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Make a joyful noise

New documentary The Jesus Music traces Christian music’s journey from hippie music to guitar-strumming worship songs

Amy Grant Lionsgate

Make a joyful noise
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Search Christian music on Spotify and an endless scroll of songs and artists from all genres pops up. But a new documentary from the Erwin Brothers (now in limited release) reminds us contemporary Christian music hasn’t been around all that long. With more interviews than music, The Jesus Music traces its emergence during the counterculture revolution of the late ’60s and early ’70s and follows it into the present.

The Jesus music movement took off in 1969 at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Calif. Pastor Chuck Smith invited disillusioned young people to come to church wearing jeans and barefoot. Pretty radical. But scores of hippies started believing in Christ.

Many of the hippies were musicians who started expressing their new faith through the same kind of music they used to play, but with transformed hearts and lyrics. Smith invited some of them to perform their faith-inspired songs in church. The movement began.

Soon guitars and drums rocked the hymn-and-choir church world, and the music spread across the country. The styles changed and grew from hippie-­influenced Jesus music to the polished pop sounds of CCM to worship band music many churches include in services today.

Not everyone was a fan at first. Some said the rock ’n’ roll melodies and rhythms came straight from the devil. But at Explo ’72 in Dallas, Jesus music crescendoed when several hundred thousand people came to hear the hand-clapping tunes and evangelist Billy Graham.

Chuck Girard, of Love Song, the first popular Christian rock band, explains how Graham’s endorsement of the new music proved revolutionary: “Billy Graham gets up and speaks. … It was a seal of approval. If Billy will get up and speak after hippies sing, maybe it’s OK to have drums. Maybe it’s OK to have guitars.”

The film, rated PG-13 for discussion of drugs and thematic elements, showcases some of CCM’s biggest stars. But two noticeable omissions are Dove Award winner Steve Green and BJ Thomas, who released the first Christian album to go platinum. Laudably, the film addresses problems in the industry such as the pressures of fame and fortune and the difficulties that result. Artists like Amy Grant, Russ Taff, Michael Tait, and TobyMac share their struggles.

While viewers may not enjoy every musical style and artist, this upbeat soundtrack continually points the audience to the ultimate Creator of music.

Sharon Dierberger

Sharon is a senior writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and holds two master’s degrees. She has served as university teacher, businesswoman, clinical exercise physiologist, homeschooling mom, and Division 1 athlete. Sharon resides in Stillwater, Minn., with her husband, Bill.


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