Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon
By Greg Laurie with Marshall Terrill (Salem Books)
Nearly five decades ago, songwriter Kris Kristofferson penned lyrics inspired in part by his friend Johnny Cash: “He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction / Takin’ ev’ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.”
That is the spiritual pilgrimage Greg Laurie—with the help of collaborator Marshall Terrill—describes in Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon.
Laurie, an evangelist and pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., paints an honest picture of a complicated Christian who wrestled with sin—and often lost those wrestling matches. In particular, he portrays the cost of Cash’s struggles with substance abuse. When his addiction was at its worst, he wrecked his health, multiple cars, his reputation and his first marriage.
However, when Cash was “wasting his substance with riotous living,” as the King James Version describes the prodigal son, God never let go of him. And in the end, after “takin’ ev’ry wrong direction” along the way, he found his “way back home” to Christ. To his credit, Laurie does not sugarcoat Cash’s difficulties in remaining clean and sober, even after fully committing his life to Christ. Likewise, he does not soft-pedal either the redeeming grace of God or the natural consequences of sin.
Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon is a compelling and easy-to-read book, but it has its flaws. When Laurie recounts his personal connections to Cash as a fan in the book’s introduction, it helps readers relate both to the author and the performer. When the author repeatedly inserts his own story into Cash’s elsewhere in the book, it seems intrusive and distracting. Less Laurie and more Cash at those points would have been welcome.
Even so, this spiritual biography of Johnny Cash is an inspiring story of a man who stumbled along the way—multiple times—but finished strong by the grace of God.
Ken Camp, managing editor