Guitars killed Christian music, no resurrection in sight

When John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Christian music knew it had to do something, because in a sense, he was right.

The Beatles and rock ’n’ roll were of course not more popular than Jesus, a man whose life is chronicled by a book that has sold multitudes more copies than any copy of anything in any form, but the music that people like the Beatles were playing was vastly more popular than the Christian music that had been so popular throughout hundreds of past years. The industry of Christian music freaked out. They had to revitalize. Rock bands were getting the attention of the new and all-important medium of television. The music that had been played in church for hundreds of years was falling by the wayside. People needed Christian music more than just a couple hours on Sunday, and the only way to get it to them was in the form of rock ‘n’ roll.

Music has been around as long as people have and much of it is historically Christian. Most of the classical music we still hear like Mozart, Bach and Handel was sanctioned and paid for by the church. Before the time of radio, people got basically all of the music they heard from church. Hymn writers like Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby were household names. The dawn of radio changed that, but not completely. Jazz and swing were popular in the early ages of radio, but there was no way to incorporate Christianity in a 12-bar blues instrumental or a bebop jazz tune, so Christian music remained basically hymn-based. That’s where it should have stayed. Christian music had a genre. It sounded like something specific.

The dawn of rock ‘n’ roll really opened the door for a drastic shift in the style of Christian music. The simple chords and ease of putting lyrics to them made it very enticing to write regular rock songs and just put Christian lyrics on them. By doing that Christian music adopted a genre that already existed. Rock had a certain sound, and by copying it, the Christian music industry created a second tier that it was immediately placed on. Many Christian songs have a near-identical equal in the secular music industry. It’s a knock-off of the original; Mega Blocks to Legos, Coco Roos to Cocoa Puffs, Sam’s Choice to Coke. For the past 50 years, Christian music has been playing copycat to whatever is popular on secular radio. They haven’t changed the message, but the music that delivers it has become stale and unoriginal.

Christian music is genreless. Turn on the Christian radio station and listen for 30 minutes. You will hear two piano ballads, three pop/rock songs and one pseudo heavy metal thrasher. It doesn’t sound like anything specific. When I put on the pop station, I know what I’m getting. There’s a genre there, but Christian music lacks that. A hundred years ago, it didn’t. Look through a hymnal, and you’ll find that there used to be a genre in Christian music. It used to have a particular sound. I personally believe that its sound fit its message, and many of the songs are still moving today, in music and in lyrics. That’s where Christian music should have stayed: hymns. With the always changing tides of American style, who’s to say hymns wouldn’t become popular again? In fact, “old-timey” music has made a revival and can be seen in a lot of what we call “indie” bands today.

Christian music does have an audience, but it’s an audience that listens because the message brings them to the music. If Christian music had its own interesting genre and wasn’t so unoriginal, maybe the music would bring people to the message.

  • Anonymous

    Guitars in church music isn’t such a problem, however Drums, and the “rock beat” is. Solomon had places built/dedicated for the worship of the gods of his strange wives, one of these was named the place of the drum. Drums have a hypnotic effect, and have been used for non Christian type rituals/worship for some time before any “church music”. The problem with rock and roll music, is the performers on stage are the stars of the show, This transfers to church where the rock & roll “worship team” takes the “stage” at church, and entertains with the same measured beat as rock & roll, while the “lead guitarist” hammers out some well worn licks, from some godless band of the 70′s. I for one have heard one too many LedZep songs “re-lyriced” to be “Christian friendly”.
     The Guitars, drums, and stage of contemporary christian music, is less of a problem though , than the watered down message that is normally “fit” into the top 40 venue. For instance: One popular song has the refrain: Our God is a awesome God. That phrase makes “our God” awesome but implies one of many, each of which could very well be awesome. Now if it was worded “Our God is THE awesome God”, it would convey the meaning that there were possibly other gods, but ours is the top awesome one. If You really critique the message in Contemporary Christian Music like this, most “the hits” tell a story about how I (the “worshiper”), am so great and worth saving, that Jesus came to die for me, because God had a plan and a purpose He needed me for, and that plan was for my comfort and happiness, in this life and the next!
     My question: What more can seeker friendly churches do to attract like the world?

