cover image Trains, Jesus, and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash

Trains, Jesus, and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash

Richard Beck. Fortress, $18.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-5064-3376-9

Mixing biography, theology, social justice, and music history, prison chaplain Beck (Stranger God) unpacks the meaning behind the music and lyrics of singer-songwriter Johnny Cash (1932–2003) in this wonderful work. Organizing the biographical material thematically, Beck ties events in Cash’s life to 15 of his songs, each one a separate chapter. In gritty prose, Beck paints a picture of a man who was committed to God, pacifism, patriotism, racial equality, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Beck explains the ways Cash felt as broken as those he longed to help and depicts his personal battles with addiction, depression, and infidelity. Over his long career, Cash became his own “target audience” for his message of faith and forgiveness, Beck writes. Beck also uses Cash’s persona as both outlaw and saint to weave in theological discussions, including a critique of Israel’s inability to “walk the line” with God and the validity of liberation theology, which holds that God preferentially takes the side of the poor and oppressed over the exalted and powerful. For instance, in the chapter “San Quentin,” Beck uses his own work in prisons to talk about Cash’s famous prison concert (which almost started a riot). Fans of the Man in Black who are interested in how his faith informed his career will love this. (Nov.)