What Is Christian Music? Really, what is it..?

Christ, in the 21st Century, speaks to the post modern world in ever more expansive ways.  Christian music in the mainstream and underground pop, rock, r&b, hip hop, jazz and country circles reaches the believing and yet to believe world.  It is time to embrace and celebrate this music.

Ever since I was a teenager, there has been this bizarre debate among the Christians in my life as to what Christians should listen to.  Some thought that all secular music was out, others thought certain bands were okay even if their music wasn’t Christ-centered. Others thought that music was objective, and that if there wasn’t anything offensive in the music, then it was okay.  Many people agreed, however, that Christians should listen to only Christian music because, as a whole, the secular music scene seems to represent a culture in opposition to Christian values.  Even as we got in to the vast realm of Christian music, however, there were many people who were very quick to point out what WASN’T Christian music.

I remember going to see Newsboys, a Christian alternative rock band, early in my Christian life. It was the Take Me To Your Leader tour; a show rated as one of the most successful tours that year in both the Christian and secular markets.  I had barely listened to the band before I saw them, but walked away very impressed. I was dismayed when I returned to the church with my youth group to find that my excitement was not shared by most of the leaders. There were concerns that the concert was just a glorified rock show, the music was too heavy, and that in some way the youth group had been lead astray by the whole experience.  In fact, the biggest concern was the manner in which drummer Peter Furler smiled at the crowd (apparently it looked “evil”).  I thought we had just seen a really good show, and that it was made better by the fact that the singer talked extensively about his faith.

My journey through to find a clear definition of Christian music continued as I got older.  I was often confused when Christian radio embraces of clearly secular artist who happened to create a song that had some sort of spiritual meaning.   Coldplay, Foo Fighters, and Hoobastank have all had songs appear frequently in sermons and services I have attended, further changing my perception on what the genial public considered to be “Christian” music. It has been hard to wrap my head around Christian’s rejection of that loud band who talked about Christ on stage in favor of that secular artist who made a song with appeal to the Christian body.  As a result, I have always had a different view on what “Christian music” is.

People will always be entitled their opinions, but it has always been so ironic to me that we as a body have never been able to truly define what qualifies the music we listen to as Christ-centered.  Most people point to lyrics as the soul definer; but even artist who call themselves Christians don’t always write purely worship-like lyrics for their songs.  This also leaves lyrics up for major scrutiny when dealing with controversial topics such as sex, theology, or abuse. These topics are ones that need to be addressed from a Christian worldview, so in this we are limiting our artists.  Saying that Christian music is SOLELY defined by the lyrics excludes all poetic expression beyond pure worship music.  This also doesn’t allow for genres, such as electronica, classical, jazz and progg, in which lyrics are rare to be considered..

One of the other qualifiers for the general public’s definition of Christian music is simply that the members are Christians.   This is a difficult standard we attempt to enforce when we look deep into an artist’s heart to critique their relationship with Christ.  At what point does discernment become judgment? Does every member of a band need to a Christian for the band to make Christian music?  Is a solo artist required to employ only Christians?  Further, and on the other side of the argument, this would mean that anybody who believes in Christ would have their music be considered “Christian”. Alice Cooper became a strong believer later in his life, and while he has released some recordings that extol his faith , his body of work is defiantly not what most people could consider music you could use to glorify God( just imagine a pastor using “School’s Out” as the background music for his sermon).  In both cases, the focus is put on the people, rather than the music itself.

This post may seem to be a bit negative or angry, and I want assure you that it is not intended to.  My hope is that now that we have highlighted some of the usual standards that have been confusing in the past.  I will never say that our definition on this topic is the last word, nor do I believe that the definitions mentioned above should be dismissed. The definitions above have been around for so long because there is a lot of merit to them. There is just too much that they exclude or leave up for debate for them to prevail as the binding definition for what makes music Christian.  We are simply living in a much different world, one where Christians express themselves through so many avenues that Christ can be seen in almost every form of artistic expression. Our post-modern world allows for a very different definition of what makes music Christian; so we our building One21music on a humble definition of post modern Christian music.

