One Step Closer

Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God

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"Scharen organizes his book around scriptural and theological themes: prophecy, parables, apocalypse, faith, hope and love. In each case he offers an accessible description of the theological locus. . . . U2 in conversation with a professional theologian is rich fare indeed."--Jason Byassee, Christian Century

U2 is widely hailed as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and lead singer Bono is often seen in the media touting humanitarian goals. Now Christian Scharen provides a thoughtful look at the driving force behind the band.

Bono and other band members are marked by the Christian faith of their Irish backgrounds. Scharen reflects on how U2 "fits within the longer Christian tradition of voices that point us to the cross, to Jesus, and to the power of God's ways in the world" as he explores the music's honest spiritual questioning.

Music lovers, pastors, and anyone on the path to God will value this book.


"Many of us in the emerging generation of young Christians have grown up with U2--that is, we've grown as they've grown. We've gone with these four band members through stages of lament, protest, cynicism, and hope. In charting the stages of theological development of U2, Chris Scharen's One Step Closer is an unparalleled resource. Not only is it beautifully written and deeply insightful, it mines gems from U2's lyrics, music, and concerts that I had never seen or heard, even though I've followed the band for years. But most important, this book shines a spotlight on the kingdom of God through the prism of the world's biggest rock band. Don't miss this book!"--Tony Jones, author of The Sacred Way

"It is evidence of the new and vital appropriateness of what Martin Luther called 'the theology of the cross' that it finds expression now in the secular world, including the world of 'rock' music. Christian Scharen's book should be required reading for all pastors and anyone who works with today's youth--and not only youth."--Douglas John Hall, C.M., author of The Cross in Our Context

"There is in this book a brilliance of insight and a humanness of approach that must make even Bono himself smile. Scharen knows his theology, he knows his culture, and he knows how passionately Bono is singing of them, each to the other. The joy for us as readers on this journey of the mind, however, is that somewhere along the way, we begin to realize that what we are really hearing is snatches and pieces of a great love song between God and our souls."--Phyllis Tickle, author of The Divine Hours and Prayer Is a Place

"Christian Scharen has eyes to see and ears to hear. In One Step Closer he shares with readers a clear picture of what it means to hear and see in U2 the prophetic Word and the love of God. This book is blood and dirt theological analysis of the rock 'n roll anomaly that is U2. Read it immediately."--Charlie Peacock, author of New Way to Be Human

"In a less screwy, more biblically literate era, we wouldn't need a book to connect the dots for us concerning how the work of U2 is often the loudest, most radically apocalyptic voice within popular discourse. But here we are: U2 admonishing, edifying, and invigorating the audience, and Christian Scharen explaining, for the near-sighted and the slow to hear, what's actually going on. Their witness has long been worthy of a more studious examination, and One Step Closer helps us get our heads around what U2 has been going on about all these years."--David Dark, author of Everyday Apocalypse and The Gospel according to America

"First you get Bono--a rock star and an activist who turns out to be an extraordinary theologian of grace. And then you get Scharen--a fine theologian and pastor who writes compellingly about the Christian faith with his ear close to the ground. I learned a lot by reading this book."--Miroslav Volf, Yale Divinity School

"One Step Closer is an honest, accessible, and insightful book that is sure to delight U2 fans and intrigue those curious about a rock and roll band that wants to change the world with song, word, and deed. Skillfully drawing on biblical texts and theological tradition to interpret the band's music and activism, Christian Scharen gets at the heart of U2--the Christian vision, prophetic voice, and mysterious ways of an incredible rock group."--William D. Romanowski, author of Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture

"U2 and Bono have spoken to a new generation that demands a theology marked by realism and intense compassion. Their music has made them into prophets who have sensitized us to our shortcomings and challenged us to reach out to the poor and oppressed of the world. This book tells us how they pulled that off."--Tony Campolo, author of Which Jesus?

"Like a fervent fan at a U2 concert, Christian Scharen knows when to speak and when to listen. One Step Closer connects the roots of U2's enduring music to their passionate faith. Scharen, with U2, explores the shadow side of the cross, where God embraces honest questions and affirms a genuine search."--Craig Detweiler, coauthor of A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture

"U2 as biblical scholars and theologians? Go figure! But Christian Scharen provides readers the evidence. He not only listens to scripture in its variety and depth, but also lets U2 provide us a 'hearing aid' through which to hear God speak afresh. Words like 'icon,' 'saint,' and 'sacrament' are not often associated with rock and roll. But Christian Scharen offers a convincing case that they apply to U2 and their music. After reading One Step Closer, you'll want to let U2 be your spiritual 'pointer.'"--Robert K. Johnston, author of Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film

The Author

  1. Christian Scharen

    Christian Scharen

    Christian Scharen (PhD, Emory University) is vice president of applied research at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He previously taught at Luther Seminary. He has authored a number of books, including One Step Closer and Faith as a Way...

