Getting the Blues

What Blues Music Teaches Us about Suffering and Salvation

Cover Art

Where to Purchase

More Options


David expresses his dark side in the Psalms.

The prophets cry out in anguish and condemn social injustices.

And Paul bemoans his frailty as a man.

In Getting the Blues, Stephen Nichols examines this dissonance in the Bible--what he calls "theology in a minor key"--and leads the reader in a vivid exploration of how blues music offers powerful insight into the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus.

Subtly weaving Bible stories together with intriguing details of the lives of blues musicians such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nichols reveals what blues music teaches about sin, suffering, alienation, and worship. He delves into how the blues can intensify our understanding of bondage to sin and redemption and how the blues encourage us to strive for justice and righteousness.

Getting the Blues will resonate with anyone interested in Christianity and culture. In the end, readers will emerge with a deeper understanding of the value of a theology that lingers on the dark side and embraces Good Friday as well as Easter, suffering as well as joy.


"In the current cultural climate, surrounded by so much sentimentality, we need blues music and its Christian resonances as perhaps never before. Nichols's book should go a long way to putting this art form back on the theological agenda."--Jeremy Begbie, Duke University

"Too often the Blues is put in opposition to Spirituals. But when the church's songs stray too far from the cries of a broken humanity, they lose their truth, depth, and power. In Getting the Blues, Stephen Nichols compellingly shows how the minor key of the blues resonates with the minor keys in scripture and theology. By attending closely to these 'blue notes' Nichols writes truthfully and wisely about God's ways with wayward children--not only famous ones like Muddy Waters and Ma Rainey, but also the likes of you and me."--Christian Scharen, Luther Seminary; author of One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God

The Author

  1. Stephen J. Nichols

    Stephen J. Nichols

    Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is research professor of Christianity and culture at Lancaster Bible College. He is the author of several books, including Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion...

    Continue reading about Stephen J. Nichols


"It's difficult to associate the loneliness and downright mournfulness of the blues with the joyful teachings on salvation that often characterize the Christian religion. Yet in this splendid little book, theologian Nichols engagingly reminds us that the musical genre of the blues helps us to understand what theologians call redemption. Drawing on a wide range of blues singers and their lyrics, he blends the strains of the blues into the harmonies of theology and scripture in order to compose a new song about the powerful manner in which the blues prepare us for understanding the mercy and love of God. . . . Nichols's elegant study offers fresh insights into the blues and their meaning for religion."--Publishers Weekly

"Going to the roots of the blues, Stephen Nichols shows how this quintessential American musical form ties inextricably to Christian theology. . . . Nichols weaves a thoroughly intricate but fascinating history of Mississippi Delta blues. . . . Our spiritual and musical forebears have suffered greatly, and this book helps you to get in touch with this essential message."--John Dunham, YouthWorker Journal

"What a fantastic little book on the Blues! Not only do you feel the history but the spiritual growth of the Blues. Author Stephen J. Nichols does an amazing job as he takes you on an incredible journey to the beginning of the Mississippi Delta Blues. . . . This book is extremely well written and would be perfect for solo learning or group discussion or classroom study. So whether you are a historian, Christian, a lover of the Blues and especially if you are all three this is one book you won't want to miss!"--Cheri Clay, Midwest Book Review

"This book, filled with history most of us have never heard, plays a vital role in the musical history of America, opening our eyes in ways history class never did. A well researched book that should take its place on the shelves of libraries and those who love music."--Carolyn R. Sheidies,

"Nichols is not afraid of being provocative. He looks at the psalms as a forerunner of the blues, with King David as the singers' prototype. He finds spiritual lessons in unlikely places. . . . This is an unfashionable book, yet that is to its author's credit. It is convincing for the most part, and, even where it pushes to extremes, it is always engaging. Getting the Blues will help readers hear blues music with refreshed ears and read Scripture with a revitalized perspective."--Ted Gioia, First Things

"Nichols spends much of his time introducing a who's who in pre-war blues history. . . . For good measure, Nichols sprinkles in other artists with blues affinities . . . plus an additional cast of biblical characters. To add his own personal mark, Nichols splices in his own blues-inspired poetry . . . a select discography, and photos of key blues locales. The result is a remarkably full picture of the Delta blues. Getting the Blues is an excellent introduction to the diversity of pre-war blues music. Nichols writes thoughtfully and economically, seamlessly blending description, quotation, and commentary. . . . His book displays strong research throughout, and Nichols strikes a nice balance of cultural and historical material to contextualize his discussion."--Brent Wittmeier, Crux

"Nichols weaves the stories [of the places and people who have created the blues] into a beautiful tale of redemption. . . . This is an enjoyable and engaging book. . . . For those with little knowledge of this music Nichols introduces the major characters and their influences, thus bringing these artists back to life. For those with some knowledge of and appreciation for this art form Nichols reminds the reader of the impact of the blues on popular music. He writes in a masterful style that draws readers into the stories he tells. Using his own poetry in each chapter, Nichols demonstrates that he does get the blues. And he helps his readers get them too. . . . Christian ministers who desire to be agents of grace will be interested in Nichols's work."--Glenn R. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra

"[A] fascinating account. . . . This is a welcome piece of scholarship. . . . Nichols's book brings its own fresh perspective to the study of the blues. The author's experience as both a theologian and a historian of the South contributes nicely to his study of the blues. Extremely well-researched, the book stems also from something of a personal journey. . . . The content is great, but so is the form. I loved the way Nichols weaves theological discussion through the pages of this book in a way that is neither preachy nor abstract or flatly conceptual. Nichols uses the redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture to make sense of the world of the blues, and he tells it like a story, the same kind of story told in the blues. . . . A truly marvelous book. It deserves to be widely read, not only by Christians, who can be encouraged to 'get' the blues from a balanced, yet loving presentation, but for unbelievers as well, who may be prone to think of the blues merely as secular entertainment, or as some sort of pure protest music."--William Edgar, Themelios

"Nichols creatively interweaves the stories of early Blues artists like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters with such themes as sin, forgiveness, redemption, justice, and eschatology to show how Christianity and culture interact and address the human dilemma. By carefully listening to its message, we can begin to appreciate how this music, which began in the Mississippi Delta, can show us how the church relates to modern culture. . . . Nichols's book will help readers to understand how the Blues, rooted in the African American experience, 'teaches us what it means to be human.'"--Michael B. Simmons, Religious Studies Review