The genre of rock and popular music that explicitly incorporates or mentions Christian themes.
There's often a perception that Christian variations are watered-down imitations of popular genres, typically with low production values, and sometimes bands just shoehorn Christianity into the lyrics to get played on gospel stations. The reality is quite different. As with any genre, production values and talent vary greatly between bands, but they're on average no more derivative than any group playing on mainstream radio. Additionally, Christian Rock is less The Moral Substitute
than is popularly believed. Most often, it is simply a chosen way for its performers to entertain, enjoy themselves, and/or express their faith. People who are liable to condemn rock music simply because of its genre (without regards to its lyrical content) often don't listen to Christian rock, either. Some church groups (and Jack Chick
) believe that all
rock music, including Christian rock, is something to be avoided. Also, with the popularity of various Christian Rock/Metal acts such as Skillet
, and As I Lay Dying
outside of the core CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) audience, the "Christian Rock as a Poor Man's Substitute
" version of this trope may be becoming at least partially discredited
It should be noted that this genre can be as diverse as the secular form of rock music. Just as diverse.
Everything from soft rock to the various forms of Heavy Mithril
will be covered. And it's erroneous to assume what the viewpoint/theology of any Christian band or its members is, because Christian rock's theologies are as diverse and unpredictable as the entire population of Christians, which is pretty diverse. And compare and contrast Gospel Music
, as the two genres are constantly influencing one another.
Concerts often differ somewhat from regular rock or metal concerts. Because a band is Christian, parents will often allow younger children to go to their concerts. As a result, some concerts will be held at a lower decibel level (though there are still a great many that will send you home with ringing ears). Mosh pits are rare, and usually at smaller, late night concerts if at all.
For further reading on the history of the genre, John J. Thompson's book Raised By Wolves: The Story of Christian Rock & Roll
provides a detailed overview, and also focuses on a few key figures - including Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman, the acclaimed guitarist Phil Keaggy and the new wave
band Daniel Amos
- in depth. Also recommended is the Tumblr blog An Athiest's Guide to Christian Rock
, a blog on Christian Alternative Rock
written by music critic J. Edward Keyes, a former Christian who still has fondness for the music he grew up with (Sadly, the blog has been on hiatus since Keyes became the editorial director for Bandcamp's music journalism vertical).
Contrast with The Moral Substitute
. Compare Gospel Music
, which has similar messages, but pulls from a different musical tradition.
Compare Not Christian Rock
(when music seems as though it could be Christian Rock, but isn't), and God-Is-Love Songs
(in which the Christian elements are understated). The opposite is Religion Rant Song
, for music that takes a negative view of faith.
It should also be remembered that an artist's personal religious affiliation can have absolutely nothing to do with what genre they sing in. Christian rock refers exclusively to music that is about Christianity. Christians may (and often do) sing in other genres as well. Conversely, many Jews and Buddhists have similarly been incorporating overt religious themes into pop-music acts over the past decade; Islamic pop groups, although not unheard of, are quite rare, largely because the strictest sects of Islam forbid all
music. Quite a few rappers, however, are Muslims.
Genres and acts
- Bible Rap, or as its aficionados call it, "Holy Hip-Hop":
The Bible is the holy book
So let's open it up and take a look
You got Genesis/Exodus/Leviticus/Deuteronomy...
- Bible Rap may be the most theologically-focused genre of Christian music. Witness Flame's "Who Can Pluck Us," a rap song about predestination, of all things: "For all those the Father chose in eternity past/ To be redeemed that simply means to be bought back".
- Many people, on hearing Shai Linne for the first time, say that they got more solid doctrine from one album than an entire year of Sunday School.
- On the other hand, some "Christian rappers" are basically the early days of Will Smith, remixed, with an occasional positive Christian vibe just because of their personal background. So basically if you like Will Smith you'll think these guys are OK and if you don't then you won't.