    Continue reading about Christian Scharen


"Scharen . . . points to the many biblical, theological and spiritual themes found in U2's lyrics to explain why this band 'matters to those seeking God.' And he does so elegantly, offering the heartfelt and intelligent musings of a fan while also acknowledging the band's wild and wordly bent. . . . This book will no doubt appeal to the Christian who is a U2 fan, but its higher purpose is to bring the church and U2 fans from a variety of backgrounds closer together."--Publishers Weekly

"Yale Divinity School prof Scharen opens this work of pop philosophy with the declaration that 'the voice of U2 is not unique'--that it actually fits, as critics and youth-group leaders have been saying for years, 'within a longer tradition of Christian voices that point us to the cross.' He teases some revealing subtexts from their songs, but like Bono himself, Scharen is most convincing when he tempers theory with personal experience. . . . [An] earnest, plainspoken book."--Mikael Wood, SPIN magazine

"An engaging treatment of the spiritual truths to be found in the music and life of the popular rock group U2. The practice of digging spirituality out of popular culture has a rather long history, stretching back at least to The Gospel According to Peanuts, and U2's heterodox Christianity should come as no surprise to the band's more careful listeners. But Scharen spells out the implicit rather gracefully, finding in U2 'powerful and moving and truthful music, sung in a way that both admits the limits of life and yet in word and deed gives a vision of something more.' For most collections."--Graham Christian, Library Journal

"I would highly recommend this book and not just to those who are fans of U2 but to those who have an interest in the juxtaposition of faith with the world. In other words, there is some excellent teaching in this book related to how we go about applying our beliefs to our everyday lives in the world. While the life of a rock band like U2 is anything but normal compared to most of our lives, seeing how a band like this introduces themes of the Bible into their music and concerts has a way of both encouraging and sparking an interest in how we too can incorporate our Christian faith--our minor key--into the world we find ourselves in."--Tim Thomson, blogger at

"A thoughtful, scripturally informed analysis of the work of Bono, The Edge, et al vis-a-vis the Christianity they espouse to the world at large. Scharen contrasts different categories of biblical literature with the ways in which examples of U2's songcraft fits into the ways God speaks through each type of writing. . . . [Scharen] makes a valuable addition to the paucity of study that places theology in context of popular culture."--Jamie Lee Rake, HM Magazine

"Scharen's is a welcome addition to the seeming avalanche of books about where faith and culture intersect. And to the subject of U2's faith, he brings strong support for his assertions. As a Christian, I see this as a book that could point many readers to a side of U2's music that they may not have known was there or that maybe they were interested in but never went any deeper. . . . As much a book about the theology of the cross as it is about U2, One Step Closer really lays out the Gospel and illuminates how U2 have done the same thing while engaging the culture around them and not relegating themselves to the Christian music industry as so many others have done before them."--InFuze magazine

"An insightful journey through the theological development of the band. New insight in the lyrics shows us the musicians, theologians, and prophets composing U2."

"One Step Closer is practically a Bible concordance based on the group's catalog--from its reimagining of Ecclesiastes through its '90s disco records to the theme of grace that dominates its most recent albums."--Washington City Paper

"This book is recommended for those seeking an example of a more subtle--and arguably more genuine--living of the Christian faith than is often displayed in the media today. Scharen provides many examples of U2 lyrics that are clearly based upon Scripture, but whose foundation in Scripture might be overlooked by a listener not familiar with the biblical passages or wording. Scharen adeptly covers themes as varied as faith, love, and hope in U2 and in living the theology of the cross."

"Christian's book is extremely convincing that many of the song lyrics [of U2] proceed directly from biblical verse. [Bono] said that the Bible is sustenance for him--literary sustenance and spiritual sustenance--but rarely has it been as clear to me as when I was reading through Christian's book."--Soundcheck, WYNC, Joe Levy, Deputy Managing Editor, Rolling Stone

"A thought-provoking book, which shows that religion and spirituality don't always come in the expected forms. Scharen uses the opportunity not only to delve into the religious views of the band, but to also present basic Christian ideology in a non-traditional, non-threatening way. In that respect, it is not only an introduction to those curious about the beliefs of Bono & Co., but also an introduction to the foundations of Christianity without all the trappings of structured religion."--MishMash reviews,

"[This book has] an accessibility that readers of any age will appreciate. . . . I enjoyed One Step Closer on a number of levels. I enjoyed it as a U2 fan, and it also gave me insight into Biblical passages or stories I hadn't quite grasped in the past. Most important, though, the book gave me hope. . . . Would I recommend this book to you? That depends. It's certainly not your typical U2 book. And it's not your typical Christian book. But if you have an interest in either, or both, it may lead to new perspectives and appreciations that are well worth your time and effort."--Justin McHenry,

