The Top Five Songs In the History of Christian Rock

I’ve been listening to Christian music for a long time. I remember when the Newsboys were still the Newsboys, and not some weird mashup of dcTalk and random Australian guys. I remember Burlap to Cashmere, Earthsuit (featuring Paul Meany of MuteMath), and Stavesacre. I remember when Carman staged a Righteous Invasion of Truth (R.I.O.T.).

Here are the top five songs in the history of Christian Rock.

5. “Secret Ambition” by Michael W. Smith – Smitty holds a strange place in my heart. I get all conflicted inside when I think about Michael W. Smith. He is simulataneously awesome and cheesy, sort of like a Christian version of Billy Joel. He has written some fantastic songs, like “Secret Ambition”, and some horrendous songs, like “Friends”. “Secret Ambition” was the first song I ever truly loved. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Smitty’s influence in the world of Christian Rock. Plus, nobody rocks a mullet and vest like Smitty.

4. “Chem 6a” by Switchfoot – I’m not a big fan of Switchfoot’s recent music, but I really liked them in their early days. They were one of the first Christian pop/punk bands. Bands like RelientK and Hawk Nelson simply followed in the footsteps of Switchfoot.

3. “Shine” by Newsboys – This is a tough one. The Newsboys formed sometime around 1913 and have been playing ever since. I have mixed feelings about the Newsboys. They really should have stopped playing when Peter Furler stopped being the lead singer. But they didn’t. Instead they drafted Michael Tait, formerly of dcTalk. Nevertheless, this is a great song from the best iteration of the Newsboys.

2. “Flood” by Jars of Clay – Jars of Clay are to Christian music what Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young were to rock. Their heavy acoustic sound combined with their ultra-tight harmonies were pretty awesome when they first broke into the Christian music scene. Every acoustic Christian artist should be compared to the original Jars of Clay.

1. “Jesus Freak” by dcTalk – If you have any argument with this being the number one song, then you obviously weren’t around when it released. This song dropped like a bombshell on the world of Christian music. For the first time there was a cool, edgy, moderately grungy band who were also Christians. People went out of their minds when this song first broke.

Okay, those are my top five. What would you include?


  • Allen says:

    Stephen, simply because of my personal history I’d have to put Stryper’s “To Hell With The Devil” at number one. I was a teenage metalhead (sounds like a book title) beginning in 1987 at age 13, and Stryper had just come into the spotlight with that album in 1986…I did not grow up as a believer but Stryper, in some small way, likely had a part in that happening at age 19. Additionally, they were the first band I ever saw live (1988).

  • Timothy Paul Jones says:

    No Petra or Stryper? I would have to add “He Came, He Saw, He Conquered” and “To Hell with the Devil.” Those were the tunes that awakened me from my fundamentalist dogmatic slumber, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant.

  • Todd Pruitt says:

    Okay Stephen you’ve got some pretty good selections there. But your relative youth is showing. You need to go back when Christian rock was in its infancy and adolescence. Where’s Rez Band, Sweet Comfort Band, or Petra (the Greg Volz version)? I think you also have to figure some early White Heart in there as well. I know it’s kinda cheezy but we’re talking Christian rock here. From time-to-time I still fire up “Praise Ye The Lord” from Petra’s “Never Say Die” (1978).

  • Rachel says:

    Consuming Fire by Third Day

  • Blake Shaw says:

    What Todd Pruitt said.

  • Matthew McMahon says:

    Switchfoot should be included, but since I’ve never heard that song… I can’t see how it can be top 5 (ducks in shame). I probably would have gone with “Dare You to Move”. “Secret Ambition” is a good darkhorse choice, but I might have argued for Steven Curtis Chapman’s “The Great Adventure” instead. Of course, we could argue for hours about whether either of those are “rock”.

    No arguments on your top 3 – in fact, I’d argue with anyone who disputed them.

  • Tim Challies says:

    Exactly so! I can sing along with every word of every song Stephen posted above–they were part of my youth. But they don’t exactly represent the history of Christian rock as much as they represent a slice of about a decade of Christian rock. A little bit more, I guess.

    There needs to be some old Petra in there (late Volz or early Schlitt). And, as much as it hurts, a bit of Amy Grant. Stryper, too, as the pre-Switchfoot–the band that made the big mainstream breakthrough. Rez Band, as well, probably deserves a place. With Matthew, I would have thought about some SCC as well.

    Of course, that leaves us with way more than 5 songs…

  • stephenaltrogge says:

    My problem with Stryper is that they came out of the glam rock bands of the 80’s, which hasn’t had a significant lasting influence in the music world, secular or Christian. I would argue the same applies to Petra. Yes, I am focused on one particular decade, but I would argue that the decade was the most formative for Christian music.

  • stephenaltrogge says:

    I could see Amy Grant, but I don’t consider her to be rock. Steven Curtis Chapman has been long running but his musical style hasn’t been particularly influential. I think it’s important to think in terms of musical influence, not popularity.

  • Charlie says:

    Ugh to your number 5 choice! I would easily drop anything by Michael W. Smith (yes, I saw him in concert) and add just about anything by Audio Adrenaline… If we’re talking top rock then I would vote for ‘Some Kind of Zombie’, ‘I’m Not the King’, or ‘Dirty’.

  • Johnny says:

    I was always a fan of Steve Taylor in the 80’s, and his songs like “I want to be a clone”, even today, have some incredibly meaningful lyrics today.

  • RadioGirl says:

    Chagall Guevara “Escher’s World”
    The Prayer Chain “Like I Was”
    Mad At The World “Lost In The Forest”
    Anything by Kings X
    The Choir “Kissers and Killers”

  • Janna says:

    I remember watching the music video for “Secret Ambition” on Fire by Nite for the first time and being blown away by the song. Great choice for the list. But I am with most of the commenters in wondering why Petra didn’t make the list.

  • Ryan Fishel says:

    To hell with the devil!

  • What? Where is Petra?

  • David Beirne says:

    “I?ve been listening to Christian music for a long time. I remember when
    the Newsboys were still the Newsboys, and not some weird mashup of
    dcTalk and random Australian guys.”

    I been listening to Christian rock long enough to have been at a festival where I talked with the Newsboys while everyone else walked by, oblivious to who they were (around 1992). Your title says “In The History Of…” Hoo boy Whippersnapper. DC Talk influenced by Carmen. Michael W. Smith influenced by Sweet Comfort and others. The list could go on. You don’t think Petra was a major influencer? Egads.

  • OldYRRTheologian says:

    I must have been getting into Christian music around the same time as you, because I’ve never heard of Stryper or anything by Petra.

    5. Testify to Love by Avalon
    4. Kill Me, Heal Me by Skillet
    3. Slam by Carman
    2. Jesus Freak by DC Talk
    1. Some Kind of Zombie by Audio Adrenaline (or, honestly, The Houseplant Song. I love it)

  • Jason Rummel says:

    Some folks mentioned Stryper and I’d have to agree. But, my childhood would not have been complete without Carmen’s “The Champion.”

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