Music, Youth Group, and Theology: The Development of My Adolescent Theology

I have a confession to make, and it delves into my former self.  When I first became a Christian (a personal decision at age 15), my understandings of God were primordial.  If theology is the study of God, I did not have any, at least not intentionally.  Despite the prodding of my parents, Sunday School teachers, when I became a teen, the only book of the Bible I had read was “Daniel” – because that is my name.  I read it a few times actually, but I’d never read through a Gospel.

Why didn’t I have a theology, or even conceive of a need for God in my life at that time?  To answer that you really need to look at what was important to me around the time I was going from childhood to the teen years.

I was primarily concerned with (1) Making a few good friends, (2) becoming an artist/graphic designer/cartoonist, and (3) finding some good music that I could listen to that expressed how I felt (usually punk and various forms of rock ranging from hardcore to classic).  

It is interesting too, how my goals intertwined.  Music helped me find friends.  Art was usually accompanied by good music.  Friends introduced me to new music.

It was also my desire to make new friends (and peer pressure) that got me involved in our church’s youth group.  I remember the worship, I remember standing on the edge of pre-made friend circles hoping stand side by side in the circle rather than squeezing a small spot to listen to the conversation.  It was through some of my new youth group friends that I ended up going to a huge youth conference in MA (Acquire the Fire), that I saw Christian music that appealed to me for the first time in music video form.  It was POD, SuperChick and a few others.  I was soon led to the local Christian bookstore, where I began listening to the hundreds of cd’s there in a database and deciding that there were Christians who made amazing music…music I could share with my friends in youth group and at school.

It was at that point that my adolescent theology actually began to develop.  In the music, they often pulled from the words of scripture.  At youth group I was hearing scripture, but didn’t have enough unction to actually look them up.  With the music in my head, I suddenly felt the desire to fill in gaps.  Because of bands like DC Talk, Newsboys, and Audio Adrenaline – I was trying to understand God.  A general awaken in my heart simultaneously occurred at a Youth Retreat at a small chapel in New Hampshire and I accepted Christ as Lord.  That blew me away.  I still remember the congratulations afterward from some of the older kids in youth group.  Things were rolling in my faith, and the music drove me on the highway of faith, and I began to see Christ through the art, the words, the people who made the music as they gave testimonies.

A big boon to my early theology was the “Inside Out Soul” Festival in New Hampshire, where I went with my good friends from youth group and we had free reign to listen to about 100 Christian bands who came to play.  We started going to concerts and our youth leaders seemed to be excited that we wanted to do these events (though they often didn’t like getting anywhere near the stage – or mosh pit).

As I continue to grow in faith today, there is often a song or a band that is in accompaniment.  I’ve continued through college and seminary, and now through the ordination process, and having good music playing that speaks theology (though often simple) is important to me.  In fact, when I hear a song on Christian radio (here in the South) that has theology that doesn’t make sense, I get angry – because the words on the medium of music have power.  Music is important to faith development. That is why we sing.

To conclude, here is a list of some of the most influential bands in my early theological development that I felt helped grow me as a disciple.  Perhaps you are looking for some good music yourself, or are just starting out on a quest, or want to share some good music with someone who is searching.  I hope this helps.

Rock/Pop

DC TALK – Their albums Supernatural and Jesus Freak instilled a passion for Christ while dealing with the issues of the world/culture boldly.  Great writing, and three voices that melded well.  All three are now in other bands.  Toby Mac (rapper), Kevin Max (poetry/art rock), Micheal Tate (now lead singer for Newsboys).

NEWSBOYS – Step Up to The Microphone and Take Me To Your Leader are some of the best albums I’ve heard.  Entertaining Angels was absolutely beautiful, and the australian sound got me thinking differently.  They’re still releasing great music today.

JARS OF CLAY – Much Afraid is so beautifully written it is almost like poetry.  The music (and the concerts) are heart wrenching and so well done, it is hard not to enjoy and be transported.  “Crazy Times” music video was probably one of the first Christian music videos I ever related to.

THIRD DAY – All these southern rockers make is good.  Their worship albums are some of the only ones I can listen to and actually worship.  The rock albums are challenging and light a fire of faith in the heart, and the concerts are so tight. Great band.

AUDIO ADRENALINE – These guys were fun, and had lots of energy.  I had all their albums, and each one was different to me.  Bloom helped me appreciate clean rock.  Some Kind of Zombie was more electric and twinged the ear and talked about eternal life.  Underdog seemed more evangelistic and missions oriented.  They’re still around today, though much of the band has changed up.

