Big Yellow Taxicab, Amy Grant, and Fundamentalist Foibles

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got till it’s gone

Most of you have probably heard the song “Big Yellow Taxicab.” It’s been recorded by several artists and is an excellent song promoting the conservation of the environment. I have it in my collection by crossover Christian artist Amy Grant, and I very much enjoy the song.

However, there are those out there who don’t want me to enjoy that song. By listening to it and — God forbid — enjoying it, I’m selling my soul to the world and am apparently forsaking the good & righteous way.

Sounds crazy, I know. I thank the Lord that most of you have never been exposed at length to much that comes out of Baptist fundamentalism. I, on the other hand, spent a few years wholly immersed within it, embracing and defending all the right traditions, one of which concerned itself with what style of music Christians listened to.

And occasionally, I like to revisit my old stomping grounds, rereading fundamentalist material to remind myself how far I’ve come, and to force myself to continually renew my mind in light of the Scriptures.

What does that have to do with “Big Yellow Taxicab”? How thoughtful of you to ask!

You see, moments ago I landed on The Contemporary Christian Music Test on Terry Watkins’ Dial-the-Truth Ministries. The very first question on this “test” concerns “Big Yellow Taxicab.” I liked how Mr. Watkins lead into it…

Rather than just asking whether the song was performed by a secular or a Christian artist, Terry first casts the secular artists — Joni Mitchell, the writer of “Big Yellow Taxicab” — in the worst possible light. Whether or not any of what he says there is true, I don’t know, and frankly it doesn’t matter. Watkins’ point is pretty clear: Amy Grant performed a Joni Mitchell song, and thereby somehow linked to Mitchell’s supposed “satanic New-age” beliefs.

Now this is where it gets interesting. See, we have a situation similar to this in the Scriptures. The author of about half of the New Testament books, in fact, makes use of material from someone more than likely far more pagan than ever Joni Mitchell has been. Check it out:

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Titus 1:12, 13a, NASB

Here we have “Paul, a bond-servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (Titus 1:1) quoting a pagan poet to make his point. What you probably haven’t heard is just how pagan the poet was — or where the quote came from. Check this: The poet’s name was Epimenides of Knossos, and he wrote a poem called Cretica. Addressing the pagan god Zeus, the poem reads thus:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Note the second line which is clearly the source for the quote in Titus 1:11. But pay close attention to how Epimenides used it. Why were the Cretans all liars? Because they believed Zeus was mortal! Epimenides believed otherwise, that Zeus was not only alive & well, but immortal!

As outrageous of blasphemy that is from a biblical perspective, Paul reaches straight into Cretica, latches onto that line, and tucks it neatly into Scripture to serve his purposes.

In other words, that portion of Scripture is made up of material written by Zeus worshiper, yet God had no qualms about incorporating it into His Scriptures. Yet Mr. Watkins of Dial-the-Truth Ministries wants to critique Amy Grant for singing a song by Joni Mitchell? A song which in and of itself is infinitely less pagan than ever Cretica was?

And as if Titus 1:12 isn’t enough, Luke informs us that Paul made use of Cretica in the middle of his Mars Hill sermon. Imagine the audacity, standing up and preaching pagan poetry! Yet here we have it:

“For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.'” Acts 17:28, NASB

Yep, that’s definitely Cretica again, but while Epimenides was praising Zeus, Paul turns it around — redeeming it, if you will — and applies it directly to the Lord Jesus Christ! What boldness!

But if you’re a Christian singer, and you want to bring a good-messaged secular song to a Christian audience, you’re being totally worldly! If you were being used to write Scriptures, you’re more than welcome to quote the unbelievers — even borrowing freely from poetry in praise of Zeus — but if you’re going to record an album, that stuff is forbidden!

Watkins’ logic is at best faulty and at worst patently unscriptural, and I encourage everyone to be careful in what they believe, trying everything by the Word of God. No other standard matters.

Before we wrap up, however, we must look at the song in question itself. “Big Yellow Taxi.” Here’s the sample of lyrics Watkins provides:

They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum
And then they charged all the poeple [sic] twenty-five bucks just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT now
Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees, please
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Yes, it is an environmentalist message, but it is it false? Parking lots are useful, but nature is far more wondrous. Remember, while parking lots — like Babel — are tokens of man’s accomplishments, nature (including forests) is a testament to God’s glory. Should we not be concerned that we’ve been so reckless as a whole in our treatment of nature?

Whether we’re paving forest after forest, field after field… Whether we’re dumping loads of pesticides & herbicides & every other -icides you can think of into the environment… Whether we’re wasting clean water while elsewhere people go thirsty…

We abuse nature, and if the earth and the fullness thereof belong to God, doesn’t that abuse reflect on our attitude toward God himself? I believe that it does.

I commend Amy Grant for bringing “Big Yellow Taxicab” to the Christian community, and I encourage Terry Watkins to get back to the Word without the blinders of Baptist tradition.

5 thoughts on “Big Yellow Taxicab, Amy Grant, and Fundamentalist Foibles”

    1. If you’re only going to listen to (or do business with or by products made by — be consistent ;) people with a clean moral record, you’re going to be living a hermit’s life. Jesus hang out with the adulteresses of His day, and I am definitely not better than He is.

        1. Well, that’s cool. Just didn’t want to take that for granted. Frankly, a few years ago, I would have left comments like that, and I would have meant them. :P

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