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. [Now, it should be noted that Petra’s fortieth year was in 2012, when I started this series. Better late than never in winding down to the end.]
Beyond Belief (1990, Dayspring)
Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Ronny Cates (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)
This album is considered by many to be the best in Petra history, or at least the best of the John Schlitt era. It certainly marked the peak in popularity for Petra during the Schlitt years. It was Petra’s best-selling album, and for good reason. Beyond Belief hits on pretty much all cylinders, providing from start to finish a slickly produced, pleasing to the ears, and lyrically challenging ten songs which made it hard not to rank higher.
Press play and the first sounds you hear are the quiet but increasing drums of Louie Weaver followed by the echoing Hey, Hey! Hey, Hey! And “Armed and Dangerous” is upon you, a rocking opening track that harkens back to the spiritual warfare theme of “This Means War,” but here focuses upon the present victory Christians possess in carrying the armor of God. “God’s enemies will scatter. . . . We’ll see the darkness shatter.” It’s a call to stand now against the flood in light of the certain victory we have in Jesus. Instrumentally, John Lawry’s keyboard work really stands out.
Next comes “I Am On the Rock,” a slower-paced, but heavier rocker which, lyrically, speaks to the world crumbling around us, but the sure foundation that is the revelation of God and His word. You’ve got to love Hartman’s riff accompanied by some heavy, sudden burst of drums from Weaver in this one.
The third track is my personal favorite on this album, “Creed,” with lyrics taken right out of the Apostle’s Creed. Opening slowly with Lawry’s keyboards, Schlitt then sings:
I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son; I believe in the virgin birth.
I believe in the Man of Sorrow, bruised for iniquities;
I believe in the Lamb who was crucified, and hung between two thieves.
The sung culminates, of course, with the return of Jesus Christ to judge and ends with those who has been resurrected unto life singing praise forevermore to the Lord.
The title track, “Beyond Belief,” is fourth on the album, and is the embodiment of the sound of this album. Not quite as hard rock as the previous two albums (not including Petra Praise), but just a near perfect blend of lyrics, voice, and instruments making up what might be Petra’s most loved song.
It’s not about moving on to something deeper than the gospel itself, but about the resultant deepening of faith which results from true salvation. “There’s a higher place to go” speaks not of some deeper spiritual plane, but about growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, a maturing faith. Lyrics such as “Leap of faith without a net make us want to hedge our bet. Waters never part until our feet get wet,” speak to the uncertainty Christians feel when living by faith in this world, uncertain of the earthly consequences. Nevertheless, this anthem is a call to live by faith and grow in grace.
The last song on the first side of the cassette (when we still used those!) is “Love,” a fantastic ballad based upon the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. But my favorites in this song happen to be the chorus, which speaks to a fact I often communicate in my preaching, that true love doesn’t always do what makes someone happy, but always does what is best for the object of that love, and ultimately points to Jesus:
Love knows when to let go
Love knows when to say no
Love grows in the light of the Son
And love shows the world that the Son of love has come
Of all the Petra lyrics, those are among my favorite.
The “second side” of the album includes the less familiar songs on the album, with the exception of the last one. “Underground” brings back the rock with lyrics which speak to the degrading culture around us. Will Christians cower or live boldly in the midst of opposition?
The answer? “I won’t go underground! I won’t turn and flee, I won’t bow the knee!” It’s a call to Christian boldness when everything in the world is telling us to compromise.
“Seen and Not Heard” isn’t a call to live without the verbal proclamation of the gospel as much as it is a call for Christians to back up their words with faithful living. It’s an indictment of those who would profess Jesus without living as though He is Lord.
Next up is “The Last Daze,” another good rocker mixing in those keyboards, which lyrically speaks to strong delusion which will accompany the “last days.” The lyrics end on a somber note with weeping for the souls who won’t turn to Christ, but instead face the “final blaze.”
“What’s In A Name?” is about the power of the name of Jesus, and how in the vein of Philippians 2:9-11, at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
Finally, the last track on the album, “Prayer,” is a beautiful and poignant ballad on behalf of the church to its Lord. It’s a prayer of thanks for salvation, that more might come to know who He is, and also a prayer for the unity of the church.
Overall, Beyond Belief gets it right, and among the top three albums on this list it became hard for me to distinguish in what order they would go. It’s pretty much impossible to love Petra without loving this album.
The List so far…
21. Double Take
19. Washes Whiter Than
17. Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus
16. God Fixation
15. Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out
14. Come and Join Us
13. Never Say Die
12. No Doubt
11. Back to the Street
10. Jekyll & Hyde
9. Wake Up Call
8. Beat the System
7. Not of This World
6. Back to the Rock
5. This Means War!
4. On Fire!
3. Beyond Belief