The Strange Journey of Christian Rock and Roll

ChristianityToday.com | 12/6/2018 | Staff
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Every few years, it seems, what some call the “mainstream media” rediscover Christian rock. Sometimes it’s treated with reverence and respect, as in John Jeremiah Sullivan’s now-classic 2004 account of tagging along at a Christian music festival for GQ. More often, it’s treated like a sociological oddity: a strange footnote in the history of American pop, a foreign culture to be explained with an anthropologist’s rigorous eye. Just this September, The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh wrote a mini-history of Christian music (“The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock”) that took the genre seriously, but still contained whiffs of the incredulous stance preferred by many music writers: Can you believe that band you like—take your pick from among U2, Bob Dylan. Paramore, Evanescence, Switchfoot, Sixpence None the Richer, The Killers, and the list goes on—might actually be Christian?

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Indeed, Christian rock has had a strange and circuitous journey back to the center of American culture. Randall J. Stephens’s The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll describes this sometimes paradoxical path. Stephens traces the roots of rock music to the Pentecostal church and catalogs the racial, political, and religious backlash from some of the same denominations that birthed it, forces that built to a frenzy in the mid-1960s. Later he shows how the tide turned, with rock being absorbed into the evangelical movement that created what we now know as “Christian music.”

Synopsis - Couple - Pendulum - Swings - Stephens

If this synopsis sounds complicated, that’s because it is. (I even left out a couple other pendulum swings.) Stephens is an academic historian,...
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