Petra at 50: This Means War! (1987)


In celebration of Petra turning fifty years old in 2022, here at I am going album by album through their discography and reflecting on the role their music has played in my life. In this post my focus is Petra’s ninth studio album and tenth overall, 1987’s This Means War! 

The Backstory

John Schlitt joined the band as lead vocalist in early 1986, in time to fill some of Petra’s international dates on the back end of the Beat The System tour. Later that year, with John and Dino Elefante as their new producers, Petra recorded Back to the Street. Schlitt had come in late to that process, with most of the music already having been recorded before he hit the studio to do the vocals. This Means War!, then, would be the first album with Schlitt fully involved. His voice was ready to rock and so was the rest of the band, setting the stage for the first in a run of albums that would redefine Petra as we knew it, and the Christian music industry.

Album Overview

Where do you start when trying to provide an overview of this one? For many of my generation, this is the start of Petra’s golden age, or at least a second golden age. They took the sound they were developing in Back to the Street and amplified it. Bob Hartman calls this “a great turning point for the group because it firmly established the new sound.” He’s right. This is their most rocking album to date, and album that start with a bang and doesn’t let up. You do get two high quality ballads mixed in, but it’s the rock that stands out. That stands to reason with the in your face theme of spiritual warfare from the first drums of the title track all the way to the end. John Schlitt’s voice, if anything was missing from the last album, is all the way back and then some for this one. The Elefante brothers find a near perfect way to mix this one together. For good reason, This Means War! is remembered by many as the start of Petra’s peak.

My Origin Story

I don’t remember when exactly I first owned this album, but I can say it was in the early 90s. My first exposure to anything on this album came in November 1989 when Petra came to my church and did a concert. I’ll talk more about that later on in this series, but I specifically remember “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” was the second song they performed. When I bought the Petrafied compilation I quickly loved “This Means War!” and “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened.” It wasn’t long after that I had the whole thing.

Album Information

  • Released: 1987
  • Recorded: Pakaderm Studio; Los Alamitos, CA
  • Album Length: 40:12
  • Label: StarSong
  • The Band: Bob Hartman (lead guitars, additional programming, arrangements); John Schlitt (lead vocals, background vocals); John Lawry (keyboards, computer programming, background vocals); Mark Kelly (bass guitar, background vocals); Louie Weaver (drums, additional programming)
  • Producers: John Elefante and Dino Elefante
  • Additional Musicians:
    • John Elefante (additional programming, background vocals, arrangements)
    • Tim Heintz (additional programming)
    • Dino Elefante (arrangements)
    • Tom Hrbacek and Los Alamitos High School Marching Drummers (percussion on “This Means War”)
  • Recording:
    • John Elefante (producer, engineer, mixing at Pakaderm Studio)
    • Dino Elefante (producer, engineer, mixing)
    • Mike Mireau (engineer)
    • Steve Hall (mastering at Future Disc, Los Angeles, CA)
    • Dave Rogers (art direction, design)
    • Chris Hopkins (illustration)


1.  “This Means War” (3:30) – The Los Alamitos High School marching band helps start this one off with drums that resonate in my mind whenever I think of this song. Right away it’s heavy, and with every pounding drum beat you can feel the militaristic, spiritual warfare theme that will carry throughout the album. Lawry’s keyboards also start with a pounding beat, and remain prevalent throughout the song. When the keyboards come in, so does John Schlitt, with lyrics directed at none other than the devil himself, Satan: “Son of the morning – highest of all, you had so much going till you took the fall. Had a place in the glory but you wanted it all, impossible odds but you had the gall. It seemed so unlikely that you would rebel, such a worthy opponent that you knew so well. But you went down fighting when you heard the bell
Took a third down from heaven when you went to hell.” Then the guitar ramps up for the chorus, in which Schlitt’s screams out, “THIS MEANS WAR!” My favorite line comes when he sings, “The Victor is sure and the victory secure, but till judgment we all must endure. This means war!” The first song of this album announces there is a war going on, and it will continue, but Jesus has already won it and that will not change. Just fantastic. Add it a great instrumental from Lawry, the last chorus, then another great finish with Lawry and Weaver’s drums bringing it home. This is one of the most iconic songs in Petra’s history for good reason.

