August 20th, 2010
10:19 AM ET

Metallica goes to church

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.

Author John Van Sloten looks for God in heavy metal in his new book.

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.

Editor's Note 2: We reached out to Metallica to get their reaction to the book. Their publicist told us they're taking a break for the summer and were not able to do any interviews. Consider this an open ended invitation Metallica. We'd love to get your take too.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Culture & Science • Music

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soundoff (43 Responses)

    "The God That Failed," are about Hetfield's mother and father, and "Until It Sleeps" is about cancer, from which both of his parents died).

    June 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm |




    June 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  3. Hernan

    Metallica of course. They are the sneocd most influential band other than black sabbath in the metal world. So sorry but metallica takes this one. And yeah pantera had dimebag but sorry kirk hammet in my opinion is a better lead guitarist.

    October 8, 2012 at 7:40 am |
  4. Metal yard art

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    February 8, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  5. Susilo (Indonesia)

    I think we all (also pastors) do not know what's on their minds (metallica). such as James Hetfield said, "For us, people are people – Should you all have your own opinion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_That_Never_Comes)."

    August 23, 2010 at 6:02 am |
  6. NEON whip

    worst band. even worse article.

    August 22, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • invisible kid

      better then anything u whould listen 2

      September 28, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  7. AC

    There are actually several Metallica songs with a religious overtone. Creeping Death was based off the movie The Ten Commandments. Several songs deal with the temptations of Satin: Jump in the Fire; Devil's Dance and Judas Kiss. These songs serve as a warning to Beware of Satin- not follow. Leper Messiah is about deceitful evangelists who are only about money. Holier Than Thou is about judgemental self righteous people. There are 4 songs on the Load album (Bleeding Me, Cure, Poor Twisted Me, and The Thorn Within) that deals with one's search for forgiveness. Some have suggested that The Thorn Within is a conversation between Christ and God the Father. James Hetfield has never really defined the songs on Load and has encouraged listeners to look what they mean to them. Although, Metallica members do not discuss their personal beliefs; James has several Christian Tattoos. Load is a great album (lyrically). It takes you through a journey of what appears to be James' search for redemption for his past; acceptance that it was his own doing; and finding the source of forgiveness. Metallica is not the stereotypical Metal band that people think they are or want them to be.

    August 21, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • invisible kid

      I agree most of metallica,s are about rejecting satan.

      September 28, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  8. Jarred Burr

    I blame Obama.

    August 21, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  9. Evan

    Yet another pathetic attempt to 'make the Gospel relevant.' Ministers need to be reminded that it's not methods, or gimmicks, or even their own abilities that make the message effective, but the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. This sort of nonsense just further confuses the secular world as to the purpose and allegiance of the Church and as one of the coveted under-30 group, I'm incredibly turned off by it.

    August 21, 2010 at 6:57 am |
    • James

      @James ... It seems to me that the work of the Holy Spirit being confined to a given acceptable context limits the way God speaks to us. An omniscient God speaks as He speaks and it may not necessarily be aligned with our conceived perception of Him.

      August 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  10. brad

    All I know about Metallica is that my son was heavily into that group and drugs at the same time. So I have a negative (perhaps unfair) impression of them w/o following their music. But as for being preached in church, well stranger things have happened. Christianity is a religion of paradox. It teaches that from a position of absolute failure and weakness – the cross – Jesus was able to defeat the greatest evil. Compared to this, Metallica in church is a very small thing.

    August 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • invisible kid

      i am sorry 2 hear that

      September 28, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  11. Defender of Truth

    Consti-tutional stuff

    August 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  12. Defender of Truth


    August 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  13. Defender of Truth

    constitutional stuff.

    August 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Joe

    RIDE THE LIGHTNING! Master OF Puppets!! AHHHh....bang your head!!

    August 20, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  15. Reality

    Maybe the ear-drum busting music will serve to drown out the 2000 years of fraud, follies and flaws!!!

    August 20, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • USN Athiest

      Ya think??? Doubtful. Some still need something to cling to.

      August 20, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • brad

      Sorry, folks. Only John Lennon claimed to be more popular that Jesus Christ. And even he couldn't overturn Christianity. Maybe if more folks would just drug themselves stupid, Metallica could pull it off.

      August 20, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  16. Grondahl

    I have a few dozen pastor friends who would disagree with a few dozen of the premises that the author has set forth, but hey, whatever floats your boat (or sells your book). Just don't expect a warm reception by the religious crowd.

    Also, Master of Puppets turns 25 next year. \_/

    August 20, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Luke

      yeah, Master of Puppets, a song about how Cocaine takes over the human spirit. How it pulls your strings. interesting Church music.

      August 20, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • USN Athiest

      Religion be damned....Metallica rocks!!!!

      August 20, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • Grondahl

      Correction, Luke: AWESOME church music, unless they brought in St. Anger. Then I'd tune out.

      August 20, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Luke

      Grondahl – Oh yeah dude. Awesome for sure. But certainly interesting too, right?

      August 20, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • Grondahl

      Very interesting.

