The 5 Records That Saved Christian Music For Me.

christian music

I grew up on Christian music. The late 80’s and early 90’s were the Forefront years, when Contemporary Christian Music began infiltrating many suburban homes. I remember my Dad driving me to 6th grade and me listening and learning every word to New Song’s hit “Tug of War”. When I was in Jr. High it was all about DC Talk. I bet I can still remember every word to most of the “Free at Last” record.

Then I heard Gun’s N Roses. Everything changed. Sorry Audio Adrenaline, Big House simply couldn’t compete with November Rain.

Around the time I was 14, me and Christian music broke up. It was messy…none of the “let’s be friends” stuff. I remember sneaking a White Zombie tape onto the bus for church camp hidden inside a Third Day tape case.

To a point, I still have the aversion. I have no good excuse for it. Even as a pastor, I don’t instantly jump to the genre. I even rolled my eyes a little when a church member invited me to go see Casting Crowns (sorry Ashley). Most Christian music never managed to hold up against other music. It wasn’t artistic and just felt canned and without emotion.

I am thankful over time I have found Christian artists writing music that really does appeal to my music snobbery.

The 5 Records That Saved Christian Music for Me.

1. The Normals “A Place Where You Belong”.
This was actually the third (and last) release by the Normals. A band I played in opened for them once and I realized they were playing a completely different sounding version of Christian Music than I was used too. They recorded with a producer I was fascinated with and shared production credits with Daniel Lanois, who can be thanked for some of U2’s best records. The Normals had a level of brutal honesty and atmospheric music I really enjoy. It scratches the itch Pink Floyd started for me in High School. The main lyric writer for The Normals, Andrew Osenga, has had a great career. His songs are able to uniquely identify emotion and feeling and how this plays into the faithful life.

2. Johnny Cash “My Mother’s Hymn Book”.
I grew up with hymns and didn’t fully appreciate their lyrical depth till discovering this Johnny Cash record. Since Cash recorded this after the death of June it really provides a snapshot of what faith looks like at the end of life. It has the typical appointments of his American era recordings. It is sparse, clear and focused on the simplicity of Cash. I absolutely love it and listen to it weekly. These songs are filled with hope and the selection really focuses on the idea of the afterlife.

3. John Mark McMillian “The Medicine”.
Funny thing, throughout most of my refusal to listen to Christian music I was leading worship. John Mark McMillian is part of the new renaissance of artists seeing themselves as worship leaders and song crafters. He possibly owns this identity better than anyone else. The Medicine is beautifully spacious and intense. It also just enough country twang to make me really enjoy it. He is a southern artist and the geographical identity comes through in his music. McMillian grew up charismatic and it really shows through in his music. These songs are filled with wonderful biblical imagery and he is able to write about worship in a wonderful way.

4. Matt Redman “10,000 Reasons”. 
This is pretty pedestrian, but 10,000 Reasons is possibly the most played “worship” record of my life. I love how theological Redman is able to get while also sounding totally different from everyone else writing and recording modern worship. I love the whole album.

5. Delirious? “Touch”.
I could put most of the Delirious? catalog on this list, but I had to settle with Touch. It isn’t that well known record. What I love about it is how complex it is. A Christian record necessitating a headphone session is rare. Right when I started getting into more electronic music I found this album. I think it is an artistic masterpiece. Delirious? writes songs about the deep experience with God and how he works at the personal level. I love them.

I am thankful for these 5 records. They opened my eyes in different ways and at different times. There are more where these came from, but I wanted to highlight the records I consistently come back too.

If you have been reluctant to listen to Christian music tell me what records reopened your eyes to them in the comments.

  • Matt Stout

    I struggle with this so much doing youth ministry. I don’t much care for Christian music either, and so it’s hard for me to find stuff to play at youth group. I have tried just turning on a Christian pandora station, but I was miserable. I also took them to the WinterJam concert tour when they came through our area, and that was also miserable. I’d rather take them to a One Direction concert, where at least they’ll really enjoy it, and then talk about the materialism or idolatry we saw on display. It’s hard to talk about the materialism and idolatry you see at Christian concerts.

    • I have found the modern youth group scene to be about 10 yrs behind the times. I would recommend Hillsong “young and free” and The Royal Royal. They have a pulse on youth

  • I was so anxious for Touch to release that I somehow bought the UK version (Audio Lessonover?) back in the day. It wasn’t until months later, when Touch released, that I even realized I had a somewhat different album. Your short review is making me want to listen to it again. I think Mezzamorphis is still my favorite Delirious album, although Live and in the Can got a lot of play in my beloved portable CD player too. Nice list!

    • Blake-I did the exact same thing. I have both records and they are really different. I led worship with some HUGE fans of Delirious and we would import stuff back in the day. I love Mezzamorphis as well. It’s a great one.

  • t4stywh34t

    When I finally came to realize how terrible much of the Christian music I had listened to during high school and college was, Crowder’s A Collision came out. There are a couple cringe-worthy tracks on it, but no album struck me as a whole like that one. Until JMM’s The Medicine, which I listened to 4 or 5 times on a train to Chicago. Waiting anxiously for whoever’s going to create that next unified masterpiece for me.

    • Have you listened to the last couple from Gungor? That might be it. There is also a group called Kings Kaleidoscope that is doing interesting things. I also dig another group called “The Opiate Mass”.

      • jeana

        Thumbs up for Opiate Mass!

      • t4stywh34t

        Gungor does absolutely nothing for me, but I’ll definitely check out the others.

  • Ben McGehee

    Chad – I agree with you about mainstream Christian music. I find it mostly bland and non-inspiring. I agree with you about Delirious, though. I have most of their albums – and still occasionally play them. I also really enjoy Gungor and David Crowder.

    Recently, I’ve been drawn to more independent Christian music – Josh Garrells is probably my favorite. I also like Aaron Strumpel, Benjamin Dunn, Judah and the Lion and many more.

  • stephen fife

    My four in no particular order:
    1. The Violet Burning. I grew up listening to The Cure, U2(Joshua Tree), Depeche Mode. The Violet Burning offered something different than mainstream at the time Christian music (Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith)
    2. John Mark McMillian. I believe he is changing the face of worship music as we know it. Hillsong was huge and we have tons of copycats when it comes to hillsong, but John Mark is different. His songs offer a deeper theological bent not found in today’s 20 word max refrain songs.
    3. Derek Webb. Derek is a prophet in every aspect. His songs are designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I love it.
    4. Jars of Clay. I love that Jars proved you don’t have to just be on a Christian station or a Pop station. It is possible to be on both with good music. Since Jars…Owl City, Lecrae, and TobyMac are doing this as well. I dare you to find a better Christian album than Who We are Instead. Amazing Grace was played at my mother-in-law’s funeral and will probably be played at mine as well.

  • Peter White

    I’m always on the lookout for “Christian music” I can listen to.

    In the mid-late 90s I was big into all the bands on the Tooth & Nail label. I still listen to records like “Shawl” & “Mercury” from The Prayer Chain, “Sin” by Poor Old Lu, “The Only Reason I Feel Secure” by Pedro the Lion, “Everybody Makes Mistakes” by Starflyer 59, “Original Soundtrack” by Soulfood76, and “Sink or Swim” by Waterdeep.

    Recently, I’ve discovered Loud Harp, Young Ocean, Seryn, The Brilliance, and Gungor. From time to time, I find a gem on Noisetrade, like The Followers.

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