I think you should stop listening to John Mayer. Mayer is an extremely talented musician with six studio albums and countless smaller projects to his name. I have often lobbied that he is one of the best guitarists of all time. The guy can shred! His voice is silky and it is hard not to swoon when you “In Your Atmosphere.” But I think you should stop listening to his music, or at least consider it. Consider why you like it? Dr. Al Mohler recently said that the real test of our worldview is what entertains us. What entertains you about our friend, John? The purpose of this post to to take you on a personal journey of mine and a theological meditation on why the absence of John Mayer from my ipod has led to greater joy in God. But first, my credentials.
I promise that you don’t know was much about John Mayer as I do. When was he born? 1977. I didn’t look that up. What was the name of his first EP? Inside Wants Out. You see what I’m saying? I feel like Paul in 2 Corinthians. Are you a fan? I was greater. Did you have his CDs? I had a poster on my wall (it’s the sad truth). You know every word of the “Heavier Things” album? I knew every word of the “Any Given Thursday” live album from Birmingham. In high school, I had a reputation of being a John Mayer guy. It was my interesting fact.
All this to say, I am not coming as an outsider who just wants to curse a darkness he knows nothing of. You may like his stuff as much as I do but you do not love it more than I did. When I became a Christian in 2012 I began to become disillusioned with John’s music. Like Sho Baraka said in his song “Peter Pan”,” me and my favorite artist were now growing apart. It was weird. But my worldview increasingly undermined all of the things I used to love about his music. John provided a “soundtrack for idolatry” for me. I mean that his music was the fuel for my intense pursuit of a certain girl(s) in school. The moody, “you-don’t-know-what-you-are-missing-with-me” music formed my worldview. This guy gets it! Or so I thought. Perhaps my background provides a unique scenario and only guys like me should think about putting my dude John back in the sleeve. I am open to that. But I don’t think that is the case. I think that you heart will hunger and thirst for God more sans Mayer. For very mature Christians, that may not be true. I am truly the weaker brother with a weak conscience. But just rock with me for a bit.
All things lawful, but not all helpful
You will never grow in holiness if you don’t get this distinction. Maybe first it will be necessary to point out that the pursuit of holiness is not an option. I can hear the cry of “legalism!” ringing out already. This is not legalism. In no way will not listening to John Mayer make God like you more. You cannot be more justified by taking Battle Studies out of the CD changer. Let’s get that out there. This is not a justification issue. However, if no diligence over your soul’s happiness in Christ is evident, there is no reason to be confident that you are indeed justified. There is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Sanctification must follow justification (think Romans 6 directly after Romans 5). Not only this, but we must also see the nature of conversion as it truly is. Being a Christian is not just a new list of duties. We are re-created, given new affections, desires and the like. We love God and hate sin! Holiness comes by putting off, as Matt Chandler says, even “morally neutral” things. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.” Paul is describing Christian freedom. But he does not use that freedom to undermine his own faith or the faith of the brothers. It is not necessarily sin to listen to John Mayer. But I find that it is unhelpful. It does not promote godliness. It is wordly and we should know our relation to worldliness. Kevin DeYoung gives an excellent definition of worldliness saying, “Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.”
It is my opinion that a steady diet of John Mayer’s music does little to promote the life of God in the soul of man. I think your sanctification will be helped as you, with unveiled face, behold the glory of God; being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). Beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is not as easy as it sounds. We like to try and grab the old veil that once held us willing captives. Our sin is real, right? Read Romans 7. Even the great Apostle Paul knows we do not simply coast to holiness. It is a “fight of faith,” indeed (1 Tim 6:12). But it is a fight for joy, a fight to see Jesus rightly. The following reasons are some of the reasons why I believe the writer of “I Don’t Trust Myself With Loving You” and “Victoria” may not be the best source of wisdom in life and godliness.
What’s it all about?
There is a recurring theme in Mayer’s music, from “Inside Wants Out” to “Born and Raised.” Stepping out to “Paradise Valley” would be unwise for me because I am not familiar with it. But from the looks of it the ultimate end for John hasn’t changed. He has the all too human mix of double rebellion. In Romans 1, Paul says that our sin springs out of two wells that draw from a common source. First, we have chosen to glorify and trust in ourselves. Second, we have decided to worship and trust in God’s stuff. This is the essence of sin; pride and idolatry, a hatred of God and His infinite worth.
You see the theme of self-sufficiency running like a single chord throughout John Mayer’s catalogue. Early on we see John communicating quite frankly that despite his problems, he is never the reason for any of them. Even in “My Stupid Mouth” he ends up saying that he really was just trying to be genuine and that no one understands him. On “Bigger Than My Body” John vows that one day he will be “so d*** more,” saying that he is “bigger than his body.” He knows deep down that he can be ok if he will just figure himself out. In the song “Somethings Missing” we see John closes to figuring it out. He sees that nothing around him, even women satisfy his soul. But where does he look? Inward. He looks inside of him find the solution to his problem. The music fuels a prideful heart. That is bad news for you and I, Christian, because we have abundantly prideful hearts. The song “Who Did You Think I Was?” on Where the Light Is used to be my pump up jam. I did not like this girls boyfriend (I wanted the job) and this song helped me express that “I’m the dude, you don’t know me my dude!” The truth is both of us were terrible guys. Even in “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room” you don’t get a sorry John Mayer. He even sings over and over, “Go cry about it, why don’t you?” Not exactly debonair. John calls me again and again to be self-sufficient. I can’t bro. I’ve tried. I have bought the lies and they turned up bogus.
