It’s happened to us all at one time or another. Whether we are the ones confidently playing the music or patiently listening, we’ve all seen it happen:

“Oh, you like 50 Cent? Then you gotta hear Lecrae man! Hold on, let me show you this one song he’s got, it’s dope, you’ll love it”

Both parties sit there uncomfortably as the song plays.

“So, what’dya think? The cool thing about them is they are Christian too! It just goes to show that you can be a believer and listen to cool music”

“Yeah, that was good, I guess, but did that guy just brag about nodding his head to ‘Jesus music’ as if he looks drunk?”

“Well, no, he wasn’t bragging, he’s just enjoying music that talks about God.”

“Okay, but he did say that everyone looks at him when he’s driving around listening to this music right?”


“I don’t know, it just seems to me that these guys want to look and sound like thugs while they talk about Jesus. I think I’ll stick to people that really are thugs.”

Maybe it wasn’t Lecrae, maybe it was Family Force 5, DC Talk, MXPX, or Audio Adrenaline*; and maybe the conversation was slightly different. Maybe the listener said flat out, “this song sucks,” or “why would I listen to Christian hardcore? That defeats the whole purpose.” My point is that we’ve nearly all been in a situation where we’ve been embarrassed by the poor quality of popular Christian music.

There’s been a lot of discussion about what’s wrong with modern Christian music and why it lags behind most secular music in originality and overall musical quality. But all this criticism has not brought about much change, and for several reasons. Perhaps the main reason little has changed is that criticism is the easiest response to any situation. It is a lot harder to do something about the state of Christian music (or “Christians making music”) than it is to criticize it. With that in mind, I would like to offer a list of ways that we can practically help improve the quality of Christian music, instead of merely complaining about it.

  1. Consider whether or not the music you buy is really worthy of praise. Often times we can be easily swept into the fervor of Christian consumerist culture, which like it’s secular counterpart, tells us how great a musical artist is and how desperately we need to get their latest album. For many, if the CD is sold in a Christian bookstore it has already past their quality test. In this age of iTunes, Amazon, and Myspace, there is no excuse for not listening to a CD (or samples) before you buy it. Honestly question the quality of the music: “How does this music glorify God?” ; “Is this actually good music, or just an imitation of the world’s music?” The bottom line is that as long as bad music is profitable, it will be made.
  2. Be willing to search for something better. We are busy people. And the marketing from Christian labels encourage us to be lazy by pushing their artists and music on the radio, TV, and in magazines. Thankfully, we also live in a time where it is easier than ever to get access to quality, excellent, praiseworthy, Christian music. Yes, it will take time, and you may have to listen to a lot of awful music to find something worth supporting, but the simple truth is that as we find and support Christian artists who do make excellent music, we are actively reshaping the popular Christian music market.
  3. Encourage musicians in your church to make good music. There is a temptation we can have when we meet people in our churches who make music to avoid criticism at all cost. These people are our friends, and they are making music to glorify God. How could we criticize the songs they write? Well, if we love them we need to speak the truth in love. Encourage them to keep making music, and when possible support them financially. Go to shows. Buy their albums. Spread the word about them. But also encourage them to improve, to mature, to not be content with merely copying what they hear on the radio. If we blindly support those believers around us who make music, then we will perpetuate the poor state of Christian music. We must be willing to encourage and admonish, in love.
  4. Spread the word. Yes, I’m asking you to take a risk, to perhaps be like the person in my opening example who confidently and eagerly shared their favorite music to someone else. And sometimes, the reaction you receive will be one of disinterest or disgust. But the best way to help Christian music improve is to show people that there are alternatives–great ones at that–to what is typically marketed as “Christian music.”

As believers, we have a unique understanding of the world around us. We have a worldview that allows us to have great insight into the workings of humans and their relation to each other and God. We also have a command to “work heartily as unto the Lord” (Col 3:23). Which means that the music that Christians should be making should be excellent, it should be the kind of music that draws praise from all people–because it is made to glorify God, not man. Instead of being a source of embarrassment, the music identified with our Faith should be a testament to the wonderfully creative God who saved us. While it is easy (and even kind of fun) to sit around criticizing all the ways Christian popular music is bad, there are practical things we can do which will make a difference towards improving the quality of our music. And since there are very simple and practical things that we can all do, the question becomes: “Are we criticizing Christian music because we enjoy tearing things down, or are we really concerned about seeing change?”


* My point in bringing up these artists is not to call them out as examples of bad Christian music, but to honestly address what I believe is the common situation where a believer becomes embarrassed when he/she tries to show a Christian band to an unbeliever or anyone who has not grown up listening to popular Christian music.


  1. While there are many bad Christian bands, there are also many good Christian bands. If you actually follow your own point #2, you’ll find them.

    A few suggestions: Pillar, Sanctus Real, Jars of Clay, Jeremy Camp, Todd Agnew, and one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, secular or Christian, End of Silence by Red.

    Charles Patterson’s last blog post..Finally Not Sick

  2. I think Jars of Clay’s first album is simply great. Also, Sufjan Stevens is doing some amazing things.

    I hope it didn’t seem like I was suggesting that all Christian music is garbage, because it’s not. But far too much of it is.

  3. I think this was an excellent blog. I find myself often complaining about the lack of quality in Christian groups.

    I think a part of the reason I have a hard time is that popular modern music even in the secular realm is not so much my taste either. I tend to listen to music from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. If anyone knows of good Christian bands that have the sounds of those eras, I’d love to hear of them!

  4. @Alan – Here’s a counter-question for you. Is there any reason we should support Christian music? Or should we just support good music?

    I tend to favour the latter and when the two intersect, great—still, it seems pretty rare (as you point out).

