, “Lovin’ Life.” Rick said some DJs were scared of Guy’s vamping on the song’s intro. They went with “The Diff’rence Is In Me” instead, which is a good enough song. I thought it was funny that DJs were frightened of “Lovin’ Life.” I guess if their listeners are all like Joy-FM’s, though, maybe they know what they’re doing! :o)

    By the way, why is no one complaining about the rash of songs right now with “I know that I know that I know” hooks?

    (with slight variations)

    “I try to be more like you Lord, but most days I know I ain’t” sounds downright profound next to that sort of line.

  7. LW wrote:

    I just think the song is stupid. The GVB used to sing some amazing songs. They really need to step it up and come up with some better material.

  8. Wayne Kerr wrote:

    #6 Joy-FM listeners
    I live in North Carolina and have loved listening to Joy-FM for years. Up until a couple of years ago I supported them. I hardly ever listen in the morning anymore. I just can’t stand the mind-numbing banter between I’mdanielbritt, Candy and that other old bat. I will still listen once in a while during the middle of the day to Wanda, but for the most part I can’t stand it. But that’s just me.
    As far as the Jesus and John Wayne thing, I think it’s a dumb idea of a song. What’s next? “God and Gomer Pyle”?

  9. jbb wrote:

    Kind of reminds me of the line..”I’m a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock - n- roll”.
    I’m a little bit SG, he’s a little bit contemporary. I don’t care for the song itself, but, I do get it.
    I try to be more like the Lord, but, most days I ain’t either. Thank God for Grace.

  10. jake wrote:

    “Jesus and John Wayne” is not my favorite song on the newest GVB album, but I beg to differ with those who think it contains bad theology. It is a song in which the songwriter’s father had a “John Wayne” personality, his mother’s life was closer to the life Jesus taught us to live, and on his spiritual journey, while he knows he should be more like Jesus, sometimes the John Wayne tendencies come in. Hence, he is somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne. It sounds a lot like 1 John 1 and Romans 7 to me, if someone is looking for the “theological” basis.

    This brings up another interesting topic, though. How “literally” close to Scripture must a song be in order to be considered “Biblical”? Obviously, if a song teaches or implies something that clearly contradicts Scripture (e.g. works salvation) then it should be rejected. But what place does artistic expression (or “sanctified imagination”) have in SG music?

    For example, a frequent topic of SG songs is heaven. Let’s face it: the Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about heaven. When L5 sings, “I’m longing for the day when we hear King Jesus say, ‘Welcome to the Promised Land’” — I don’t find that in my Bible. But I also don’t find anything that proves it couldn’t happen. Likewise, there is no Scripture that tells us about us having conversations with our mothers up there, or sitting down beside Jesus to rest awhile. Does that make them unbiblical? They certainly don’t contradict Scripture; they just can’t be supported with Scripture. Streets of gold we can prove. A lot of the other stuff is imagination or assumption.

    On another front: one of GV’s biggest hits was “My Name Is Lazarus.” Now, the song does include the disclaimer that this is just an illustration — but it also could not possibly happen. The raising of Lazarus was one of the last miracles Jesus did before the Cross, while the 4 men who let the lame man down through the roof occurred much earlier in Jesus ministry. If we want to get really literal and technical, that song would have to be labelled as false and untrue. I hope nobody wants to go there.

    I agree that SG songs need to be true to the Word of God, but if we are going to start demanding a proof text for every line of every song in order for it to be considered “Biblical” then we are going to have to throw out half of the songs in the genre. I honestly can’t see that there is anything unbiblical about someone giving a testimony that, as they are seeking to become like Jesus, sometimes the “John Wayne” qualities come out. It sounds like honesty to me.

  11. CVH wrote:

    Wayne (#8),

    Thanks for the idea…

    second half of chorus…”I may be just a private, a dumb Marine I am, but I’ll serve my commander, he’s the Great Shazaaaam!”

    And I didn’t even use a Denny’s napkin.

  12. Mike wrote:

    Likely it will be “Jesus and Barrack Hussein Obama”…

  13. RF wrote:


    You owe me a keyboard. I’ve never laughed as hard as that. Of course coffee with sugar and cream was the problem.

