Christian Rock Songs

Here’s the audio version of my Living With Music playlist for the New York Times’s Paper Cuts blog: Ten great Christian rock songs. Really.

Related: Earlier this month I participated in a debate on the question: “Does Christian Rock Suck?” Arguing that it does not, I managed to persuade most of the skeptical audience, as well as my opponent. Here is the one-hour debate.

Debate: Does Christian Rock Suck? from Daniel Radosh on Vimeo.


These song selections SUCK! There’s way more to Christian Rock than that! Depending on your tastes, there’s Third Day(earlier=better, IMO), Pillar, Skillet, Thursday, Underoath (their older stuff was more explicitly Christian), and Jennifer Knapp(a great vocalist who can rock, depending on your definition).
Also, I’m really confused by the equation of Christianity with legalism. Any Christian with a pocket Gospel will see Jesus calling out the legalists of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus’ teachings on grace and what it means to follow God’s laws were truly anti-establishment, even liberal.

They may not be getting a lot of airplay on stations that are “safe for the whole family,” but thanks for teaching a Christian who has mostly turned outside of the realm of orthodoxy for music with a soul.

I’m a long time fan of Bob Dylan, Over the Rhine and Pedro the Lion but now I’ve got a few more folks to listen to.


I think you’re missing the point - you listed a bunch of stereotypical CCM bands, staples of the summer youth-group festival circuit, many of whom won’t do a set without at least one P&W song (I saw many of them when I was part of that scene), and they are absolutely what is wrong with Christian rock. While these bands are solid, they are absolutely not interesting - they are the Christianized version of what plays on the adult contemporary station.

I was quite glad to see the 77s and VoL; I’m just disappointed that Mark Heard was missing.

No Sufjan? I’m surprised... I’m surprised you’re familiar with many of these bands though. I thought Mewithoutyou was only listened to by a small, angry crowd of dissafected youth in Chicago and the mid-west, and Over the Rhine by some placid intellectuals in jazz bars.

I like this song selection, but do regret the lack of Sufjan Stevens.

No Sufjan? I’m surprised... I’m surprised you’re familiar with many of these bands though. I thought Mewithoutyou was only listened to by a small, angry crowd of dissafected Christians in Chicago and the mid-west, and Over the Rhine by some placid intellectuals in jazz bars.

I like this song selection, but do regret the lack of Sufjan Stevens.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to post that twice.


Right Wing Bob had the link that sent me here and I enjoyed the music you selected. Thanks for sharing!

-- Steve Barton, Dunwoody, Georgia

Speaking of rock music that sucks...The music of the other guy in this video is beyond awful.

Wow, really cool list. And even more impressive coming from a non-Christian. Over the Rhine has been a favorite of mine since Karin’s voice mesmerized me at a festival back in ‘93 and they’ve only gotten better.

I’ll throw out a few others that should be heard:

Future of Forestry
Chegall Guevara
The Listening

and I’ll second the Mark Heard recommend.

Great debate! I can’t believe I just watched all that in one sitting. The funniest part was when you were called on to “testify”.

Also good: I also didn’t anticipate the curveball thrown in about straight-edge music - which I have mixed feelings about, but I will concede does not have to suck

Interesting that you specifically describe Over The Rhine as not sexual. Many of their songs are very sexual/sensual in nature being that they are written by a husband and wife. Interesting debate.

Great list, very interesting selection - I’d like to throw out a mention for Keith Green as well. The 70s production doesn’t do it any favours, but he was an interesting song writer. Especially interesting that he predicted the coming corporate\sanitised nature of “Christian Rock” in the 70s.

Can I also put Starflyer 59 and the (sublime) Innocence Mission into the mix? Two very different bands, but both making interesting and under heard music. Also bemoaning the lack of Sufjan!

(the first comment)
“Depending on your tastes, there’s Third Day(earlier=better, IMO), Pillar, Skillet, Thursday, Underoath (their older stuff was more explicitly Christian), and Jennifer Knapp(a great vocalist who can rock, depending on your definition).”