    I think one of the best things we can do for Christian music to force it to grow up and become worthwhile is to not buy it. Well, you can buy the stuff that is honestly good. Not the stuff that you think, Well, it’s not bad… And it does talk about God instead of sex… And I suppose buying this will encourage… That right there is the problem. By subsidizing mediocrity via unearned sales, we promote mediocrity.

    Why do I buy Havalina’s albums? Because they are awesome. Does it matter if they sing about Jesus? No, they are awesome. Same goes for Starflyer (especially as the band has grown up and away from its founding influences). Yet neither of these bands is expressly Christian.

    The fact is, I don’t buy Christian albums. My most recent purchases are Battles and the Decemberists. Neither of which are Christian. And I don’t and shouldn’t feel the slightest remorse for this. If a Christian band put out something on a level with Pinkerton or Doolittle or Loveless or When the Pawn…, I’d pick it up in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye.

    The thing is: they don’t. And I will not lend my support to mediocrity in the half-hearted name of the Kingdom. To do so would be to name the Kingdom vainly.

  5. I feel like I’m prepared to give an educated opinion on both this article and a few of the comments, but I won’t. I will say, however, that after taking a long (ten year) hiatus from Christian music (it was a dark period, brother), coming back and not being terribly impressed by what I’ve found — it has been good going through some old CD’s and re-discovering bands I loved back then. The message they deliver — even to this day: the hope we have in Christ; grace; a call to repentance; means so much more today than it did in my teens. What these bands had in common is that they did not have some corporate conglomerate label behind them, pumping their latest CDs out to Christian book stores to sell at a 150% markup. No, they travelled, they played shows — you got to know them when they came into town — and you bought their CD. And you played it all the time. You shared it with friends. You kept it for YEARS to come. And their message had the same impact then as it has now, because their basis was the Word of God.

    So it makes perfect sense that Christians screwed up Christian music. Man screws up everything, remember? Alan, you have a great closing statement here. I’ll leave it at that.

    “The Dane” — it sounds like you just want the world’s music. And that’s fine. But I can tell you from personal experience where a love affair with the world takes you. Just don’t be so frustrated with Christian music: you two obviously have different agendas. I don’t mean to offend you; it just seems fairly obvious and I thought I’d point it out.

  6. I actually don’t think there are very many good Christian bands. Most of them are terribly cheesy rip-offs of real creative and talented musicians.

    Derek Webb and Caedmon’s Call are great. I also think some bands like Underoath, MewithoutYou, and Relient K are doing some very creative things and continue to improve as musicians. Which is rare in the “Christian” market.

  7. The Dane:

    I tend to agree with you. At the end of the day, I believe we should support good music, period. Whether or not it is made be believers. However, since my focus was improving Christian music (or music made by Christians), I didn’t want to get sidetracked with arguing that “Christian” music as a genre is problematic–that’s another post I think.

    You give a great example of what I was aiming at in this post–genuinely supporting bands that are excellent rather than merely accepting “corporate conglomerate” music.

    Pastor Dave,

    Have you heard Anathello? They are doing some really neat things too. I think you might like them.

  8. @Jon – I just want the world’s music? Here’s the thing. I like music. I even like music that is composed and performed not just with competence but with talent and virtuosity.

    In short, I like what we might call good music.

    And like a good steak, a well-made car, and a gorgeously composed photograph of the Grand Canyon, good music can be accomplished by people no matter the darkness or brightness of their souls. Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto is every bit as good as Handel’s Messiah. And quite a bit better than anything MxPx or Steve Taylor or Larry Norman or Undercover or Keith Green has ever produced. For that matter Surrealistic Pillow is better too. And Disraeli Gears. And Sergeant Pepper’s. And Kind of Blue, My Favorite Things, Time Out and The Girl from Ipanema.

    Et cetera.

    If “the world’s music” is the good music, then I suppose I do want the world’s music. If the Christian’s music is the bad music, then I likewise could be said to not want Christian music. But that distinction strikes me as rather hollow. I’m not even sure there is such a thing as The World’s Music anyway. Really, does that mean anything apart from the fact that it was put together by those who do not worship Christ as king? And if that is all that it means, is it really so useful a qualification?

    Further, I’m not sure how the ability and desire to distinguish between works that have attained greatness and works that have not can with any honesty be categorized as a love affair with the world. Sounds presumptuous to me.

  9. @Jon again – Sorry, I forgot my main point, which is this:

    I do not look to music for encouragement in the gospel any more than I look to food for encouragement in the gospel. Nor, do I think, should we. There is one overwhelming reason for this.

    I believe that the encouragement in the gospel and the edification in our faith that is our privilege to experience through the preaching of the word, the fellowship of the saints, the life of prayer, the ministration of the Spirit, and the tasting of the Eucharist is sufficient for our needs. It was provided to be sufficient and so I believe it is.

  10. @Alan – I figured that might be the case. I did sort of hop onto your train of constructive thought by suggesting that people stop supporting bands that weren’t worthwhile simply because they are producing Christian content.

    To be fair, there is one local “Christian band” that I think is doing good stuff and so I vaguely support them by going to shows and stuff. But they’re too indie to ever become pop enough to mean anything in the Christian music world let alone the real music world.

  11. I refuse to support mediocre music, or even good music that I personally don’t have the taste for. This means, unfortunately, that I own very little Christian music at all. Growing up I knew people who purposefully went into the “Christian Music” Industry just because it was easier to break into because it had lower standards, and not because they wanted to glorify God. I know this isn’t the case all the time, but it disillusioned me pretty quickly.

    I’ve been told by many that the Christian market is better now and there are more musicians out there who are talented but I’ve been pretty much sticking to my secular stuff. This is me, admitting guilt to not doing #2 enough. I’ll have to add that to my list of summer projects! :)

  12. @Alan – great blog. I’ve been on the receiving end of having to listen to a “bad” song quite a few times (my musical taste is different than most of my friends). I think that a lot of Christian music is deemed “bad” by people who have been inundated by secular music because Christian music is made to appeal to a certain audience. There are a few acts who are loved by both the mainstream Christian audience and the mainstream “secular” audience; but that’s rare.

