Parts of Nicholas Dawidoff’s article “No Sex. No Drugs. But Rock N Roll (Kind Of)” sound like something straight out of Footloose. Rock n roll was “the devil’s music.” It lead young, impressionable boys and girls astray from the virtues of Christian tradition. As the article suggests, Christian music (in varying genres) acted as a foil for some popular that promoted somewhat “unsavory” topics that Christians might have objected to. “Instead of singing about boys, bikinis, and bourbon, Point of Grace gets ’em with hope and love,” Dawidoff says of Point of Grace, a popular Christian band.
As the article suggests, music has a powerful grasp on the mind. The message that some secular songs have may promote negative thoughts and feelings. The temptation of “women in tight dresses” was daunting when listening to secular music. But as the article suggests, rock n roll was (and still is) about provocation. That can be said for the secular music we listen to on 99.3 as we cruise through Fredericksburg. It seems like lately all we get is Nicki Minaj calling a girl a “stupid hoe” on the radio or DJ blasting lyrics like “I’m gonna smack it.” At least Bruno Mars is currently begging his ex’s new boyfriend to buy her flowers and hold her hand, but that’s about as much romance as we get on the radio at the moment.
But while hip-hop and rock n roll are definitely provocative, I would argue that Christian music can be too. And I know Christian music tends to get a bad rep because it’s not hip or cool to like Jesus or go to Mass, but much like a particularly fiery sermon, a song calling for the listeners to come back to God and stay strong together against temptation can be provocative as well. These types of songs can provoke self-reflection and encourage listeners to turn back to God and away from sin. The article also suggests that secular rock n roll was more about confrontation than comfort. Christian music comforts listeners with promises of God’s love and eternal life, but warn that a sinful life can take you away from God.
Even Broadway has gotten in on it. What about Godspell, which was made into a film in the 1980’s? Like the Christian music genre, which tends to aim towards young adults who may be more easily influenced by secular messages in music, Godspell modernizes the Gospels and creates a more youthful, circus-like take on the Bible. While many of the songs in the musical celebrate Christ and love and friendship, some numbers are a bit more tongue in cheek. Turn Back Oh Man is probably the best example. This provocative number (morally and sexually provocative) cautions that no one knows when Jesus is coming back as judge: “Turn back, oh man/Forswear thy foolish ways/Old now is earth/And none may count her days.” In other worlds, “ya’ll best be ready.” This catchy and fun song may be engaging to a younger audience because of its slinky melody and thinly-veiled innuendos, and still carries the message that all Christians need to be on their guard and make sure that their souls are ready for Christ to come again.
Godspell might have been hip during the 80s, but Christians are still trying to get their message out to younger audiences who continue to evolve in a pop-culture world. That’s where Altar Boyz comes in. This much more recent show is basically a “concert” performed by a fictional Christian pop band called the Altar Boyz: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham (“He’s Jewish!”). Not only do these boyz sing about their calling to save the souls of their audience members through pop songs and choreography performed in skin-tight outfits. Whereas Godspell focused on the Gospels rather than current events, the Altar Boyz take on the issues of religious tolerance and even (gasp) homosexuality:
It seems like more and more, the problem of engaging youths in Christian tradition continues to be relevant and difficult. Kids don’t want to go to church. They don’t want to hear some old guy get behind a pulpit and tell them all the things they are doing wrong. Teens want to move forward, and in some ways, they want Christianity to move forward with them. That’s where Christian rock comes in. Christian rock modernized the Bible and made it more interesting to listen to. The messages in a church sermon and in Point of Grace’s music are the same, but the medium is completely different. It seems like the goal of this Christian rock n roll genre is to get a song with a wholesome message stuck in teens’ heads so that they’ll be promoted to do good works rather than get slizzard. And while the lyrics of a Christian rock or hip hop song may seem white-bread and sanitized, if you can pair it with awesome choreography and some beat-boxing, you can immerse your listeners in God’s word without them even realizing it.
Or, at least get a Broadway show out of it.