I SELDOM GET TO CHURCH with much time to spare, but I knew I had to start early if I planned to attend the Concert for the Next Generation, a two-hour rap and rock fest that would kick off Saturday’s Youth Night at Billy Graham’s four-day Metroplex Mission in Texas Stadium this past October. Come again? Billy Graham and hip-hop? After all, for most of more than five decades of public ministry, Graham’s services have by design been familiar and welcoming to people with more conventional notions of worship. By the nineties, however, many of those attending Graham’s crusades, particularly younger people, had never been to a Little Brown Church in the Wildwood and might not regard an invitation of the hymn just to “Trust and Obey” as having much appeal. Encouraged by colleagues with teenage children of their own, Graham has recently agreed to shake up his formula. Word to your mama: The Metroplex Mission was not your grandfather’s crusade.
Inside the stadium, from a giant performance structure that sprawled across one end zone and soared eighty feet upward, a vocalist from Jars of Clay greeted a venue-record 82,000 decorously raucous young folk (10,000 more who could not get in watched a JumboTron screen in the parking lot) with, “Hello, Dallas, Texas! Are you ready to have some fun tonight? Are you ready for a revolution?” That set off an explosion of screaming, pogoing, and as Scripture puts it, “revellings and such like” (Galatians 5:21), even though it seemed that lasciviousness did not come naturally to most of these kids.
The Graham-endorsed contemporary Christian musicians that followed Jars of Clay came in several styles, from soloists who demonstrated their sincerity by looking quite pained to ensembles distinguishable from secular rock, rhythm-and-blues, and hip-hop groups only by their more sanitized lyrics, which were equally indecipherable without liner notes. Most of the groups included vocalists or instrumentalists sporting goatees and wearing peculiar hats, tams, or what looked like berets turned backward, and all relied heavily on extraordinary volume and a throbbing beat to drive the joy, joy, joy, joy down in the hearts of their young fans.
The evening’s final act was no exception. Kirk Franklin, a Fort Worth hip-hop Gospel dynamo, bounced and strutted around the stage as he shouted, “I want everybody in the stadium to lose your Holy Ghost mind! When I say, ‘Throw your hands up!’ I want everybody to just go bananas! Yo, Dallas, Texas, can