2. “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” (4:10) – Hartman calls this one of Petra’s all-time greatest concert songs, a victory song that is one of his favorite to perform. It’s one of their greatest songs. Period. Like the song before it, it starts with drums, but instead of keyboards taking the leading role, Lawry serves a more complementary role in this song. The guitar drives this one. And whereas in “This Means War” the message is that we are at war with Satan, but Jesus has already won the victory, this song explains the basis of our victory. It’s Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection! “No one could know. No one could fathom. The way to win was only through the grave. They laid Him in His tomb. They thought they’d sealed His doom. But He rose! He rose!” Schlitt’s voice soars on this song, by the way. And I absolutely love the chorus: “He came! He saw! He conquered death and hell! He came! He saw! He is alive and well! He was! He is! And only He forgives! He died! He rose! He lives! He came! He saw! He conquered!” Those title words, on a play on the words of Julius Caesar, one of the great conquerors of history. He said, “Veni, vidi, vici!” (I came, I saw, I conquered). But for Petra the focus is on Jesus, the cross. But the good news is we get to “see the things the Lord can do.” An empty tomb to the glory of God! And just so we are reminded, “He came into this world. He saw humanity. He heard the S.O.S. He met the enemy. The enemy was conquered! The enemy was conquered!” While the war still rages, we are battling a defeated foe. To this day I post this one on social media every Resurrection Sunday. John Elefante collaborated with Hartman on the music for this one.

3. “Get On Your Knees And Fight Like A Man” (4:32) – Having sung about the war we’ve already won through Christ, and how the basis for our victory is the cross and empty tomb, this begins a series of songs which explain various weapons we have or traits we need to exhibit to fight with victory in this war. The first of those weapons is prayer, and what a title for a song. You want to be a real man? Pray. Fight in prayer. Consider the second verse: “Over your head the condition is graver. You’ve given ground you can’t retrieve. The cards are stacked and they’re not in your favor, but you’ve got an ace up your sleeve.” Then, “Get on your knees and fight like a man.” When the conflicts come, we need to remember it’s the effective prayer of a righteous man that accomplishes much (Jas 5:16, one of the verses Petra attributes in this song). This is a rocker too, albeit not as fast faced. Louie Weaver continues to do some of his best drumming in this one, and it really helps keep that war theme going. Hartman has a great solo in there as well. 

4. “I Am Available” (4:27) – To fight in this war you can’t be self-absorbed. Considering what Jesus Christ has done for those He saves, you need humility and you need to submit to God, making yourself available to Him to use. Your agenda has to become His will. Consider what Schlitt sings, “I don’t have much to offer you. I don’t have much to give. There’s so much I may never be as long as I may live. I may never be all I want to be, although I’ll always try. But if you choose me, to use me, there’s just one reason why. I am available.” This isn’t about the music so much. Lawry shines on keyboards. But it’s Schlitt who stars here as he sings about the hero of the song, Jesus. It’s easy to imagine what this song may mean to Schlitt, considering his testimony, as he sang, “My whole life was incomplete till I laid it at Your heart. So use me as You will. I am available.” It’s not about what we bring to the table. God doesn’t need anything from us. He just wants us to humble ourselves, be ready to serve Him, and He will take care of the rest.

5. “Kenaniah” (3:43) – John Lawry and Danny Kingin joined Hartman on lyrics for this one, with Lawry and Kingin doing the music. I know I had never heard of Kenaniah before I heard this song, and if I’d read about him in 1 Chronicles 15:22, 27 I didn’t remember it. He’s a minor character in the account of the ark being brought to Jerusalem, but his role was important. He was chief of the Levites and was given in song, so he instructed the Israelites in singing. In other words, he led in worship through song during this pivotal moment in the history of God’s people. The lesson? Worship is a weapon in this war, and I’d argue, it’s both an offensive and defensive weapon, helping to guard the heart of the one worshipping, keeping a right perspective of God, while always shoving it in the devil’s face, and in a world that hates God, that He, Yahweh, is Lord. This is a cool rock song. I did the backing vocals going, “Ohh! Ohhhhh!” Every instrument is doing it’s job to accompany Schlitt’s voice as he sings this mini-biography of a man in history who helped show God’s people a way to worship Him.

6. “You Are My Rock” (4:21) – Worship is a weapon, and this is another one of those praise rock songs that are such an important part of Petra’s history. This one starts off slow with Lawry, but you can tell it’s going to build. Lyrically, it’s a testimony of one struggling, “Moving through the shadows of uncertainty.” But that uncertainty fades when you realize you’re not standing alone. “You are my Rock! My fortress, my shield!” It’s a cry out to God based on Psalm 18:1–6. The weapons here? The traits we need to exhibit? Dependence. Faith. When we are in uneven times, unsure situations, we can remember that Yahweh is our solidity. He is our Rock, and He hears our cries. I love how Schlitt sings relatively softly in the first verse and bridge, then belts out, “You are my Rock!” And the band echoes him, then joins him in unison to close the chorus with another, “You are my Rock!” The drums and keyboards shine on this one, but Hartman does have a nice solo in there.

