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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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In praise of pop

Fans of Christian pop music, here's your challenge: Name a talented Christian band that doesn't appear in Mark Allan Powell's 1,088 page Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music (Hendrickson, 2002). Among the 1,910 bands featured you'll find the genre's superstars (Kirk Franklin, Michael W. Smith, Point of Grace) as well as the lesser-known (Pedro the Lion, Vigilantes of Love).

Professor of New Testament at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, Powell acknowledges the difficulty of defining music as "Christian." He includes groups based on audience perception rather than the music's lyrical content or the band's intent.

"They're all there: the pious, the outcasts, the hypocrites, the prophets, the heretics and the martyrs," Powell says. In that vein, he includes general-market bands that address Christian themes (Moby, Indigo Girls, even Violent Femmes) and bands as equally at home on rock stations as on Christian radio (Sixpence None the Richer, Jars of Clay). He also includes Donna Summer, Alice Cooper and others whose conversion experiences gave new direction to their careers.

The volume packs enough history and trivia to entertain those with even the scarcest knowledge of Christian music. For example, Powell's section on P.O.D. includes a note to "the un-hip" and his essay on Over the Rhine explains how its musicians' names were appropriated for an X-Files episode.

There's also Powell's theology: "I take the musicians I discuss in this book seriously as examples of what theologians call 'living human documents.' Scholars need to pay attention not only to texts but also to people upon whose lives God continues to write God's word. Christian music artists and fans aren't always sophisticated in their expressions of faith, but they are attempting to share those lives in honest and vulnerable ways."


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