Notable Christians: Keith Green

Thirty years ago the American Christian musician, singer, songwriter and evangelist Keith Green died in a tragic airplane crash, along with two of his children. His life was cut short at just 28 years of age, but his tremendous musical and spiritual legacy lives on.

His story can be read about in the 1989 biography, No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green written by his wife Melody and David Hazard (Sparrow – later republished by Word and then Thomas Nelson). The expanded and updated 2008 version runs to over 500 pages.

But let me briefly recount his story here. Born in New York in 1953, he early on displayed his tremendous musical talents. He became a teen idol for a short period, but when that fizzled out, his depression led him on a spiritual quest. Although having a Jewish background, with Christian Science thrown in, like so many during this period, he got caught up first with the counter-culture revolution, and then with the Jesus revolution.

He met Melody, another spiritual seeker, when 19, married her at 20, and by 21 the pair had found what they were looking for. His readings in philosophy and theology were not sufficient, and it was an encounter with the living Christ that changed his life – and that of Melody.

Drugs and wild living were replaced with Bible studies and devotion to Christ, of whom he said, “Loving Him is to be our cause. He can take care of a lot of other causes without us, but He can’t make us love Him with all our heart. That’s the work we must do. Anything else is an imitation.”

Those wanting to see his story told in a seven-part video clip series can find it here:

Keith Green was incredibly privileged to be discipled – in part – by the great English revivalist and man of God, Leonard Ravenhill (1907–1994). Ravenhill had moved to Texas in the 1980s, close to where the Last Days Ministries Ranch of the Greens was set up. Imagine being mentored by such a man of God. No wonder Green had such a powerful ministry.

Ravenhill taught in the LDM classes, and pointed Green and others to the work of great revivalists such as Charles Finney. His singing and preaching reflected the powerful ministries of Finney and Ravenhill, and he called for no compromise and no surrender.

They started producing the Last Days Ministries Newsletter in 1978, which called on believers to live a life of radical and total commitment and dedication to Christ, and to be world changers. The newsletter grew into a magazine, sent to people worldwide.

It featured articles by Keith and Melody along with articles by Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, Winkie Pratney and others. It also included reprints of classic works by such believers as Finney, John Wesley, and William and Catherine Booth. They also tackled the tough issues of the day, including abortion, making a very strong and impassioned case for the right to life.

His first major Christian release was For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, which appeared in 1977. This was followed by the 1978 album, No Compromise. Later albums, which he often gave away for free, and did not demand financial compensation for, included So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt, featuring a guest appearance by Bob Dylan. In 1981 The Keith Green Collection appeared, and in 1982 Songs For the Shepherd was released.

Actually my wife and I were blessed to meet Keith and Melody in 1982 when they visited Europe, and dropped off in Holland where we were living, working with Youth With A Mission. We heard him sing for the first time There is a Redeemer, written by Melody.

Loren Cunningham of YWAM planned missions-inspired concerts with Green, but that was short-lived. While flying over his Texas property with eleven other people on July 28 in a small private aircraft, his life was brought to an abrupt halt. A pregnant Melody and another child were not on board.

One never knows why God allows any life to be cut short, but he of course is now with his redeemer, where he will eventually be reunited with Melody and his two other children. But his impact lives on, with his ministry just as effective today as it was thirty years ago. Posthumous albums of original recordings have been released, and his mark continues to be felt.

Simply offering a few quotes from him tells us a bit about what sort of man he was:

“I repent of ever having recorded one single song and ever having performed one concert if my music, and more importantly – my life – has not provoked you into godly jealousy, or to sell out more completely to Jesus!”

“If your heart takes more pleasure in reading novels, or watching TV, or going to the movies, or talking to friends, rather than just sitting alone with God and embracing Him, sharing His cares and His burdens, weeping and rejoicing with Him, then how are you going to handle forever and ever in His presence? You’d be bored to tears in heaven, if you’re not ecstatic about God now!!”

