Jesus Music – looking back & looking ahead

When you’re camping, I think you’re more likely to be thankful for things we usually take for granted. You might not know who all invented indoor plumbing, but you’re happy for those smart people. As you struggle to get enough wireless signal to check Facebook, you wonder what you would have done without a smart phone.

This year, Cornerstone is collectively thinking about the roots of something we all enjoy and often take for granted: music, specifically rock music from a Christian perspective.* By hosting a “Jesus Rally” on main stage Thursday night, we’ll be looking back at the Jesus Movement. This revival movement largely started on the west coast of the US in the late 1960s, then extended even into small towns throughout the Midwest during the 1970s. It was a time when the peace-love-and-rock&roll of the ’60s, changes in youth culture, and attitudes in the church combined to revolutionize how young Americans encountered their faith. Music was a huge part of the revival. Electric guitars and drums found their way into faith-based music, instead of just pipe organs. As people (mostly young people – but not all) encountered not just religion, but the real person of Jesus, they wrote songs about their faith. These songs became the first “Christian” rock.

The revolution these “Jesus Freaks” pioneered impacts each of us today. If your church sings more modern worship tunes or choruses than reformation-era hymns, if your hispter-ish church has ecumenical aspects, if you think that faith and social justice at least belong in the same building, if you think evangelism is about speaking the language of those around you more than delivering a rehearsed speech… you have likely been impacted by the Jesus Movement. If you like that you can listen to music about your faith in a style you actually like, then you, too, are the offspring of the original Jesus People.

I think most Americans know about Woodstock – but did we know that there were huge concerts with some of the early pioneers in Christian music, too? One of the largest, Explo ’72, was held in Dallas. They needed a space big enough for 80,000-100,000 people to see the show, so they actually used a huge piece of land that is now a highway. You don’t see that everyday. This sort of “Jesus Rally,” which in many cases is the precursor for Cornerstone, happened frequently in those days, with headliners such as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, and Phil Keaggy.

After tonight, I will be able to say I’ve seen all 3 of those legendary rockers at Cornerstone.**

Of course, it’s not just about looking back – but looking ahead. Pioneers like these three, REZ, E Band, Petra & Daniel Amos led the way for the second wave (including such Cornerstone favorites as Steve Taylor, The Choir, etc.), many of whom inspired the bands of my era (like Five Iron Frenzy, Switchfoot, Anberlin, etc.)… and future acts (perhaps including some of those we’re seeing on the New Band Showcase or picking up slots at Generators) will carry it on in new & innovative ways. Cornerstone has a place for all of these.

I thank God for for indoor plumbing, easily accessed wireless internet… and yes, also for these “Jesus Music” founders.

*I’m not going to get into the whole “Christian music” as a term debate. :)

**I saw a press conference with Larry Norman at my very first Cornerstone. Sadly, he passed away not long ago. I think he’d be glad to know, years later, than the Devil does not have all the good music.