Gospel music, praise and worship folk ballads were all that you usually hear from Christian music groups. The familiar songs originated from the Jesus Movement in 1960s, the days of the flower power. By the dawn of the 21st century and a decade on, there are a few more genres and sub-genres ranging from contemporary, acoustic, rock, R&B, heavy metal, punk, borrowing heavily from mainstream popular music. Christian music groups have also grown in number and apart from those from the South in the U S A, there are a number from Asia, Africa and Australia, the most notable are the Hillsong Music and Hillsong United who have made a worldwide impact with their brand of Christian music. Radio stations and several record labels which promote Christian music groups have also multiplied.
No wonder championing Christian music groups is big business for the music industry. Christian themes and messages are expressed in as varied ways and depths as there are numerous Christian artists. Even mainstream singers like Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley, delving into their religious beliefs, have sung or written gospel songs. Country folk singers like Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Carter Family and the Oak Ridge Boys have made hit records of blended country gospel music. Successful contemporary Christian music groups like the Isaacs and the Epperton family who make up the Singing Echoes since 1969 have carried on this tradition. The Singing Echoes, today with the third generation living out the legacy, were nominated for a Grammy award and were voted Favorite Band of 2008.
Christian music groups who embrace contemporary genres like metal, ska, hip hop, face controversy as their music do not reflect what is traditionally Christian music according to some Christian leaders. Since music is an integral part of worship, we can understand why the more conservative church leaders are cautious about the music that should be played in church services. Preferably, worship services should be conducted in quiet reflection using traditional church music and instruments.
In contrast, there are those of the opinion that reaching out to the youth in music they can identify with will help young people see that Christianity is relevant. In the 80s, the ‘Undercover’ from California, like punk rock stars with tattoos and Mohawk-styled hair, performed traditional hymns in punk versions. The Altar Boys, another popular Californian punk band were direct with the Christian message in their music.
Perhaps it is more a question of what true worship is vis-à-vis entertainment and attracting young people to the Christian faith.
The 2000-year message of Christianity has remained unchanged. What people who have embraced the faith did was playing indigenous instruments and singing their own compositions in their native language be they Indian, other Asian as well as African Christians. So perhaps if it is inherent in the Western culture to have those alternative sounds, we should not be too quick to judge Christian music groups creating contemporary music.
Some of these Christian music groups are not as commercialized as the regular bands and often ridiculed by non-Christian rock fans. They are serious musicians who make really good music with heartfelt lyrics reflecting their faith. Bravo!