I have some pretty deep personal connections with Andrew and Jon Erwin’s The Jesus Music. The documentary charts the path of one of the most popular genres of music in the 1980s: Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). My life paralleled events depicted here as I became an Evangelical Christian in the early 80s, and my life as an Evangelical sort of sputtered at the same time CCM did in the early 2000s.
The film starts in the 70s at the birth of the Jesus Movement. The time period saw the birth of a great Christian revival, and millions of Americans found Jesus Christ and became born again. From that was born Jesus Music. The music wasn’t your typical old-tyme hymns, but it was positive, upbeat, and (gasp!) involved drums. It grew out of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA (where I spent many Saturdays as a youth).
“…wasn’t your typical old-tyme hymns, but it was positive, upbeat, and (gasp!) involved drums.”
Much of the documentary is a historical treatise on CCM and, in fact, extensively features CCM magazine editor John Styll. Now, Jesus Music becomes a who’s who of my CCM record collection, including Petra, The Rez Band, and my favorites, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Then moves to the more controversial bands, like Stryper, and the bands that cross over to mainstream music, like DC Talk.
The filmmakers do a great job recounting the popularity of Contemporary Christian Music, but if it left it there and remained high on Jesus, it would have become a self-service shill piece. Thankfully it doesn’t, because I remember the dark times of Contemporary Christian Music and my slow glowing disillusionment with not just the genre but the members of the Evangelical Community at that time (see Pray Away for a bit of context).
The problem that ultimately took down the CCM industry was realizing that its stars were imperfect people capable of committing sins (big and small). Of course, they could become disillusioned (not by God) but by the demands of the music industry and its highly judgmental fans. The nuggets of insight into this phenomenon come in the third act.
"…maybe God can still use these miscreants of music."