Q&A with Michael Milton
I was introduced to the music of Michael Milton in early 2011. When I interviewed him later in the year, I had no idea the number of titles he carries – Pastor, Author, Speaker, Musician… and the chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary. It was great to get to know more about Michael. Here’s some of our delightful conversation:
DT: Your latest album Through The Open Door is not your first release, is it?
Michael: No it’s not, it’s actually the third, and on the same label – Music for Missions. Music for Missions is a great label that gives 2/3 of the profits to the artist’s choice of ministry. For me it is Reformed Theological Seminary Scholarships for future pastors and missionaries. I’m happy to say that I was pastor to the founder of Music for Missions. In fact, on my prodigal journey I had a guitar around on my back and played old Neil Young, Dan Fogelberg type of songs, my own compositions. But when I heard the Gospel of God’s grace from Dr. D. James Kennedy, I threw my guitar away because I associated that with the sin and the hog pen of my life. When I came to the Lord, I wrote songs secretly and didn’t share them with anyone, it was not until some elders found out that I had a guitar in my house – an old Sears & Roebuck $75 guitar – and said “Do you play?” And my wife, who wanted me to “come out of the closet” as it were, said, “Yeah, and he writes songs too.” And they said, “Why aren’t you sharing this with the congregation?” A couple of weeks later they asked me, “If you could have any guitar in the world what would you have?” And I said I’d like to have Neil Young’s D45, and they all laughed. A couple days before Christmas they showed up with a guitar and they said, “We couldn’t afford a D45, but here’s a D35 – play for the glory of God.” So as pastor at First Presbyterian Chattanooga on my first Sunday morning, I was in a robe and preaching in a great chorale tradition church, but I said come back tonight and I want to share another part of my life. I pulled the guitar out and sang a whole set of songs and the young man who had founded Music for Missions came up to me and said, “You’re my pastor but would you also sign with me for Music for Missions?” And that’s how we started and this is our third CD. We’re very thankful that Michael Card is on this CD, and we’ve got everyone from Earl Haggard’s fiddle player to players from Chattanooga symphony. Christianity Today just gave us, mercifully, a four-star review and kind of described it - interestingly enough said it sounds like Dan Fogelberg and Neil Young.
DT: What’s the story behind your song “The Mountain, The Desert, and The Sea”?
Michael: “The Mountain, The Desert, and the Sea” was written out of a Bible study. A lot of my songs – because I’m a minister and a pastor – they come out of theological reflection on scripture and interaction of scripture and people. “The Mountain, the Desert, and the Sea” refers to the three areas where Jesus Christ showed his victory: in the mountain – in prayer and in the transfiguration; the desert – where 40 days and 40 nights and yet victorious (where as the Old Testament saints failed in the desert, Christ was victorious); and then the sea – as He walked on the water in the stormy seas. What I tried to show was those are the places in life where we often meet failure: the mountain, the desert, and the sea. And yet Jesus Christ was our victor. So we’re more than conquerors through the very things that seek to attack us and destroy us; through those very things we are led to victory. So that’s the motif of the cross in every area of life.
DT: Do you think it’s important for a Believer to integrate faith and culture?
Michael: I very much believe that we need to bring our faith to bare to every area of life and that is a bedrock of Reformed theology. One of the greatest breakthroughs of the Reformation was when John Calvin gave up the daily mass for daily devotionals, and began teaching ditch diggers that their work had meaning before God – that ditch diggers and carpenters and those that were building the cathedrals, the craftsmen, they could give glory and honor to Jesus Christ with their craft. We too do that in music and art, in literature, in television, in radio, in media, in communications; so that is a bedrock of the Reformed faith. That is a bedrock of biblical Christianity – that we do our best, excellence in all things, in all things for Christ. So I’m very Kuiperian in that point – thinking of Adrian Kuiper, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, the newspaper man and Renaissance man, that we bring Christ to culture. Not Christ against culture; not Christ separate from culture – but Christ transforming culture. “Jesus Christ says, There is not one square inch of earth over which it is not mine.” It is all His. So, we very much believe that, and it is for that reason that I write books, for that reason that I preach, for that reason that I am a composer and want to express what God has done in my life in a sort of theological reflective way through this music.
Episode #155 of UTR featured all Bluegrass-inspired music, including interview clips with Michael Milton and The Farewell Drifters.