- Gospel group Mary Mary is known for creating gospel songs that are different from the usual (a full choir with a preacher leading a la Kirk Franklin) and that are more like R&B songs with Christian lyrics, that actually are played on non-gospel R&B stations.
- Gospel rap would be considered not a form of christian rock, but Gospel Music, a genre unto itself.
- Christian Heavy Metal.
- Christian Death Metal.
- For a straight Death Metal/Deathcore example, check out Impending Doom and their self-proclaimed "Gorship" style of worship to God through their music. If you look back in their discography, their first EP ("The Sin and Doom of Godless Men") is almost Noise.
- Christian Black Metal. But since Satanic themes are practically part of the definition of the genre, this is called Unblack Metal. Black Metal fans are less than pleased with this, even when these bands otherwise have the same sound.
- It doesn't help that the musical tone of black metal makes it pretty much impossible to talk about anything and not portray it in a completely twisted and evil light.
- Really most Unblack Metal is mostly about what will happen to you in Hell if you aren't a good Christian. Basically a Logic Bomb for Jack Chick
- Although Antestor manages to pull it off rather well. Having just as many songs about despair, helplessness and suicide as they do about Jesus and God helps. And musically, they're regarded by many secular BM fans as one of the best Black Metal bands out there (by many of those who aren't part of the church-burning Serious Business portion of BM fandom, anyway). Funny enough, the drummer on their most recent album is from, of all bands, Mayhem (yes, THAT Mayhem).
- Hardly surprising. Hellhammer (of yes that Mayhem) is about as prolific a drummer as you're likely to find anywhere. Wheel him in behind a kit and he'll keep hitting the thing until you make him stop. Seriously, go look up how many albums the guy's actually played on.
- Rackets and Drapes, called the Christian version of Marilyn Manson, they definitely live up to that title. also the lead singer Kandy Kane admits to being a cross-dresser.
- In a strange twist, the metal band Vengeance Rising started as a Christian band, but the frontman and remaining member, Roger Martinez, later renounced Christianity and now seeks to make anti-Christian music.
- Theocracy is a Christian Progressive Power Metal band.
- Black Sabbath. No, really, just listen to the lyrics for their classic After Forever:
'Could it be you're afraid of what your friends might say if they knew you believe in God above? They should realize before they criticize that God is the only way to love.'
- Christan rock band Skillet started out with songs that were not at all subtle about worshipping Jesus, but eventually turned their sound more mainstream, switching to lyrics that were kind of about Jesus. Lead singer John Cooper has stated in interviews that it is the band's desire to be relevant to Christians and non-Christians alike, but they're still very much a Christian band. Given that they still (as of 2009, at least) read from the Bible during concerts, that seems to indeed be the case and John does preach too.
- Andy Hunter and his contribution to the Need for Speed: Underground soundtrack, "The Wonders Of You". It is, in fact, Christian Techno.
- Long-lived performer'Cliff Richard has managed a bit of this with some of his specifically Christian-themed music.
- Stryper was a Christian hair metal band that hit near mainstream success in the 80s with their single "Honestly".
- Occasionally used by hairband fans as proof that theirs is the Greatest Genre EVER: because Stryper is Christian rock, but are comparable in quality to most bands in the genre. The argument being, "Even Christian hairband is good, because we're just that awesome."
- Cezare Bonizzi is a Capuchin monk, with long flowing beard and vows of poverty and all that... and he's also the lead singer of an Italian heavy metal band and is known as Brother Metal. He's appeared with such metal giants as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer.
- Amy Grant started out making explicitly Christian pop music — Her catalog spanning from her self-titled album, My Father's Eyes, Never Alone, In Concert Vol. 1 and 2, Age to Age, Straight Ahead, Unguarded. At the end of The '80s and the beginning of The '90s, she left that genre for mainstream music. Lead Me On and Heart in Motion were the transitional albums with Heart in Motion containing the pop smash "Baby, Baby". She hasn't renounced the Christian music, but she's no longer specifically in that genre.
