Contemporary Christian music

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With Footnotes2nd Chapter of Acts (1974)
With Footnotes
2nd Chapter of Acts (1974)

Contemporary Christian Music (or CCM) is a somewhat outdated term originally used in the 1970s to describe a new form of pop/rock music that was lyrically based in the Christian faith. This music had its roots in "Jesus Music", which sprung from the hippie Jesus Movement of the early 70s. Artists such as 2nd Chapter of Acts, Love Song, Barry McGuire, and Larry Norman were making folky pop music about their faith in Jesus Christ.

Partly due to a separatist attitude, and also due to the fact that finding mainstream radio play would be quite difficult, an entire Christian music industry soon sprang up, with Christian-only artists, record labels, radio stations, and record stores. By the 1980s, CCM was a very large and lucrative music industry, with artists such as Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith selling millions of records.

Over time, however, many Christian artists opposed the idea of a separate Christian music "ghetto" and began working outside the confines of the Nashville, Tennessee-based CCM industry. This attitude was pioneered by rock band U2 in the early 1980s, when they dodged the CCM industry altogether and signed with mainstream label Island Records. In addition, there were far more styles of Christian music appearing, such as Christian hip hop, punk, alternative, and metal. By the 1990s, artists such as the Lost Dogs, Starflyer 59, Vigilantes of Love, and Joy Electric were rebelling against the stereotypes of the CCM industry and creating compellingly original music.

Today, the term "CCM" generally refers to music produced by the Nashville-based CCM industry (see Billboard Magazine's Hot Christian Tracks chart [1]). However, many Christian artists are now finding success in the mainstream music industry, such as P.O.D., Switchfoot, and MxPx.



Age to Age  Amy Grant (1982)
Age to Age
Amy Grant (1982)

There are several different attitudes regarding the subject of Christians in popular music, but these can be generalized into four groups: the separatist, purist, spiritually reflective, and incidental positions. [2]

The Separatist Position This position states that Christians should not be listening to or making pop/rock music at all. Many that embrace this argument trace rock's roots to Satanism, and claim that any association with it is wrong. Jimmy Swaggart, a famous televangelist and CCM oppositionist, summed up this view when he said that "so-called Christian rock... is a diabolical force undermining Christianity from within... I turn on my television set. I see a young lady who goes under the guise of being a Christian, known all over the nation, dressed in skin-tight leather pants, shaking and wiggling her hips to the beat and rhythm of the music as the strobe lights beat their patterns across the stage and the band plays the contemporary rock sound which cannot be differentiated from songs by the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, or anyone else. And you may try to tell me this is of God and that it is leading people to Christ, but I know better." [3]

Christianity and contemporary music
Stylistic origins: Gospel - Hymns - Country music - Folk music - Popular music - Rock and Roll - Alternative music: Punk music - Hip HopHeavy metal music
Cultural origins: early 1970s - Jesus Movement - Popular culture - Evangelicalism North America
Typical instruments: Guitar - Bass - Drums
Mainstream popularity: Limited until recently depending on genre, has gained much popularity in recent years
Derivative forms: Contemporary Christian music
Fusion genres
Christian rock - Christian alternative music: Christian hip hop - Christian metal - Christian punk - Christian hardcore
Regional scenes
Other topics
Lists of artist: Non-CCM Hip hop & rap - Metal & CCM artists: alpha, decade & sub-genre

The Purist Position

In this view, Christians should use music as a tool of spreading the gospel of Christ to others. Steve Camp, a CCM musician and advocate of this view, states that "Those of us who are privileged to represent our Lord Jesus Christ in the arts should be galvanized by mission, not by ambition; by mandate, not by accolades; by love for the Master, not by the allurements of this world. Is there justified concern that Contemporary Christian Music has abandoned its original calling from the Lord, left the Biblical standard for ministry and has failed to remain accountable to the local church? I believe it so." [4] Those in this group may also point to the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther who said "I am not of the opinion that all arts are to be cast down and destroyed on account of the Gospel, as some fanatics protest. On the other hand, I would gladly see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him who has given and created them. Why should the devil have all the good music?" [5]

A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band  Rich Mullins (1992)
A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band
Rich Mullins (1992)

The Spiritually Reflective Position This position states that Christians should embrace pop and rock music more as an art form than a preaching tool. Journalist Lev Eakins explains that artists in this camp "sometimes produce songs that have no anchor in anything vaguely spiritual, and instead create their art simply because they are artists and that's what they are compelled to do. What separates these artists from the incidental definition is that their own spirituality acts as the main (but not exclusive) engine for their work, fuelling their desire to continue expressing themselves." [6] T-Bone Burnett, a Christian musician and producer, summed up this view well when he said that "You can sing about the Light, or you can sing about what you see because of the Light. I prefer the latter" [7]. Many artists who hold this view experience frustrations with the CCM industry for a lack of originality, creativity, and depth; in fact, some have cut ties with the industry altogether (e.g. Sam (Leslie) Phillips), questioning the need for a separate Christian music "ghetto".

The Incidental Position This position holds that the artists' intent is irrelevant. In other words, Christians can find beauty and truth in certain music, regardless of the author's intent or spiritual stance. An example of this is Jeff Buckley's cover version of "Hallelujah" (originally written and recorded by Jewish singer Leonard Cohen), a song that resonates with many Christians but was sung by an artist not normally associated with the CCM industry. Eakins explains that music of this sort "is allied to no spiritual or Christian tradition and may form its inspiration from any source. Where as the purist or spiritually reflective positions have inspiration in God, any Christian music produced from the incidental position is precisely that, incidentally created." [8]


Critics of CCM often discredit the music as blatant imitations of mainstream, non-Christian music. Defenders consider this argument unfair and point to the fact that many artists, even non-Christian ones, draw from their influences and imitate other artists.



In 2004, Casting Crowns[9] was the most prominent artist, staying on top of many Top 20 CCM Songs lists, especially with their song, Who Am I?. Steven Curtis Chapman [10], album All Things New, Chris Tomlin, Arriving [Enchanced], and MercyMe's Undone were all prominent and was sold widely in the United States.


Note: Still in process. Matthew West's new and popular album, History, is a very dominant album. Also, Salvador, with their hit song, Heaven, is another topper.

Christian music genres intersecting with CCM

CCM Websites

Jesus Freak  dc Talk (1995)
Jesus Freak
dc Talk (1995)

Online Radio Stations

Record Labels

Further Reading

The Beautiful Letdown  Switchfoot (2003)
The Beautiful Letdown
Switchfoot (2003)
  • Alfonso, Barry. The Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music. Billboard Books, 2002.
  • Di Sabatino, David. The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1999.
  • Granger, Thom. CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music. Nashville: CCM Books, 2001.
  • Howard, Jay R and John M Streck. Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press, 1999.
  • Joseph, Mark. The Rock and Roll Rebellion: Why People of Faith Abandoned Rock Music-- And Why They're Coming Back. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999.
  • Powell, Mark Allan. The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music. Hendrickson, 2002.
  • Romanowski, William D. Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture. Brazos Press, 2001.
  • Pruitt, Jim. Contemporary Christian Musician's Survival Manual. Lulu, 2003.

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