One of the most famous and covered songs from Only Visiting This Planet is a song about Jesus entitled "The Outlaw." The lyrics:
Some say he was an outlaw, that he roamed across the land,Though at the time a perfect fit for the Jesus People movement, I expect quite a few readers today cringe at the Christology of "The Outlaw." Still, this song was an important moment for me when I first heard it in college.
With a band of unschooled ruffians and few old fishermen,
No one knew just where he came from, or exactly what he'd done,
But they said it must be something bad that kept him on the run.
Some say he was a poet, that he'd stand upon the hill
That his voice could calm an angry crowd and make the waves stand still,
That he spoke in many parables that few could understand,
But the people sat for hours just to listen to this man.
Some say a politician who spoke of being free,
He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee,
He spoke out against corruption and he bowed to no decree,
And they feared his strength and power so they nailed him to a tree.
Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery,
He could walk upon the water, he could make a blind man see,
That he conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread,
That he talked of being born again and raised people from the dead.
Some say he was the Son of God, a man above all men,
That he came to be a servant and to set us free from sin,
And that's who I believe he is cause that's what I believe,
And I think we should get ready cause it's time for us to leave.
The first and third verses, not surprisingly for a male adolescent, were what captured my imagination. Along with the title of the song and what it theologically suggested.
Basically, the song "The Outlaw" was the first time I'd considered that there might be something, well, illegal and criminal about being a Christian. That there was something politically radical and subversive about Jesus and his movement. The lyric "he spoke out against corruption" was one of the first times I'd really pondered how social justice was integral to Jesus's Kingdom proclamation.
No other music I was singing at the time at church was posing these sorts of questions, suggesting that Christianity is engaged in a struggle with "the principalities and powers." So "The Outlaw" stood out and altered how I looked at things.
To be sure, a lot of what attracted me to "The Outlaw" was the youthful desire to fuse adolescent rebellion with Christianity. It made me feel cool that Jesus was a rebel. That Jesus might have worn a black leather jacket with lots of zippers along with torn t-shirts. Like the way I dressed in the '80s.
Looking back I can see how "The Outlaw" fit into my adolescent spirituality. And yet, and this is what I want to say, I do look back on the song with great theological fondness.
"The Outlaw" was my first glimpse into a radical Christianity. The song was my first imagining of a Christianity that had political implications, and subversive implications at that.
Here was a song that suggested that Christianity created outlaws. And looking back I can see that I've never forgotten that message.