    As for the song. Not the best and not the worst song I’ve ever heard. I will say it’s a long way from “The King is Coming,” that’s for sure.

  14. NonSGfan wrote:

    it’s a bad song.

  15. James Thornton wrote:

    I agree the song isn’t anything I would want to brag about. But then again what has come out of the Gaither camp that was really that great since “Give it Away”. I don’t agree with many of Mr. Gaither’s actions but because of what he has done more for SG in the past two decades SG fans should be thankful. With the new reqime in Washington (pardon the spelling), I wonder how long gospel music, not just Southern will be around.

  16. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    My pastor made a very enlightening point in his sermon this past Sunday. He mentioned 8 different aspects of our salvation -1)election 2)regeneration 3)conversion [a. our response b. our faith] 4) justification 5)adoption [which is the subject that he teaching on last sunday] 6) sanctification 7)perseverance 8)glorification.

    It is impossible for every Christian song to include every aspect of salvation. For instance, I used to sing the old Governor Jimmie Davis song “I Was There When It Happened” but had dropped it from my list of songs because I felt that the theology was not strong enough in the song. I felt that the song was incomplete because I was not there when Jesus purchased my salvation on Calvary. When it is true that I was not present when Jesus atoned for my sins, I was present when I was converted. This song is speaking of conversion and not election, regeneration, sanctification, or anything other aspect of salvation. Conversion and assurance are the two subjects that Gov. Davis addresses in this song.

    While we do need to care about the content of our songs, we must be careful not to get too technical in picking apart gospel songs. Some songs are designed to be strongly theological. These are hymns. “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” and “In Christ Alone” are all modern hymns.

    However, some songs are testimony songs. These are gospel songs. They include praise to Jesus for what He has done for the singer, but they may not always be expressed in precise theological statements. These songs are one’s expression of praise based on the subjective understanding. Sometimes the writer’s understanding is deep and vast, sometimes it is somewhat shallow.

    I think if we would keep these ideas in mind,then we would not be overcritical of gospel songwriters.

  17. Zack Swain wrote:

    I can’t really say why but for some reason the song reminds me of they baptized Jessey taylor. Like I said…I don’t know why…maybe its because it tells a personal story. who knows. never the less I do enjoy the song, but its not my favorite GVB song. just another good song to add to the collection…Id say give it a few years and it will be just like he came down to my level or satisfied. but those are just my opinions…take them for what there worth and carry on with your day!

  18. cdguy wrote:

    RF — you mentioned “The King Is Coming”. There’s another one some have quetioned the theology of the lyrics. BG has even publicly acknowledged the controversy of that lyric, but stating that the fact remains, the King IS coming.

  19. jake wrote:

    Edguy (#18) — re. The King Is Coming, that’s one song that you opinion of it may vary depending on your views of eschatology. For Premillennialists, it’s bad doctrine. For Amillennialists, it isn’t a problem. Good and Godly men (and women) hold to both sides. It’s not a matter of heresy in the song; it’s different views of the doctrine of Last Things. The important thing is that The King IS Coming.

  20. Wade wrote:

    Ok cdguy… I may regret this… but what is OFF theologically in the King is Coming??

  21. Nancy Rivers wrote:

    # 8 Wayne Kerr-

    We understand you are not happy with Joy FM’s new morning show, but that is not what the subject is about. I have noticed you keep mentioning Joy FM to try and get a rise out of people, but obviously no one cares. The only reason I am responding is because I do listen and support the station and what it stands for.

    If you have a problem with the milk, don’t buy the cow! If you hate the station, stop listening to it. Stop your whining. No one wants to hear your petty complaints.

    As far as the song goes, I think it sounds like a 3 year old wrote it. Certainly not anything of Gaither quality.

