"My music and my commitment to Christ are so intertwined that I can't separate the two," says Christopher Parkening, the deeply devout and critically acclaimed classical guitarist who probably would not even be playing today were it not for his sudden conversion 15 years ago. Hailed by the Washington Post as "the leading guitar virtuoso of our day," Parkening is a warm and approachable man whose humility conceals the fact that he is a bona fide superstar. He has recorded 15 albums, played more than a thousand concerts, entertained millions, and performed on two televised Grammy Awards shows. The album he made with soprano Kathleen Battle, "The Pleasures of Their Company," was nominated for a Grammy in 1986.

Parkening's concerts routinely sell out and throw music reviewers into paroxysms of praise. Among the many adjectives they use are "brilliant," "gorgeous," "astonishing," "eloquent," and "flawless." At 47, he still has the boyish good looks he had during his teens, when he was first hailed as a prodigy and heir to the mantle of his legendary teacher, Andres Segovia.

Parkening was 11 when he first picked up the guitar. Originally inclined toward popular music, he took the advice of a relative who told him to study classical guitar first. He never looked back.

He was 19 when EMI Classics made the unusual move of simultaneously releasing two debut recordings—to resounding critical and popular acclaim. But by age 30, Parkening was burned out by the incessant worldwide touring that had him performing as many as 90 concerts a year. He kissed his career good-bye and embraced "the good life" by disappearing to a ranch in Montana and fly fishing to his heart's content.

A nominal Christian who had attended Presbyterian and Methodist churches as a youth, Parkening says his faith was superficial: "My parents told me I was a Christian, and I believed that I was." But during a visit to California, he accepted an invitation to attend Grace Community Church in Panorama City, where John MacArthur's sermon "Examine Yourself Whether You Be in the Faith," pierced his heart. "When he spoke those words from the Bible, 'Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven,' my whole life flashed before me," says Parkening. "I thought, that's me! That night I went home and gave my life to Christ. I remember being broken over my sins."

Reading Paul's injunction in 1 Corinthians to do everything to the glory of God, Parkening was inspired to dive back into the career he had abandoned three years earlier. "When you can sincerely and with your whole heart play an instrument for the purpose of glorifying God, it gives you a joy and a peace that you don't know when you're doing it for yourself and for the money."

At first, Parkening made sacred music the focus of his resurrected career, recording 1982's "Simple Gifts," a solo recording of hymns, spirituals, and classical works, and 1985's "A Bach Celebration," an ensemble work that featured guitar transcriptions from Bach cantatas. But he has since branched out, performing numerous secular pieces as well. "As I matured in Christ, I realized that whatever you do, you can do all for the glory of God, even secular works."

His next recording is a collection of Christmas music.

Parkening's love for Jesus is reflected in his repertoire, in the biographical material found in his albums and press material, and even on his album covers—his 1994 recording of Vivaldi concertos was festooned with a banner proclaiming Soli Deo Gloria: "To God alone be the glory."

That banner is Parkening's way of paying tribute to God and to Johann Sebastian Bach, the eighteenth-century composer who wrote the phrase on many of his compositions, and who serves as Parkening's role model.

Patrick Kavanaugh, executive director of the Christian Performing Artists' Fellowship, tells of Parkening, "He once told me that 'success seeks to please men, but excellence seeks to please God.' "

"The Lord has mandated us that, whatever sphere of influence we are in, we are to make disciples of Christ," Parkening says. "My playing the guitar for the glory of God is incomplete apart from my sharing the precious gospel of Jesus Christ with friends that I meet around the world."


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