On this date in 1967 the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Watch a brief documentary and listen to the album HERE. For a purely naturalistic explanation of the Beatles' enduring popularity around the world check out THIS PIECE in today's Washington Post.
I still remember the first time I listened to Sgt. Pepper. It was the mid-90's and I was in high school. It was on cassette tape. Interest in the Beatles had revived at that time because of the Beatles Anthology project--a long documentary, a book, and three albums chronicling the history of the band. The film was broadcast on ABC television and two new Beatles tracks had been released on the Anthology albums. I didn't realize it at the time, but listening to the Beatles and reading about them marked the beginning of a personal quest (circuitous though it was) for the ultimate, for authenticity and originality. I liked it that they wrote their own songs and played their own instruments; I liked the sentiments of most of their songs, and that each of them sang on the albums. Also, they looked cool with their longish hair and mustaches. Of course, I soon discovered that the Beatles couldn't live up to the ideals of their own songs, and didn't even really try. They sang "We Can Work It Out," but couldn't work out the differences which led to the band's demise. They sang "All You Need Is Love," but their violent personal lives revealed that they didn't really believe it.
From the Beatles I found out about Bob Dylan. They cited him as an important influence, and so I started listening to him. Dylan soon eclipsed the Beatles in my esteem and became my ideal of authenticity and originality. I came to think of the Beatles as derivative, and Dylan as original. I soon found out that Dylan had gone through a "born-again" phase in the late-1970's and early 1980's. I listened to a couple of those albums. They fascinated me. The album Slow Train Coming starts with a song called, "Gotta Serve Somebody" in which Dylan points out that we all serve someone. Nobody's really free. As Tim Keller has so eloquently pointed out, we're all "born worshipers."At this point my quest for the ultimate began to curve back to where I had started. On his Christian albums, Dylan pointed to Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior and Judge, the only one who is perfectly authentically who he claims to be, the Ultimate One. Dylan was hated for a while for saying such things, but it didn't last. He swore he would never go back to singing his old songs, but he eventually did. During his "born-again" phase he often launched into long sermonic monologues during concerts, exhorting his fans to repent of their sins and turn to Christ. But those eventually disappeared as well. After a while, he stopped talking about Christianity altogether. I realized that Dylan was a hypocrite, just like the Beatles.
About the time I was becoming disillusioned with Dylan, the book The Pleasures of God fell into my hands, and my life was changed forever. Jesus Christ (not Piper--to this day I find him somewhat tedious to read) won me over as the Ultimate One. I began to see that he's the only One who lived up to the principles He preached. He alone is always consistent with Himself. He is what He claims to be. He alone is perfectly holy, just, true, patient, kind, compassionate, pure, majestic--on and on. Anything praiseworthy in the world derives its excellence from Him. What I love about the best Christians I know is not them, but Christ in them. All things glorious are derivative; only God is glorious in Himself. By God's grace, I had come full-circle and was renewed in my commitment to love Jesus Christ with my whole heart and serve Him only. I came to realize that my chief end--"to glorify God and enjoy Him forever"--necessarily excluded the possibility of living to glorify other things, and that no created thing ought to eclipse Him in my affections.
So I have cause to be thankful today, because in His strange providence God used Sgt. Pepper to help me see the glory of Jesus Christ.
[C]onsider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses--as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.