“Christian” Music Doesn’t Have to Suck. Here’s Proof.

Most modern “Christian” music sucks.

Save Sufjan Stevens.

Sufjan Stevens in mid-flight.

A recent article in The Atlantic discusses singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens as an anomaly and rare exception. The article also considers the gloried past, painful present, and hopeful future of Christians making music.

An excerpt:

…today’s disdain [of Christian art] is a fairly recent phenomenon—an anomaly, even. For centuries, Christians dominated the arts and shaped culture, from Michelangelo and Van Gogh to Bach and Beethoven to Tolkien and Eliot. It wasn’t until the 20th century that a shift took place, specifically in the area of music.

It concludes:

…the historical presence and significance of Christians making music doesn’t have to decline in perpetuity. It’s not so much that faith is missing from culture as much as it is living and breathing within it—and the success of artists like Stevens demonstrates how music that incorporates religious themes can thrive, while inspiring even the most secular of audiences.

Read The Atlantic’s “How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music” here.

Listen to Sufjan’s new album Carrie and Lowell here.

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Top Advent Music, Books and Daily Devotional

Advent, the prime time to fix our hearts on Christ’s birth, began yesterday. Here are some suggestions to get you started as we prepare for the Christmas season.

 Seeking God’s Face: Praying With the Bible Through the YearPhilip Reinders

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Following the church calendar seasons of Advent and Lent (as well as “ordinary time,” i.e. most of the year) the brief daily devotionals, which include daily readings from the Psalms, another brief Scripture passage, and a daily prayer that specifically references Reformed creeds and confessions (i.e. Heidelberg, Westminster, Belgic, etc.) in an unobtrusive and winsome way, this book–far from being arid or erudite– will greatly help orient you for the Christmas season (even though it’s not exclusively a Christmas book). If you’re already using a daily devotional, you can still use it with this one. Download a free Advent PDF sampler here.

On the IncarnationSt. Athanasius, with a Preface by C.S. Lewis41QQ3xAgoQL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_

I owned this small book for over a decade before finally reading it two years ago. Why did I wait so long? I can’t think of a better book to help fix your mind on Christ’s Incarnation. And Lewis sets the table as only he can do.

   

A Christmas Carolers’ Book in Song and StoryTorstein Kvamme

I extensively examined a myriad of Christmas carol 51thahYV3GL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_-2books, and this is the clear winner. Originally published in 1935, it was written by a Danish man named Torstein Kvamme. (With a name like that, he was simply predestined to write this book.) Containing 49 songs with lyrics and music, this is a straight up old-school (and predominantly sacred) Christmas caroling book, replete with readable brief song introductions and minimalist illustrations. It’s also highly portable, kid friendly, and cheap (yet not cheaply made). This year I’m buying multiple copies, for our family and guests. And if you plan on caroling, this is the book to use.

                                     

                                                  ChristmasBruce Cockburn

  Although originally released in 1992 by Canadian singer-songwriter 51CkXgFB5XL._AA160_Bruce  Cockburn, this album is in our family’s top three Christmas favorites. Containing stripped down acoustic music and harmonies with hints of French, Creole, and Mexican stylings, there’s not a dud on the album. Twenty years later, it’s one of the few modern Christmas albums that sounds as good as when it was released. At times joyful, at other times somber and pensive, it’s a beauty.

                           

                                 ChristmasHarry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte’s collection of Christmas tunes is unparalleled. I first51X-Q2ZQ96L._AA160_ heard it in the mid-1990’s on our local classical music radio station (although it’s not classical music). I was immediately smitten. Now it’s in our top three Christmas albums. Whenever we have guests during the Christmas season, they inevitably ask about it. And his song “Goin Down Jordan”? It’s strangely out-of-place, but a huge highlight (especially if you’re a Baptist).

              

41kjaDnRv+L._SL500_-2 The Holly and the Ivy: Carols from Clare CollegeJohn Rutter

This was esteemed choral composer John Rutter’s big splash into Christmas music in 1979. If you love classical choral music, you probably already own it. If you think you hate choral music, buy this, listen to it several times through, and get back to me. If you still hate it, lunch is on me. Or maybe some homemade eggnog.

61KasVMcH0L._SY355_ChristmasSufjan Stevens

Weird, quirky, occasionally haunting and mostly played with friends in his home on children’s toy instruments, Sufjan’s Christmas might take a bit getting used to, but once it clicks you’re hooked. One of a few of our family’s desert island Christmas discs.

—And what’s largely considered the definitive version of Handel’s Messiah? This one.

—Want a daily or weekly Advent devotional that strikes a nice balance of Scripture, song, and commentary—and it’s free? Read this.

What are your Christmas favorites? Let me know in the comments below.