Christian Rock started in the early 1970s during the Jesus Movement. During the 1970s it was often called "Jesus Music" or "Jesus Rock".
There were two different kinds of Jesus Music. One was the many songs about Jesus by secular top 40 pop groups that were major hit singles from 1969-1973. These included songs like "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum, "Put Your Hand in the Hand" by Ocean, "Are You Ready" by Pacific Gas and Electric, "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor, "Why Me" by Kris Kristofferson, as well as the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Some of these songs were in no way Christian and were theologically inaccurate, such as "Spirit in the Sky", in which the doctrine of sin was completely denied and which was written by the Jewish Norman Greenbaum. Many of these pop artists were not Christians themselves but songs about Jesus became very popular at the time and many joined in. The list extends to spiritual but not specifically Christian songs like "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison, and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel.
The other genre given the Jesus Music label was made by a younger generation of Christians who saw no reason why rock and roll could not be used to spread the Gospel. Some of these like Larry Norman were people raised in the church and Christians from a young age, who also liked rock and roll and wanted to use rock in service to God; others like the members of the All Saved Freak Band and the Resurrection Band were made up of converts who came out of the secular rock and roll world, drugs, the occult, or the hippie movement. Larry Norman, the All Saved Freak Band, and the Resurrection Band were three of the most important of the early Jesus Music bands, and all three were closely associated with the Jesus Movement, a movement among young people, many ex-hippies and ex-drug users, turning to Jesus Christ for salvation and ministering through street-level ministries such as coffee houses and outreach ministries in the inner city. Also important were the groups such as Love Song, associated with Pastor Chuck Smith's Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California. Smith's church focused on ministering to young people from the counterculture, and he established Maranatha Music, the first record label solely devoted to Christian pop and rock music. Besides the aforementioned, other important artists started in the 1970s who would see their biggest success in the 1980s and 1990s. They include: Petra, DeGarmo & Key, Servant, Randy Stonehill, Mylon LeFevre, and the Talbot brothers (John and Terry, formerly of the secular rock band Mason Proffit).
The 1980s saw Christian Rock shed its counterculture hippie image at the beginning of the decade and aim for the mainstream. The "Jesus Music" label fell out of favor and newer styles like new wave and heavy metal started finding a foothold in Christian music. Christian pop and adult contemporary also became a major music genre during the decade, led by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Some bands from the 1970s who had seen some minor success suddenly became among the top tier of Christian Rock artists after 1980, led by Petra. The label 'Contemporary Christian Music' came into usage during this time.
One of the more controversial new bands was Stryper. Stryper was far from the first Christian band to play heavy metal, having been preceded by bands like Agape (band) Joshua Perahia (band), and the Resurrection Band, but what made Stryper controversial was appearing on stage in 80s Glam Metal garb complete with flashy yellow and black tight-fitting spandex, posing on their album covers with an arsenal of high-tech rifles, and titles like To Hell With the Devil. Even worse to some critics, Stryper went on tour with controversial secular metal bands like Motley Crue. Another controversial artist was Steve Taylor. Like Stryper, Taylor was not the pioneer of his genre, in this case, Christian new wave musically similar to Devo and Oingo Boingo; but he attracted controversy because his lyrics used heavy sarcasm to make a point. He repeatedly had to endure misunderstanding in the wake of such songs as "I Want To Be a Clone" and "Lifeboat"; and his song "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good" was even more controversial as Taylor found himself on the Oprah Winfrey show defending himself and having to explain the song's meaning to angry feminists who didn't get the irony.
Another trend in the 1980s was similar to that of the 1970s, many secular rock bands discovering Jesus as subject matter for their songs. Kansas were obviously in the forefront of this, not the least because some members of Kansas really had converted to Christianity. Other 1980s artists notable either for using Christian themes or for one or more members professing a Christian faith include U2, Mr. Mister, Simple Minds, The Call, The Alarm, After the Fire, Kajagoogoo, T-Bone Burnett, Joshua Perahia, and much later in the decade, King's X.
Since 1990, Christian Rock has kept up with changing musical tastes. DC Talk, who had started as a Christian rap group in the late 80s, changed to a Rock Music and grunge style in the mid 90s and saw some crossover success on the secular rock charts. Michael W. Smith also became a major crossover artist starting in 1991. Newsboys started in 1985, but became a major artist in the 1990s.
In the 2000s, Metal made a comeback in Christian Rock. For example, the band Stryper made a comeback with a completely changed style to a more Heavy Metal sound, while bands from the 1990s, such as Demon Hunter and Narnia, became more popular than before. In 2002, Kutless became popular, with a new Hard Rock sound. Bands/Artists such as Third Day, Chris Tomlin, Tree 63, and Casting Crowns became popular, bringing a Worship influenced sound into Christian Rock.
Some more notable Christian rock bands include:
- As I Lay Dying
- August Burns Red
- Becoming The Archetype
- dc Talk
- Demon Hunter
- Five Iron Frenzy
- Haste the Day
- Jars of Clay
- Joshua Perahia
- Michael W. Smith
- Relient K
- Rob Rock
- Steven Curtis Chapman
- The OC Supertones
- Baker, Paul. Contemporary Christian Music: Where It Came From, Where It's Going. Crossway Books, 1985.