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Resources for Theological Reflection on U2

We are going to the U2 conference Saturday night here in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I thought I would just provide a few theological resources that I have come across regarding U2.

Note: You can now watch the whole concert performed at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calfornia on October 25, 2009 at YouTube.  (The first 2-3 minutes are slow until they walk onto the stage).  Here is the setlist.    

Scharen's book One Step Closer

I recommend the book

One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen (April 1, 2006)

Scharen, a blogger and twitterer, and theology professor at Luther Seminary (Ph.D. from Emory), argues that U2 is quite sophisticated theologically.  He argues that they are as explicitly Christian as they can be without alienating listeners who are not Christians.  Scharen has written a book that tries to help people make connections between what U2 is trying to say and do, and the Bible and theology.  It is well-written and accessible.  It made me want to listen to U2, read the Bible, and try to live my life in such a way that I am firmly embedded in the world while still trying to do what is right.  

Keuss's Article "The Comedy"

See also the review by Jeff Keuss in The Other Journal

The Comedy of No Line on the Horizon: A Theological Reading of U2’s Latest Album

Keuss, a theology professor at Seattle Pacific University and blogger, analyzes U2's new album. 

U2 Academic Conference

There is a U2 Academic Conference happening this week in Durham, NC.  People are coming from all over for it including: Keuss, Steve Taylor from New Zealand and Beth Maynard--host of U2 Sermons blog and an editor of Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog.  To some this may sound a little ridiculous--(analyzing a rock band?), but a lot of Ph.D.'s are presenting papers which makes it a legitimate "academic conference."  If you still think it is ridiculous, my bet is that you have not attended many academic conferences. At a typical academic conference, very serious thinking is done about incredibly obscure minutiae. The hope (often unstated and sometimes forgotten) is that the insights achieved will lead to wider and more significant implications.  The same probably applies to a conference on U2--to use their lyrics or popularity or art as a springboard into more substantive insights about the world.  Obviously, a group like U2 that bridges to some extent the popular / critical divide, and has a wide body of work to study, and appeals to a lot of scholars who are now in their 30's, 40's and 50's, is a fun place from which to begin exploring the world.

After writing this post, Calhoun's review article appeared

Where Could We Go from Here?
The state of U2 studies.
Scott Calhoun | posted 10/22/2009 Books & Culture

Calhoun mentions a number of books that reflect on U2 and Christianity and has a number of interesting comments himself.  Below I list the books he mentions and what he says about them.  

"An introduction"

"Steve Stockman's Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, first published in 2001 and updated in 2005, is widely considered as the best-sourced book that looks mainly at the spiritual aspects of the band members' lives and the music they have created."

"Christian Scharen helped us understand, with One Step Closer in 2006, 'why U2 matters to those seeking God.'"

"On my timeline of U2 studies, Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, a collection of 25 sermons edited by Beth Maynard and Raewynne Whiteley, came surprisingly early. Yet upon closer examination, its publication in 2003 signifies that U2's work had already generated amongst fans a wealth of ideas and implications for the religious life. Since Maynard began her "U2 Sermons" blog in 2003, it has remained the best source I know of for theological insights inspired by the band and for tracking the theological reflections of others on U2 ("

"Robert Vagacs' Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective, is an insightful study of U2 as poets and prophets, amply informed by Vagacs' reading of Walter Brueggemann. Vagacs treats U2's songs as texts that increase in meaning and significance when read for their intertexts, poetics, and cultural rhetoric, and he studies U2 as a group of artists shaped by the art in their lives as well as by the times they live in."

"Stephen Catanzarite's Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall, is a rich assessment of the human condition writ large. Working his way through U2's masterpiece album from 1991, Catanzarite explores how echoes of a lost divinity frustrate the acts of men and women searching for hope, love, and life in a world of broken promises and discarded sacraments."

He also mentions as an example of the academic work being done surrounding U2:

Crouch and Briggs Concert Reviews

A couple of people have posted reviews of earlier shows on the tour:

The Pinnacle of Power: What I saw at the U2 concert.

Andy Crouch, a senior editor at Christianity Today International


U2 360: NYC 09.24.09 Review

J.R. Briggs, a pastor and author in Pennsylvania

Other resources: Setlists and Videos

Here is a recent setlist.  You can find all the setlists at

Note: You can now watch the whole concert performed at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calfornia on October 25, 2009 at YouTube.  (The first 2-3 minutes are slow until they walk onto the stage).  Here is the setlist.      

U2 @ Giants Stadium - 9/23/09 - setlist

1. Breathe
2. Magnificent
3. Get On Your Boots
4. Mysterious Ways
5. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
6. She's The One / Desire (snippet)
7. Elevation
8. Your Blue Room
9. Beautiful Day / Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (snippet)
10. No Line On The Horizon
11. New Year's Day
12. Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of
13. The Unforgettable Fire
14. Mofo (snippet) / City Of Blinding Lights
15. Vertigo
16. I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
17. Sunday Bloody Sunday
18. MLK
19. Walk On / You'll Never Walk Alone (snippet)
20. One / Amazing Grace (snippet)
21. Where The Streets Have No Name / All You Need Is Love (snippet)

22. Ultra Violet (Light My Way)
23. With Or Without You
24. Moment of Surrender

Notes: Breathe returns as the opener after missing the previous gig entirely. Unknown Caller misses a 360° Tour gig for only the third time.

You can watch lots of U2 videos for free at MTV and VH1.