      "And now, for today's lesson on the Exodus from Egypt, Pastor James will perform CREEPING DEEEEEEEEEAAAAATH!!!!"

      August 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • Luke

      Grondahl – Was thinking the same thing. I suppose that song should be played in Synagogues though.

      August 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Grondahl

      Oh, the possibilities:

      Irish Catholic – Whiskey in the Jar
      Irish Protestant – Fight Fire With Fire
      Any suicide cult – Cyanide
      Judaism – Creeping Death
      Islam – Battery

      Mmmmmm...religious stereotypes.

      August 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Luke

      Grondahl –

      Ride the Lightening – Republicans. They like capitol punishment, right?

      August 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  17. Luke

    I'm trying to figure out why a band that wrote songs called The Four Horsemen, The God that Failed, Harvester of Sorrow, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Holier Than Thou, Green Hell, Suicide and Redemption, To Live is to Die and Sanitarium is being played in Church. Not that I honestly care, but did this guy read the lyrics? I used to be a big Metallica fan, but this doesn't strike me as something the Church would approve of. I mean – their biggest influence was Motorhead. Whatever.

    August 20, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • peace2all


      Yep.... pretty much took the words out of my mouth.... I am left scratching my head on this one...


      August 20, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • anon

      Read the book, maybe then you'll be able to criticize. Besides, just b/c the "church" doesn't approve of something doesn't make it wrong. Historically, the "church" has been wrong about a lot of things; what's more important is what does God say.

      August 20, 2010 at 11:12 am |
    • john van sloten

      Hey Luke, Actually I read the lyrics of every single song they'd done to that point. And yes, I chose portions of lyrics that resonated with the Christian message. And yes some of Metallica's songs don't. But I don't have a big problem with that because I'm the same way – a mix of both good and bad. If we only let people into our churches who were 100% good, our churches would be empty. JVS

      August 20, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Kristen

      If you don't hear God in their music then you are either not listening or deliberately not hearing. There is such an immense feeling of reverence and worship present in many of their songs. I think that most of the bands from the early 90s were searching for God but turned away from traditional religions. I also think God speaks to them and I hope they hear. Cause a World Cup match with Metallica as the half time show is a heaven I can believe in.

      August 20, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Luke

      Kristen – Uh...The God that Failed is about the singer's mother, who refused medical treatment for cancer because she was a Christian Scientist. This is not exactly a positive song regarding...uh...god.

      August 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Chris

      Thats what happens when the supernatural is lacking..we start entertaining people and turning to the world for inspiration. If the membership in your church is going down, you need to manifest God's Glory and give the people what they cannot find in the world, which is the Presence of God.

      August 20, 2010 at 9:03 pm |


      June 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  18. A Protest To CNN

    As a long-time blogger, I protest, in the strongest possible terms, the misguided erasure of vast numbers of posts in this belief blog.
    A person or persons unknown have gone through the past week and have deleted vast swaths of posts.
    If you are a blogger who has contributed in the past week, I invite you to go and see if what you wrote is still there.
    Whether it was the moderators, or somebody "flagging" every post they didn't like, the fact remains that this is outrageous behavior.
    Freedom of the press and speech don't really matter I guess. Expect this protest to disappear as well (if it even gets past the moderator filters)
    Bad functionality or deliberate act?
    How can anybody justify such immature behavior?
    So much for cnn. I had hoped for better from a member of the Fourth Estate.
    Where are the cowards who did this?

    August 20, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • Reality

      There are some unwritten rules regarding this blog. One is the list of secret forbidden/filter words to include parts of words that are on the list. One such word is t-it. The word filter will automatically put any comments with this word in the "being moderated" category which typically will be eventually deleted. So be careful about using the words t-it, Consti-tutional, t-itle, se-x, se-xual, hom-ose-xual, any word with h-omo in it, Jesus Se-minar etc. Check any of your comments that get the "being moderated" "kiss" and simply rewrite with dashes in what might be a forbidden word or part of a forbidden word. The dashes typically will get your comments approved by the filter.

      I have also used "Report abuse" on occasion where comments are vulgar or demeaning. In most cases, said abusive comments are not deleted.

      And typically, comments do not get read after a week or even a few days on this blog because of the large number of topics or repeated topics. So if your comments were posted for a few days, you have accomplished your mission. Later than that, your words won't be read anyway.

      August 20, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Grondahl

      That's the lamest firstie I've ever read.

      August 20, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • dajackg

      CNN provides a service by allowing people to post messages; it's not a right. Therefore "freedom of speech" does not apply. They reserve the right to censor our posts and they do it all the time. If you don't like it, start your own website.

      August 20, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Defender of Truth

      I hate to say it, but you & Reality are both right. I guess CNN really does have a strong agenda. I never would've thought it would be this strong though. If you don't believe it, do just as Reality said. My first two posts were marked "Your comment is awaiting moderation" but the other two were not. I just tried it & found out myself. Simply copy my posts & see it for yourself.
      Sad... Very sad...

      August 20, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
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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.