- Whether Grant could be honestly said to have left Christian music is debatable. It's true that in the early part of The '90s, she began downplaying her typical Christian subject matter in favor of songs with more universal themes, but she never quite abandoned it altogether; even Heart in Motion has two explicitly Christian songs, "Ask Me" and "Hope Set High". And at any rate, Grant has drifted back toward religious music in recent years; two of her last three albums have been collections of religious songs. And even at the height of her mainstream success, her albums were carried in both Christian and mainstream record stores.
- Grant's leaving Christian music in search of mainstream success coincided with her divorce from husband Gary Chapman so that she could marry Vince Gill after the two had a long-time affair (some people call the affair one of the worst kept secrets in Nashville). In an interview with Contemporary Christian Magazine, Grant infamously justified her divorce by claiming that God had "released" her from her marriage. In fairness to Grant, her marriage to Chapman was very volatile and meeting Gill was how she discovered how toxic her marriage to Chapman was.
- Switchfoot is somewhat on the fence, as most of their music does not explicitly reference Christianity, but some of it makes no sense until a Christian perspective is taken on the lyrics. "Dare You To Move" from The Beautiful Letdown is a good example. Jon Foreman (the group's lead singer and usual writer) is a Christian and his work does tend to reflect that fact.
- Switchfoot was a little more obviously Christian with their first few albums; "The Beautiful Letdown" actually wasn't their first release, it was their fourth. Granted, their success since going mainstream would seem to prove that the "Christian rock" label narrows down your audience by a huge degree.
- It's worth noting that the band rejects the label specifically because they feel that it excludes people who aren't Christians but would still enjoy the music. Their official stance is "The band members are Christians, it is reflected in the music, but the music is not written to be explicitly Christian in nature. We want to make music that everyone can relate to."
- Similarly, it's debatable whether Creed is Christian rock or simply post-grunge. If they're the former, then they're by far the most successful band the genre has ever seen.
- P.O.D. has probably had the most mainstream success of any Christian rock band (unless you count Creed within the genre). If anybody doubts that they're Christian rock, then listen to the lyrics of their hit "Alive", and get back to me. They were popular enough that, when frontman Sonny Sandoval named his daughter Nevaeh ("heaven" spelled backwards), that name quickly shot up from being unheard of to being one of the most popular baby names in the country. It's even on the page for The Red Stapler.
- Evanescence is a subversion. They were initially referred to as a Christian rock band, but they have publicly rejected the label, even asking for Christian music stores to stop selling their albums. Commercially, it was a smart move on their part — Christian rock bands usually don't go on to sell over fifteen million records internationally. Amy Lee was quoted on the other wiki as stating the Christian labeling was Ben Moody's thing. He left the group shortly after.
- Mutemath is a similar example. Their first EP was released under a Christian sub-label, so the band found a different company to sign with. They've since seen much more exposure, but their albums can still be found in Christian music stores. (Don't think they qualify as Christian rock? Go listen to "Peculiar People", read Isaiah 40:31 and get back to me.)
- Funnily enough, "Peculiar People" was co-written with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. Lead singer Paul Meany and drummer Darren King also used to be in the Christian rock/rap/reggae/funk/electronic band Earthsuit.
- Katy Perry used to be a Christian pop singer before switching to mainstream pop songs. She's still a professing Christian, though.
- Jessica Simpson, before she achieved mainstream success.
- Apologetix is a Christian parody band, a la "Weird Al" Yankovic. Al's drummer even played on one of their albums.
- Their song "We're in a Parody Band" labels themselves as part Weird Al and part Billy Graham.
- Relient K is a Christian punk-pop band with a penchant for quirky lyrics and, early on especially, pop culture references. They've become a bit more vague, but they are still in the genre.
