Over the years, music fans have come to expect punk rock bands to deliver frustration-filled anthems that rage against “The Man” and society at large.
However, Green Day’s 2005 Grammy-winning rock album of the year, “American Idiot,” and their 2009 release, “21st Century Breakdown,” also provide a scathing critique of the church.
Their message is also communicated on Broadway through the Tony-winning musical, “American Idiot,” which recently announced an upcoming national tour.
Should Christians in America care about the theological frustration of a group that produced albums titled “Dookie” and “Nimrod”? While they do not claim to be the representative voice for their generation, Green Day’s critique of the church is one voice to which evangelicals should listen and consider.
The band’s frustration with the church is personified in the characters “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Christian” from their rock opera albums (mentioned above).
The Jesus of Suburbia is a false messiah who states he was raised on a “steady diet of Soda Pop and Ritalin” and proudly claims to be “the son of rage and love.” He observes the world through nihilistic lenses and does not detect any purpose or meaning in the lives of the people around him.
The critique of American Christianity could not be more poignant as he claims that he was “Born and raised by hypocrites” whose hearts were “recycled but never saved.”
In the character of Jesus of Suburbia, Green Day has described a directionless, materialistic, self-centered individual who couldn’t care less about others.
The character “Christian” embodies the condemnation of the church as he mocks the pattern of sin, confession and forgiveness common in the life of many believers because a permanent change in behavior does not occur. Also, the church is not providing solutions to practical problems people are facing in their lives.
This failure to meet practical needs, coupled with the church’s virtual silence regarding military involvement in the Middle East, leads “Christian” to conclude that the church is not distinct from the surrounding culture.
The band’s anger about the government’s decision to fight violence with violence is applied to both the institution that approved the decision (the government) and the institution that did not reject it (the church).
Despite the spiritual frustration expressed by the band, they remain hopeful for the future.
The songs “Are We the Waiting?,” “Restless Heart Syndrome” and “See the Light” indicate they continue to be on the lookout for salvation.
While unsure what salvation precisely looks like, Green Day offers two female characters, “Whatsername” and “Gloria,” as ideal characters to be modeled and emulated for their authenticity.
“Whatsername” is described as a “saint” and the “salt of the earth” and is revered because she does not act or think like those around her.
“Gloria” is presented as an exceptional character who inspires others in her courage to be herself and reject the status quo.
In their praise of “Whatsername” and “Gloria,” Green Day makes clear that they respect individuals who hold fast to their personal convictions no matter the consequences.
What can evangelicals take away from these punk rockers from Oakland? It is clear that Green Day contends that American evangelicals have not separated themselves as a unique or distinct people compared to the nonbelieving members of the nation.
It is difficult for Green Day to distinguish between the people that follow Jesus and those who do not and, as a result, Green Day rejects the message of the church.
By not protesting and rebuking the status quo, collectively the church has been part of the problem and in the mind of Green Day has not presented good news that can provide a solution for wandering and aimless souls.
Green Day’s rejection of the message of the church should inspire followers of Jesus to reflect on the church’s proclamation of the gospel story. The church must clearly assert that loyalty to Christ trumps love for one’s nation.
The church must also embody the servant nature of Christ. The unbelieving world wants to see the faith of the church expressed in action, not through assertions of belief or statements of faith.
Green Day’s music has resonated with millions of fans. Some of them have concluded that the church does not offer the solution they are seeking.
I hope American evangelicals will recognize this as a challenge and will put forth a unified gospel message that emphasizes and embodies the servanthood of Christ.
Green Day’s critique of the church doesn’t indicate they will be running down the aisle, but it is clear that they continue to long for an answer. Like Green Day, I remain filled with hope that they will find what they are looking for.
Scott Bryant teaches in the Honors College and at Truett Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas.