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40 Years of Rock and Roll for Christ

– An Interview with John Schlitt of Petra –

JOUNI OSMALA – 3.9.2013

Petra was founded in 1972 as one of the first Christian rock bands and they pushed the style of Christian music forward for several decades. With 20 studio albums Petra has received four Grammy awards and ten Dove awards.

Their music became heavier in the 80s when John Schlitt became their vocalist. If you want to know how they sound, just search on YouTube for ”Unseen Power”, one of their Grammy-winning albums.

This July Petra came to Finland for the Iso Soitto music festival, where I got a chance to see them on the stage. They sound much better live than on CD! I only wish I could become as energetic as their 63-year-old vocalist, whom I got a chance to interview before the concert.

In the early days, what made you join the band?

What got me into this was the fact that I got a second chance. I’ve been in secular rock for 7 years before I became a Christian. As I became a Christian I saw how wrong I’ve been, how negative I’ve been in my influences on stage, and regretted it. I regretted it for the time period between my secular band Head-East and Petra, and I often wondered, if I got a second chance, could I make up for it? I Never thought I would, never thought I would be able to get on stage again.

When Bob called me and said that they’d like me to sing for Petra, I saw that as God saying, ”here’s your second chance, go for it!” So I had a lot of motivation to be able go with Petra and be as useful as possible for God’s plan, so that was my motivation.

Do you regret anything about your choice to continue in this direction, or do you miss anything from the secular world?

No not one bit. No I do not miss any secular ”fame” or acolytes or anything else. Because as I look back, I see lot of my secular friends and what it cost them in the long run. They may be financially well off, but they lost their families, their health is bad, they can’t sing anymore because of how they abused their body.

Does that mean everybody in the secular rock is that way, no. But in pretty much the norm that’s how it goes. There are people in secular rock that are Christian, they are doing well, and I’m happy for them, but for me to have a chance to be a Christian artist is the only way I’d ever want to go.

What has kept you going all these years?

Pretty much it is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve just always thought that this is exactly what God had designed me for. I have no regrets, my family has no regrets, and we are a happy unit. My wife realizes that I belong on the road, and she knows that when I’m not, I’m not as happy. I love being home, but if I’m not serving in one way or another, at least a certain time each month, I don’t feel like I’m doing my job.

So do I love being home? Absolutely, if I could I would be every day of the year, but God calls us to do things. And I really feel like he’s called me to do what I’m doing, and I’m content in doing it.

You are 63 now. Have you ever felt yourself old?

All the time. I feel old every time I talk to people like you. And every time I’m reminded I’m old, yes I feel old then. Does that mean I’m supposed to quit? That just means I’m unusual, I’m an oddity. I’ve been an oddity since I’ve joined Petra. So it just means I’m an old oddity. It just makes me unusual. And that’s cool.

Think about it. Petra has been an oddity since it started. For us to be around still, for me to be still around as a solo artist. There are lot of people who are glad that I am, because in my generation they like hearing my music. And there’s a lot of people who like to hear what I do. Does it mean I’m the happening thing now? No, that’s okay, I was the happening thing for a long time. And now I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

The old thing does sneak in every once in a while and it bugs me. What used to bug me was, ”Oh you’re a Christian rock artist, you are from Hell”. That used to bug me, or ”Oh you are Christian, you’re not as good as the secular, are you?” That used to bug me, that kind of stuff. There’s always going to be someone who criticizes you for being unusual.

What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you on the stage?

It actually happened in Sweden, I was on stage in front of 6 000 people. It was a very blank stage. In other words all the amps and everything were off stage, that was the in thing at the time. It only lasted for a certain period of time. But they had floor monitors, and I don’t like floor monitors. Usually I have side monitors or now in ears.

And they had really bright spotlights. I was blinded by the spotlights, and I went in the front of the stage, and I started to back up, and I fell over a monitor in front of 6 000 people! And there was no place to get up and hide! You know, I have just fallen on my face, I’m very embarrassed and I’m going to have to stand there anyway. Believe it or not, that’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to me on stage.

What would be your message to people who say they are so good people that they must go to Heaven?

I have to disagree, because I believe in the Bible. The Word says it’s only through Christ. And you know that’s my opinion, that’s how I live, that’s how I discovered Christianity. I believe that Christ died for our sins, that without his sacrifice we’re too dirty. We’re always too dirty.

God doesn’t accept imperfection, he does not accept sin. And we’re naturally sinners, we are that way from birth. God’s plan, the only plan that he decided was right, he sent perfection down to die in our stead. It doesn’t matter how good you are, there are a lot of great people that try very hard to be good people. But the problem is still that inside our thoughts are impure.

We’re human, we’re not perfect. We’re dirty people, we’re dirty creatures, God designed it that way, I don’t know why. But in the garden of Eden we were sinless. But when Adam and Eve decided to make that move, sin crept into us, and that was never going to change until the second Adam that was Jesus Christ.

That is hard for non-Christians to understand. All we can do is to say what the Word says, and say we believe that more than anything else. If you accept it, then you will be saved. If not, I don’t know what to tell you.

Thank you for the interview!


Kuvat: Matti Tiilikainen

"I’ve just always thought that
this is exactly what God had designed me for."