“The only music minister to whom the Lord will say, ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant,’ is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only worthy One has to be a minister’s most important goal!!!”

“I’d rather have people hate me with the knowledge that I tried to save them.”

These lyrics from his song Asleep in the Light I have shared before, but am happy to do so again. The opening lyrics are these:

Do you see, do you see
All the people sinking down
Don’t you care, don’t you care
Are you gonna let them drown

How can you be so numb
Not to care if they come
You close your eyes
And pretend the job’s done

“Oh bless me Lord, bless me Lord”
You know it’s all I ever hear
No one aches, no one hurts
No one even sheds one tear

But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds
And He cares for your needs
And you just lay back
And keep soaking it in,
Oh, can’t you see it’s such a sin?

And a bit later, he offers this verse:

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can’t even get out of bed
Oh, Jesus rose from the dead
Come on, get out of your bed.

You can listen to this powerful song here, along with seeing the words. Please, I urge every one of you to watch this, and watch it again until God breaks your heart and moves you to a place of softness and tenderness of spirit before him, with a desire to serve him even more faithfully and fervently:

[1181 words]

20 Replies to “Notable Christians: Keith Green”

  1. I will never forget the first time I heard the epic The Prodigal Son Suite back in 1984. It wasn’t the first time I had heard Keith Green, but I caught such a powerful glimpse of God through that. My life changed dramatically in those 12 minutes.

    But the key thing that I notice through Green’s music is that it is not really the musicianship or production that matters. (Not that it is sub-standard, of course it isn’t – more that it is generally quite straightforward and uncomplicated) If you focus on anything that you normally focus on with music you will completely miss by the far the most important thing. What matters is that you get to understand who God is, His holiness, His love, His wrath, His anger, His forgiveness, His power and His Word. Keith Green’s music has a way of transporting you into the Throne Room of the High King Himself. No Christian who loves music should fail to listen to his material.

    My unmissables would be the track I mentioned above and:

    The Sheep and the Goats/Asleep in The Light
    Open Your Eyes
    The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23)
    Nobody Believes in Me Anymore
    There is a Redeemer

    …but I could easily make that list 5 times as long.

    And yes, I had forgotten about the newsletter and the strong stand on abortion. It seems there were seeds sowed in me on that front too, even as a teenager.

    Did he really die at just 28? I feel deeply convicted at just that fact.

    Mark Rabich

  2. Great article. I have read No Compromise but hadn’t watched the video clip of his life story. Well worth watching. Thanks.

    Annette Nestor

  3. Kieth Green has some powerful songs, but his articles are arguably still more powerful. Some of these articles you refer to can still be purchased as tracts. Get them. Old but good.

    AND you can download Leonard Ravenhill’s sermons here:
    They are really powerful listening.

    Daniel Campbell

  4. Yes, Keith’s life, writings and music deeply impacted me back in 1978. That song, “Asleep in the Light” is what made me rethink what I was pursuing, which was a “cushy Christian life” and I changed jobs in 1979 to work for World Concern. This led me to want to go anywhere God could use me to serve Him, which eventually opened my heart to follow Ed Sherman to Holland where we’ve served in YWAM for 30 years. Amazing how God can use one song, eh?
    Terry Sherman, Holland

  5. Like others of his caliber he was unique and lived in a unique community out in the Texas countryside. Wilkinson was just over the road, with his World Challenge, and a church in two old converted shops in the small town of Van (I used to drive 180 round trip miles to attend) Pratney just down the road, at the YWHAM base, donated by Wilkinson, Ravenhill lived in the nearby town, (I went to his prayer meeting at last days) Singer Barry McGuire was around there as was Second Chapter of Acts. When I used to visit, Green had passed on. And I remember hearing Ravenhill had warned him about the danger of overloading plane. And around the time I was there Wilkinson has especially felt to go warn Swaggart he needed to seriously repent. He didn’t and shortly after he was found out. Oh I miss those days, where are the like today?
    Rob Withall