- The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus are another group which is on the fence; their first album, Don't You Fake It, emphasizes the general theme of being a good person (see their breakout single and anti-abuse song "Face Down"), but Lonely Road and Am I The Enemy? have more heavily Christian themes in the lyrics. For example, "Believe," from Lonely Road,talks about needing "a little help from above" to change the world. "Wake Me Up," from Am I The Enemy?, more outrightly discusses Christian redemption:
Wake me up, I don't want to live without your love.
Life me up - take me to a place not far above.
- One of the pioneers of the genre was Petra, founded in 1974. Their name is Greek for "rock", and that's pretty much the only descriptor of their style that's vague enough to remain accurate throughout their history (in the '80s alone, they went from sounding like Kansas to being a heavy metal band), with synthesizer-fueled pop-rock somewhere in the middle. They got a lot of flak early on for daring to play rock music (which many Christians at the time were still uneasy about), and levered a couple Take Thats to their accusers in response.
- Considered by many to be THE pioneers of Christian Rock... they were the first band inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Not to mention their 4 Grammys and 11 nominations.
- Another pioneering group was 2nd Chapter of Acts. Brother/sisters trio Annie Herring, Nelly Ward, and Matthew Ward released their first singles in 1972 and their first album 2 years later. Known for their amazing vocal harmonies, they are probably the originators of the Christian concept album with The Roar of Love, based on C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe .
- KJ-52 is a comedy rapper as much as he is a Christian rapper.
- The band Red is a Christian rock band (although if you don't pay attention to their lyrics you wouldn't know). If you don't believe it, listen to "Already Over".
- Christian pop musician Carman (not Cartman, though he and his friends dabbled in this trope as well ... sort of). He is probably one of the biggest stars that the Christian music scene has ever produced, having sold over ten million albums and holding the records for the largest Christian concerts in history.
- Special mention needs to go to the band Mortification. They're an Australian death metal band (it's covered above, but these guys need to be mentioned), probably most famous for doing the song "Livin' Like a Zombie" — the song that plays during the shock video BME Pain Olympics. They're legends within both the Christian Metal and Death Metal scenes — probably for being a very, very good Christian rock band.
- Former American Idol contestant Colton Dixon has taken this direction after Idol ended, and is currently touring with Christian rock band Third Day. However, he has been criticized for his lyrics "not being religious enough". Figure that one out
- Neal Morse of the Prog Rock groups Spock's Beard and Transatlantic. After converting to Christianity, Morse produced the Christian themed concept album, Snow, with Spock's Beard, after which he focused on a solo career focused on his new found faith, often deviating from his prog rock roots, though he has produced several prog rock Christian concept albums, including ? about the tabernacle and Sola Scriptur about Martin Luther.
- The Newsboys: absurdly popular among Christians, unheard-of elsewhere. Which is too bad, 'cause their music is really catchy. (One example: "Shine")
- The Ur-Example: 1972's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" by Larry Norman, generally viewed as the godfather of Christian rock. The song was on the soundtrack for the Christian film A Thief in the Night, which is basically a Seventies version of Left Behind. Later on, Norman would grow disenchanted with the Christian music scene, claiming that it had become about "sloppy thinking, dishonest metaphors, and bad poetry," and joking that you could write a Christian pop song by taking a secular love song and replacing "baby" with "Jesus".
- Older Than They Think: Ricky Nelson was doing this as early as 1960 with his hit single "Glory Train."
- Five Iron Frenzy were a Christian ska band that gained a following in the mid-90's with secular audiences.
- They also eased back on the explicitly Christian references and titled one of their albums Cheeses of Nazareth. At least one of the members has publically stated that he is now an atheist.
- Joy Electric and Starflyer 59, led by brothers Ronnie and Jason Martin, respectively, are funny cases in that their lyrics sound like Not Christian Rock bands, but when asked whether or not they're Christian bands, they always reply in the affirmative. Joy Electric eventually released an album in 1999 titled CHRISTIANsongs so everyone would stop asking him. Jason Martin, on the other hand, has explained that he's usually reluctant to write songs about God because he's afraid that name-dropping Jesus in a song that turns out crappy would just be disrespectful.