    PS – I *loved* the song you posted above!

  13. For those of you trying to do #2, an easy way to get a taste of some good modern Christian music, check out or for a more rock sound

    These two stations (and their websites, for those who don’t have a station near you) have helped me find a plethora of good Christian music. I can’t speak glowingly enough of Red, and I never would have heard of them if it hadn’t been for Air1.

    Charles Patterson’s last blog post..Finally Not Sick

  14. I agree whole heartedly that we should be pushing our brothers and sisters to be the best they can be at their art and not give sloppiness a pass just because it’s Christian. That being said . . .

    1. Alan, if I understood correctly, you have a history in hip hop. I know you said that the examples were just examples, but surely you know that Lecrae isn’t anywhere near the bottom of the pile as far as rappers in the Christian industry go. His style may not be identical to yours or mine, but that’s fine – the beauty of hip hop is found in its originality.

    I would also like to add that it was a conversation very much like the one you used above that saved my life. I grew up in a non-Christian home listening to hardcore rap music before a friend of mine in high school introduced me to some Christian rappers. This isn’t the case for everyone, but for some, those conversations are huge.

    2. While I think there’s a WHOLE lot of crappy Christian music out there, I’ll defend to the death someone’s right to listen to it. Nobody gets to where they are without an audience. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that thousands of others do. I find bands like Hillsong to be cheesy and over the top. Others have found amazing worship in their songs and are able to connect with them in a way that I don’t.

    I’m all about showing people good music and telling them that they don’t have to take the bait of a money-hungry Christian music industry, but let’s not jump the gun. Perhaps some people are satisfied with the music they’re buying and aren’t looking for something “better.” It would be wise of us to make sure of that before we assume they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that just because it’s Christian, it’s good.

    Anyway, I support your idea whole-heartedly, I just wanted to point out a couple of things.

    Kiel’s last blog post..They Don’t Make Hallmark Cards for Moments Like This

  15. Kiel,

    Yes, I am well aware that you can do a lot worse for Christian Hip-Hop than Lecrae, a LOT worse. But again, it was just an example. If my point was to admonish the worst offenders of bad music I would have picked another artist.

    As for your conversion, I think it’s great that God used Christian music! I would love to see more people brought to the Lord through good music (as well as good preaching, good art, good films, good government, good etc…). My point is not that nothing good has ever come of popular Christian music, but that we should not settle–we should always encourage Christian artists to be improving.

    As for point 2, I would say that we should make a distinction between taste and quality. While we will all have slightly different tastes in music (there is no “standard” taste), I don’t believe that quality is relative or unimportant. I firmly believe that there is (objectively) bad music being made by Christians right now, and just because someone likes the music doesn’t justify the poor quality. And I believe that there is a biblical basis for what I’m saying here. If we are called to think on things that are excellent, surely we should not be constantly listening to music that is shallow, poorly made, and commercial. We should be thinking on and supporting excellence, and encouraging others to do so too.

    However, this needs to be done in love. If I know a brother who is supporting music that claims to be Christian but is offensively poor in quality, I should talk to him about whether or not that artist is someone he should support. But that doesn’t give me the right to get into childish, haughty, petty arguments. It doesn’t give me the right to be condescending. And at the end of the day, if he still wants to listen to what is essentially the junk food of the musical world, he’s not in sin.

    I believe this is a good/better/best issue. Which means that it is worth our time and energy to discuss and explore, but it is not a crucial or essential issue.

    I hope that clarifies my point a bit.

  16. Alan, I agree wholeheartedly with your response to Kiel (hey Kiel!) but I do take issue with your equating “commercial” with shallow and poorly made. There are a number of artistic works that a primarily produced in order to obtain some sort of payment which are also authentic, impressive, and deep works of art. Does this (partial) motivation disqualify them? In other words, is the starving artist always the best artist?

  17. Rich,

    No, you’re right. I think I was just being a bit sloppy with my terminology. Much commercially driven art is bad (since it tends to appeal to the lowest common denominator, much in the same way that ear-tickling sermons come from preachers who are commercially driven), but not all of it.

    Let me change that sentence to this:
    “If we are called to think on things that are excellent, surely we should not be constantly listening to music that is poorly made.”

  18. The starving artist is not always the best artist (sometimes the starving artist is a talentless hack), but art made for the love of art will always be more authentic than art made to earn a living. Whether authenticity’s worth anything or not is another matter.

  19. Hey you guys should try living in the UK where there is very little outlet for Christian music. We get so desperate that whenever there is a popular song in the charts that mentions love, clouds or flying it instantly get’s claimed as Christian! When Delirious tried to break into the mainstream their were massive debates about whether or not they had sold their souls to the devil.

    Slightly more on topic most bands are influenced by other bands and will sound like someone else. This happens in the secular world and the christian world so i don’t expect most bands to sound original -> sometimes it serves as ‘shorthand’ anyway and helps you get into a band or album quickly. I don’t want most of the music i listen too to challenge me because i’m normally listening at work or pottering around the house so i don’t want to have to concentrate to hard.

    What i do like though is for Christian bands to be explicit about their faith. When I hear a song I want to know that it is about God or I want it to speak to my faith. A lot of secular artists have no problem singing about God so it is strange that some Christians do.

    There are lots of interesting Christian musicians around and if i can find them here in the UK then it should be easier in the states where at least you can get to show. I’ve never heard anything like soul junk, sufjan stevens or danielson here in the uk in the secular or christian world and whilst i’m not entirely sure what my point is I can rest assured that I’ve also wasted your time as well as my own.