@ Stephanie

All the bands you have listed are great examples of why people think Christian music sucks. All these artists are below average and unfortunately represent a good cross-section of the state of Christian rock.

There are Christian rock bands out there that are good, but those bands are very few.

yeah i would like to second that comment ‘where is sufjan?’
sufjan makes beautiful music that clearly involves christ with out making the songs over the top or cheesy.

I had no idea that Bob Dylan was a Christian artist until I read your book. Also, Thanks for introducing me into Over The Rhine!

My top 10 Christian music from my teenage years:

1) Jeremy Enigk’s “Return of the Frog Queen” - He was a Christian when he made this. proto-emo.
2) Michael Knott’s “Rocket and a Bomb” - awesome album, gritty folk.
3) Sixpence None the Richer’s “This Beautiful Mess” - Not a one hit wonder.
4) Lost Dog’s “Little Red Riding Hood” - alt-country
5) Prayer Chain’s “Mercury” - ahead of their time.
The Choir’s “Circle Slide”
6) MxPx’s “On the Cover” - fun pop punk
7) Poor Old Lu’s “Sraight Six” - classic christian alternative.
8) StarFlyer59’s “She’s the Queen” - drone pop.
9) P.O.D.’s Brown album - sometimes rap/rock doesn’t suck.
10) Danielson Famile’s “A Prayer For Every Hour”

I posted a few comments on the other link at the NY Times, but did also want to mention that these comments do leave out the massive presence of Christian musicians on the country, R&B, and gospel scenes.

Mewithoutyou is actually based in Philly... Aaron Weiss frequents my church here. I’m not really that into their music, but it is my impression that they have a fairly broad following.

Just had to come back here and thank you for introducing me to Vigilantes of Love! I don’t think the song here is their strongest, but I delved into the rest of that album and their more alt-country flavoured back catalogue and now count them amongst my favourite bands. So thank you for that, and Over the Rhine as well!

I would suggest people look into Officer Down. It’s Christian straight-edge hardcore from Manitoba (Canada). I’m a pretty outspokenly atheistic straight-edge punk and Christian straight-edge is usually the butt of jokes in our scene, but when I found out about these guys I thought they rocked pretty hard.

I own their CD, ‘Subversive Paradigm’, and I highly recommend it.

Note that their values seem to tend toward a Tolstoyan (i.e. Christian anarchist) ethos, which might turn off conservatives.

Some great picks there. I’m a recent fan of Michael Roe (interestingly enough, I just got the album I ordered from him about 3 months ago today) and VoL/Bill Mallonee. Like Calvin said, Michael Knott should be included as I think he is one of the best-kept secrets in the music industry. Some other singers/groups that deserve a listen are:

Kevin Max
The Violet Burning/The Gravity Show
The Cush

What, no 16 Horsepower or Denver Gentlemen on the list?

It is true that Christians must fight legal thoughts and ideas all of their lives .Legalism is any notion of salvation or any part of it based on anything other than the imputed righteousness of Christ.A Christian is one who follows the Gospel of Christ and His teachings.I have no Idea about musician of Christianity.but it give fun when we heard of the music.
Christian Drug Rehab

Christian Drug Rehab

I enjoy Christian pop music, and I listen to it quite a bit each day. When one thinks about the question of Christian music quality, one has to compare apples to apples. What is the quality of the “average” secular song on the local top-40 radio station? Turn on the radio at any given time and you’re not likely to find a super-memorable, incredible-musical-experience kind of song--in fact, most secular top-40 songs are just fillers. They get your toes tapping a bit, get you through the monotony of 5 p.m. traffick, but that’s about it. For me, it’s the same way for Christian pop music. Most is okay--I listen to it because I’m bored and in the car--it’s enough to amuse me somewhat, but most isn’t truly incredible. (But, again, that’s how all top-40 music is.)