    • Jeb

      Wow. Are you serious? I can’t tell if this is sarcasm or not. If not, you should ask yourself why somebody would mistake it for such. I can equate your post to Adam Sandler’s mom from the Waterboy telling me “Drums are the DEVIL!” As a former Christian, I can tell you that comments like yours are the reason I am no longer Christian. I’m embarrassed for your fellow Christians that are trying so hard to be taken seriously.

      @Will: Seriously loved the title of your article… but unfortunately the content didn’t satisfy. You appear to be arguing that Christian music should be hymnals only because you don’t know what you are going to get when you tune into your Christian radio station. Let me make something very clear… if Christian music is ONLY hymnals, there will be no Christian radio station.

      • Anonymous

        Hey Jeb,
         It doesn’t matter what Your preference in music  in church is, someone will disagree with it. Most pastors will tell You that choice of music style today for services cause the most dissagreements among the congregation. Do I think God is so square and boring that He hates any church music besides centuries old hymnalls? of course not.  As a “former”Christian, Jeb, who do You think led the worship of God in heaven? could it of been the most talented crown cherub(angel)? Lucifer? before he became so enamerred with his own beauty, talents, and “leading abilities”, as the star of the “worship team”, he was booted from heaven? Now that he’s stuck here on earth, do You think he has no influence in contemporary music, or church?
          Jeb, You said: “I can tell you that comments like yours are the reason I am no longer Christian.” So You were only a Christian as long as all Christians agree, among themselves, or with You, on what kind of worship should be offered to God? Have You read through the Bible on Your own and really thought about the words attributed to God, concerning how He instructed His people to worship Him? Have You read Foxes book of Martyrs, to see how Bible believing, God fearing Christians stood for God  and His principles, when the “church” insisted on unBiblical practices? Think about it, are the worship songs in church, chosen to please God with it’s music and message, or to please the congregation?

        • Jeb

          Asking a FORMER Christian who led worship of God in heaven might not be the best avenue for debate. I can’t exactly answer you seriously if I don’t believe in either.

          “Jeb, You said: “I can tell you that comments like yours are the reason I
          am no longer Christian.” So You were only a Christian as long as all
          Christians agree, among themselves, or with You, on what kind of worship
          should be offered to God?”

          You think worship music is the reason I’m an atheist? It wasn’t the fact that your comment was about the style of music that I blamed as a reason for my lack of faith… it was the overbearing “holier than thou” no-compromise attitude that you present it with. You basically said that drums shouldn’t be used in worship music because you think the devil played drums. I mean come on… do you hear yourself?

          I don’t like to get into debates with people about their religious beliefs. Unlike a lot of other atheists, I still respect religious people and do not feel it is my duty to convert you. Religion can be a wonderful thing to those that need it. It can also be abused to manipulate people. Therefore I will not get into the details of why I am no longer Christian.

          Yes, I have read the Bible… cover to cover. I’ve also studied other religions as well. No, I have not read the book you referenced. Perhaps you have a point about worship songs chosen to please the congregation but lets be realistic for a minute. If you don’t please the congregation and they all leave… who will you be playing music for?

          • Anonymous

            Jeb said: ” lets be realistic for a minute. If you don’t please the congregation and they all leave… who will you be playing music for?”
             The one we came to worship of course, God!

      • Anonymous

        Dear Jeb, please don’t give up on Christianity because of people who say things like that.  That is the saddest thing ever.  Please discount the importance of such statements, and consider why you were a Christian in the first place.  I encourage you to do that.  It’s very important.  You need not have one world view to have a place at the table, as long as you believe that Christ is Lord.

    • Chase Fraley

      Oh I get it, you’re joking. Because you couldn’t POSSIBLY be serious.

  • Christopher Allen

    I remember really feeling at one with God during TEC masses when I was a teenager, and I used to play Bass in the Lifeteen mass. The Protestant tradition has some songs that truly lift you up! (Think K-love) Our God is an Awesome God, You’re worthy of my praise, Shout to the North… I think these songs catch the true spirit of Lumen Gentium. Understand that I like Chant as well, and a lot of more traditional songs, but as long as they meet the criteria, I don’t see what the problem is.

