With a sell-out UK tour shortly to start, DON FRANCISCO demonstrates again his enduring popularity in the UK. Tony Cummings spoke to the veteran Christian music minister.
It's one of those wonderful ironies that the most popular American Christian musician in Britain, at least as far as live concerts go, isn't some crossover superstar with a repertoire of slick, radio-friendly baby babies, but a passionate, uncompromising minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Back in CR 8 Don Francisco told Dave Massey, "The Lord has told me to preach the gospel - music's simply the vehicle I use to do it."
Don's tour of Britain in February was already a sell-out by November while the singer/songwriter's new album 'Come Away' has shot straight to the top of the Cross Rhythms sales chart.
The new album has many of the qualities of his 12 previous ones, gentle country-tinged dissections of biblical truth with a couple of Don's famed forte - the Bible story song - thrown in. But there are a couple of surprises on the new set as well, not least the title track which contains a spoken section which some critics might be bold enough to call rap.
"It certainly isn't rap", chuckled Don, plainly amused at the fleeting image of this beloved, mellow country boy suddenly going streetwise with radical rhyme for the times.
"It's what I'd call a recitative." (For the ignoramuses among us a recitative is a style of song resembling speech.)
"It was the only way to express what I felt about modern society's lifelessness, how all the institutions, all the materialism, are just a shiny covering to hide the emptiness of life without Christ."
Did, I asked Don, believe that this emptiness have a philosophic base?
"It expresses itself in different ways in different cultures. You can call it humanism. You can call it many things. But I think no Christian could deny that in it they see the deadly embrace of the Evil One."
"This deadening lifelessness not only affects non-Christians, it has permeated the church as well.
"I think we have to be very, very careful about our 'Christian traditions'. I think that is a dangerous combination of words. 'Christian traditions' is actually an oxymoron. Jesus spoke out strongly against the Spirit-deadening traditionalism that he found in religious circles. We need to hold on to true doctrine. But we have to be very careful that we don't confuse human traditions with biblical teaching. Wasn't one of the dangers that we Christians had a tendency to take new church practices and over a few years turn them into hallowed traditions?
"In a few months sometimes," Don laughed.
"Now I'm certainly no expert on British church history but I've been in Britain many times since the 70s and I'd say that in the early days I found an incredible amount of spiritual life in Britain's house churches I hadn't experienced in the States. But I'd say that today the movement has lost some of its fire. As any movement begins to modify its direction, and more roles and rules come in it loses something. It happens everywhere. Human beings are much more comfortable with patterns and practices that make them feel religious rather than making contact afresh with a mighty, holy God. That can often be frightening. The thing about the early house churches was that the people came to the meetings having spent the entire week in dynamic contact with God. They'd witnessed about Christ to others. They'd really been experiencing God at work in the detail of their lives. Today some of that fire seems to have departed from their lives."
Don is aware that this gradual reduction of spiritual dynamism can affect all Christians regardless of their particular theology or church worship practices.
"One of the things we get distracted by is being pro-tradition or anti-tradition. Scripture says that mankind looks on the outward appearance while God looks on the heart. For instance, the particular kind or style of music that takes us into God's presence is relatively unimportant."