Heavier Rock

P.O.D. “Payable on Death” – When I heard POD for the first time, I felt something inside me (perhaps some holy anger) come forward, and I felt a different element of God.  It was about survival and thankfulness to God for life every day you are alive.  “SouthTown” is still one of the best albums I have ever heard, and their newer album “Testify” is well crafted.  These guys are solid and their concerts (though I can’t keep up in the mosh pit anymore) are some of the best experiences of my youth.

PROJECT 86 – These guys know how to rock, and their lead singer has the heaviest most constant vocals I’ve ever heard.  Those who like battle music would do well with Project.  Their heavy sound blows you away, and their main themes seem to be about Angst and fighting deception.  Definitely good for those teens who are struggling and want to get pumped up.

SPOKEN – The Echoes of the Spirit Still Dwell is an album with both reverence and awe for God, written with the sounds and stories of Scripture, and had some of the best screams/heavy sound that I was looking for while I was continuing to grow as a young Christian.  Their new self-titled album has matured them quite a bit, and I highly recommend to those who like Screamo, though it is more than that.  Their concerts are amazing and they have a good fanbase.  I hope they don’t go away.  This is a favorite of mine right now.

SKILLET – This band started as a four piece standard rock set, and now they are one of the primiere power bands, with hits like “Hero” being used by the NFL, and having album after album of heavy hitting electro-rock.  The lead singer is also a pastor, and they have never compromised their message.  Well worth the listen.

SWITCHFOOT – This California band isn’t as heavy as the others, but their impact is.  Their song “Meant to Live” is one I show at youth group from time to time because it is a reminder that we are meant to live far beyond how we are currently living.  Their music is sonically pleasing, but challenges your heart and mind.  The lead vocal is unique and they are still touring popularly.  Great music.

THRICE – This band has a song, “Image of the Invisible” which blew my mind in college.  It is on the Imago Dei, or image of God, and reminded me of the impetus of Social Justice in the Bible.  God’s saving grace that leads towards a revolution of dignity for captives, prisoners, and those in darkness.  The struggle comes through the heavy sound in this very tight band.

Ska/Punk:

FIVE IRON FRENZY – My friend Mark loved FIF and I held off for a while, but slowly warmed to them as extremely talented musicians.  Their sense of humor is something that lightens the load of the listener, but the Christian message of growth through struggle, resonated, especially in the post-Columbine age.  They broke up for a time but have reunited and will start touring soon.  They are primarily a ska band with lots of brass, but stand on their own on rock tours.

SUPERTONES – These guys wrote ska that we could dance to and listen to to grow as disciples.  Their writing was almost rapping, and their themes were about Orange Country discipleship.  Having no exposure to California culture, these guys made us move and they were like sunshine in a dark arena.  Uplifting and unique through and through.  They aren’t together, but their albums are solid.

RELIENT K – These guys are still very popular, and had a silly sense of humor, but could get serious as well.  I find that they talk about relationships more than faith much of the time, but I found that ok.  Their stories were about just trying to make it through teen life despite the embarrassments, and to do it with a good laugh.  Their music was tight, and their irony often taught me about the Christian life and pop culture as well.  I recommend their first album highly.

THE DINGEES – This punk/ska band had an album “The Crucial Conspiracy”, that turned me upside down.  Their music was different, but had a way of lifting the spiritual world to your eyes, sometimes without even saying a word.  Their songs about “Latchkey kids” and about the end of things unnerved me, but I found myself soothed as well.  Hard to explain these guys, because they went from Punk to Ska to Reggae pretty fast.  Check it out.

Other/Older:

KEITH GREEN – I read Keith’s wife’s Biography of his life “No Compromise” and my life was changed forever.  His call to go and do the work of God without wasting a moment of life or a moment of your capacity to give to others inspired me and my ministry.  I doubt that he would be seen as current or cool these days, and I actually resisted my mom who gave me his albums, but after reading that book, I cannot get enough of his music.  His work is pure scripture, and he hung out with Bob Dylan, c’mon.  Well worth a try, even if just to listen to spirit of God in the music.

That’s a start, perhaps I’ll return again with some more.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  By the time I left college I had 300 cds.  Funny, since I now have most of it on my iphone now.  So glad we don’t have to carry around our media like that.  What is nice, is that we can worship through music and appreciate the art of music and theology anytime.  I appreciate that, and I hope folks take advantage of it.  Peace.

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