  20. It seems as if this topic has always been around and always comes back — that’s ok. The truth is, yes – there’s a plethora of poor quality CCM out there. There’s also tons of poor ‘secular’ music out there. Actually, there’s probably more bad secular music than ‘christian’ music by sheer volume. There are also some real treasures on both sides. As far as fresh voices are concerned, there are few in either camp. It’s very rare that a phenomenon like The Beatles happens. One thing that I notice that has hurt music in general is the death of melody and the absence of good, free improvisation. Concerts have become synthesized replicas of CDs and videos. Artists (?) haven’t left room for surprises anymore. Yeah, it’s true – I yearn for a return to those more innocent , exciting days….
    Anyway. There’s no reason to condemn the whole category on either side. I do find it hard to listen to music with a lyrical content that’s anti-God or blatanly destructive, and I enjoy when my ‘spirit’ can respond to what I’m hearing. The truth always sounds cool when it’s artistically delivered. Always. ….and there’s no reason for not giving it your best, as an artist.
    Thank God for people like Phil Keaggy and Sufjan Stevens, and groups like the 77s and Daniel Amos.
    Breakfast is calling. See ya’….

  21. Bert,

    This comment is mostly an excuse for me to upload my avatar, since that is a new feature to CAPC, but I did want to point out that the topic of my post was not the poor quality of CCM out there, but how we can practically improve things. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. I think your point about the lack of improvisation in modern music is an interesting observation. I hadn’t thought much about that.


    Thanks for your comment and giving us a UK perspective! Speaking from (some, quite limited and amateur) experience, I can say that if a Christian artist refrains from explicitly singing (or raping) about God and their faith, fear is probably not the reason. In the current Christian music market, singing explicitly about God and faith will bring you more success, not less. So in this sense at least, whenever an artist who is a Christian doesn’t sing explicitly about God, they are taking a serious risk at alienating a potential audience.

    In our case, we decided to openly rap about God and our faith when it was relevant, but we also talk about other things, since there are other things in life besides God (although He is Lord over all), like rocks, and trees, and love, and TV, etc….

    I once had a listener message me and say that he liked our music but he wanted us to talk more about God and Christ and the Gospel. I wrote back and explained to him that the whole album is about Christ since it is from a Christian worldview. And I suspect that when people like Sufjan Stevens, for example, write songs that don’t directly refer to God, he would tell you that all his songs are about God since they are all about the Truth.


  22. Hi Alan

    Thanks for your reply. Here in the UK there is only a very small Christian music scene. Even looking in the Christian bookshops the vast majority of CD’s are by American artists.

    I totally agree with you that Christian artists can sing about trees, tv etc and be speaking the truth however these days when I’m listening to a christian band I like it when there is a discernable difference between them and a secular band. This is broadly what I think you are saying in your opening paragraph. In the UK there is definately the feeling that if a christian band wants to make the mainstream then they have to downplay their faith.

    I guess as i am getting older i am just looking for some depth to the music i listen to when it concerns my faith. When i listen to a christian artist sing about love i would like to hear something other than ‘Love is good, hating sucks’ or if they sing about tv i don’t want to hear ‘Baywatch is my favourite show. I like to watch it in slo-mo’

    I totally take your point about the risk of a christian artist not singing explicitly about God running the risk of alienating their audience as this happened to Delirious when they released Mezzamorphis.

  23. Your last comment I think will get you more bad than good press: “#4 Spread the word.”

    As atheists, my group of friends have resorted to asking if the information, music, paper, website, is Christian based. If the answer is something like, “Just see it, listen too it, read it, or yes. . . then we immediately pass it by.

    True, we may miss some genuinely good musicians, writers, etc, but we will not miss having rerun after rerun about theistic religious beliefs using the same formula as we’ve heard 10, 000 times before. We know you love God, and that God loves us. We know you think you’re going to Heaven. We know you think God works in strange ways and created the universe, etc., and on and on.

    Why can’t Christians talk, write, play music about life without preaching the Word? It just gets really, really old to the point of mundanes when you hear the same theme repeated over and over an infinitum.

    If literature were like that, there wouldn’t be any Faulkner’s, Camus,’ etc. because they would all be using the same formula, which would eventually numb the minds of readers to the point of extinction.

    I don’t want nor need to get into a religious discussion about my beliefs, but I will say that as atheists we do not discount the possibility of a creator or creators. We simply believe that if there is a creator or creators, then it is nothing like any theistically construed reality yet printed or believed.

    So in conclusion, I just wanted to pass along what we believe in the long run does more damage than good to any movement–repeating your beliefs to people over and over again using the same methods but changing the vectors–literature, music, politics, etc.

    I know it’s what you are suppose to do, but consider the above. Keep your faith, but please consider that reality is not a closed system and linear, and that repeating that belief may cause, ultimately, more damage than construction.

  24. Doug,

    Thanks for the comment. There are quite a few things I’d like to address, but let me just point out something about your main objection.

    The last point, “Spread the word” refers to telling other people about what good music we find. It does not say, “Spread the Word.” Although I would not be opposed to Christians spreading the “Word” in music, what I had in mind was the idea that if we want music made by Christians to get better, we need to tell other people when we find good music.

  25. Why can’t people talk, write, play music about life without speaking/ writing/singing about love and relationships? It just gets really, really old to the point of mundanes when you hear the same theme repeated over and over ad infinitum.

    If literature were like that, there wouldn’t be any essays on economics, books by Noam Chomsky, etc. because they would all be using the same formula, which would eventually numb the minds of readers to the point of extinction.

    The Danes last blog post..20080505

  26. I think there are a couple things that need to be said here. Firstly, I think many of you need to remember that “Christian” music has come a LONG way from what it was even just 10 years ago. That’s not to say there wasn’t quality music coming out the last 10 years; certainly there was. However, I think more & more artists are less afraid to internalize their secular music influences & process them in more interesting ways than before.