  22. Hummingbird wrote:

    The arguements about the song nonwithstanding…….I giggled so hard at some of the comments suggesting alternate lyrics and future song titles…..not so good to do while I’m working!!!!!! :)

  23. quartet-man wrote:

    Concerning the song Jesus and John Wayne: “It’s somewhere between brilliant and inane.” ;-)

  24. Alan wrote:

    Wade, et al, some of the lyrics and the metaphors used in “The King Is Coming” are widely believed to be things that will take place before Christ’s second coming (to earth) not the Rapture (His coming to the air). #19, Jake, summed it up well. I agree with others - whether or not that song is accurate, the King really is coming! Hymnology isn’t always theology, but it’s nice when they’re in perfect harmony.

    As for “Jesus and John Wayne”, I think it’s just a weak song, and if I was surprised that they even recorded it, I was really surprised that it was released as a single for radio.

  25. Harry Peters wrote:

    Old Harry Peters wonders if BG dresses up like the Duke when they sing it. If so, someone ought to kick the pilgram’s ass for one of America’s true icons.

  26. CVH wrote:


    No, he does that on the weekends for Gloria.

  27. Harry Peters wrote:

    Good one, CVH! Old Harry Peters believes it would take “True Grit” to watch that tag team. lol

  28. Lisa wrote:

    @CVH and Harry:

    That’s not a visual I want to even contemplate!!!!!!
    Change the subject—-PLEASE!!!!

    ::goes away with eyes covered::

  29. Aggie in Texas wrote:

    I read a comment just last week by a pastor concerning eschatology. He said there were Premillennialists, Amillennialists and Postmillennialists, but he was a Panmillennialist. However it “pans” out, Jesus is still coming and God is in control.

  30. cynical one wrote:

    Wade — I think Jake and Alan answered the question, but I’ll add a comment. Pre-tribulationalists would have a problem with the first verse:

    “The marketplace is empty
    No more traffic in the streets
    All the builders’ tools are silent
    No more time to harvest wheat….”

    Pre-trib says, even though billions of Christians will be suddenly missing, there will still be billions more, continuing to shop in the world’s markets, drive their cars down the streets, continuing to do their jobs as normal.

    However, Dr David Jeremiah, in his book “What In The World Is Going On?” says that, when millions of Christians suddenly disappear without a trace, there’s going to be chaos. Those who are left suddenly can’t find Grandma, their babies, other family members. Can you imagine?

    He only points out Americans, because he’s talking about the fact that USA is not referred to in endtime prophecies in the Bible. He’s speculating on why that is, and what might have happened to bring us to that place of non-importance. Of course, it would presumably send ANY country into the same chaos, but especially where there are large numbers of believers.

    It’s a good read.

    But it boils down to interpretation of the sequence of events.

    And I didn’t say Bill & Gloria were off. I only stated, “some have questioned” it. And that Bill has publicly acknowledged that debate.

  31. Wade wrote:

    Old Harry Peters…who is he tagging in???

  32. Wade wrote:

    thanks cynical one… for adding what you did with out the pomp and better than you attitude ppl like SGfan and his Daddy throw down on us!!!

  33. Lisa wrote:

    Hey Wade-
    I can’t find you on facebook.
    I’d friend you, but the link isn’t clickin for me :(

  34. Alan wrote:

    Hey, Wade - I didn’t throw down any attitude when I tried to answer your question! (#24) Neither did Jake. And Cynical One, excellent comment.

  35. Harry Peters wrote:

    Wade (31) Old Harry Peters won’t tag in on that one, but I’ll bet Gloria is trying to reach out and tag EH. lol

  36. Wayne Kerr wrote:

    #21-Nancy Rivers
    I am not “whining” about anything. I am just stating my opinion. I don’t believe that I “keep mentioning” the station. I may have made one other post in the past, but that’s it.
    Please help yourself with supporting Joy-FM. I haven’t asked you or anyone else to do otherwise. You said that nobody cares about what I think about them, well, evidently you do or you wouldn’t have cared enough to respond to my post. If you would have read my post closely, you’ll see that I have quit listening to the part of the station that I don’t like. I don’t “like the milk” so I quit feeding the cows. You obviously are the target audience they are going for. The middle-aged housewife/mother.