Post Modern Christian Music for us is: Music, of all genres, written from a foundation of hope and faith in Jesus Christ, that God uses to touch people’s hearts.

Under this description, Chris Tomlin strums his guitar alongside Bob Dylan and Josh Garrels;  August Burns Red scream their songs of healing and renewal as Sixpence  None The Richer soothes your heart  with their poppy, sweet stories in song.  mewithoutYou, U2, and Andy Hunter lead their own worship services to their very different audiences.  God’s children sing, speak, strum, bang, whisper, scream, and dance like David with the music He has put in their hearts; and in turn these artist believers bless us as we, the listener, wait for the next song that God will use to change our life.  And maybe, as these artists express their faith in the music of their walk, Christ’s message of hope, love and grace will be heard.

Is this how you see the body of Christian music? Is there a different way in your life that you would define Christian music?


  1. Man I have to agree, that this blog was great! I myself have been in your shoes (so have any others) in years, & years of “Christian Music” so say. I feel the same way about it all. Music has and will always be what God created to give to us to choose to Glorify Christ and hisself. Its a gift, end of story. What others take of it. Is souly up to them. The holy sprit will make sure the right “song, lyric, and or exsperence” is givin to the ones that may need it the most like you said. “We are simply living in a much different world, one where Christians express themselves through so many avenues that Christ can be seen in almost every form of artistic expression” Christ will bring himself into everything because His father Created it all. So no matter what the “world” may think they created or started as “new” God had already been there ad done that. haha, and will use whoever to bring himself into that group or body of people… I hope you get what Im saying. Im not the best at writing. HA! even at age 20. lame! Much love!

  2. Brian says:

    Worship is anything but a similar experience for any two people in this world, much as even identical twins are actually identical in name only. We think differently, act differently, talk differently, grew up differently. Even the people you think are most in line with what you believe about this that or the other, actually have quite a number of interests, beliefs and attitudes that you are sure to disagree with.

    My point in all this? To agree with your blog. Christian music is many things to many people. Any religion that has as many sects and disagreeing factions as Christianity does is certain to have myriad differing opinions about the music that purportedly influences the flock or reaches out to the masses. I too had a gym teacher in high school who thought the notion of a Newsboys rock concert was ridiculous because Rock Music was evil. There’s a great song from a ’90s Christian alternative band called Dime Store Prophets, and it essentially is a tongue-in-cheek middle finger to the CCM community who thinks that music is evil the moment electric guitars are used.

    Music touches people in so many ways and to be so ignorant as to define what makes for real and/or acceptable Christian music is absurd, narrow-minded and the sort of instance that just proves that some people don’t get it. The other side to that though, is that not everyone is meant to get it. Some people can handle the Harry Potter books, while others can’t, and so forth.

    Good blog, sir!

  3. ian says:

    Brian, thank you for the kind words, it is nice to see someone who “gets it”.

  4. Anthony says:

    I have a feeling we could be best friends. lol. I agreed with you 100%. A few months ago, I was having a similar disagreement on a message board and I actually read about a book by a Christian author that described “Christian” music in almost the same way you did. I am not sure what the book was called or the author but I found it by searching Google.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. This website has a lot of potential of becoming the next JesusFreakHideout or something similar.

  5. ian says:

    thanks alot man, your site is looking great as well, you are like THE source for upcoming album artwork…

  6. Miranda says:

    As a worship leader and lifelong lover of music I really enjoyed your thoughts on this topic. I’d have to say I completely agree with you and it was refreshing to know someone shares my point of view!

  7. ian says:

    It is always good to hear from people who are part of this musical body leave their thoughts. I hope we hear more from you Miranda


  1. [...] and important concepts when it comes to faith and music. For our site, we have defined what we consider Christian music, and then have even gone farther to clarify the many parts of that definition. For most people, and [...]

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