9 Hopeful Signs That Christian Music isn’t Completely Dead

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Much about the Christian music scene has been depressing in recent years. Mainly because there really isn’t a “Christian music scene” per se. Not really. Not like the scene that I encountered in 1996. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing. That scene was a bit crazy, self-involved, and had little to do with Jesus.

When I was working at CCM magazine, the writing on the wall became rather clear. Christian music was dying. The reasons why that’s true vary according to who you talk to. My opinion? Worship music killed Christian music. The worship music movement slowly, over time, suffocated the true creatives out of record deals, pushing them to the fringes of the music scene to fend for themselves. It wasn’t personal. It was business. Christian radio started limiting their playlists to include artists like Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, and Casting Crowns. And while they might be nice people with good voices, their music is safe for the whole family. And nothing stifles a creative scene like safety. And for a long while, there’s been a serious lack of good spiritual music coming out of Nashville. Sure, there have been a record here and there… but nothing that seemed to suggest a true revival might be happening.

Some people think that the Christian music scene is pointless anyway. I disagree. While some Christian music is downright dreadful, Christian music gave me a lot of hope when I was a kid trapped in Christian fundamentalism. From my world, Christian music was a window to an outside world, a place where Jesus still had issues but nothing like the issues he had in my world. Christian music opened my eyes to different ways of thinking. It pushed me to explore theology. It challenged my worldview. It caused me to feel God’s presence in a way that I wasn’t accustomed to… Christian music isn’t perfect. And at times, it’s downright awful. However, it also created an environment that allowed me to be introduced to artists and songs that helped me believe that Jesus was bigger and more gracious and more hopeful than what I’d been taught for most of my life.

But Hillsong music isn’t going to do that. It might make me “feel” emotionally connected to God in the moment, it does not have the creative power or means to push minds and hearts to think and experience God differently. It doesn’t have the ability to create dialogue about theology, about culture, and about philosophy. And I’m sorry, Jesus Culture isn’t going to make music that spearheads anything more than fairy dust and goosebumps. But a true artist who’s passionate about life and faith and art and truth can cause you to not only think outside your comfortable box but experience worship at the same time.

But signs of hope might be on the horizon. There’s a handful of artists, songs, and rumors about artists and songs that make me wonder if there’s a springtime coming for music about faith and spirituality. While there’s no guarantee, here are few reasons why I think a new birth of creativity might be happening Christian music…

1) John Mark McMillan’s “Borderland”

That’s just the first single. The whole album is an amazing collection of intricately constructed songs. Click the picture below to view the record at Amazon.

2) Ellie Holcomb “As Sure As the Sun”

Holcomb’s “As Sure As the Sun” is a hopeful collection of melodies and words, a bright collection that’s filled with mystery and production intricacies. Listen to more at Amazon.

3) Shawn McDonald’s new song “We Are Brave”

You can sample it here. It will be a little too pop for some, but it’s so dang catchy. Definitely give it a listen.

4) Jars of Clay “Inlandia”

Yes, it’s Jars of Clay. And they’ve been around for 20+ years. But a bright path can’t all be spearheaded by newly discovered talent, some of it must come from longtime musicians and artists. And with this remix EP of their record “Inland,” Jars of Clay showcases they’re amazing ability to evolve with age (Check out the record at iTunes.

5) Sarah Masen’s “Trying Mark”
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One of Nashville’s most poetic storytellers finally released some new music last year. If you’re not familiar with Sarah Masen’s previous efforts, check out these two songs: Carry Us Through and one of the best songs about faith ever written, Wrap My Arms Around Your Name (listen below).

You can download Sarah’s newest songs at NoiseTrade for free…

6) And Nichole Nordeman is rumored to be working on new music. And that is good news indeed. Nobody writes songs about God and faith like Nichole. If you need reminding, listen to “Hold On” from her 2005 record “Brave”:

Other bright signs…

-Gungor’s “I Am Mountain”

-Brooke Fraser’s got new music coming soon.

-NEEDTOBREATHE’s new record releases next month

And again, these are just signs of a little creative life happening among Christians making music about God, life, faith…

How about you? Have any “signs” of your own?

Comments

  1. JeremyDiaz says

    This is great news indeed. John Mark has done wonders for young guys in ministry like myself to rethink what worship should or could look like. While I do enjoy groups like Hillsong, Jesus Culture, and the Passion movement it is nice to know that worship can sound different.  If you branch out into the hip hop realm too there are artists like LeCrae and Andy Mineo that are getting respect from some of the biggest artists in the music business and that gives me hope that people can share music about Jesus that does not suck with their friends that might not know Jesus as a point of discussion.

  2. suejeannekoh says

    Audrey Assad should really be on this list – check out her songs ‘Good to me’ and ‘I shall not want’ on YouTube (live versions). She also recommended John Mark’s new album so I’m definitely going to check it out.

  3. EricBoersma says

    I don’t think that the problem is exclusively Worship Music that’s put CCM on life support; it’s the gatekeepers who insist that there’s some kind of standard that defines “Christian Music” and that standard usually includes number of times Jesus/God/Salvation are mentioned, which is a terrible metric.

    Something like Josh Ritter’s “Girl in the War” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWGQno05YZA) or Emmy The Great’s “North” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4h61cMpIJE) are never going to show up on a Christian radio station where I live, even though they both express a much more complicated and adult relationship to Christianity and religion than anything performed by David Crowder or Chris Tomlin. Nobody is playing Sufjan Stevens’s “Abraham” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4IZBi2fUFc&list=PL3CC0F70588EF8469) not because it isn’t a beautiful Christian song but because his other albums aren’t explicitly Christian. 

    I’ve been out of the Christian music “scene” for a long time though it was quite impactful to my teenage years. I haven’t listened to any radio in a long time, much less Christian radio, save for a brief clip or two, but for the few moments I did, what I heard was the same stuff  — maybe a slightly different voice or word — as the stuff that I was listening to fifteen years ago. It’s still mostly white kids singing pop songs about how awesome Jesus makes them feel. Fifteen years ago I knew that wasn’t all that Christian music could or should be. Sadly, the people running those stations haven’t figured that out, yet.

  4. PascalRedfern says

    Trapped in fundamentalism.  Hmmmm????  What does that mean and what does that have to do with Christian music.

  5. TSpears says

    Thanks for the suggestions!  I do believe we are seeing signs of hope on the horizon with some of the new music, now we just have to get it past the gatekeepers!  I know a band I work with that is making some great music, not cookie cutter!! You can check them out at http://www.facebook.com/crosstiemusic.

  6. jdbergen says

    Great article. I was just telling a friend the other day how Ellie Holcomb was helping to restore my hope that there might still be some good “Christian” music.

  7. AmyBR says

    Love Nichole! She used to be the pianist at my church when I was in elementary school – and I’ve been a fan ever since . . . she music continues to be authentic and probing about faith in a way most CCM is not – and that’s why she is one of the only CCM artists I regularly listen to on a rotation that is otherwise lots of secular stuff.

  8. tallfreak says

    I totally agree.  My favorite year of CCM was 1993.  I’m still Twila Paris’s number one fan even though none of my friends have heard of her.

  9. says

    I love checking in every couple of years  to read your latest thoughts, great inspirational thinking. 

    You should check out Rend Collective, if you haven’t already. They are from Northern Ireland, making beautiful worship music that is vey rare to come by this side of the pond, and they will be in your neck of the woods on Tuesday.

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