Petra at 50: God Fixation (1998)


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 eighteenth studio album, and nineteenth overall, 1998’s God Fixation.

The Backstory

By 1998 Petra was a band that seemed to be searching for who it was and where it was going in the world of Christian music. After becoming a force on the CCM charts for much of the 80s and into the 90s, by the middle of the decade the band’s chart success and appeal was beginning to wane, as bands like dc Talk, Newsboys, and others were on the ascendancy. As John Schlitt once said to HM magazine, “Petra wasn’t selling worth a stink. Petra was going down the drain (because of internal problems), and I don’t want to go down the drain yet. Personally, if it means kids are interested in a new style, I believe we can do it. If it means getting three new members to do it, I guess it has to be done.” Petra did get three new members before the a second praise album in 1997. Kevin Brandow, Pete Orta, and Lonnie Chapin were added to the fold. The resulting album, Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus, had some quality songs, but the album as a whole didn’t seem to register either with casual Christian music fans or with Petra diehards. So when it came time for Petra to release its next traditional album, there was quite a bit of curiosity as to what direction it would take.

Album Overview

The direction of God Fixation would continue to be a departure from the arena rock sound of the late 80s and early 90s. The sound of the album would prove to be more pop than rock. The addition of the new members meant new input on songs, so much so that Bob Hartman had very little to do with the music on the album. As Schlitt told HM, “The music has been totally affected by the three new guys and [drummer] Louie [Weaver]. They came in with ideas, and they showed Bob, and Bob said, ‘Great, I don’t have to write songs anymore… All I gotta do is come up with the words.’ So there were a lot of ideas from the new guys.” So the majority of the music came from the new members of the band, along with Brian Wooten of Whiteheart again and producer John Elefante. Critically, the album would get mixed reviews, but it would earn another Grammy nomination for Best Gospel Rock Album. The album was not without good songs, and many of the lyrics are very good. Ultimately, there is very little that would be memorable at all, though. One review from HM may have summed it up best, though harshly: “Having all but lost credibility with much of generation X when the guitars creep to the back and ballads take center stage, Petra has marched on. There are a few rockers here, but pale in comparison to the band’s hard rock glory days of On Fire! ... Still, nothing groundbreaking is heard.”

My Origin Story

Honestly, I have no memory of when or where I bought this album, or even that I knew it was coming out before I saw it. As I wrote in a previous post, I was in a big time spiritual malaise at this point in my life. I still loved Petra, but I wasn’t really going to church much at all in this era, having been greatly discouraged by some previous experiences. So I wasn’t around Christian music news very much, and honestly, Petra Praise 2 hadn’t really knocked my socks off. I definitely got this not long after it came out, but I just don’t remember, and I don’t recall how I felt about it when I listened, which probably says as much as anything.

Album Information

  • Released: April 21, 1998
  • Album Length: 43:02
  • Label: Word, Epic
  • Producers: John Elefante and Dino Elefante
  • The Band: John Schlitt (lead vocals, background vocals); Pete Orta (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, background vocals); Kevin Brandow (guitar, background vocals); Lonnie Chapin (bass, background vocals); Louie Weaver (drums)
  • Additional Musicians: Jeff Roach (keyboards, organ); Bob Hartman (guitars); George Marinelli (guitars); Brian Wooten (guitars); John Elefante (background vocals)
  • Production:
    • John Elefante (producer)
    • Dino Elefante (producer)
    • Bob Hartman (executive producer)
    • J.R. McNeely (engineer, mixing (1–10) at The Sound Kitchen, Franklin, Tennessee; additional recording at The Snack Bar, Brentwood, TN)
    • Richie Biggs (mixing (11) at The Sound Kitchen)
    • Tim Coyle (assistant engineer)
    • Todd Gunnerson (assistant engineer)
    • Matt Weeks (assistant engineer)
    • Ken Love (mastering at MasterMix, Nashville, TN)
    • David Estes (A&R direction)
    • Linda Bourne Wornell (A&R coordinator)
    • Beth Lee (art direction)
    • Kevin Tucker (design, additional photography)
    • Robert Ashcroft (photography)


1. “If I Had to Die for Someone” (4:39) – Lonnie Chapin and John Elefante contributed the music for this opener, which starts out as a kind of slow rocker. John Schlitt’s voice is also low key as he sings about how safely he drives to live. The song builds to the chorus, which contrasts that safety with what Jesus has done for us. “‘Cause I don’t know if I could even if I think I would. If I had to die for someone, if I had to die for someone else. How could I ever give my life to set the guilty free when I cannot imagine if I had to die for someone else like me, someone else like me?” I particularly like the climax of the song, which is the bridge: “And I am glad that You are not at all like me, ’cause You laid down Your life and did it willingly. It still amazes me to know
it’s me that You were thinking of! No One else could have a greater love.” Musically you can hear two guitars, something that has rarely been the case in Petra since the 70s albums.