  • Anonymous

    Christian music SHOULD be genreless.  Just as we should not compartmentalize our lives – social life, work life, spiritual life, recreational life – we should not compartmentalize how God works through music.  God is in every arena aof life because God is life.  To relegate the Gospel to a particular genre of music is to shackle God’s potential work inside human-devised boundaries.  Music is art.  God loves art.  He is quite the artist himself.  It would be like saying that certain kinds of art are not appropriate for use in communicating spiritual truth than others.  Do we say impressionistic paintings are okay but cubists are out?  Not that I would have a big problem with that one, but it’s not my call to make.  I understand some of the pain of those who long for a return to another day.  Growth always involves change, and the first thing that happens in change is loss.  Loss is always painful.  But pain is not always a sign that something has gone wrong.  

    • Peter Ascosi

      well said

  • Peter Ascosi

    this article helps nobody out. blaming guitars… geez.

  • George Thompson

    If you study church history you’ll find that the hymns that are so well loved today were not excepted by the generation of their time. Thats why we have so many kinds of music some for everybody..

  • Anonymous

    Anybody who listens to any “popular” radio station is going to be fed a diet of garbage.  The contemporary music played in my church is wonderful AND meaningful.  Good gospel music itself is still meaningful and worth a listen; good spirituals are powerful and uplifting.  The old hymns and classical Christian music are still stirring.  There are many genres of Christian music, and within each of those genres there is challenging music and the equivalent of bad pop or bad metal or bad rap you’d hear on a secular station.  You paint all Christian music with a very broad, stereotypical brush which misses the depth and breadth of Christian music out there today.  I wonder why that is?  You would never think of treating secular music the same way, I’d venture. If you are looking an insightful commentary on the state of Christian music, you’ll not find it in this article.

  • Alex

    As a believer and a young person in high school, I can honestly say that it is attitudes like the one this article has completely turn the new generation away from Christianity, and cause them to have only more and more discontent with us. To try and define an art form by it’s spiritual affiliation and meaning, and thus box it into one genre, or sound, we COMPLETELY cut off SO many means to be able to minister. I have several friends myself who were brought to the Lord and have strengthened in him through christian hard rock, metal, and hardcore bands. In a day in age where youth for the most part listen to what the media tells them to do, adopting genres is EXACTLY what Christians should be doing. It gives us entirely new avenues to minister and reach people, who otherwise would have zero interest in Christ, if all they knew of him was chants and hymns.  

    Stepping away from the wider Christian view for a moment, I also take serious personal offense to this notion of guitars have ruined Christian music, as a writer of hardcore and metal songs, all with a Christ-based message and emotional base – music is not EVER about the instruments being used. It is about the message and emotion being conveyed and shared. The ignorance of saying that Christian music should have its own exclusive sound is absolutely mind boggling. “Christian music” is not even a term I like to use – my music is music, that has a Christ filled message. I hate labels more than anything else, and music is my passion. This so called Christian music never has been, is not, and I hope, certainly never will be, a genre. It refers to the MESSAGE of the music. I cannot believe that people really think this way. I know that my music is lifting to God, and my family actually left our previous church because of an attitude very similar to this article’s. As Christians, this sort of view, attitude, and blatant lack of educational analysis (the author clearly knows little to nothing about music history if he thinks it is only guitar music that has been controversial within the church) should be exactly what we try to avoid, in order to have our message heard. Art is art, no matter the tools used to create it – the true matter and substance to be judged is the subject material, and emotions put into creating it.

  • Alan Dennis

    Guitars didn’t kill Christian music, parachurch college ministries did.  Listen to Josh Garrels ( ), Red Mountain Church ( ), Andy Gullahorn ( ), or Shai Linne ( and you will be blessed. 

    Don’t limit your Christian music input to Chris Tomlin and Hillsong, and you will see that there is more to Christian music than G, C, and D.

    • Logan Merkle

      Excellent. I was waiting for somebody to say that.
      Check out Gungor and their NEW stuff. Indie-tastic. :-) And Christian. These things can coexist.

    • Logan Merkle

      Excellent. I was waiting for somebody to say that.
      Check out Gungor and their NEW stuff. Indie-tastic. :-) And Christian. These things can coexist.