Why 'Christian' Rock Isn't Christian

The pendulum swings every day on what “Christian” music should be.   It usually sounds like any other genre, but with a spiritual twist.  It’s safe, friendly, replicable, heartfelt and honest with pre-packaged verses from the Good Book.  And, its place is in the church or at religious events.  Why?  Well, because it’s “Christian”.

As a church leader by day and music entertainer by night, some may say I straddle the line of “appropriateness”.  My band Beggars Made Believers writes music filled with overtly spiritual content; yet, we haven’t played in a church setting for over a year.  Most of our gigs involve lounges, nightclubs, coffee houses, and bars—where we heavily encourage our fans to bless the bartenders (even if all you buy is a soda)!  We exist in these spaces because that’s where our art feels most at home; however, it took us some time to realize that.

A year ago, I shared my gigging aspirations with a well-intentioned yet unsupportive friend.  This friend told me that he thought it was impossible for the content of the music I wrote to make it in the sort of places I wanted to play.  He said worship-oriented songs simply wouldn’t connect with regular folks in a rock venue.  Honestly, I thank my friend for his warning because it pissed me off enough to pursue the “impossible”.

I went to a bar later that week to watch a talented Caucasian duo rock a harmonium and some minimalistic aux percussion.  They sang songs telling the story of their spiritual journey to India.  Their music reflected the Hinduism faith and honored Krishna.  The crowd that night was the definition of “chill”—they smiled and clapped during intervals and sparingly enjoyed their microbrews throughout the night.

Months later, I played a gig at this same bar, where my group opened for a band who outright dedicated one of their songs to a demon!  Their crowd was not so chill, but they also seemed to enjoy the microbrews.

In my experience, the “secular” night scene isn’t void of spiritual content; it’s rife with it.  So why do we feel as though our voices have no merit in these places? 

Here’s a thought:  It may be because we, ourselves, feel uncomfortable in these venues, so we exclude ourselves from them in favor of church spaces.  It may be that the label “Christian” placed before the word “music” is how the church has marginalized itself.

It is business, folks.  The market needs categories, and more you can package a product into a digestible format, the better it sells.  The Christian music industry is just that—an INDUSTRY for people who are Christian.

We perpetuate the isolated gluttony of the modern church every time we sequester gifted believers from the world. 

Rather, let our music-makers, poets, and artists bless the church AND the world.  Let them shine their light in the darkness, living boldly in honor of a great God who has given them a heart for capturing the story of His beauty.  Why would we EVER want to put a cap (or confining label) on that?

A reporter once asked me if I considered my music “Christian Rock”.  I said “NO, we’re a faith-based rock trio looking to share our music with anyone and everyone.”  The reporter seemed confused, and my explanation still didn’t stop him from captioning our photograph with the tagline, “Christian Rock band”.

Truth is:  the market needs categories, and people need labels.  I don’t anticipate overturning the establishment overnight.  Rather, I propose a culture shift for our creative minds in the church. 

I challenge you to be bold with your story.  Step humbly into whatever opportunity God gives you, and share your art with passion and with abandon. 

I sing what I sing wherever I can sing it because I believe so much in the story I’ve been given.  It’s a story of suffering, shame, doubt, love, redemption and deliverance, and it’s meant to bless the ears of the depraved.  I don’t SEEK to offend people; I seek to share something beautiful and personal.  It’s my drive, and my desire—my ART.

One writer reviewing my band’s last show published the following observation about our music:  “The band’s personal songs of redemption are catchy, pop-based testimony to the trio’s commitment to bring Christian rock out of the church and into the clubs.”

Sounds sexy, right? 

It’s not.

It’s hard. 

A recent gig put us in front of a packed out club playing a sold out show.  We did a live recording of the performance to try and capture the energy of the environment.  All the people who dug our sound rocked out in the front.  Those who didn’t like what we had to say somehow managed to find every single one of our room microphones, and the devil made sure I heard each syllable of their ridicule and contempt in mix down. 

A word to artists who are Christian:  you may not seek to offend, but offense will probably be taken.  Don’t fear it—expect it.  And, when the world pushes at you, push back with the grace and love that eternally marked your life at salvation.   

We’ve been denied shows, criticized, marginalized and I’m sure there’s much more of that ahead, but regardless of what the world throws at me, I refuse to remove myself from its scorn because I have a reason to sing (and singing is much more fun than sulking)!

I do what I do for those who have forgotten what hope feels like, for those who would never step into the shadow of a steeple.   We sing because we’ve been given a gift, and we mean to share it, even if the world doesn’t get it right away.

Rock isn’t “Christian”, WE are. Live without the label.  Let art be art, let music be music, and may your presence throughout be GOSPEL.


(This post first appeared on rethinkcreative.org)