The Future of Contemporary Christian Music
By Shawn David Young
During the late ‘60s, American youth began to experiment with a newer version of evangelical Christianity. The result of this renewed interest was the Jesus People Movement. Commonly referred to as "Jesus freaks," Baby Boom converts combined the music and style of the counterculture with evangelical Christianity. The result was "Jesus music." This vernacular expression of the Christian gospel evolved into what is now known as contemporary Christian music (CCM). Early Jesus rockers such as Children of the Day, Love Song, Andraé Crouch, Randy Stonehill, Resurrection Band (Rez), Barry McGuire, and Larry Norman laid the foundation for artists who would play a role in the creation of a new industry. The "parallel universe" of popular evangelical music expanded to include now canonical artists and groups such as Keith Green, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Twila Paris, Rich Mullins, Petra, Stryper, Whitecross, dc Talk, DeGarmo & Key, and Jars of Clay.
During the ‘70s, many CCM artists tended to focus their efforts on evangelism. Influenced by a belief in the imminent return of Jesus and the theology of dispensational premillennialism (reinforced by author Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth), the emerging CCM was short-sighted as artists composed songs intended to convert as many as possible before the end of the world. However, this was a not mere hokum escapade conducted by minstrels of the apocalypse. Jesus rockers were serious in their quest to save the world.
The ‘80s brought not only more time (the rapture had not occurred) but also a burgeoning Christian music industry. Young evangelical musicians and record executives saw new opportunities as CCM became attractive to the mainstream market with the rise of Amy Grant in the ‘80s and Jars of Clay in the ‘90s. However, while lyrics remained overtly Christian, many expressions of CCM began to adopt ambiguity and represented a more holistic worldview. These artists employed lyrical metaphor and sought cultural relevance and authenticity -- a nod to the rise of postmodern evangelical culture. While some enjoyed crossover success, others questioned the new model, citing the Gospel Music Association's definition of Christian music -- i.e., music that clearly connected lyrics to a biblical worldview.
Now, debates over what qualifies as "Christian" music have redefined the boundaries that have historically delineated the sacred and the secular, allowing evangelical musicians freedom to consider different ways of composing and performing music influenced by the Christian faith. As CCM record labels have produced successful crossover groups and solo artists -- performing for late-night talk shows, touring with secular bands, and licensing songs to network television -- the signifier of CCM carries new meaning. The result has been a growing rejection of the inconclusive idea of "Christian music," the decline of the "Christian band," and the emergence of music groups and solo artists who are simply influenced by faith.