While the schedule for the Cornerstone Music Festival regularly mixes currently popular groups with up-and-comers and legendary rockers, the 18th Annual Cornerstone seemed to feature a full plate of industry pioneers—including the much-touted return of the yellow and black attack, '80s metal band Stryper.

Playing their first full-length set since 1991, Stryper closed the July 3-7 festival that showcased Christian legends such as Larry Norman, the 77s, The Sweet Comfort Band, Randy Stonehill, Kemper Crabb, Daniel Amos, Victoria Williams and others.

"There's a lot of music out here this week," Norman said at the Bushnell, Illinois event. "There's so much out now and a lot of different kinds of music like Christian reggae and hip hop. It's really great … but I kind of liked it better when I was the only one doing it."

Festival director John Herrin said Cornerstone likes bringing back old favorites just for fun. "By having 300 bands come here every year, we give ourselves the chance to do a lot," he said. "We have fun with it and the people who come all enjoy it a lot."

Having been a member of Resurrection Band, Herrin said he had the chance to play with many of the Christian rock veterans on the playbill, so bringing them to the Jesus People U.S.A. festival is just like seeing old friends. In fact, fellow Resurrection Band members Glenn Kaiser and Stu Heiss (now with GOD'Zone) also took the stage.

"We thought Stryper would be a great fit and a lot of fun," Herrin said. "They hadn't played in a long time so we thought, 'Let's see if these guys are still cooking.'"

Since their breakup in 1991, the band members have pursued their own projects and turned their individual focuses to raising families. Lead singer Michael Sweet put out three solo albums (including the recent Truth album) while bassist Tim Gaines and guitarist Oz Fox formed the band Sindizzy.

Stryper had never played Cornerstone before, but Michael told Christianity Today that he feels the band should have. When invited for the 18th annual festival, the four band members called around the country to one another and were in agreement that it was finally time to do the Christian festival.

"Back in the Stryper days, we had a certain plan," said Fox. "We wanted to attract the non-Christians. We were trying to bring a draw to people who didn't know the Lord so we didn't think Cornerstone fit into that. We have different feelings about it now."

In 1984, Stryper found success by taking blatantly Christian music to the mainstream, said Chris Lutes, editor of Campus Life magazine. Signed to a secular label (the same that launched RATT and Motley Crue), Stryper changed both the image of Christian rock and of heavy metal, infusing the musical style associated with darker bands like Black Sabbath and KISS with hopeful songs about Jesus.

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While previous Christian rock groups had trouble selling to non-Christian crowds, the heavy metal band with eyeliner, teased hair, and yellow-and-black spandex became a regular on radio and MTV, selling between $70 million and $100 million worth of albums. They were profiled in Rolling Stone and received a Grammy nomination.

"They were pioneers," Lutes said. "Who else was doing what these guys were? Nobody. They were right out there in the mainstream with the big dogs."

While commercially successful and popular, the band's brand of ministry and outrageousness did not sit well with some Christians. Believers complained about the band's appearance, its touring with groups like Metallica, and its trademark: throwing of Bibles into audiences. Lyrics like "To Hell with the Devil" didn't help win these critics over.

"Of course the church isn't going to understand things like that," said Lutes. "They were a little early and the church just wasn't ready. The church was more conservative and didn't understand them."

Lutes said Campus Life occasionally hears negative feedback concerning current Christian bands who play hard music, dress alternatively, or aim for secular crowds—but it would be worse if there had been no Stryper.

"The band was either loved or hated," said drummer Robert Sweet. "There were a lot of people who didn't like what we were doing both in the world and as Christians. A lot of people in the name of Christ hated us. I don't know why what we were doing was so shocking then, but I think the whole scene is different now."

Lutes said the band got tired of being attacked by the church for its ministry. They became bitter and angry. This led to youthful rebellion on their final studio album, 1990's Against the Law. The record showed a rougher Stryper that strayed from the explicit God-glorifying lyrics. This garnered them even more negative response. In 1991, they broke up in the face of waning success.

"We are just men and we made mistakes but God used the band," Fox said. "Jesus makes Stryper what it is. If he is glorified in [what the band accomplished], that is what matters."

At the July 7 reunion, the band partied like it was 1989, with black and yellow striped guitars and Bibles thrown to the crowds. But some trademarks, such as the old make-up and spandex, were left behind (save for Robert, who still wore big hair and tight yellow pants).

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During the hour-plus set, the band poked fun at themselves for their old gimmicks and joked about their age, as when Michael had to glance at CD liner notes for lyrics since certain songs had not been performed since the mid-1980s.

But if Lutes and Sweet are right that it's easier now for Christian heavy music bands like P.O.D. to find approval, will Stryper make a run at it again?

"We're really not certain at this time," Michael said. "As for now, this is the final show. We want to make sure each time the four of us get together that it is right."

However, Michael revealed that the band has discussed a new Stryper album. "I think a new record is possible … but it all is difficult to pull off," he said.

With the four band members in different states, devoted to their families and involved in separate music projects, a new album may not be logistically possible. Michael said the band has toyed with the idea of a record with new takes on the old hits along with a few original songs.

But whether Stryper comes back for more than one show or not, Fox said, the Christian testimonials he hears—old and new—about the band's ministry are what really matter.

"I'm feeling really blessed that God's done something with this band," he said. "We are happy to do whatever we can for the Lord."

Related Elsewhere

Also appearing on the Christianity Today Web site today is a CT Classic from 1985 on Stryper's emergence in the music industry and a collection of letters from readers in response.

Stryper's Official Web Site has articles, biographies and the band's full history.

CDNOW ran a story on Stryper's reunion show at the 2001 Stryper Expo.

The official Cornerstone site covered the festival live as well as posted the schedule, band bios, and other information.

Appearing on Christianity Today's Web site last week, Todd Hertz looked at the diversity in people and worship that make up Cornerstone.

Christianity Today's earlier articles on Jesus People U.S.A., which sponsors the festival, includes:

Jesus' People | Lessons for living in the "we" decade. (Sept. 14, 1992)

Conflict Divides Countercult Leaders | A 1994 Christianity Today article reports on the conflict between sociologist Ronald Enroth and JPUSA. (July 18, 1994)

Weblog: Chicago Tribune Investigates Jesus People USA (Apr. 3, 2001)