- Jars of Clay are easily one of the biggest bands in Christian Rock, and they also had some crossover success in the 90's with their first few albums. Initially they played acoustic rock (and even had a music video, "Flood," from their first album become quite popular on MTV); since then, they've been bouncing between rock and folk, re-tweaking their sound every other album or so.
- Keith Green should get a mention, since he (along with 2nd Chapter of Acts) practically invented Christian rock back in the 70s. And he really could play the piano...
- Family Force 5 deserves mention. "It's better than drugs/in fact it's sent from above" (from Love Addict") is a reference to God, if indirect/vague; they've played at Christian concerts, and they even mention God directly in "Peachy".
- They also did a cover of the song "In My Minds Eye," originally done by DC Talk, mentioned above.
- Demon Hunter is an example of a relatively well known Christian Metalcore band. However, even listening to their lyrics, it's hard to tell.
- Michael W. Smith is one of the most popular artists in the history of Contemporary Christian music. He had some brief success on the pop charts in the early '90s with "Place in This World" and "I Will Be Here For You", but with his 1995 album I'll Lead You Home, he returned to overtly religious music and hasn't looked back since.
- Steven Curtis Chapman is almost as popular.
- Christcore, a subgenre of Hard Core Punk or Metalcore, is pretty huge right now. Bands often included in it, officially or unofficially, include The Devil Wears Prada, August Burns Red, Mychildren Mybride, As I Lay Dying, Oh Sleeper, Underoath, Zao, Norma Jean, Attack Attack!, and Haste the Day, among others. It's becoming so mainstream that Norma Jean is playing at Mayhem 2010 with, for example, the decidedly non-Christian Lamb Of God. Its fans are still just as likely to try to break your face in the pit as any other hardcore fans, though.
- Bob Dylan embraced the genre in the late '70s and early '80s, with his albums Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love.
- During that period, Dylan was good friends with Christian musician Keith Green and played a harmonica solo on Green's 1980 album So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt.
- dcTalk was one of, if not the most popular Christian Rock in the mid-90's. They actually got their start in Christian rap and slowly evolved into pop-rock with a little hip-hop mixed in. They broke up in 2000 for what was supposed to be simply an 'intermission,' but they haven't even toured together since 2002. Well, so much for that.
- And they recorded an absolutely fantastic grunge song that just happened to be overtly Christian. Its name? "Jesus Freak".
- The main reason for their never getting back together is because they got involved in other things. Toby Mac launched a very successful career as a Christian Rapper and studio head (Gotee Records), while Michael Tait started his own band Tait, and recently became the new frontman for Newsboys. Which then did a cover of Jesus Freak. The third member, Kevin Max, spent several years creating songs independently as well as starting work on writing a graphic novel set in the angelic realms before recently joining returning band Audio Adrenaline as lead singer (the former lead singer having developed vocal problems).
- Another seminal figure in Christian Rock is guitarist Phil Keaggy. There's a popular incorrect urban legend about an interviewer asking Jimi Hendrix how it felt to be the world's greatest guitar player. He responded by saying, "I don't know, you'll have to ask Phil Keaggy." Incorrect because Keaggy was still unknown by the time Hendrix died. The real story is possibly more fantastic: Hendrix actually praised Billy Gibbons, then a member of The Moving Sidewalks.
- Day of Fire is a repeatedly stated Christian Rock band, whose songs are so rock that it's hard to notice the christian references, unless they directly throw it in there, and even then it's hard to notice sometimes (Rain Song comes to mind). Having a guitarist tour previously in a non-christian rock band certainly helps with the sound. Unfortunately, they recently went on hiatus.