"This book is a must-have for rabid U2 fans, admirers, and curious audiophiles alike! Check out One Step Closer . . . to get your U2 theology fix today."--Kristi Henson, CCM

"In this book, Scharen helps us see and understand the force of Scripture in the music of U2. . . . Scharen explores the ways in which U2 draws on a rich palette of Scripture to paint the vivid colors of the truth about life and then attempts to live out that truth through the poetry of their music and the social action of their lives. Scharen explores everything from the relationships among the band members to business decisions and political causes as he answers critics of the band on both the left and the right."--Anita Flowers, Charleston Post and Courier

"Scharen organizes his book around scriptural and theological themes: prophecy, parables, apocalypse, faith, hope and love. In each case he offers an accessible description of the theological locus. These descriptions are not watered down--he quotes from such luminaries as Rowan Williams, Ellen Davis, and his own colleague at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Miroslav Volf. Yet they are also free of technical jargon, so they can be understood by interested nonreligious readers. After each description, Scharen shows how a U2 song--sometimes a smash hit, sometimes an obscure song or B-side single--illustrates the theme. These sections take color as Scharen peppers them with quotes and vignettes from interviews and stories about the band itself. U2 in conversation with a professional theologian is rich fare indeed. I found myself eager to share One Step Closer with a Sunday school class."--Jason Byassee, Christian Century

"Scharen provides a user-friendly assessment of the band U2 and their influence on those seeking God and on contemporary culture. . . . Scharen potently argues that U2's form of 'preaching' is far different than many current strands of popular evangelical preaching. . . . Scharen . . . seems to hit his mark: reaching individuals who question the status quo while seeking fullness in God."--Derek S. Hicks, Religious Studies Review

"This book may very well move one of the millions of U2 fans One Step Closer to understanding what it means to follow Jesus in the way of the cross. . . . There are many strengths in Scharen's work. First, Scharen does a wonderful job in his presentation of scripture and theology. His study cuts below the surface yet is readable to the masses. Second, because of his base of scholarship, Scharen is able to speak with credibility to both secular and Christian audiences. He is able to keep the attention of the secular reader with his knowledge of U2 and bring them into conversation with scripture and theology. To the Christian audience, his knowledge of scripture and theology help keep attention on his effort to bring the voice of U2 into the broader Christian witness. Scharen does a masterful job engaging both audiences. Third, . . . I appreciate his description of U2 as an 'icon' pointing this generation one step closer to the soul. . . . 'Icon' provides a wonderful vehicle for understanding the overall purpose of the book. Fourth, Scharen neither hides nor denies the inherent messiness involved with weaving the voices of scripture and theology with U2's music, showmanship, and lifestyle. . . . I really enjoyed One Step Closer and recommend its use as a supplemental text for both graduate and undergraduate courses sensitive to contemporary culture. . . . The topic of U2 will assuredly spark conversation and lead to productive and meaningful classroom interaction."--David W. Fraze, Journal of Youth Ministry

"[One Step Closer] is part autobiography, part youthwork resource, part art criticism, part apologetics, part evangelistic tract. But it is also an exercise in the theology of culture, worked out in the form of a theology of the cross. . . . [Scharen] tries to get inside some of the key ideas and convictions contained in U2 lyrics and explores how their songs and performances 'work.' He then moves back and forth between U2's work as artistic resource and a theology of the cross as a plausible approach to life. In this way, he can offer for believer and unbeliever alike a case study in how Christianity works. And he can at the same time provide illumination for anyone who enjoys U2. . . . [He] offers a creative and constructive engagement with U2 and in the process demonstrates not only how living Christian tradition relates to what these contemporary artists present, but also how and why it is essential for theology to be expounded with reference to the popular (and even mass-consumed) arts. . . . Scharen thus offers in this book a fresh type of theology. . . . What Scharen offers are insightful and helpful readings [of U2's songs]. The fact that he does more than this, and puts the songs he discusses in a bigger, bolder framework, is highly significant. . . . This, then, is a new kind of book which is sorely needed on the theological publishing scene."--Clive Marsh, Conversations in Religion and Theology

"Many trees have been felled and much ink has been spilled addressing the question of U2's spirituality. . . . Some of the articles and books are worthy reads, but most are quite thin in substance and typical fan-based hagiography. [One Step Closer] is a fine exception to the rule. . . . [This volume] makes the strong case that U2's music and social activism not only are rooted in the Christian tradition, but serve as model for discipleship. The author writes in a clear way for a lay audience hungry for a deeper spirituality and life together that can stand up in a world of desire, division, and immense need for justice. . . . Scharen's work on the theology of the cross is most compelling. . . . One Step Closer would be a terrific introduction to theology for a youth, campus, or young-adult group looking to go deeper in their thought and walk with God."--Adam Phillips, Covenant Quarterly