    Secondly, we have to look at it as ebb & flow. There was a lot of really good music to come out of the underground during the 70’s (the Jesus Music movement), most of which never made a mark commercially. Listen to some of the more obscure Jesus Music groups of that time period, and you’ll find some rather well-written music that sometimes suffers from slightly dodgy production or a vocalist that perhaps wasn’t *quite* up to snuff. Otherwise, most of the material coming out was quite good. Then, you had the more prominent Jesus Music artists of the day (Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, The Way, Love Song, Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, early Daniel Amos) making great music that mostly stood up to the secular scene, even if it was a couple years behind the curve.

    When the 80’s hit, the whole “rock & roll is of the devil” thing took place, so other than trail-blazers like Ressurection Band, Barnabas, Petra, Servant, and like-minded groups trying to stay current (again, even if they were a bit behind the curve), too many churches pushed back & wanted nothing to do w/ those groups. Only by the mid-80’s were some of those artists accepted, and more innovative (or at least talented) artists like Steve Taylor, Whitecross, Stryper, etc. started to appear.

    The 90’s were an interesting time for “Christian” music, because not only did “Christian” hip-hop begin to get attention (no thanks to DC Talk), but “alternative” and grunge bands (like Grammatrain) began to crop up. In addition, many of the Christian metal bands began to really hone their craft. Look at bands like Deliverance, Tourniquet, Mortification, and Saviour Machine. All fine examples of their respective genres, and groups that made great music while keeping things lyrically bold & interesting at the same time.

    The mid-90’s brought the Christian hardcore scene, and with it the Tooth & Nail phenomenon, which was a much-needed shot in the arm for Christian music. It wasn’t all “Jesus-this and Jesus-that” (to quote Lt. Dan), but stuff was beginning to be more introspective & less “preachy” all the time. Christian metal had retreated to the underground, but that’s where it belonged, so new bands began to emerge that did great things, and old war-horses like Living Sacrifice reinvented themselves to great success (artically speaking).

    The 2000’s have been another interesting period, both with a rise in the popularity (& marketability) of “Christian” music with bands like Skillet, Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, and the like getting mainstream radio play, but also of a lot more underground stuff (like the burgeoning Christian black metal scene, call it “unblack” if you wish). In addition, the continued strength of the Christian hardcore scene proves that while the variety may not always be there, the passion & conviction certainly are.

    I didn’t mean for this to turn into a history lesson, per se, but I think it’s important to recognize the good here, from every decade specifically. I’d like to make a couple points about the current state of Christian music.

    1. The Christian hardcore scene DESTROYS the secular scene. By that, I mean that the amount of passion, conviction, and QUALITY of material coming from Christian hardcore bands has, in the last 15 years, equaled or exceeded that coming from the secular hardcore underground. Some would cite newer metalcore acts like Killswitch Engage, or bands like Shadows Fall as good examples in the secular scene, & I would concur. However, most of the bands in the secular scene are “ventilators”, or bands that use their music strictly as an outlet to vent their anger/frustration/etc & less for making real statements about anything. In addition, many bands associated w/ the “Christian” hardcore scene gain acclaim from regular hardcore kids (xLooking Forwardx being a good example) because they are good at what they do, & they are steadfast in their convictions. Basically, while I listen to very few hardcore & metal bands in the secular scene, the Christian bands fill that gap nicely because they are quite good at what they do.

    2. There’s nothing wrong w/ wearing your Christianity on your sleeve. For some bands, that’s the right thing to do. That may be what they feel called to do. Perhaps their goal of evangelism is incongruent w/ their ultra-bold lyrical approach (due to non-Christians usually being turned off by “preachy” lyrics), but I think we need to move past the bean counter approach (how many souls have you won?) & look at the overall picture. If a band feels led to make their lyrics really bold, they should do so because that is their conviction. God will use them in a positive way regardless of their perceived “cheesy” approach. If God wants to save souls via their influence, He will. If He prefers that band be a “feed the body” type of group, they will. We all respond differently to varying lyrical styles & approaches, so despite my distaste for most of today’s CCM (the praise-and-worship stuff, some of the lighter rock), I understand that there’s an audience for it & that God is using those people to further His work, either through ministering to the lost, or providing encouragement to His children.

    What I’m trying to say is that while much of the “popular” Christian music is more banal than not, there is merit to be found in some of it, and there is enough in the underground to keep you occupied, should CCM prove to be too trying.

  27. MetalFRO,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The history lesson was certainly informative. I think your conclusion hits the nail right on the head:

    “What I’m trying to say is that while much of the “popular” Christian music is more banal than not, there is merit to be found in some of it, and there is enough in the underground to keep you occupied, should CCM prove to be too trying.”

    This idea of pursuing underground acts (or quality acts in general) is exactly what I had in mind when I talked about searching for something better and spreading the word. By in large, CCM music is poor quality, but there is great music being made by believers out there, we just need to find it and support it!

    On a related note, all this talk about hardcore makes me think that we should petition Scott to write something on the genre….

  28. I second MetalFRO on the hardcore bit. I used to help David Allen out with back in the day, and remember how 7/10s of the top hardcore on was Christian (another 2/10 were sXe)

    Bands like Zao brought in what is now metalcore, hopesfall and Underoath spawned the heavy emo, Tantrum Of The Muse brought the rock, Extol and Kekal took death and black metal to the progressive edge, and Virgin Black is without parallel for doom.

    You will occasionally find secular bands that match up (Opeth, Protest The Hero, etc) but there has been a significant number of bands that have come out of the Christian scenes that have shaped where we are today with heavy music.

    So yes, late 90’s/early 2000s in heavy music is a case in point on how TO do it.

    hewhocutsdowns last blog post..Celldweller

  29. Great article! I agree that alot of Chirstian music is just awful. As an african-american i grew up with Gospel music which has lot more original music in my opionion. They have the standard worship songs as well, but i dont see the same patterns i see in CCM. And why is gospel music on a separate station from other kinds? its clean and family friendly as well? But anyway, as for good christian music that gets radio i have to mention my personal friend Tyrone Wells who has even been played on Smallville and other TV shows. I’d also mention David Crowder Band who does a great blend of worship and share worthy songs all on one album. Check em out!

