It’s always a surprise. The Sunday papers arrive, and high on the New York Times best-seller list is a novel called Assassins from an obscure publisher. Monday, the box office grosses are announced, and nestled in the top 20 is The Omega Code, a film the bicoastal entertainment industry buzz builders buzz builders didn’t even know existed. Tuesday, SoundScan announces the week’s top-selling music; suddenly a low-on-the-radar band called Creed is famous. What’s going on?
Those three recent pop-culture riddles all have the same answer: Consumers of Christian entertainment are a silent subculture no longer. And don’t confuse Christian entertainment with its old familiar faces. We’re not talking about Amy Grant, the PTL Club, and Dr. Quinn reruns on Pax TV. The new world of Christian pop culture includes hard rock bands and action movies, serial-killer novels and war-based computer games, writers who shroud their sermons in sci-fi and rockers who prefer to wear their crosses as tattoos. With hundreds of millions of dollars (not to mention souls) at stake, purveyors of evangelical entertainment are suddenly exploring terra incognita, while some fans praise them for spreading the Word and others damn them for dancing with the devil. This week and next, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY explores entertainment’s newest boom industry.
MUSIC: ROCKIN’ ON HEAVEN’S DOOR
Hey you, I’m into Jesus/
Hey you, I’ve seen the truth/
And I believe
—dc Talk, ”Into Jesus”
At 9 o’clock on a Sunday night, Nashville’s Exit/In looks like your average hipster dive. It’s dark, dank, and headlined by dreadlocked, tattoo-splattered Rage Against the Machine wannabes howling at the top of their lungs.
On closer inspection, however, something’s amiss. There’s no smoky haze. Kids—little kids, no older than 9—mill in front of a stage that has featured Cheech and Chong and the Ramones, and everyone’s cup is filled with… soda. Just when you expect Rod Serling or Allen Funt, the music dies, and Dave Tosti, the 21-year-old lead singer of warm-up act PAX217, raises both hands, palms out.
”You must know that you were created in the image of God,” he says mournfully, pausing for effect. ”AND HE HAS PLANS FOR YOU!” Then his band lets loose: Bass and snare pound, beefy teens do the hop, and a mosh pit begins to churn in a way that can only be described as polite.
Stop and bear witness to the newest face of rock & roll.
”For the longest time, Christian rock was lousy,” says Pat Scholes, president of Memphis indie label Ardent Records. ”But over the past five years, we’ve become sonically on par with everyone else.” Or, as Ardent partner Dana Key says simply, ”Christians can rock out too.”
God, I admit I haven’t changed/…
I never expected You to stay/
When I’m grabbing for these crumbs and cold loose change
—Jars of Clay, ”Grace”
The sacred heart of the contemporary Christian music scene beats just south of Nashville on the strip-malled outskirts of the wealthy towns Brentwood and Franklin. Here, nestled among AutoZones and office parks, a quiet revolution is taking place. Christian music has been kicking butt.