These days, if you want to determine whether or not a rock band is a “Christian” rock band, it’s pretty easy: just listen to the lyrics. Most of the players in today’s Gospel music industry sing about their faith with a lot of honesty and force. However, as any child of the ’70s or ’80s can attest, it wasn’t always so simple. You may remember the early days of Contemporary Christian Rock, in which many bands, desperate for mainstream cred, would layer their faith under ambiguous pronouns and metaphors, making it difficult to always know whether your band was a Christian rock band or just a regular old garden variety rock band. There were, however, a few telltale signs.
You Had an Amazing Rock Van
To be fair, Stryper is the only band we could think of that had a heavily armed, bumblebee yellow upside down—the bar has been set pretty high. Literally. He’s like 30-feet over the audience on a massive jib arm. If you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out.
Though more than likely, because most of your band’s shows took place in church sanctuaries, your drum kit likely did not do much mid-air acrobatics. Instead, it looked like a haphazardly-constructed Plexiglas octagon. As part of an unspoken evangelical creed, all church rock and worship drummers must play inside aquarium-like glass structures positioned in the back corner of the stage.
Your Band Name Contained an Obscure Biblical Reference or a Cross in the Logo
A hallmark of many Christian bands is some sort of obscure biblical reference in the name and/or a cross cleverly incorporated into the logo. Bonus points if the name of the band, without any sort of religious context, sounds completely terrifying (Day of Fire, Demon Hunter, With Blood Comes Cleansing, Living Sacrifice, Impending Doom).
You Had to Make It Clear You Were Not a Christian Band
If you had to insist that your band was not a Christian rock band, then you were most likely in a Christian rock band.
Actually, we totally get it. “Christian” isn’t a genre. It describes a relationship with Jesus, not a style of music. But in an industry that loves to label trends, “Christian rock” has become its own genre. And, really, Christian music isn’t alone with its slightly tone deaf genre-labeling. We can think of at least a handful of others that could use an update.
You Did Christian Covers of Non-Christian Songs
If your band covered popular, mainstream rock songs and either changed lyrics to give the song some sort of spiritual meaning or purposely chose to cover songs that could, maybe—who knows—actually be about a Christian topic, then you were probably in a Christian rock band. Popular song choices include select tunes from Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and literally anything by U2.
One of Your Songs Was Addressed to the Devil
Obviously, Christian rockers are no fans of the devil. And what better way to prove it than penning a song directly addressed to the prince of darkness, letting him know just how lame we think he is?
The essential Christian rock devil playlist includes:
Keith Green’s “Dear John Letter (To the Devil) /
Stryper’s “To Hell with the Devil” /
The W’s “[You Are the Devil and] The Devil Is Bad” /
Larry Norman’s “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” /
Destroy the Runner’s “I, Lucifer”
If one of the members of your band has a tattoo of a word or words written in Hebrew, you were most likely in a Christian rock band. Also acceptable: a variation of an Ichthys fish, a cross, some sort of C.S. Lewis reference or a Bible verse.
Your Band Has Been Called a Christian Version of a “Secular” Band
A popular trend among well-meaning youth pastors and Christian music retailers is to create a list of popular “secular” bands and then offer comparable lists of “Christian bands” that can serve as a safe choice for impressionable young rock fans. In reality, most bands—especially Christian ones—rightfully hate this. Most Christian artists would rather not even be labeled as a “Christian” band, and would prefer (and rightfully so) to have their music be recommended on its own merit; not as a comparison to a “mainstream” band. If you and your band were the victims of arbitrary labeling, than you were probably in a Christian band.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.