2. “Hello Again” (3:40) – Elefante teamed up with Whiteheart’s Brian Wooten, a regular fixture around Petra in this era, to do the music for this one. The message of this song is hopeful, even though it begins by talking about the certainty of death for everyone: “Everybody has to say their goodbyes while they wipe away the tears from their eyes. . . . Everybody has a Sayonara when they know they won’t be back tomorrow.” But that sadness turns to hope for the Christian with the line, “There’s a salutation that’s reserved for heaven’s own,” which then leads to the chorus, which has as its focus the reunion of believers after death in heaven.

3. “A Matter of Time” (3:24) – Elefante and Wooten are back on music, with Hartman providing the lyrics. This is among the best songs on the album, and not coincidentally, among the most rocking. It’s also the second straight song which alludes to the limited amount of time we have on earth. The last song was about the reunion in heaven. This one is about making the most of your life on earth while you have it. I like how Schlitt’s voice starts low and then kicks in gear on what I suppose is considered the second verse. The culmination comes with the bridge: “God has a plan worth listening to / Not built on sand that is sifting through / It’s not too late for redeeming the time.” That leads to a musical interlude before the song closes with the chorus again.

4. “Falling Up” (4:25) – Continuing the diverse musical input on this album, Elefante and Pete Orta teamed up for this one, and to me, it’s… awkward. Lyrically I think Bob Hartman does a fine job which basically recounts a conversion experience, but the musical choices made here just leave me wanting. My favorite part of the song is right before the chorus, “after all those years of falling down I fell up in the arms of love when I heard Him call.” 

5. “Over the Horizon” (4:37) – Kevin Brandow’s wife Chelsea wrote the lyrics to this one, with Orta and Elefante on music. It’s a light rocky ballad about the hope in Jesus that comes to those who are wearied by life. “There’s a Light over the horizon. I keep walking down this road of hope faithful in my prayer. There’s a Light over the horizon, though I may not know what lies ahead I trust that You’ll be there.” 

6. “God Fixation” (2:54) – The title track was written by Hartman with Chapin, Orta, and Elefante doing the music. It’s a tidy sub-three minutes that is immediately appealing for a couple of reasons. First, the bass solo which starts the song. You just never got a lot of that with Petra, but on a album with a lot of changes, this was a surprising and welcome one. Second, the pace of the song. You’d expect it faster for its duration, and it’s also welcome. Lyrically, the song is about the person who is focused, or fixed on God. A straight head, a clean nose, backbone, 20/20 vision, rooted and grounded. The chorus goes, “It’s a God fixation! A singleness of heart, an undistracted mind! It’s a God fixation! Addiction of a different kind!” On an album that doesn’t have a lot of standouts, this one does.

7. “Set For Life” (3:55) – Music from Brandow, Wooten, and Elefante here. This song is another one trending toward rock that is about a person who seems to have it all, but “There ain’t nothin’ that will last him through the judgement day.” He hears about Jesus and comes to find out he’ll be “set for life.” The life change is found in this line, “All he has he knows is never his. 
His heart is up in heaven where his treasure is.” Bob Hartman’s lyrics continue to be on point.

8. “Magnet of the World” (3:44) – Bob Hartman joined up with John Elefante to write the music for this one, a ballad which is a prayer to be kept from the continuing pull of the world upon the believer. In the bridge we hear, “When will I be free from this / The unfulfilling counterfeit / When will I learn to resist / The constant pull that does exist / Take me farther from this path / Of least resistance now / Will You show me how?” 

9. “Shadow of a Doubt” (3:27) – Hartman and Elefante again combine for music on this one, another soft one that isn’t remarkable for its sound. The lyrics are from the perspective of a Christian who keeps finding himself prone to doubts, but always finds God there, just out of the shadows, always faithful, never ignoring the prayer. Ultimately the prayer asks for God to make these shadows go away: “If I hear Your voice I will obey. Help my unbelief and help me go.” The one doing the prayer wants to move forward and knows it will only come from God.

10. “St. Augustine’s Pears” (3:48) – For the first and only time on this album, the words and music are all Bob Hartman. Perhaps that has something to do with this always being my favorite song on the album. Before I was really familiar with Augustine’s Confessions, I was intrigued by this song because in the liner notes it didn’t have a verse referenced, but this famous work. The song takes a story from Augustine’s life, about how he fell in with a bad crowd, didn’t even really like pears, but stole some anyway, giving away a part of his soul in the process. The lesson from the song comes in the bridge: “Why do we love all the things that are wrong? Forbidden fruit has a strange siren song. Why do we do what we don’t want to do when we live with regrets our whole life through?” Some of the best guitar work on the album is also found on this song. 

