“Christian” is a lyrical theme, NOT a genre.
I don’t know how many times I’ve asked a person what genre of music they like and they say “Christian”. Yeah, it bugs me more than it should, but it bugs me. You like Christian what? Christian Reggae? Christian Rap? Christian Death Metal? Gregorian Chants? All these constitute as “Christian music”, but I doubt that most people listen to any or all these genres. Now, I know what they mean, but the majority of listeners of “Christian music” listen to what is referred to as “Contemporary Christian”. Again, this is not really a genre, just like 80’s music isn’t a genre: it’s a time period. Contemporary Christian includes bands like Matt Maher, Hillsong, and Chris Tomlin. These are all fine and good, but if they were to fall into an actual genre it would be Soft Rock. To find a Christian group outside this genre, one has to make an active search. You’re not going to hear Trip Lee, an excellent Christian rapper, on the local Christian radio station. The closest you’re going to find is TobyMac (who, let’s be honest, is a forty-year old white guy attempting to do hip hop-ish music that appeals to the Contemporary crowd). However, most people are content with leaving Christian music to the soft rockers. They’ll listen to secular bands in the particular genre they like, but keep “Christian” music in their little box of “Contemporary Christian” music. I refuse.
There seems to be a misunderstanding that for music to be “Christian”, the lyrics have to explicitly talk about Christ, or even just have generally blunt lyrics. Subject matter aside, I find the same problem with Cont. Christian lyrics as I do popular hip hop/rap lyrics. “I don’t want to think, so just give it to me straight.” That bugs me. Christian bands do for Jesus what Snoop Dogg does for sex. Look at Relient K. This is a great Christian band that also has good lyrics! Their song “Be My Escape” shot up on the (secular) charts when it first came out. Christians and non-Christians alike loved it. Guess what it was about? Crying to Jesus for help. And the word “Jesus” was completely absent. Where Third Day said, “He'll meet you wherever you are, cry out to Jesus”, Relient K said, “I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake. I gotta get out of here, and I’m begging You to be my escape”. Blunt; not so blunt; said the same thing. In my opinion, Relient K’s lyrics are of a better quality. In the same way, in my opinion, a physical description of Mr. Darcy by Jane Austin is of a higher quality than a physical description of Edward Cullen by Stephanie Meyer. Actively listening to lyrics is a practice that, unfortunately, has been somewhat abandoned.
My favorite Christian band is Project 86, mostly because the lead singer, Andrew Schwab, writes some amazing lyrics filled with Christian themes of turning away from the world, the power of God, the struggles of sin, running the good race, and more. None of these are explicitly stated, but there are times when I’ll be listening to a song I’ve heard a million times and suddenly think, “Oh, that’s what they mean!” Such revelations make the songs that much more satisfying to listen to. However, when most people hear them, they’ll say “Oh, they don’t sound Christian. They sound so angry.” Does Christian music have to sound like you’re caressing a lamb? Can’t it sound like putting on the armor of God, raising your sword against the powers of darkness, or voicing your struggles to He who can help?
Here’s something that’ll bake your noodle: is there such a thing as instrumental Christian music? No lyrics with which to praise God! Somehow, I don’t think He minds. Psalm 150 reads “Praise Him with trumpet blast; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with the tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings. Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals. Let everything that breathes [the metal-heads, the Rastafarians, the techno dancers, the soul men, the blues brothers, the rappers, the jazz artists, the gospel choirs, the soft rockers, and everyone in between] praise the Lord. Halleluiah!”
I guess my point here is to tell Christians to branch out. If you like the softer sound of Contemporary Christian, that’s fine. And I don’t want you to respond “Contemporary Christian Soft Rock” if I ask what genre of music you like. However, don’t restrict Christian music to this. If you like other genres, search for bands within those genres with Christian lyrical themes. So go ahead, pop in that Demon Hunter album and headbang for Jesus.