August 20th, 2010
10:19 AM ET
CNN's Chris Ford brings us this story about a Canadian Pastor who brought heavy metal to his church.
Several years ago, facing a dwindling membership at his church, Canadian Pastor John Van Sloten of Calgary, Alberta decided to branch out from traditional Christian preaching and to look for God in more unconventional places.
He’s not your average pastor, exemplified in the title of his first book, "The Day Metallica Came to Church," out this month.
“Everywhere I turn I see a face, hear a voice, have an experience," says Van Sloten, "a knowing of God in the strangest places. It’s a huge idea. I’ve begun to articulate that idea, and it’s a good life trying to articulate it."
Soon after adopting his new strategy, he began performing sermons on many worldly things. And when a church youth saw him preach popular music, he asked for a sermon on his favorite band, Metallica. Then Van Sloten began to question his methods.
“Even there?” he asked himself about the heavy metal band.
Perhaps some divine intervention was in the works. A friend of Van Sloten’s called the next day and offered tickets to see Metallica in Calgary. Van Sloten decided to go.
When Metallica played their rock ballad “Nothing Else Matters,” Van Sloten noticed that the venue seemed suddenly church-like, and he knew he had to preach about Metallica.
“Putting 'church' beside Metallica is good marketing hook to sell a book, but the point is that, especially in the darkest places, God is there,” he said.
The book is an intensely personal read, revealing Van Sloten’s struggles and triumphs in preaching, interpreting his vision of God, and raising a child with Down Syndrome, which led him to preaching and is what he calls “The best thing God could have ever done in my life.”
Like some mainstream Christian books, Van Sloten’s details the author discovering his calling.
Unlike some of those books, "The Day Metallica Came to Church" gets motivation from pop culture, and the author says some are not so comfortable with that.
“There was a surprising inability to see what we're doing," among Christians, Van Sloten said of his book and of his church's methods. " To many, God only speaks through the Bible, and they continue to use cultural context only as an illustration."
“We want to move from illustration to revelation," he said. "The biggest block for people is, ‘If God is speaking in the world, how authoritative can it be? Certainly not the same as the Bible.’ We say, ‘If God is speaking, that’s authority, period.'”
Despite Van Sloten’s idea of God speaking through everything, contradictions seem to arise, considering several of Metallica’s members (and other subjects of his preaching) are non-Christian or non-religious altogether.
When lead singer James Hetfield’s mother was diagnosed with cancer her religious beliefs prompted her to refuse medicine and she soon died. Their song “The God That Failed,” among others, makes a very anti-religious point, but Van Sloten has an answer for that, too.
“God’s ability to speak is not contingent on what people believe. God speaks through all sources, believing and non-believing,” he says. “If you believe in God speaking only through the Bible, that’s a small definition of the Bible.”
One of his book's key themes is that "You see what you’re looking for." Critics of Van Sloten claim he sees only what he’s looking for, and while Van Sloten admits his preaching is subjective, he points out the Bible has communities of people preaching certain parts of it well. He considers preaching about human culture in that tradition.
He also finds parallels between worldly events like sports and Christian concepts.
“The World Cup is all of humanity focused on one game, one ball," says Van Sloten. "It’s the stadium of life, every tongue and tribe, all nations coming together. The World Cup is the closest thing to a foretaste of heaven.”
Now, subjects for Van Sloten’s sermons come mostly from the church’s community: several hundred in Calgary and thousands online and on the radio.
To his detractors, Van Sloten asks only, “Be open enough to engage the text,” explaining, “If God is the creator, than all things are His.”
Metallica, for its part, appears receptive. The band has sent a camera crew to Van Sloten's church to check out his preaching for itself.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.