Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Jake - All In The Family

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
Jake - All In The Family

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"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!" (Ps. 133:1) So wrote the Psalmist, expressing the beauty of fellowship within the family of God. If he could meet the members of Jake, the biblical poet might be inspired to write something about "brothers living together in the same apartment." That's because Toby, Marty and Josh Penner-- "Jake" -- are three flesh-and-blood brothers who share everything: an unusually close Christian family, a love of all things Canadian (including impromptu renditions of "O Canada," the national anthem) and a heartfelt desire to use their modern pop songs to help enliven the faith of kids all over.

The guys also share a border-crossing, road-weary '85 Mercury Topaz, a car with more age and experience than some of Jake's more youthful fans. While the 1985 Topaz may have been the vehicle that literally got them to Reunion Records in Nashville -- just barely, according to the guys--they'll tell you it's been the hand of God that has taken them from the safe haven of home in Three Hills, Alberta to many faith-building places throughout their young lives, including a mission school in Belize ("Our parents thought it would be good for the whole family to spend a year in another culture," says Toby.).

Click to hear a clip from "Waiting"

Another faith-building adventure was the summer that twins Marty and Josh spent working at an Alaskan logging camp. "Dad spent a lot of time in Alaska and the Yukon, and he thought it would be good for us," says Marty. "So he put us on a train west when we were 16, and we had to fend for ourselves finding a job and a place to live." Josh says the summer marked a turning point for the two. "We learned to trust God for everything...we worked was a great experience. But you'd have to know our dad to know why he did that."

If you don't know Dad, you don't know Jake. That's because Dad, like Grandpa Penner and several other male Penner relatives, is named Jake. "It's very common on both sides of Dad's family," says Toby. "Since none of us are named Jake, we decided to let the name live on with the band."

Click to hear a clip from "Believer" - featured in the upcoming Left Behind movie

That's not all that makes Jake Penner one proud dad. Although he and Marie Penner (mom) are both career educators (affiliated with Prairie Bible Institute, Canada's oldest Christian school), the family was the focus of their lives. "We have studied our children, and prayed for guidance," says Mr. Penner. "We've always known they were talented, but we've always entrusted them and their gifts to God. Our kids belong to God, not to us."

So who are these guys?

For starters, Toby, Marty and Josh are polite, clean-cut, and fun to be around. Athletic and smart, they're equally at home on the basketball court or in their favorite bookstore. It's tempting to describe them as "all-American boys," but they're proud Canadians, to the bone -- with dual citizenship, thanks to Mom Penner, who was born and raised in the United States. Holding both a Canadian and U.S. passport makes it easy to cross the border, says Toby. "The customs people always smile and say, 'Welcome home'' whichever way we're's great."

Click to hear a clip from "The One"

The differences between the two sides of North American culture are subtle, say the Jake guys, except when it comes to the practice of Christianity. "There's not a big Christian subculture in Canada like there is the U.S.," says Josh. "So Canadian Christians in the arts don't differentiate between the sacred and the secular...which is why you'll hear Christian artists like {{Carolyn Arends}} or {{Steve Bell}} on pop radio there."

The integration of faith and life -- and the struggles and joys of living in the world, but not of it -- are naturally revealed in the songs on Jake's self-titled Reunion Records debut. Fueled by the sublime harmonies only siblings can create, ==JAKE== features shimmering-yet-edgy pop production that works when pared down to three brothers in a living room with acoustic guitars.

Click to hear a clip from "Right Time"

Thematically, their songs range from the deep spiritual longings of "Right Time" and "Believer" to the everyday struggles of human relationships in "Let Me Know" and "Take My Heart Away."

"Of course we write about life from a Christ-centered perspective, because we're Christians," says Toby. "That colors everything we write."

One of Toby's writing efforts is Jake's anthemic debut single "Waiting," which tells a story familiar to both the searching skeptic and the honest Christian:

I don't feel strong enough
To lift my hands to You
But I have tasted Your life
And that's how I know I am tired of mine...
I am waiting for You
I am waiting here tonight...
I am waiting for my eyes to see the light

Though the Penner brothers are well aware of the need for Christians to affect the culture at large, they also have a heart for kids who might be surrounded by Christian influences yet haven't made Christ the true center of their lives. "We know what it's like to grow up in a Christian family and go to a Christian school, so we really want to help kids see that faith in Jesus is an intensely personal relationship," says Josh. "Life has to be more than just activities, more than just one giant youth group and going to Christian concerts."

Click to hear a clip from "Let Me Know"

So how could going to a Jake concert make a difference for one of those church kids? "We definitely want to encourage kids to stretch, to do things that get them out of their comfort zone -- to reach outside the 'bubble' and figure out what knowing Christ can mean in their everyday lives," says Marty. "We want to help them invite Jesus into their friendships, their relationships with the opposite sex, school, sports...and to serve others, too. That's where we feel we can make a difference, to show them how Christ became real to us in our lives."