  30. I was just thinking about this subject a few days ago while listening to a Christian station in my car. I agree that it takes hard work to find music that glorifies God, has originality, and happens to be in a style I like. This past year I’ve found some Christian artists that I love: Newworldson, Dominic Balli, and Rootdown. On the softer side, I like many songs by Jadon Levik and Paul Colman. FYI…I found these guys through iTunes and the iPhone app Pandora.

  31. Some interesting things have been happening in what I’ll call (for lack of a better term) ‘black Gospel music’ lately.
    People like Tye Tribbett and Marvin Winans have stepped out of the box as if they forget what the rules were. Tribbett, in particular, comes off as almost a Zappa-like showman with some truly wild arrangements and an energy level that’s through the roof. Even the new Israel Houghton (and this was totally unexpected) solo project has elements of jazz fusion, old school, rock and pop all over it. Influences as diverse as Sly Stone, OutKast and white Heavy Metal, believe it or not. The new Donnie McClurkin has some very original moments as well…..
    Meanwhile, the reunited Superdrag (John Davis) sounds great – very punkish but with strong pop elements – great energy. While not a ‘christian’ band, Davis certainly is a trong believer and it’s basically his lyrics that infuse ‘Industry Giants’ with strong Christian content.

  32. Don’t make a mistake………

    Lecrea is one of the best Christian artists around.

    The song “Jesus Muzik” has a style that is totally intentional. If you delved deeper into his music you would discover that its the second song off an album called After the Music Stops. The first song off that album is self-entitled (After the Music Stops) and the main chorus is:

    “After its over.. after it ends.. after the music stops, what then? Will you understand that CHrist is King or will you just like the words we sing, after the music stops!”

    The idea is that he’s trying to lure in fans of popular rap artists with a similar style but hook them into the Word of God. He is using a strategy to EDIFY the masses.

    On a side note his lyrics and emotion in his songs set him apart from a lot of other boring Christian songs with verse-chorus-verse, Nickelback style.

    Lecrea and Trip Lee are two of the best,


  33. …………….Family Force Five is amazing. Reliant K, Hawk Nelson, Toby Mac, Matthew West, Francesa Battestelli, Skillet, Superchick, Barlow Girl, Adison Road, xD Then again, I’m a teenager.

  34. I agree on the post about air1 being a good site… actually there are many hit-and-miss points that I find myself agreeing to in this string.

    I would like to point out that many bands once started out “not great sounding bands”. Sometimes it takes a little backing to keep a band going until they get better because like you and me they have to rely on other jobs that support them until they make it on music alone. That is unless they were blessed and formed their band in their youth practicing in a garage or something.

    Lastly please remember that God loves worship regardless if the servant is tone-deaf (like me) or not. It is not the person who was the best at something that God chose to work his miracles through most of the time but those who were the least or in a position of humility.

  35. Yup, a lot of music marketed as overtly Christian isn’t very good.

    But I could replace the words “as overtly Christian” with the word “today” and the sentence would still be true, so I can’t get all that worked up about it. A kid listens to someone rapping poorly about how all the ladies (a word he most assuredly does not use) can’t get enough of his arrogant, irresponsible self or he listens to someone rapping poorly about the love of God and following Christ. Either way he’s listening to junk, so why not hope he listens to junk that doesn’t glorify thuggishness, misogyny and immediate self-gratification?

  36. @Brett – Or that kid could listen to something awesome like Battles or The Decemberists or Panda Bear or Arcade Fire or Portishead or whatever. It’s not a binary choice between misogynistic, ego-driven hip-hop and Christian knock-offs of that music’s style.

  37. Dane —

    Sure, unless the kid’s preference is hip-hop and he can’t stand Arcade Fire (I weep for his limitations) or The Decemberists (OK, I’m kind of with him, they bore me too). I picked hip-hop as an example genre but I wasn’t all that clear that’s how I was using it.

  38. Sounds like Mr. Noble just isn’t a fan of rap. That’s okay, but he shouldn’t insinuate that it’s less than Christian just because he doesn’t get the style and culture. The whole song is about representing Christ. When he says “like we tipsy” he expressly follows that by explaining he’s not tipsy, he’s just into the beat. If anything it is meant to *contrast* their behavior with that of someone who’s drunk. (This reminds me of the unbelievers who criticized the disciples speaking in tongues, saying they must be drunk.)

    If you want to reach people you have to become all things to all men. These guys do an excellent job of looking enough like all the other boys in the hood to be credible, while at the same time presenting a completely different message.

  39. @David – “Sounds like Mr. Noble just isn’t a fan of rap.” I think it would be fair to say that this is a colossal misrepresentation of Mr. Noble—seeing as how he himself is a hip-hop artist (so far as I’m aware).


    i have no idea why he isnt big yet, everyone needs his music, over oceans and jacranda are two of the best albums of all time

  41. Amen! Being in the “Christian Music Scene” I run across some not quite stellar bands that seem to be accepted just because they claim to be a “Christian Band”. As for you that say “God loves all praise”, I’m sure this is true but he has to grimmace at some of the horrible bands I have had to endure. I belive we truly honor God in our preporation not just the “performance”. I joke sometimes with my fellow band members that I am going to tell a certain band what I “truly” think about their music, but never do. Of corse you can not limit this the Christian music scene, just watch American Idol and see all of the people who believe they have talent and get on TV to make a fool of themselves just because no one said, “you are not good”.

  42. You made some really good points in this article, Alan.
    I do my best to practice tip # 2 as often as I can, and in doing so, I have discovered many extremely talented artists such as:


    The Chariot

    or MuteMath – who is somewhat Christian.

