Introductory Note: In appreciation of Petra’s fortieth year in music and ministry, I am ranking their albums from least best to greatest. You can read my opening post here.
This Means War! (1987, StarSong)
Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)
This album, Petra’s second with John Schlitt as the front man, is the one which launched the second golden era for the band, during which I became a fan for life. While a great many consider 1986’s Back To The Street a transitional album (fair to some degree), Petra really meant “rock” on This Means War!, and as a result it has endured as one of the bands most loved efforts.
You get the sense you’re going to be listening to something intense from the very start of the album, as thundering drums introduce the title track, “This Means War!” In lyrics directed at Satan himself, speaking about events that took place in the very beginning, Schlitt’s vocal’s ring out. This song speaks the surety of the believer’s victory in Christ, but sets the tone for an album about spiritual warfare and prayer because of the present condition of this world, brought about by the fall of Lucifer. “The Victor is sure, and the victory secure, but ’til judgment we all must endure. This means war!”
Next comes the absolutely fantastic track, “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered.” Continuing the war theme, this song is about Jesus taking on flesh because of the events the last song spoke about: “He came alone into the battle. He knew nobody else could face His foe.” The chorus plays upon the famous words of one of the most famous leaders in war in history, Julius Caesar, but it’s speaking of Jesus. He came, He saw, He conquered.
We know about the world we live in. We know that Jesus in the Victor and the One in whom we find victory. How do we fight this war in the meantime, though? “Get On Your Knees And Fight Like A Man” gives us the answer. Self-reliance will get you nowhere, but when you engage in selfless prayer, crying out to God in faith, you’ll “pull down strongholds.”
“I Am Available” is the first ballad of the album, and it’s a moving prayer of sorts, acknowledging that in and of ourselves we are incapable of serving God, but through faith if we make ourselves available to Him He can and will use us. We must only “go where [He] says ‘Go'” and “stop when [He] says ‘No.'”
“Kenaniah” gets lost in the shuffle, but it’s a quality rocker with a needed message. Drawing upon the tale of a member of the priestly tribe of Israel who led the nation in worship, we are reminded that as we go into war, just as Israel did, we are to be doing so worshipping God.
“You Are My Rock” is an anthem of praise that stands the test of time, with Schlitt’s blaring chorus resonating in your ears. And “The Water Is Alive” is a steady rocker about the neverending supply of sustaining grace God gives to those who trust in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of life’s deserts.
“Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened” is one of the most poignant and needed ballads Petra ever produced, because in spiritual warfare it is very easy for the Christian to become so jaded and even angry at sin and even sinners that we lose our focus upon Christ and take our eyes off of our mission. This song implores the listener not to let his love grow cold, but instead have a heart that stays broken before Jesus and exhibits His qualities and not the world’s.
“Dead Reckoning” and “All The King’s Horses” close out the album. The former is a rocker that calls the listener to keep learning to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to Christ. The latter points to the end of history, just as the opening track pointed to the beginning. The album closes with talk of the “age old score” that Jesus is going to settle upon His return.
Petra does indeed mean “rock,” but This Means War! is really the first album they ever produced that you could definitely say was, as an entire release, a rocker… and that’s a good thing. From start to finish it’s solid, with the title track and “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” really standing out. There are two very good ballads, and “Get On Your Knees And Fight Like A Man” is a breath of fresh air compared to most Christian music then and now.