A much maligned music genre has a long history and an interesting present:
In 1972, when Larry Norman was still feeling optimistic about his musical career, he set out on a tour of Great Britain. Thornbury writes that he was met with curiosity and, in some cases, grudging respect. He quotes a British reviewer who wrote, “If, like me, you see Christianity as a reluctantly but irrevocably dying mythology, Larry Norman is still worth hearing for his music and himself.” What seemed irrevocable in 1972 may seem less so now—in fact, if Christian rock now seems less vibrant than it once did, that may say more about rock and roll than about Christianity. Mainstream rock is today a rather moribund genre. An ambitious pastor looking to minister to the nation’s youth would surely turn, instead, to hip-hop. Indeed, there are plenty of Christian rappers, including Lecrae, whose lyrics and professional choices attract the kind of controversy that Norman’s once did. His most recent album conjures up the image of a sanctified dope house; it is called “Let the Trap Say Amen.”
And yet, even now, Christian rock is all around us. On Billboard’s list of the twenty most popular rock songs of 2017, fully half of them were by bands whose members have espoused the Christian faith. This has something to do with a phenomenon that would have been hard to imagine in 1969: two of the country’s top rock acts, the Killers and Imagine Dragons, are led by Mormons. It also has something to do with the fact that faith no longer seems so alien to popular music—ours is an era when plenty of artists, not just religious ones, aim to send inspirational messages. (Think of “Praying,” the gospel-powered Kesha song about resilience and recovery.) This has made Christian bands harder to ignore, and at times harder to identify. Depending on your perspective, this could mean that Christian rock has triumphed or that it has gone soft. Either way, the genre endures, no longer preaching to the converted—and, sometimes, no longer preaching at all.
I listen to a lot of Christian rock music not because it’s Christian but because it’s good rock music, or what otherwise might be tagged by music industry types as “adult contemporary”. Jars of Clay, MercyMe, Third Day, Casting Crowns all produce great tunes, which one should be able to appreciate whether or not one gets an extra buzz out of the religious-themed lyrics. Anyhow, here are three of my favourites: