Soul Notes: Christian and Rock
by Jacob Souček
I’ve always been intrigued with Christian rock bands and even considered forming one myself. That being said, for the first edition of Soul Notes I wanted to talk a little about the different degrees in which certain bands distinguish themselves as Christian rock. There were many to choose from, but for me, the following four bands came to mind first.
I know I’m probably dating myself when I bring up the band Stryper, but these guys were one of my favorite rock bands growing up and still are. Their music is heavy and melodic, coupled with the fact that they boldly talk about Christ in their lyrics is inspiring to me both as a rock musician and Orthodox Christian. Stryper was a pioneer of the heavy Christian rock music scene and some would arguably call them the first of its kind! Many groups have since followed their example.
Songs like, The Way, which included the lyrics; “Oh – what did you say? / Oh Christ is the way, Rockin’ for the One who is the rock” and Soldiers Under (God’s) Command; “The battle that’s waiting is fought so easily through Him, without sin there is victory!”
Stryper’s ten plus albums all have the same straight forward Christian themes, unapologetically proclaiming Christ as God and Savior in almost every song. I give them a lot of credit, while they were breaking into the scene in the early 90s other “heavy metal” bands such as Motley Crue, Ratt, and Poison were also widely popular, making names for themselves in an era of “wine, woman, and song.”
Regardless, Stryper gained popularity both in the mainstream and Christian markets and still enjoy a very loyal following today.
Although I used to be a larger fan of U2 in my younger years, I grew to appreciate a bit more of a technical and heavy sound these days. I still enjoy a lot of their music and respect them as musicians. I’ve heard them described as a “semi-secretly Christian rock band”. Because they reference the Bible in over 50 of their songs, I would say that the secret is out! Though their crossover appeal is also extremely evident as a secular band.
So, is U2 a Christian rock band?
I think we would first need to look to their lead singer to gain some insight into that question.
In an interview, Bono said; “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death.”
Although Bono is obviously a man of faith, the band’s lyrics lack that kind of boldness. They have more of a “feel good, you fill in the blanks yourself” if you want them to have a Christian vibe or just a spiritual one. I leave it up to the listener to perceive for themselves if they are a Christian rock band or not.
To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Petra and haven’t listened to a lot of their music, but to not include them in this conversation would be a big oversight. Their group is all Christian all the time! Every song has a clear theme and focus. They have been around since 1975 and are regarded as a pioneer of the Christian rock and contemporary Christian music genres. I would think that Petra has no issues with being labeled as a Christian rock band. With songs like “Hallowed Be Thy Name”; “We will worship the Maker of all things Almighty God, to You our voices sing Hallowed be Thy Name”, it is evident in their lyrics that Petra clearly has a strong Christian message.
Love this band! “On Fire” is the song my wife and I used for our first dance at our wedding reception and holds a special place in my heart. Not necessarily a song full of bold “Christian” lyrical content, but it does allude to love as a “mystery.” As an Orthodox Christian, I thought it to be a poignant and appropriate theme for marriage.
Much like U2, Switchfoot has both a secular and Christian fan-base. Again, I will defer to the band’s lead singer (Jon Foreman) to explain in his own words, how he perceives Switchfoot’s message. Taken from an interview, Jon explained; “You see, a song that has the words: ‘Jesus Christ’ is no more or less ‘Christian’ than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So, there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge ‘brothers’ who have a different calling.”
Both Jon and Bono’s comments about their faith are bold statements and a testimony to their Christian beliefs, which is carried over to their music. I can’t help but feel uplifted when I hear U2’s “Where the Streets have no Name” and Switchfoot’s “On Fire.” But there is also something to be said about groups like Stryper and Petra whose sole purpose is to minister to their fan base through bold Christian-focused lyrical content.
The bands that I chose to highlight above are groups from my era, but there are several modern bands that also fit into this conversation.
Sons of Leon, composed of 4 brothers whose father is a Pentecostal preacher. Many of their songs deal with the topic of redemption. Their lyrical content is a bit more vague than groups like Stryper and Petra who leave you inspired and are very intentional in their message.
Mumford & Sons, band leader Marcus Mumford’s parents are leaders in the evangelical Vineyard Church in England, and he’s a member of that church to this day. Most of his songs reflect his spirituality, some more directly than others.
The Avett Brothers, a hugely popular cult band in the indie-folk world, they have been accepted as basically a secular act even though a lot of their lyrics are very clearly about their Christian faith.
I find it to be a special calling and commend all the groups and artists, labeled either Christian, secular, or mainstream, who recognize their platform as an opportunity to share the message of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ with people who may have never had heard the good news if it were not for their music and personal testimonies. I encourage you to explore these groups and others keeping in mind the message of Jesus Christ. Are there some that speak more loudly to you?