  43. Being a worship leader, and musician, I often find myself bobbing my head to music. Weather good or bad it is in me! (Music that is). However I find myself feeling discouraged by a good tune and horrible lyric. I think that often times even as Christians we think that we need to proclaim our testimony or our so called message of what we think people need to hear. So we muster up whatever amazing chord progression we can that is catchy and what we think is worth listening to. We then place our “message” to lyrics and shove the two together to make what one might call good music or a song. Though some may have pure intentions others truly are just trying to get noticed. Honestly when leading worship I find myself looking at each song with a few questions in mind. #1 Does this song bring praise? #2 Does this song inspire worship? #3 what is the true message of this song? First off we are created to worship! Though many songs may be good for encouragement or inspiration we are ultimately to bring praise and honor to our King. So with all of this said it is my belief that if the song is focusing on the person rather than what the Lord has done and or is doing or simply bringing honor to Him then it is not worth the time of day. Music can be a very powerful tool to draw people into the kingdom but that was not what it was created for. We should go back to where it all started and if I remember correctly they were songs of praise and adoration to the one and true Living God!

  44. I like this article, but wonder about standards of good, and the use of decent (rather than groundbreaking) music in Christian circles.

    One (somewhat confessional) example: I love Ballydowse, the raucous Yiddish-Celtic-Scots punk band that sang protest songs about America’s foreign policy alongside anthems to marriage or Inklings-tinged medievalist visions of providential history. They certainly can’t be said to be unoriginal, and my temptation is to see them as a great band. This is true even though some of their songs can only be viewed as failed experiments, and individually they aren’t necessarily the most virtuoso of musicians.

    I also enjoy Superchick, whose commercially viable, polished (and sometimes sentimentalized) punk anthems tend to celebrate Christian individuality and the sufficiency of women before God (an act, in its own way, of protest against our culture’s determined attempts to define women in terms of their sexual attractiveness and relationship status.) My temptation is to dismiss them as derivative. They’ve been preceded by more intense punk; no one’s going to be blown away by their sheer innovation, though many people have responded passionately to their message.

    The CCM industry at best has encouraged the growth of bands like Superchick while denigrating truly innovative (and politically unpredictable) bands like Ballydowse. I’m not sure it’s productive to just talk about “excellent” music–it *does* make this article seem like a denigration of the megapopular bands of Christendom. I think what we need to say is that there needs to be an attitude for nurturing challenging and difficult music *alongside* the more overtly “positive” and useful music CCM is known for. I don’t think it is a question of mere quality, but also of difficulty, ambiguity, and other things that aren’t necessary for good music, but are necessary for a healthy music-producing community.

  45. I am probably a minority of one here, but I for one do not believe there is such a thing as good contemporary Christian music. I happened to catch about five minutes (if that much) of my local CCM station when I was surfing the dial looking for something else, and the one word that came to mind was “uninspired.” But at least it was better than the stuff I hear in church. That stuff is so horrible that for my taste it is only questionably even music. Quite frankly, I will be surprised if CCM radio does not go off the air completely at least by the end of the year.

  46. Gary,

    I can understand your feeling, but don’t judge all of CCM by what local stations play. First of all, about the *only* Christian stations that play tend to cater to a very specific niche–unoffensive pop tunes with positive themes that won’t contain offensive content. This is because Christian music is already a small market, and anything that drives listeners away is a no-no.

    The Christian bands that do make excellent music tend to be underground or outside of the mainstream. They also often are overvalued by people (like me) who don’t listen to most CCM but love to hear a band that blends artistic skill with lyrics that reflect Christian distinctives. But they do exist.

    In the meantime, I don’t believe CCM radio is going away any time soon. Those who listen to it aren’t looking for musical excellence, so the mediocre talent pool isn’t a problem. What they are looking for is music further from the nihilism or empty sensuality that pervades so much of our cultures art (the better as well as the worse). That isn’t a bad thing, even if it does encourage less-than-excellent music.

  47. “Christian art is defined by the one in whom it exists and by the spirit from which it issues: one says ‘Christian art’ or the ‘art of a Christian’ as one says . . . the ‘art of man.’ It is the art of redeemed humanity . . . Everything belongs to it, the sacred as well as the profane . . . If you want to make a Christian work, then BE Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to ‘make Christian.'” Jacques Maritian.

    We don’t need good “Christian” music. We need Christians making good music (just like we don’t need “Christian” paintings or novels or photographs; we need Christians creating good art, writing good books, composing good music).

  48. Amber,

    From an artist’s perspective, I agree with you completely. Yet, that said…

    I do believe that there are distinctives, good and bad, of the experience of the Christian community, the body of Christ. I think that those distinctives are best portrayed by those who are a member of the Christian community. And while Christians can join the rest of the world making redemptive art, there is also a deep need for the more distinctively Christian stuff.

    A recent example of this would be Back on Murder, by J. Mark Bertrand. As the story continues, it shows a fascinating portrait of a megachurch–its truly Christian values, its human resistance to those values, its pain and (to a small extent) its glory. Not every work of art by Christians needs to focus on these subjects…but Back on Murder seems a book that would not have likely been produced by someone outside of the Christian community.

    It is, to use a word borrowed from art history, “Religious art.”

  49. This is a really great article and brilliant discussion on top of that! Amber, your comment was just perfect. I’m an artist too and that’s my main problem with churches, they want “christian paintings” and it frustrates me no end.
    I have an ongoing problem with this whole thing, because I would ideally like to listen to music that has a christian message and mentality.
    The problem is, I like music.
    It really is a massive part of my life. This means I care about what I listen to and the quality of it, and no matter what genre christian music I find, it’s always generic, boring and uninteresting.
    There seem to be no bands out there who are making music for the love of music by pushing boundaries and coming up with something new! Until anything interesting does come around, I’ll be sticking to my current selection.
    I checked out most of the bands in the comments section and nothing there jumped out either (sorry). If you like “metal” then good for you! There’s some christian metal right here *hands on a platter* but I need something that’s a little more out of the boxes of genre.

