Keith Gordon Green (1953-1982) was a popular gospel singer in the 1970s. He was also one of the most engaging and passionate Christians that you would ever want to meet. Converted during the waning days of the “The Jesus Movement” Keith could draw crowds and influence young people like very few musicians in his time. His marriage to Melody was remarkable and inspiring. Some of Keith’s songs, a few co-written with Melody, include "Your Love Broke Through," "You Put This Love In My Heart," and "Asleep In The Light." He also wrote and sung the hugely popular praise and worship songs: "O Lord, You're Beautiful" and "There Is A Redeemer." These are still sung in thousands of churches all over the world.
I followed Keith Green during his lifetime. I was often inspired to serve the Lord by his strong example. At that time I knew little about his theology and practice, simply that he had a strong word from God about mission and evangelism and I respected this profoundly. For this reason I recently decided to listen to some of Keith's music again. I purchased “Keith Green: The Ultimate Collection.” In includes twenty of his best songs and a DVD of his story that has quite a bit of input from his widow Melody and Keith's two closest friends. Also included, very briefly, is a word from his two remaining children, now adult women.
At the age of three Keith began to play the ukulele. He too to the guitar at age five and the piano at seven. (His greatest breakthrough musically, after he became a Christian, came when he played the piano and sang his own music!) The Los Angeles Times picked up his story and he became a bit of a childhood sensation by eight. At age eleven, in February 1965, with forty original songs already under his belt, Green signed a five-year contract with Decca Records (with his father, Harvey Green [1924-1999], as business manager). Decca Records planned to make Keith into a teenage star. By the time Green was twelve, he had written ten more songs, and Time magazine ran a short piece about him in an article about aspiring young rock-'n'-roll singers, referring to him as Decca Records' "prepubescent dreamboat.” Eventually Keith was upstaged by Donny Osmond and his musical star fell in the world of teen idols.
After dabbling in a passionate search for faith, and answers to his life’s questions, Keith came into a relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord. I was surprised to learn that he had a Jewish background and that he read the New Testament long before his conversion. Before knowing Christ Keith tried drugs, Eastern mysticism and “free love.” He was, in short, a true California hippie!
Keith experienced a "bad (drug) trip" and thus become a skeptic. But according to his own account he felt that God "broke through [his] calloused heart," and when he became a real Christian. Soon afterward Keith's wife Melody (whom he had married on Christmas Day 1973) also became a Christian. What followed was a time of teaching in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, this during the pre-John Wimber days.
In viewing “The Keith Green Story: His Love Broke Through” I was stuck again by Keith’s dramatic conversion story and the immediate response that he had to the teachings of Jesus. He began to take people into his southern California home and care for them in both body and soul. He almost drove his wife out the door but she had the grace to follow and to truly grow herself. Keith’s theology was shaped by the influence of the late revival preacher Leonard Ravenhill, a fact not brought out on the CD for some reason. It was Ravenhill who pointed Keith Green to his hero, Charles G. Finney.
In my view this influence of Finney had a very mixed impact upon Keith Green’s life and labors. He would stress the law of God and then exhort his listeners to repent and commit themselves wholly to Christ. This had a good element to it but the Finney excesses can be seen in some of Keith's writings from this time. (I discovered this when I saved some of his work on revival some years ago.) Perhaps the reason this element of Keith’s story is not presented on this lovely CD version of his life is that Green softened this approach before his death. Beginning with the album, So You Want to Go Back to Egypt (1980), there was much more focus on the love, mercy and grace of God than upon his wrath, at least according to various students of Keith’s development. (I find this testimony credible myself.)
Keith Green came along at the same time as John Michael Talbot and his brother Terry Talbot. These two Christian musicians have followed a path to deeper maturity with age and experience. John Michael became a Roman Catholic and now operates a ministry in Arkansas where he is completely committed to practicing an ancient Christian faith and to teaching spiritual formation to others. I had the personal joy of preaching, a few years ago, in a meeting in California where Terry Talbot was the musician. I had a lovely evening with him and we connected very easily on a personal level.
In 1979 Keith and Melody Green left California and set up Last Days Ministry in Garden Valley, Texas. This is where Keith lived until his tragic death, with three of his children, in a small plane crash on July 28, 1982. He was just short of his twenty-ninth birthday. Melody was left with one daughter and a second child she carried in her womb on that terrible day. The little plane was deemed to be overloaded and exceeded the prescribed weight limit. Keith’s sudden death stunned many who loved and followed his work with deep passion. Teen Mania Ministries bought the property in 1996 and occupies it to this day. Last Days Ministry is still led by Melody Green and resides in Oceanside, California. On the DVD presentation Melody Green comes across as a lovely, mature, godly Christian woman. She has remarried and carries on in faith as a follower of Christ.
Tomorrow: Observations and Reflections on the Keith Green Story