  37. Wade wrote:

    Lisa… try this link now on my name… I tested it and if you are logged on to FB it should take ya there… but if not search Wade Cardwell… that should get it too…

    Alan… Buddy I did not take any from you unless you are SGfan’s Daddy, which is a/k/k as dr. joe blow… it is refreshing that we now have SGDoc to help us with out ailments. SgDoc seems a little more chilled… your response I did not see until you called me on it… Thank You too for your info.

    Jake thank you also… you da man!!!

    I was nice and THANKED Sin I Cal one on the positive informative info with out the BS!!!

    Ols Harry Peters… as they say in the rasslin’ biz… Gloria is waiting for the HOT TAG!! I wonder who will have on more make up EH or GG???

  38. Lisa wrote:

    ::covers eyes from the wrestling match::

    Y’all are really too bad. (and funny.) I’m sposed to go to the Gaither & Co. in April. Please Lord that I may keep a straight face!!

    We have a hymn we sing…begins “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind…” I always hear a friend of mine finish that as “She knows NOT how she looks in that outfit.” I can’t keep a straight face when it’s sung.

    I suspect that’s going to happen in April too.

  39. Harry Peters wrote:

    Wade (37) Old Harry Peters is not sure whether the princess or GG wears more make up, but I’m thinking GG probably takes hers off at night.

  40. cynical one wrote:

    Wade & Alan — Thanks for the affirmation. Some here think I only know how to write “pithy comments” about political things. I do have some relatively intelligent things to say, occaisionally.

  41. Alan wrote:

    LOL, CynicalOne. Your post, #30, was really excellent. One point that you had mentioned from Dr. Jeremiah’s book caught my attention again…how that in the Bible, the west isn’t even mentioned in the end times. I’ve talked about that for a long time. As it’s true, it begs the question: If we’re the world’s last superpower, (even if we’re hanging onto that designation with a very tenuous hold these days) what’s going to happen that will render us to be a non-factor in eschatology? For 15 years, I’ve said that all I can figure is that the economic house of cards that we’ve built for ourselves will collapse. Looking at our economic condition, and what’s likely to come when the trillions of dollars of debt come due,
    I’m more convinced of it. Any thoughts before these threads die out?

  42. cynical one wrote:

    Alan, Dr Jeremiah’s theory in the book is that either the rapture will throw this country into so much turmoil that we’re rendered helpless (I can picture that), or we’ll join forces with the newly resurrected Roman Empire.

    I highly recommend the book.

  43. Mike wrote:

    If you all weren’t so sick, I’d find you humorous. As much as you all love to spew forth venom around BG, I have noted it didn’t take some of you long to get over and sign up on the new “free” Gaither site….even those who were banned on the former paid site.

  44. gaithergirl wrote:

    Well, # 43, that certainly explains the
    atmosphere on the new Gaither site! It
    has been one of the most hostile places I have ever viewed!

    Very sad, people on Christian websites
    should as the very least be civil!

  45. AFoster wrote:

    I agree with Avery on this one, I don’t necessarily like the song, however, can’t complain about its theological meaning and whatnot.

  46. Bruce Childress wrote:

    I listened to this song and listened to it some more… If you do not know the meaning behind the song you need to Dig alittle deeper in God’s word. Jesus was perfect no man was ever as perfect as him and can never life as perfect. John Wayne was used because he’s an idol to some and had his share of problems. So the song is saying the character is somewhere between Jesus and John Wayne because he’s not perfect no one is. It even says ” Lord I try to live like you but I know I aint” Right there gives the song away so before criticising or putting judgement on something READ THE BIBLE for the meaning or think about your life…

  47. oldmsrebel wrote:

    How many of the nay-sayers are even close to doing as the characters John Wayne played ? Let alone close to being like the Master !
    You all would be appalled if Jesus came by and had a trimmed beard or and untrimmed beard !
    If Jesus showed up in your church you would run Him off , IF you even go to church . AND your spiritual gift is badmouthing someone who doesen’t dress or look like you !
    The song is an Excellent parallel between how we Should live and how Most of Us don’t ! “Sometimes I ain’t ” .

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