‘I Can Only Imagine’: The song (and the new movie) abound with Baylor ties
No contemporary Christian song in history has been played more than “I Can Only Imagine,” the 2001 mega-hit by MercyMe. The song’s inspiring lyrics and moving backstory have struck a chord with listeners for almost 20 years, and now it has inspired a film by the same name. The movie version of I Can Only Imagine opens in theaters this Friday, and features some interesting Baylor ties.
The backstory: MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard was contemplating the life and death of his father when he wrote “I Can Only Imagine,” which visualizes the joy and awe of standing before God at the end of one’s life. For Millard, the lyrics were personal. Bart grew up in an abusive household; his father, Arthur, would turn violent for seemingly the smallest of reasons. Bart’s interest in church and music held little interest for his father.
During Bart’s freshman year of high school, Arthur was diagnosed with cancer — a wake-up call that had a profound impact on his life. During the four years he battled the disease, his dad began attending church, changed his behavior and supported Bart’s musical dreams. Millard witnessed the transformation and thought, “If the Gospel could change that guy, the Gospel could change anybody.”
As his dad battled the disease, Millard completed high school and earned an art scholarship to Baylor in 1991. While on the Baylor campus preparing to enroll in classes, he received word that his dad’s health had taken a turn for the worse. Millard returned home to care for Arthur, who passed away two months later. Standing at his father’s gravesite, his grandmother said, “I can only imagine what (he’s) seeing right now.” Years later, those words served as the inspiration to the song.
The movie version of I Can Only Imagine, which expands on that story, stars Dennis Quaid, country singer Trace Adkins (who made a memorable appearance at Baylor in 2012), and J. Michael Finley as Bart. Adkins’ character in the movie brings not one, but two Baylor alums to life on the big screen.
MercyMe’s real-life manager, Scott Brickell, BBA ’91, is a Baylor grad who went on to become a longtime contemporary Christian music mogul and founded his own management company, Brickhouse Entertainment. The band’s real-life record-label representative is also a Baylor grad — Jeff Moseley, BBA ’82, who went on to found the record label Fair Trade Services. In the movie, Brickell’s and Moseley’s roles are combined into one composite character (played by Adkins), but they have each played distinct roles in MercyMe’s success. (Furthering the Baylor ties, both Brickell and Moseley are also both parents of current BU students.)
Sic ’em, MercyMe, Bart, Scott and Jeff!
[Watch Baylor Magazine’s interviews with Brickell and Moseley at the film’s premiere, and learn more about their time in the music industry and Baylor backgrounds in the next issue of Baylor Magazine, hitting homes next month.]