Review Article -- By: H. E. Singley, III
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Apostles Of Rock: The Splintered World Of Contemporary Christian Music, Jay R. Howard and John M. Streck. Lexington, Kentucky: The University of Kentucky Press (1999). 312 pages, cloth, $29.95
For those readers who find themselves perplexed or even dismayed by the contemporary Christian music (CCM) industry but also repelled by perhaps well-intentioned yet specious or sometimes hysterical denouncements, Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music represents a reasoned consideration of a reality in modern Christianity which, for better or worse, cannot be ignored.
The book has two authors, Jay R. Howard, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University/Purdue University-Columbus and a former Christian radio disc jockey, and John M. Streck, a doctoral candidate in communications at the University of Iowa. The cover notes that despite annual revenues in excess of $750 million, “Little has been written about CCM.” Through Apostles of Rock, the authors seek to provide “the first objective, comprehensive examination of the contemporary Christian music phenomenon” and “how this musical genre relates to a larger popular culture.”
The authors begin by attempting to define CCM, noting that CCM “offers evangelical Christians who cannot identify with what they see on MTV their own alter set of egos” (5) and that CCM “is only one element in the cultural identity of
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America’s evangelical Christian community” (6). Lacking a “sonic code,” i.e., a “particular set of [distinctive] fundamental sounds” because of its wide variety of styles (e.g., “Christian heavy metal,” “Christian blues,” “Christian new age,” and “Christian alternative rock”), CCM defies definition by its sound. Definition by the people who write, perform, or produce the music is also difficult, according to Howard and Streck, because of the ambiguity of terms like “artists who are Christians” or “Christian artists” due to widely disparate approaches to Christian doctrine and Christian living. To the suggestion that CCM should be defined by its “message,” which is to say its lyrics, the often conflicting “factions, viewpoints, and variants on theology that characterize contemporary evangelicalism” (10) necessarily reflect themselves in CCM. After enumerating the difficulties of these and other possible ways to delineate CCM, the authors settle on a definition of CCM that proves quite workable.
Contemporary Christian music is an artistic product that emerges from a nexus of cont...
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