I work at a faith-based Christian rehab center, and one of the house rules is that only Christian music can be listened to on FM radio. There are a lot of rules in the program, but if I were a student I would find this one to be probably the most difficult to follow. Sometimes when I drive the guys anywhere they turn up KTIS 98.5 and sing a long, much to my consternation. If the radio is on and no one is really enjoying it I’ll turn it off, and state rather forthrightly, “That music is terrible.”
This always elicits a lively conversation about music, the arts, and Christian expression. “How can you not like it? It is uplifting and honoring to God,” they say. “Is it,” I reply. “I don’t think it is honoring to God at all…” and so it goes.
Usually, I have to make a lot of qualifications to say that it is (superficially) honoring to God, or that the intentions of the songwriter were likely good, but I maintain that there is nothing obligatory in this form of music that demands that I appreciate it or consider it beautiful or even worshipful.
So in an effort to be more positive I am going to post this playlist of Christian songs I think are exemplary. Each I consider to be well-crafted, honest, reflective, theologically interesting, sensitive to human limitation, and honoring to God.
1. The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash. Any song that quotes the texts of terror from Revelation and makes God’s judgment sound “cool” has to have a certain quality to it that is original and unmatched.
2. Dead Man (Carry Me) by Jars of Clay. Jars usually suffer from the problem of overproducing and recording to many songs in any given year. But this track has always been very strong in that it utilizes the angst of rock n’ roll to express the angst of feeling defeated and beaten down by one’s own sinfulness, inadequacy and lack of faith.
3. A New Law by Derek Webb. Webb has always been one of the more theologically literate songwriters, and in this song he expresses his frustration with the Christian community’s lack of thoughtfulness. “I don’t want to know if the answers aren’t easy” is the money line.
4. Alabaster by Rocky Votolato. A story about growing up in a church full of misunderstanding and then encountering the real thing. Great lyrics on the parable of the sower mixed with some harmonica.
5. Stranded by Plumb. Though not overtly filled with metaphors or a clear message, the arrangement is very well done and the theme of isolation and loneliness is explored in way that is soothing.
6. This Is Your Life by Switchfoot. Very poppy, but very pointed in its profound yet simple question “This is your life… are you who you want to be?” It is avoids narcissism by asking challenging it in view of things larger than oneself.
7. I Am by Jill Phillips (not online). A tender lullaby from the “fatherhood of God” perspective.
8. Save Me by Welmore Mile (not online). Yes my friend Peter makes the list, but he really does score points for sounding a simple tune into something far more encouraging than the overproduced drek you hear on the radio
9. Goldmine by The Great Upset (formally known as ODYC–not online). Yes more of my friends, but still a very sweet sounding acoustic arrangement with a thoughtful commentary on selfishness.
10. Hope by Don & Lori Chaffer and Hey Ruth (not online). A simple melody about a Christian virtue that is quite comforting to take in
11. Unwind by Don Chaffer (not online). Chaffer takes a Midwest-Americana sound a gives doleful testimony of the lostness of himself and his friends and how God intervened. The guitar work at the end is outstanding
12. Sweet River Roll by Waterdeep (not online). An easygoing psalm about suffering people and the hope of comfort.
13. Jesus Went to the Garden by City On A Hill (not online). A crescendo-ing telling of the Passion narrative
14. Drift by The Common Children (not online). A dressed down rock song about finding guidance, moving on to new adventurous things, and trusting things will turn out well.
15. Clean (My God Has Rescued Me) by The Violet Burning. How could I not include the Violets? Seriously, though, it is one of the more original sounding worship songs I’ve heard. Lots of slowburning energy and serious lyrical piety.
16. Peace by Glassbyrd. Very calming… lives up to its name.