In yesterday’s Slate, Erik Davis (whose own site TechGnosis sits at the corner of sci-fi fantasy and visionary spirituality) has a review of “Frisbee,” the soundtrack to last year’s Emmy-winning documentary on founding Jesus Freak Larry Frisbee. Davis is enthusiastic about the deeply hippified origins of Christian rock, which indeed grew out of Pastor Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel in Orange County, Calif. (of all places), with the help of Frisbee and various bands, like Agape and the All Saved Freak Band, who are represented on the album.
Davis is less enthusiastic about what Christian rock has become, linking it to the megachurch phenomenon and “the slick suburban profile” of Christian Contemporary Music. But he doesn’t say much about how it got that way or what relation it really bears to CCM.

Which is nearly nothing. True, you can’t swing a Fender in Christian Nashville today without hitting someone who was married (likely wearing a daisy-chain wreath on their head) by Chuck Smith. But the music the Freaks grooved to was not what they produced when they became executives in the fledgling CCM industry. Jesus Freaks like Frisbee saw themselves as the Christian wing of a worldwide youth rebellion. Modern CCM targets conservative Christians who want their own music (or the music their pastors want for them).
Tellingly, “Jesus Freak” to today’s CCMer refers to the title track of dc Talk’s 1997 album, about the plight of misunderstood evangelical youth alienated from a post-Christian mainstream. It’s their faith that makes young Christians freaks, not long hair or bohemian behavior.
When it comes down to it, though, what evangelical youth really want is music that makes them feel as cool as non-Christians. To capture their allegiance, Christian rockers always have copied mainstream styles, whether it was Stryper aping ’70s glam-rock or dc Talk echoing (initially) ’80s rap. Davis admits that even the Jesus Freak bands were derivative. That sacred tradition of mimickry continues. If Christian rockers have settled into a sedate suburbanism, it’s because their mainstream counterparts are leading the way.

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