I have found some Christian music which is really incredible. When I find this type of music, I usually buy the CD. Right now, I think one of the most talented Christian music artists is Nicole Nordemann.

I once was listening to one of her CDs at the local university. I was down in the basement of the computer lab working on photoshop one early Saturday morning--I was the only one there. A while after I started listening to Wide Eyed (one of her best CDs), a woman walked into the lab to begin her work. I decided to turn off the CD because I didn’t know if she was Christian, and I didn’t know how she’d respond. (She didn’t know that the music was Christian.) “It’s okay, go ahead and leave it in.” I hesitated, but I eventually pushed the CD back into the computer.

We both spent the next hour listening to her CD while working on our respective projects. When the CD finished, she turned around and told me, “Wow, that was incredible. Better than what I brought.”

You can say I’m making this up. I’m sure some people will really want to believe this. That’s fine with me. It’s ultimately up to each individual to determine whether my story has the ring of truth to it.

Christian contemporary music seems to be satisfying to many Christians. If one thinks about it, this is really a type of milestone. Has any other religion or religious group ever been able to pull this off in the realm of pop culture? One big complaint many religious people have is that young people are “forced” (the alternative is to be completely bored) to listen/watch/read to contemporary music/film/tv, etc. which is often very offensive to the sensibilities of religious people. With music, however, this isn’t the case any more (for many Christians--some Christians--some of whom have commented here--disagree--only to be expected).

I’m wondering whether the evangelical or any other Christian community can create film which can compete with secular films. Right now, I know of no Christian film which has been very good (The Apostle and the Passion of Christ being exceptions). But keep in mind, if the evangelical community does begin to get better at film (which it did at music), we’ll still have to compare apples to apples. Most secular film at the local cineplex sucks. Don’t believe me? --Mosey on down there and check out what’s playing; find out for yourself.

I just had to weigh in on this topic. It has fascinated me for decades. I’m 42 and consider my musical taste to be exceptional (doesn’t everyone?). I’m into Death Cab for Cutie, Los Lonely Boys, Chris Rea, and many secular bands and styles you haven’t heard of. Even black gospel, which rocks.

Here is the problem with most CCM: It is WAY too wistful. I can hear 4 or 5 notes and identify whether my wife has the radio tuned to CCM, based on this wistful quality. It makes me want to puke. The fact that 99% of CCM sucks has NOTHING to do with lyrical content. The message isn’t the problem. It’s the tone...the lack of funk, the lack of boldness. Rock music need not belong to Satan, or the secular world, but it must, because Christian artists have yet to reach out and take it for themselves.

It’s NOT the message, again. Case in point:

Take Sarah McLaughlin, a secular artist. She sucks too, because she is the QUEEN of wistful. When I hear “In the Arms of an Angel” or “I Will Remember You,” I have to leave the room to help offset the sudden desire to choke myself. It’s HORRIBLE music!

Christian music can be good, but CCM artists need to step out of the realm of longing, wistful, sad undertones and make music that is happy, bold and groovy. Should Christians not be extremely joyful, a la Los Lonely Boys?

Most black CCM is great. They get it. Michael Smith and company need to get with the program and quit singing that weak, sappy crap. Christian music can be strong, but most of it isn’t. Contrast Mercy Me’s “Send Me” (excellent) with most of their other stuff, which is crapola (such as “I Can Only Imagine,” which is wistul JUNK). Great lyrics, sure, but why the sad music? Shouldn’t walking in the presence of Jesus be EXCITING? Uplifting? Why sad?

My wife calls it “good,” but frankly my sweetheart wouldn’t know good music if it bit her in the tushie. Get with the program, CCM artists!!

That’s my two cents.

what’s the password for the video?

hello, great stuff,really nice video.Keep it up.

there is no password for the video

Christian music must be innovated , Not everyone has the same point of view. If Jesus come right now , he will be coming in Jeans and piercing in his two ears and singing whatever rock.

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