  6. Thanks for posting this tribute Bill, it reminded me again about what an influence Keith’s music had on me as a young teenager struggling to live as a Christian in a lukewarm Church. I think he had already died when I ‘discovered’ his music and the fact that my youth leader called him radical really made me prick up my ears and go looking for an album of his. My family thought I was radical for listening to him but his music encouraged me so much to live all out for Jesus. I haven’t yet followed the links you put in yet but just thinking about his songs has brought tears to my eyes.
    Thanks so much for your minstry of exhortation, challenge and encouragement Bill. It helps keep me going in my own ministry. Many blessings to you and your family.
    Kay Symons

  7. When we with Mercy ships we lived near Van, Texas. The site of the airplane crash was almost in our back yard in Garden Valley. On a few occasions we visited Keith, Josiah and Bethany’s very simple grave in the local cemetery. It has inscribed on it Jesus words from John 12;24; …” unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”
    I listen to Keith’s music often. His music and his life still inspire me. “No compromise” is a great read. We need a few modern day Christians who are so fired up as Keith Green was. But where are they?
    Thanks for reminding us of this anniversary.
    John Bradford

  8. Keith Green was such an awesome inspiration for me! Loved his music and his preaching.

    Patrick Ormsby

  9. Keith Green’s music had a huge influence on me as a young christian back in the 70s and 80s. I still love his music & play it regularly, especially for the powerful challenging lyrics. I haven’t been able to find any modern day christian songwriter with lyrics that even come close. If any christian really and honestly listens to the words, I believe it’s very hard to simply remain lukewarm.

    Diane Whittle

  10. Bill, Thanks for posting this article. I always need a reminder on how great men of God were used by Him. It’s an encouragement to me on living a life for Christ.

  11. Earlier this year I read Keith Green’s biography and was reminded about the YWAM organisation. I see from your article that you served with them. I have been thinking about possibly doing a DTS with them at their Worcester base in South Africa. A DTS was also independently recommended to me and I have spoken to someone who had a very positive experience and ended up being on the mission field for at least 10 years after the DTS. While doing research on the internet last night I came across some websites which had very negative things to say about the unbiblical teachings and practices of YWAM. I would appreciate any advise you could give me in connection with YWAM. Thank you

  12. Thanks Samantha. YWAM is the world’s biggest short-term missions organisation with hundreds of bases around the world. Aside from a generic statement of faith (see below) its theological beliefs may not be too pronounced, and may depend on the base or the leader. So sometimes you will have Calvinist teachings, sometimes Arminian teachings, and many others as well. Many years ago some bases were keen on a teaching known as the moral government of God. It had some different views on things like the atonement, etc. It is in various ways similar to what today we know as free-will theism, or the openness of God theology. This states that God does not know the future, and the future is open in a sense, among other things. I have some theological problems with it, and have offered some of the main writings on it – see here, eg:

    But as I say, it is likely most bases do not even know of it or promote it, so it depends on the staff and the base in question. I am not sure of the scene in SA. But for the most part it is a terrific, on-fire missions and discipleship training organisation.

  13. Yes, Keith was 28 and I was 21, just the tag-along youth trying to follow Arthur Blessit and other admirables. I hitch-hiked into East Texas and phoned them up the day he crashed in the plane. At his memorial concert I was referred to either YWAM or OM. My career set out and still I live today in China (2020), far from the homes we knew at Ventura Boulevard in Reseda/Tarzana, California. (Keith and Melody were my grandma’s neighbors.)

    Today, in Kunming, Ravenhill’s granddaughter has also been my neighbor many years already, and there’s no turning back! Coronovirus is not to fear, but fear Him who holds the keys of life and death, and who has all the answers!

    Where, O Death, is thy sting? Where. O Grave, is thy victory? The last laugh is not yours! The best is yet to come, and justice is in the wings.

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