Christianity was failing and Bob Briner knew it. He knew that 80 percent of Americans claimed to believe in Jesus. He knew that church attendance was at an all time high. Back in the early '90s, the statistics were impressive but the outlook troubling. In his mind, Christianity had become ineffective. What Briner found faulty about the behavior of believers was that instead of engaging secular society—being what he called 'salt' and 'light'—Christians were embracing the retreatist mentality of the church. In the process, followers reduced their ability to influence popular culture. Particularly frustrating to Briner was Christians' capacity for criticizing and complaining about secular culture, without making a personal effort to provide a positive alternative. Never before in its history had the church done so little with so much.
As a successful television sports producer Briner had put aside aspirations of doing ministry work, and had long struggled with how to effect change without compromising either his work or personal life. In 1993 he reached that elusive goal, setting forth his ideas in “Roaring Lambs,” a book that would quietly yet profoundly change the lives of countless Christians.
The book confronted people at the core of their beliefs and, not surprisingly, many balked at the premise that Christians were failing. But deep down, many members of the Christian community knew that Briner was right. Making matters worse, many churchgoers seem to have accepted this failure as inevitable.
Of particular concern to Briner was the subculture that Christians had created—an escapist world of books, music, radio and TV, that has never been taken seriously by outsiders. He encouraged Christians to look beyond that subculture and produce high-quality creative works for the secular world. Perhaps more importantly, he implored parents to encourage, rather than discourage, their children in such pursuits. “You can't witness without being present,” Briner succinctly stated.
For Christians, Briner's background as an award-winning producer had a two-pronged effect. It allowed him to take a business-like approach to a very spiritual and emotional issue, making him a perfect role model for the community. In short, he gave many Christians the language and courage to proceed in implementing change in their own lives.
While Briner's message was directed at the church, his views resonated strongly in the Christian music community, a group notorious for escaping into the subculture he spoke out against. Acts such as Jars of Clay and Sixpence None the Richer embraced the “Roaring Lambs” message and Briner himself came out in support of artists such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, both of whom made highly criticized, yet successful attempts to cross over to the pop charts. “One Amy Grant hit record,” said Briner, “provides more salt for a decaying world than a thousand sermons decrying the evils of popular music.”
Prior to Briner's death from cancer in June of 1999, several of these artists were working with him to produce an album that reflected the book's message—an audio companion to his message. Afterwards, the project was continued as a way of perpetuating his work, and the resulting CD, Roaring Lambs (Squint) was issued June 6 in conjunction with the re-release of the book. Featuring artists like Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Jars of Clay, Sixpence and Charlie Peacock, the CD is a musical tribute to Briner's simple admonishment to “produce something good.”
While it's too soon to quantify the impact of the book's rebirth, the quality of work produced by the Contemporary Christian music industry has undeniably improved since 1993, and crossover hits are no longer a surprise. “The bar has been raised,” says best-selling CCM artist Cindy Morgan. “But it would be nice if more mainstream people felt comfortable listening to Christian music. Like Bob Briner was saying, we need to go out in the world and speak the language of people who don't understand the Christian lingo.”
If nothing else, the publicity surrounding the book and CD has Christians once again debating its message, and Internet chat rooms are filled with lively, often argumentative exchanges. One wonders if Briner would consider this dialogue a further indication of the problem; another example of Christians spending time criticizing, allowing their generally pessimistic world view to get in the way of taking action. The Quaker teacher and writer Elton Trueblood once said, “The test of the vitality of a religion is seen in its effect upon culture.” While Briner admitted that “Roaring Lambs” was more a testimony of opportunities missed than taken, he looked forward to the day when Christian salt would become light and lambs from all religions and backgrounds would find their voice.