Music has, practically since the faith’s beginning, been a vital aspect of Christian ritual. From the somber tones of an Coptic chant with minimal accompaniment beyond the voices of the singers to the haunting melodies of Gregorian chants backed by bells to lively gospel music performed every Sunday in black churches across the United States with pipe organs, song has for some centuries been a means of expressing to devotion to all religions, and Christianity is no exception. Still, faith and music alike have evolved since Biblical times. Arguably, in the western world, rock and roll is the major form of modern music, though like all forms of music, it continues to change and grow with the times.
Christian rock, a sub genre of rock and roll keyed to Christian themes, is relatively small but does have a devoted following. Its history is begins with rock and roll itself. Initially, rock and roll was an outgrowth of country and gospel music, with black musicians taking elements of both, such as the instrumentation of country and the lively energy of fervent gospel and combining the two into something new and unique. When white people discovered rock and roll, it was with the emergence of Elvis Presley. Presley attracted a good a bit of controversy from conservative Christian critics who contended that music was dangerous, though Presley himself was a dedicated Christian who was as good at gospel music as he was rock and roll; in fact, his second of three Grammy awards was for “He Touched Me”, a gospel album.
Christian rock as a phenomenon begins largely with Larry Norman, who believed that rock and roll was not inherently anti-Christian and set out to prove it with “Upon This Rock”, then described as “Jesus rock”. His attitude towards rock music was summarized with “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” and his song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” included lyrical themes and imagery drawn from the Book of Revelations and its description of the Rapture. Norman also produced the music of other Christian rock artists, notably Randy Stonehill and his album “Born Twice”.
For some years, through out the 1970s and 1980s, Christian rock was seen as a small part of the growing Contemporary Christian Music and contemporary gospel music genres, though some artists did have crossover success, notably Phil Keaggy. Petra and Resurrection Band, two bands who brought a harder sound into the genre, reached a height of popularity in the late 1980s.
The 1990s were a heady time for Christian rock music, as the genre experienced a surge of popularity. Bands like Jars of Clay and Audio Adrenaline achieved large scale success, as did some of the later albums of dc Talk that had Christian themes. Outside the English speaking world, other bands such as Oficina G3 and The Kry enjoyed moderate success. Mainstream exposure of the genre began primarily with acts such as Skillet, Decyfer Down, Thousand Foot Krutch, Disciple, Underoath and others. The genre is also experiencing a surge of popularity in Russia, where Eastern Orthodox Christians are experimenting with the sound of rock and roll in a country that once rejected it.