- During the 1990s punk resurgence, one of the bigger marquee names was a band called Mx Px. They were on MTV's 120Minutes and everything. What hardly anyone in the secular world knew was that they were a Christian punk band. Yet they managed to fit in just fine in the same genre as Rancid and The Offspring.
- Sixpence None The Richer started as a Christian Rock band before finding mainstream success in the late '90s.
- Barlow Girl. Their single, "I Need You To Love Me," is to date the longest number one hit in CCM radio history.
- In 2000, right smack in the middle of the boy-band craze, Christian teenage girls got Plus One. They zoomed to the top of the CCM charts, and had one or two mainstream hits. It didn't hurt that they fulfilled the number-one boy-band priority, namely, being ridiculously good looking.
- Just because the OC Supertones are overtly Christian, it doesn't mean that they can't have an awesome surfer infused ska music.
- Brian Welch, former guitarist of Korn, left the band when he became a Christian and started a solo career. You can find his records in Christian stores.
- Thousand Foot Krutch is a band that many people don't realize that they are Christan rock. Granted their song style is either rap, alternative rock, or metal (or some combination of the three) so not exactly what most people think Christan rock is. They tend to be more subtle than most bands as well.
- Although their song Look Away specifically mentions Jesus and songs like Breathe You In, Already Home, Falls Apart, Inhuman, and Watching Over Me can easily be thought of as Christian songs.
- For anyone familiar with Christian theology, the meaning of The End is Where We Begin is pretty obvious.
"I'm an alien/ cause I'm not of this world/I had a name/but I've been changed/and now I can't stay the same"
- 78violet (formerly Aly & AJ) are mainly a mainstream pop duo, but have had success on Christian music charts as well.
- Mercy Me, which wrote crossover hit "I Can Only Imagine" and is still tremendously popular in Christian rock/pop circles.
- Doom Metal band Trouble were once marketed as "white metal" due to their Bible-influenced lyrics and their admitted Catholic-upbringing. The musically similar Pentagram also deal with Christian themes, with frontman Bobby Liebling claiming he wanted to put the fear of God into people.
- Charlie Daniels (from the eponymous band, whose songs included "Long-Haired Country Boy" and "Uneasy Rider" ... as well as "Devil Went Down to Georgia", which, while certainly anti-Devil, wasn't exactly "Christian" either) released an album in the 1990s entitled Steel Witness, on which the songs, while some of them were rather catchy, were about as subtle as you'd expect from an album with cover featuring a riveted cross approximately the size of South America.
- In case you think that Neal Morse is the only example of Christian prog rock, you'd be wrong- there's also Ajalon, who take their name from Joshua 10:12 in The Bible. Rick Wakeman has collaborated with them before. (Wakeman is himself a professing Christian, and has released some Christian stuff, but it's not most of his output.)
- Sufjan Stevens may be the best known exponent of Christian indie rock. Christian themes in his work are sometimes subtle and sometimes fairly obvious ("Get Real Get Right" for example) but always pretty complex.
- Ed Kowalczyk, former lead-singer of Live, plays a lot of straight-forward Christian songs these days. Still doesn't stop him from dropping one and other Cluster F-Bomb in older songs like "Waitress".
- Before many of these examples were the Bible-themed rock musicals of the early seventies, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. The albums of music from these shows (and later from the movie versions of each) showed many record executives that there really was a market for Christian Rock/Pop.
- Red Dwarf: Krytie TV: In an attempt to ruin Kochanski's date with ex-boyfriend Tim, Kryten helps Lister trash Tim's quarters. Kryten gives Lister a number of Rimmer's possessions to place around Tim's quarters. Apparently the pièces de résistance are some Christian rock music CD's, given "if they don't scare her off, nothing will!". One of the CD's is titled "Frank Assisi and the Apostles - Hymns in Rock".
- The Onion has run a few articles regarding this musical genre:
- Eddie DeGarmo and Bob Farrell