He also looks to girls. All of his songs shout, “If I only had her everything would be better,right?” Its like he gets to the brink of breaking and seeing the insufficiency of anything outside of God to satisfy and then jumps right back to wallow in insufficiency. It’s madness! It is frustrating to listen to it. It is also humbling, to see that an equal or greater sinner that I see in the mirror each day was saved out of similar futility. The song “In Your Atmosphere” is a good example. It is a beautiful song. The guitar is difficult and Mayer sings his heart out. It is a heavy, desperate song written (well maybe) about Jennifer Aniston. John cannot bear to even to to LA anymore because of the hurt he feels after their breakup. He resigns himself to “burn in her atmosphere.” The outro says, “Wherever I go, Whatever I do, I wonder where I am in my relationship to you. Wherever you go, whatever i do, I wonder where I am in my relationship to you.” The cadence of John’s life is to circumnavigate around a woman. We know of a Copernican revolution, though. Music that continues to point us to relationships as an end in themselves is just not helpful. It isn’t true. Life goes on when Christ is your life.
The issue is not sacred v. secular. All good things come from the Lord and if a song is true then it is true. “Gravity” off of Continuum has a lot of true elements. Gravity can be sin as the weight of sin that keeps holding people down. He sees its insufficiency, “Twice is much, ain’t twice as good. And can’t sustain like one half could. It’s wanting more that’s gonna send me to my knees.” Now Joe never connects the dots but we can give real meaning to “just keep me where the light is.” The next defines that light as “the heart of life.” And according to Mayer the heart of life is good. But it isn’t. The heart of God is good, my man. Run to that light, repent and believe the gospel of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
The worldview is what I am getting at. It is not truthful. Relationships are not an end in themselves. You don’t just leave relationships when they get hard, especially not the covenantal relationship of marriage. Romance is not driven by pure emotions, but affections driven by a mutual satisfaction in God. We are to love God more than our lovers. To reverse order is disastrous. We see that in Mayer’s music. John’s music is God-belittling and to exposed so often to it is just not healthy. It is a lie to say that what you listen to does not effect. What you are entertained by matters. When Christianity becomes about stirring affections for Christ then the game changes and every thing we do becomes an opportunity to relish in the grace of God. Love is not a just a verb, John. God is love (1 John 4:7). There is objective sense to love. Love flows from the character of God, displayed in an object atonement accomplished on behalf of ruined sinners for the glory of God. It is this God that can satisfy! John tempts us over and over to look to the creation when we should focus on the creator and subsequently enjoy the creation out of an overflow of our satisfaction in the giver of all good things.
Stuff like this matters. It isn’t just John Mayer music. It could be certain movies that are unwise to watch. Maybe (for me) it is sports or Reformed forums. Anything that does not help you heart needs to be cut out. Again as Matt Chandler said, sanctification is not just doing good and avoiding bad. We must put off morally neutral things that take away from our enjoyment of God. We glorify God by enjoying Him! Joy is not the aim. Joy in God is the aim. Our greatest delight must be God. And beloved we do not drift into enjoy God. The Puritans talked about two sides of fighting for joy in God: mortification and vivification. Mortification is the killing of sin. Our sin is not game. Our new hearts have been made to hate it. We do not manage our sin. As John Owen famously put, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Anything that riles up the flesh has to be taken out in the street and shot. Part of mortification will be putting of things that are not inherently sinful but may provoke the sin in our old man. Vivification is the putting on new things, duties, hobbies, and etc. that promotes godliness. Does a thing help you enjoy God more? Yes? Do it. Now, I’m sure you are thinking, “What if John Mayer does that for me?” I bet it doesn’t. Again, I am not saying do whatever gives you the flutters. Enjoying God is enjoying God based on what is true about Him in the Word and seen in the world. It is treasuring the gospel, the Christ of the Bible, not my imagination. This is holiness: an increased sensitivity to and hatred of sin and a growing treasuring of God in the gospel. It is our satisfaction in God that allows us to pour our lives out for the sake of the gospel amongst the unreached. It is satisfaction in God that makes us good husbands and wives. I think you may be progress in holiness if you leave John outside. But I say this for you joy!
Hanging out with John for the last week has been like eating dinner with an old friend from high school. We spent a lot of time together and shared some very vulnerable moments. But things have changed. I’ve been given a heart of flesh, given eyes to behold Jesus as He truly is. It was like eating dinner with an old friend that you now find that you have nothing in common with. I can’t rock with him. The things we once bonded over are no longer true for me. Don’t get me twisted. This is not me simply cursing the darkness. My heart aches for this guy! He needs the same gospel that saved you and I. There is not superiority going on here. But my gospel is superior to his. I bought his and it led to despair. So is the folly of sin. But my eyes have seen the glory of the gospel of Christ, the bloody atonement and resurrection, the justification that is by faith alone, the truth of my natural state. And it is glorious. I just want to know God. Letting go of the old friend helps me do that better. Might it help you? For your joy, consider these things.