    I don’t want music that imitates a band I already like, I want christian music which stands on its own two feet as established, soulful and interesting.

    The only good bands I’ve heard with christian influences don’t tend to be “christian music”. They tend to be musicians who are christians, meaning they’re not signed to a christian label and they don’t have to conform to the norms of the genre, which I guess is more freeing. Saying that though, the only band I can think of is Fightstar… And Evanescence (but I stopped listening to them some time ago.)

    As for making a change, my partner is christian and the lead guitarist (and songwriter) in a progressive, alternative-type band. They’re not signed as of yet, but they have very promising music so we’ll see where that one goes. Their name’s ProjectAura if anyone’s interested.

    I guess this comment is just me expressing my grievances… but if anyone feels the same way please say something, It’d be nice to know I’m not the only one on this.


  50. A few random thoughts in no particular order:
    1. Christian pop seems to me to be the 1A high school team to secular pop’s 5A high school team. You have some standouts, but the pool is so much smaller.
    2. When you feel compelled to write explicitly about the gospel, when what is really on your mind is one of the other million things in God’s world that are perfectly fine to write about, your writing is more likely to come off as plastic…as opposed to secular artists who simply write what they find compelling, so no wonder it’s more creative. Also, no wonder why some christian artists can have such explosive rebellious stages later on. Stop taking on the expectation that everything you say has to be explicitly about Jesus. Do you live the rest of your life that way? God made a lot of great things for you to enjoy…pick one that you like and write about it…it’ll probably be a lot better. And your songs about Jesus will be a lot more natural and refreshing if you aren’t forcing it so often.
    3. Similarly, the amount of emphasis on the message (nothing bad there, just make sure it’s really what’s on your mind), can take away from the emphasis on good music. You only have so much time in the day.
    4. All this creates a lower level of expecation for christian pop.

    So to the encouragements in the blog I’ll add…Write about what actually interests you (and if you begin to find that what interests you is against God, then at least you’ve found that out, so you can repent and really come to life). Be around truly creative people, and that may mean you have to put away the christian pop for awhile…or move to LA rather than Nashville. I know, scary…but I lived there 11 years and never have known more mature christians with such resiliant faith as the ones who live in decidedly non-christian environs. You’ll be better for it, so long as you don’t succumb to the ‘too-cool-for-school’ mentality in places like that. And who knows? Someday you may move back home, see how much time christians there spend talking about christian pop, and be drawn back to a more innocent time. Just some thoughts.

  51. i meant to put this in my last post, but a few good christian musicians, some of whom i am friends with, who you may enjoy:

    – josh garrels (do not know him)
    – crash rickshaw (joby harris along with a couple members of project 86)
    – one silver astronaut (a highschool math teacher, and it comes thru in his songs)
    – and old stand-bys like the Choir. And there’s always hymns…those are awesome. And of course good old fashioned silence…if you can handle it. ;-)

  52. The real problem is the lack of honesty in many songs and the songwriters’ failure to recognize their lack of emotional investment in each song.

    The reason why bands don’t make it big is because their music lacks honesty that other people can relate to. Kanye West for example raps right from his heart in 90% of his songs, and you can just hear it. It’s why he’s so popular. You can’t explain it, but there’s no doubt in your mind that he means every word that he raps/sings.

    He doesn’t take the time to think through how each song is going to sound or what it is going to be about before he writes it, he just goes for it and cleans it up later. He doesn’t use a beat unless it hits him right, unless he likes it.

    People who don’t make it big or who are so often promoted for the wrong reasons are the people who write songs that they don’t even like, and while they may sound musically perfect (by that I mean produced well), you know inside of you that the writer had no emotional connection to that song.

    The Sidewalk Prophets are a perfect example. Their song “You Love Me Anyways” literally did not strike me as a song that the writer cared about at all. I can’t explain it, I just feel like they sat down and tried really hard to make a song that sounded perfect and was about godly things. They didn’t write about what was on their mind, and I would argue, what they care about. The narrative in that song is justtttttt really not personal and doesn’t strike me as honest. Also, the melodies seem very forced too.

    I myself am a songwriter and I could come up with 300 melodies in one day. Finding the one that hits me in the right away and means something and might have the power to connect with other people is a completely different thing entirely.

    Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape is a song about salvation and there is NO doubt in my mind that the band that wrote it (Underoath) cared about EVERY NOTE and more importantly cared about the message behind it and meant every word. They’re honest as hell.

    Avoiding cliches and writing Christian music is hard, but hey, people have done it. There’s nothing we should do to “fix” this problem, it’ll fix itself, eventually. If you don’t like something, don’t listen to it.

  53. I’m so glad I came upon this. I’m a Christian and have played music since I was 9…I’m closing in on 50. I often feel like the quality of Christian music is compromised to serve the greater good, having a Christ-centered message whether or not it’s done well, and I find myself rarely listening to Christian music. I feel like an outcast on the worship teams I’ve been on when they ask if I like this artist, or that CD…I usually have not heard it. I tell people, I listen to the musicians to whom God has given the most talent, whether they yet realize from Whom it’s been given. When Christian musicians stop being influenced by themselves, and start writing songs that move the masses, like the Beatles, just for example sake, rather than trying to reach those already saved, there will be a transformation in Christian music. When they put their sweat into it like Led Zeppelin did, or angst like The Rolling Stones, or even Nirvana, people will feel it. There are many of my Christian friends who criticize my view and tastes, but yet, I have not found many good examples of alternatives. There have been some wonderful posts here, and I’ll be checking out some of the artists mentioned, but I just want to end by saying I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling slighted by a quality gap when musicians wishing to praise the lord through music sometimes fall short.

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