Christian Music History

Up until the late 1960s, Christian music invoked images of church, hymnals and organs. Traditional was the word of the day ... but not anymore. The face of Christian music has spent the last 30+ years evolving and growing. Pipe organs have been set aside for electric guitars and drums. Hymnals have been replaced by hard hitting lyrics that speak of today and a God that is fully in control of our times. Christian music has gone farther than the church and can be found on radio, TV, in concert halls and at huge rallies and festivals. It has expanded to include a vast array of styles. Rock, metal, rap, country, gospel, urban gospel, easy listening, and pop are all covered so regardless of your taste in music style, today's Christian can find something of interest to listen to.

Christian music boasts its own video shows, radio stations, awards, publications and web sites. The change itself hasn't been overnight. It has taken many years. It has required sacrifices from artists who weren't afraid to go against tradition and wanted to make music that kept up with the changing times.

The Beginning of Change

The "Jesus Movement" of the 1970's was when things really started changing and Christian music began to become an industry within itself. Artists took the music that spoke of Jesus and merged it with the times. Christian music became more "user friendly" and revival was sparked.

By the early 1980's the Jesus Movement was dying out and another group of artists were coming to the forefront. Rock and metal music, already popular in the secular industry, was finding a home in the world of Christian music.

The Genre Stretches Further

The 1990's saw the dawning of an even broader scope for Christian music. Rock, rap, metal, urban gospel, contemporary country and pop were represented in a big way. The industry, which had previously been promoted by smaller, independent labels, stepped into the big time as larger, secular labels bought out many indies. Much like Cinderella's pumpkin turning into a fine carriage, the small promotional budgets the indie labels had afforded turned into mega mass promotions with the heavy hitters.

The 21st Century

Y2K came and went with none of the "end of times" predictions being fulfilled and music grew even more. Sub-genres, sounds that could keep pace with mainstream and plenty of new bands are pouring out of the 21st century.

But is Change Good?

As a Christian, a father of 4 children and 9 grandchildren ranging in age from nine to forty-six, I think the answer is easy. God doesn't change, even though the world does. The new Christian music in our churches and on our airways reaches out to us on a level that we can understand and feel. It shows us that Jesus is still with us, even when we're facing crises that would have destroyed whole cultures as recently as a couple of hundred years ago. The battle is as old as time itself but the weapons have changed and Christian music has changed its face, as a shining example of just one of the many weapons in God's arsenal.

Contemporary Christian Music

While the idea of Christian rock and pop has been controversial, many musicians have embraced the new form of music as an expression of the so-called Jesus Movement (sometimes couched within the contentious Fourth Great Awakening) of recent decades. Contemporary Christian Music Magazine (CCM) identifies a kind of spiritual renewal that is celebrated across many denominations of Christianity in America. Though the history of Christian music hasn’t been abandoned—indeed, southern gospel lends an immediate influence—many artists have chosen to take risks and break stylistically from the past. CCM identifies the five major themes taken up by lyrically by these musicians: the Son and the Father, the Holy Spirit, end times or apocalypse, evangelism, and praise and worship.

In particular, praise and worship songs within the Jesus Movement have a transformational power, affecting the very manner in which people worship. Yet the source for many of these songs remains in the Psalms and the Gospels. When CCM recently compiled a list of their choices for the 100 Greatest Songs in Christian Music, “between one-third and one-half of all the songs…could be considered praise and worship songs. But,” as Steve Rabey acknowledges in his introduction to the compilation, “this shouldn’t be surprising, as Christian music is created and performed not only for human ears but for a heavenly audience that shares with us in the praise and worship we offer up” (Taff et al. 2006).



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