7. “The Water Is Alive” (3:48) – There is something about the sound of this song that seems unique to me, but I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s an album track and not as well known as many other Petra songs, but I’ve always dug this one. Lyrically, the song reminds the believer that in the midst of war we come into contact with thirsty hearts and souls who suffer from mirage-like delusions. They need to drink the living water, and we need to remember that. The water is alive. It is what gives us life and refreshes us. “The oasis waits for those who roam. . . [but] He lets [us] drink the living water till [we’re] satisfied.” This is another song in which the backing vocals really soar. I also like Hartman’s riffs in between verses. I never saw this one live but I think it would be fun to see.

8. “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened” (3:41) – The second ballad on this album is one I’m particularly thankful for because it sends a message I often need to hear. The chorus is the very first thing you hear: “Don’t let your heart be hardened. Don’t let your love grow cold. May it always stay so childlike. May it never grow too old. Don’t let your heart be hardened. May you always know the cure. Keep it broken before Jesus. Keep it thankful, meek, and pure.” In this world filled with sin it can become so easy for even the most mature believer to become embittered with people, with the world system, and even the church (which is filled with sinners just like us). The backing vocals on this one are great. As I keep writing that I think this might be the best of Petra’s albums so far when it comes to what the backing vocals add to each song. That said, it’s another ballad in which Schlitt really stands out. 

9. “Dead Reckoning” (3:23) – Another weapon, or thing we have to do in this war, is continually put to death the deeds of the flesh. That’s from Romans 6:11 and one of the verses cited with the lyrics. “It’s a dead reckoning. Trade the old for the new. It’s a dead reckoning. Learn to die daily till the new life comes through. It’s a dead reckoning.” And we’re not alone in this fight. “There are many who trod,” Hartman reminds us in the lyrics. And ultimately, it all points back to the victory we have in Christ: “And the battle is already through.” I really did the music in this one. It’s a fast moving guitar. Louie’s drums are right there, and there’s an almost abrupt, but cool finish to this one as well. 

10. “All The King’s Horses” (4:27) – It’s appropriate the last song of this album, in which war is an in your face theme, is inspired by Revelation 19:11–21, when the victorious King Jesus returns as the rider of the white horse. The song serves as a fitting epilogue to this album which began with war in heaven: “It’s an age-old score that’s got to be settled. It’s an age-old debut that’s got to be paid. When the King breaks through in all His glory, to claim His throne and the world He made.” The chorus is a play on the old Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, in which the title character had a great fall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. In contrast, the Lord will come with His holy ones. He and they, under His power and direction, will put this world back together again (in the millennial kingdom). This song not only reminds us of our victorious King, but the role we will get to play as His servants. It may not seem real now, in 2022, but “when the dust and the smoke disappears, the King will reign for a thousand years.” Schlitt’s voice is strong and all of the instruments are doing work, including Kelly’s bass line, which I haven’t mentioned enough in looking at all of these albums. Plus, a cool Hartman solo before the second to last chorus. All in all, this is one of the better (and underrated) closing tracks on a Petra album.

Ranking the Albums

  1. This Means War! – What can I say? This album is great. I’d say it’s probably known for the title track, “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered,” and the two ballads most of all, but the album is strong from start to finish, with probably the best overall “Side B” of any Petra album yet. Those first two songs are musts for any Petra fan, absolutely iconic, but from song to song it is definitely the most thematic of any Petra album (probably before and after). As stated above, there’s a reason people point to this album as the start of a golden age.
  2. More Power To Ya
  3. Never Say Die 
  4. Come and Join Us
  5. Not Of This World
  6. Back to the Street
  7. Captured In Time And Space
  8. Beat The System
  9. Petra
  10. Washes Whiter Than

The #Petra50

So having a new #1 album, the question is how the individual songs fit into the great scheme of this ultimate Petra playlist. Some of the songs are no-brainers, but I think there are good things to say about all ten of the songs on this album. In fact, I’m placing EIGHT of them in this list. Only “Kenaniah” (which I really like!) and “Dead Reckoning” aren’t making the cut. And cuts will come. There are now fifty songs in this Petra50, so starting with the next album some songs will drop off. It’s part of the fun of it, and a testimony to how great Petra has been through the years.

