Beatles songs as likely to explain Christianity as the Bible, says bishop

The Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon, has urged churches to use hits by bands such as U2 and the Beatles in their services.

In a book backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, he argues that pop music writers can convey deep theological concepts in a way that is more accessible to the younger generation.

Hundreds of evangelical churches have already turned to guitar-based songs instead of traditional hymns, but the bishop suggests that clergy still need to be more creative in appealing to non-churchgoers.

Artists highlighted for exploring Christian themes in their music include Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and John Lennon, who famously claimed the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.

"For many people the language of the Bible has become inaccessible and yet pop song writers can make a connection with people because their language is fresh," he said.

"They are able to open our imagination to a way of thinking about God that we've become deaf to in church language.

"The Bible is an amazing collection of books that we've allowed to become banal. For many people it is a closed book and asking them to read it is a lost cause, which is a tragedy.

Bishop Baines said that music is influential in challenging people to think of some of life's big questions.

"Songs get more into the soul than simply reading an ancient book," he added. "I hope that they would be awoken to God and it would lead them to want to read some of the stories in the Bible."

The bishop said that churches should offer "a menu to people from different backgrounds" and should not be afraid of criticism.

"When Mozart was around people called it trivial pop music, but few would do that now," he said.

"The Wesleys took pop and folk tunes and put a Christian story to the music. We must be more creative and adventurous."

In the book, called Finding Faith and described by Dr Williams as "profound and challenging", he reveals the impact that pop songs have had on his Christian belief.

"I have read the Bible through many times and I have enjoyed art all over the world... But it was a simple song from [Bruce] Cockburn's early period that gave me the words to hang all this together and provide me with a vocabulary for connecting the bigness of the universe with the smallness of men in a language of worship."

In another passage, the bishop tells how the U2 song, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, helped define his faith.

"What I can't quite understand is why it took a song by an Irish rock band to make me identify what I actually felt about being a Christian in a complicated world," he said.

The BBC recently broadcast alternative versions of the Passion – the Easter story – and the Nativity using pop performers to dramatise the biblical events with lyrics from bands such as Oasis and The Smiths.

Phil Andrew, vicar of St Mary's Reigate, Surrey, said he used pop songs from bands such as Coldplay in his evening services to stimulate discussion.

"The lyrics of pop tunes often vocalise the questions people are asking today and help people find a way into the message of the Bible," he said.

"The Bible tells a great story, but it is not as accessible as it used to be for a generation that hasn't been brought up with it."

But mixing popular culture with religious teaching has upset some traditionalists, who are also likely to be bemused by the bishop's comments.

Fr Geoffrey Kirk, national secretary of the Anglo-Catholic group Forward in Faith, said that it was important to maintain a high quality of worship.

"If God intended us to have pop music heard, would he have given us Mozart? Most happy clappy worship songs contain no doctrine and are empty of content," he said.