11. “The Invitation” (4:29) – Brandow, Wooten, and Elefante are on music and Hartman on lyrics for the final song of the album, a take on the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22 in which the king sends his people out the highways and byways to get people in. It reminds me a little bit of “Ask Him In” from Petra’s debut album, a song toward the end of the album to cajole people to respond to the message of what they’ve heard throughout the album, and more importantly, the gospel. They sing, “It’s your invitation. Your presence is requested at the marriage of the Lamb. It’s your invitation. To be the guest of honor at the wedding of the Great I Am.” And finally, it focuses on Jesus and our being with Him forever: “Oh, He’s God’s worthy Lamb. We’ll drink from the Water of Life / In garments of white / With no end in sight.” A good song to end the album on.

Ranking the Albums

  1. Unseen Power
  2. This Means War! 
  3. On Fire!
  4. Beyond Belief
  5. More Power To Ya
  6. No Doubt 
  7. Never Say Die 
  8. Come and Join Us
  9. Not Of This World
  10. Back to the Street
  11. Captured In Time And Space
  12. Wake-Up Call 
  13. Beat The System
  14. Petra
  15. Washes Whiter Than
  16. Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus
  17. Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out
  18. God Fixation –  I would never say this album is bad, because it’s not. However, it is far removed from the standard we had come to expect from Petra albums. The band was in flux, in the midst of trying to figure out who they were and what they were going to be, and it shows. This album is an attempt to fit in with a late 90s pop type of sound Petra had never really done before. “St. Augustine’s Pears,” “God Fixation,” and “A Matter of Time” are the songs I’d pick out of these eleven and say they come closest to that aforementioned standard. Your opinion might differ, though, and that’s the fun of it.

The #Petra50

I can’t move anything from God Fixation into the top 50, but if there were one it would be Augustine followed by the title track.

  1. “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” – from This Means War! (1)
  2. “Enter In” – from No Doubt  (2)
  3. “Creed” – from Beyond Belief (3) 
  4. “More Power To Ya” – from More Power To Ya (4)
  5. “Dance” – from Unseen Power (5)
  6. “Adonai” – from Beat The System (6)
  7. “Whole World” – from Back to the Street (7)
  8. “Grave Robber” – from Not Of This World (8)
  9. “Hit You Where You Live” – from On Fire! (9)
  10. “Chameleon” from Never Say Die (10)
  11. “Love” – from Beyond Belief (11)
  12. “Road to Zion” – from More Power To Ya (12)
  13. “Godpleaser” – from Captured In Time And Space (13)
  14. “Not Of This World” – from Not Of This World (14)
  15. “This Means War” – from This Means War! (15)
  16. “Come and Join Us” – from Come and Join Us (16)
  17. “All Fired Up” – from On Fire! (17)
  18. “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 (18)
  19. “Sight Unseen” – from Unseen Power (19)
  20. “Angel of Light” – from Never Say Die (20)
  21. “Praying Man” – from Wake-Up Call (21)
  22. “No Doubt” – from No Doubt (22)
  23. “Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows” – from More Power To Ya (23)
  24. “Hollow Eyes” – from Beat The System (24)
  25. “Beyond Belief” – from Beyond Belief (25)
  26. “Don’t Let Your Heart Be Hardened” – from This Means War! (26)
  27. “Destiny” – from Unseen Power (27)
  28. “Stand in the Gap” – from On Fire! (28) 
  29. “Hey World” – from Unseen Power (29)
  30. “Heart of a Hero” – from No Doubt (30)
  31. “Fool’s Gold” – from Back to the Street (31)
  32. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” – from Come and Join Us (32)
  33. “It Is Finished” – from Beat The System (33)
  34. “Woman Don’t You Know” – from Come and Join Us (34) 
  35. “Where Can I Go” – from Come and Join Us (35)
  36. “Not By Sight” – from Not Of This World (36)
  37. “Clean” – from Captured In Time And Space (37)
  38. “King’s Ransom” – from Back to the Street (38)
  39. “First Love” – from On Fire! (39) 
  40. “You Are My Rock” – from This Means War! (40)
  41. “Counsel of the Holy” – from On Fire! (41)
  42. “Midnight Oil” – from Wake-Up Call (42)
  43. “We Need Jesus” – from Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus (43)
  44. “Beat The System” – from Captured In Time And Space (44)
  45. “For Annie” – from Never Say Die (45)
  46. “Magic Mirror” – from Washes Whiter Than (46) 
  47. “The Coloring Song” – from Never Say Die (47)
  48. “Bema Seat” – from Not Of This World (48) 
  49. “Back to the Street” – from Back to the Street (49)
  50. “Get On Your Knees and Fight Like A Man” – from This Means War! (50)

Parting Thought

I waited over a month to complete this post, and this is why. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I don’t like seeming negative about my favorite band ever. This album has never really resonated with me like (almost) every other Petra album. That isn’t to say it’s bad, because it isn’t. It’s just so far removed from the Petra I loved. I would have liked to have seen them build on the sound of No Doubt, and I would have hoped after Praise 2 they would go back in that direction. I’m of the opinion that good music is good music, even if it doesn’t *fit* with the predominate style of the day. All of that said, you should still give it a chance even you haven’t already. You can listen to it here.

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