Well, I thought about that. The particular confluence of the words "great," "Christian," and "rock songs" is a problematic one. "Christian" music, almost by definition, tends to be driven by an agenda. That's not only true of Christian music, of course. It's true of Michael Moore films, and Steve Earle albums, and George W. Bush photo ops on aircraft carriers. But if your overriding concern is to get your message out, then it behooves you to make that message as clear and as attractive as possible. There's nothing wrong with that if that's your goal. You're trying to convince somebody to buy your product.
It just happens to make for lousy art. Good art is full of tension, complexity, and ambiguity. It recognizes that the world is not black and white, that it is in fact very messy, and that even when one is addressing issues of objective truth, the message is muddled and compromised by the messengers. It knows that there are at least two sides to every story, and sometimes as many as six billion sides. And hence my struggle with the words "great" and "Christian rock songs" being used in the same sentence. Propaganda serves its purpose. But nobody is ever going to mistake Bush's Axis of Evil speech or Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code as great literature, either. Oops, I take that back about Dan Brown. It's worse than I thought.
Nevertheless, I have encountered not only songs, but entire albums made by Christians that I would consider great, at least partly because the messengers display something that is almost always in short supply: humility. Well, except for Bono. I've listed twenty of them below, with no order implied other than alphabetical. A few of them come from the insular Contemporary Christian Music industry, proving that, incredibly, sometimes good can even come from "ministers with guitars." Many more of them come from folks who would identify themselves as Christians, but who are taking their chances out there in the bars and small clubs, just like everybody else. Each album deserves some commentary, and I'll try to get to that within the next few days. But for now, here's my list of Twenty Great Christian Rock Albums (and cut me some slack; "rock" is used pretty loosely in some of these selections).
- Adam Again – Dig
- Aradhna – Amrit Vani
- T-Bone Burnett – Proof Through the Night
- Peter Case – The Man with the Blue, Postmodern, Fragmented, Neo-Traditionalist Guitar
- Bruce Cockburn – Humans
- Delirious – Mezzamorphosis
- Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming
- Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace
- Mark Heard – Dry Bones Dance
- The Louvin Brothers – Satan is Real
- Julie Miller – Broken Things
- Ed Raetzloff – It Took a Long Time to Get to You
- Resurrection Band – Awaiting Your Reply
- Son Lux – At War With Walls and Mazes
- Mavis Staples Have a Little Faith
- Sufjan Stevens – Come On, Feel the Illinoise
- Tonio K. – Life in the Foodchain
- U2 – War
- Vigilantes of Love – Killing Floor
- Victoria Williams – Loose