  1. “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” – from This Means War! – Yes, we have a new top song on our list. I just love everything about this one. The rock. Schlitt’s soaring voice. The victorious lyrics. The clever play on Caesar. The great reminder of why we have victory in Jesus. This one will be difficult to supplant.
  2. “More Power To Ya” – from More Power To Ya (1)
  3. “Adonai” – from Beat The System (2)
  4. “Whole World” – from Back to the Street (3)
  5. “Grave Robber” – from Not Of This World (4)
  6. “Chameleon” from Never Say Die (5)
  7. “Road to Zion” – from More Power To Ya (6)
  8. “Godpleaser” – from Captured In Time And Space (7)
  9. “Not Of This World” – from Not Of This World (8)
  10. “This Means War” – from This Means War! – If it’s not the best title track up to this point (and I grudgingly resisted putting it higher), I’d argue it’s the most iconic. The pounding drums. The declaration that the Victor is sure and the victory secure. The stick-it-in-Satan’s-face lyrics. Awesome.
  11. “Come and Join Us” – from Come and Join Us (9)
  12. “The Praise Medley [“Let Everything That Hath Breath” / “Without You We Could Do Nothing” / “Praise Ye The Lord” / “Hallelujah Chorus”] – from Captured In Time And Space (10)
  13. “Angel of Light” – from Never Say Die (11)
  14. “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” – from More Power To Ya (12)
  15. “Hollow Eyes” – from Beat The System (13)
  16. “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened” – from This Means War! – I highly esteem this ballad because of the personal spiritual benefit it has been to me through the years. I know me, so I know I need to not let my love grow cold.
  17. “Fool’s Gold” – from Back to the Street (14)
  18. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” – from Come and Join Us (15)
  19. “It Is Finished” – from Beat The System (16)
  20. “Woman Don’t You Know” – from Come and Join Us (17) 
  21. “Where Can I Go” – from Come and Join Us (18)
  22. “Not By Sight” – from Not Of This World (19)
  23. “Clean” – from Captured In Time And Space (20)
  24. “King’s Ransom” – from Back to the Street (21)
  25. “You Are My Rock” – from This Means War! – I give this praise rocker high marks. It points us to the One who is certain in a world filled with uncertainty. Plus, it rocks!
  26. “Beat The System” – from Captured In Time And Space (22)
  27. “For Annie” – from Never Say Die (23)
  28. “Magic Mirror” – from Washes Whiter Than (24) 
  29. “The Coloring Song” – from Never Say Die (25)
  30. “Bema Seat” – from Not Of This World (26) 
  31. “Back to the Street” – from Back to the Street (27)
  32. “Get On Your Knees and Fight Like A Man” – from This Means War! – If you want to fight this spiritual war like a man, follow the example of the Son of Man. Pray! Great stuff.
  33. “Magic Words”- from Washes Whiter Than (28)
  34. “Why Should the Father Bother?” – from Washes Whiter Than (29)
  35. “Walkin’ in the Light” – from Petra (30)
  36. “The Water Is Alive” – from This Means War! – An underrated album track which inspires the listener to share the good news of the life giving, life saving, living water that sustains us not just for a moment, but for eternity.
  37. “Killing My Old Man” – from Never Say Die (31)
  38. “Stand Up” – from More Power To Ya (32)
  39. “Morning Star” – from Washes Whiter Than (33)
  40. “Second Wind” – from More Power To Ya (34)
  41. “You Are I Am” – from Back to the Street (35)
  42. “I Am Available” – from This Means War! – A wonderful battle expressing our needs both for humility and for a readiness to do whatever God wants us to do.
  43. “Mary’s Song” – from Washes Whiter Than (36)
  44. “All The King’s Horses” – from This Means War! – This is a great bookend to the title track which opens the album, but the song stands on its own as a declaration of victory and a reminder of the promise that Jesus will make everything right. Plus, again, it rocks.
  45. “Blinded Eyes” – from Not Of This World (37)
  46. “I Can Be Friends With You” – from Never Say Die (38)
  47. “Get Back to the Bible” – from Petra (39)
  48. “Yahweh Love” – from Petra (40)
  49. “Lucas McGraw” – from Petra (41)
  50. “Backslidin’ Blues” – from Petra (42)

Parting Thought

This Means War! became the best Petra album to date, with iconic songs that rocked. Working with John and Dino Elefante, Petra had found another gear, and as we will see, more great things were to come. It should be noted that Mark Kelly would leave the band after this album. I’ve never seen a reason given as to why, but after being with the band for seven years, one could be forgiven for wanting off the road so much, if no other reason. He would come back to an incarnation of the band in 2010, but that’s for another day. Ultimately, This Means War! is one of the first albums think about when Petra is brought up, and it’s easy to see why. You can listen to it here. Next time, we get fired up.


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