Stryper shocked the world in the early 80’s with their yellow and black spandex, distorted guitars, and long hair. I’ll never forget the first time a saw a photograph of them. My buddy flipped open a copy of Campus Life magazine and I was stunned. “Christians can’t look like that,” I thought. So I thought! Who would have dreamed that we would still be listening to Stryper almost 30 years later!
I first saw Stryper, live in 1984 at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. Honestly, it might be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Back then, the boys in yellow and black were in their twenties. This year, Michael Sweet will turn 50. His voice keeps getting better. I may be a bit biased since he’s been one of my favorite vocalists for most of my life! And he has finally established himself as a first-rate guitar player.
In those days, Stryper shows were picketed by the modern-day Pharisees. Jesus called these folks”blind guides” and “whitewashed tombs.” He had some strong words for those religious leaders: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15, ESV)
2,000 years later, the Pharisees are still at it, but they’ve found other people to hurl their insults at. I remember feeling a certain amount of hostility as a young person who watched these religious zealots parade up and down the sidewalk with their goofy homemade signs. But the more I watched, I felt sorry for them. They were not only missing out on some great music; they were belittling the ministry of some guys were serving God and encouraging thousands of people. I had a great conversation with someone a few days ago who admitted to being involved in the occult before she had ever heard of Stryper. She said, “The album To Hell With the Devil is what did it for me.” Now she is an active follower of the Lord Jesus Christ!
When I first heard about the new Stryper project, Second Coming – I was skeptical. Knowing that most of the songs would be re-recorded hits, it sounded like all we would get is recycled Stryper converted from cassette tape to CD – from guys that will be collecting social security before too long! I was dead wrong. The production is crisp and several tracks include new and improved background vocals that were nowhere to be found on the original recordings. Frankly, these guys just keep getting better and better.
Listening to some of the lyrics that were penned almost thirty years ago not only brings back some great high school and college memories; it is a vivid reminder of the work of grace that God did in the hearts of four metal heads. And when sovereign grace touches the heart of a human being, a work of transformation begins! Paul the apostle writes, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3–5, ESV). God reached down and rescued four young men and determined to use them for his purposes! And he used them (and continues to use them) to minister on ground that most Christ-followers fear to tread.
Two new tracks appear on the disc. Bleeding From the Inside Out finds a broken man trapped in sin “bandaged in fear and doubt” and “brought to his knees by a life and death collision” who comes face to face with redemption that is found in Christ. Blackened has an updated Stryper vibe that confronts the sin which plagues the human heart.
Most people forget the role that Stryper played in the contemporary music scene. They blazed the trail for some classic bands such as Barren Cross, Bloodgood, Whitecross, and Sacred Warrior in the mid-80’s. It is not an overstatement to say that Stryper changed the face of contemporary Christian music. Indeed, they were the “Lewis and Clark” who blazed the trail for a whole new style of Christian music. And the yellow and black pioneers don’t show any signs of giving up any time soon. More albums are in the works with tours to follow in 2013 – great news for old (really old) Stryper fans!