Rock That Doesn't Roll: The Story of Christian Music

Rock That Doesn't Roll: The Story of Christian Music

Rock That Doesn’t Roll looks at how Christian music shaped the world we're living in now by telling individual stories from the peak era of the contemporary Christian music industry. In the 80s, 90s and early 2000s CCM grew into a billion dollar business that affected millions of evangelical young people. Through interviews with artists, industry players and average fans we trace the long-lasting personal, cultural and political impact of sometimes cringe-worthy music. Expect hilarious moments and heartfelt yearning, purity culture and conservative politics- all in equal measure. Whether you’ve deconstructed, come out or renegotiated your faith, we hope you feel seen. If you’ve never given Christian music any thought beyond a punchline, we hope you’ll gain a deeper understanding of a subculture that’s shaping the world around us now.


July 17, 2024 40 mins

How do you make fake Contemporary Christian Music? Creating fictional Christian music that feels authentic without crossing the line into parody or pastiche is a tricky artistic challenge. But we found the creators up to the task. Joseph Stephens, composer for HBO's The Righteous Gemstones, a crime-comedy about a family of musical televangelists, and composer Daniel Smith (Danielson) and filmmaker Chris White of Electric J...

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KUOW's podcast Let The Kids Dance! is the story of Seattle's Teen Dance Ordinance in a seven-part docuseries chronicling an untold chapter of pop-culture history. It’s a story about moral panic, grassroots activism and an unstoppable music community that fought for its freedom, created and hosted by Jonathan Zwickel.

The TDO made it impossible for venue owners to turn a profit while hosting all-ages shows. But the law conta...

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What happened to the kids raised during the peak era of Christian rock? For insight into the state of Christian rock's late 1990s-early aughts evangelicalism you need not look any further than members of DC Talk, the pinnacle of youth group music. Their trajectory as artists and public figures roughly maps on to the trajectories of the millions of teens raised in American evangelicalism. In this episode,  journalist and pr...

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June 5, 2024 38 mins

Purity culture wasn’t just for youth group “purity girls.” “Purity bros” were also a part of the project! No one knows that more than Joshua Harris, a CCM fan who helped turn purity culture into an extreme sport. Together with his friend, Christian music superstar Rebecca St. James, they created media that inspired a generation of evangelicals to say no to sex outside of marriage, but also to things like dating, kissing, h...

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May 22, 2024 39 mins

In 2001, teen singing sensation Nikki Leonti was on her way to a promising Christian music career. She had two hit CCM records, and - as a pop princess who swore to refrain from premarital sex - the support of big evangelical media organizations like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. But then, at age 18, the “purity girl” Leonti announced she was pregnant, and lost it all. With insight from author and podcaster Devi Abra...

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In the 1990s, music critics argue that hip hop was in its golden age. Mainstream Top 40 charts were filled with hits from The Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur, and Dr. Dre. But the Contemporary Christian charts lagged far, far behind. What took so long for holy hip hop to take off? With insight from Dr. Jonathan Calvillo (author of In the Time of Sky-Rhyming: How Hip Hop Resonated in Brown Los Angeles), journalist and produce...

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April 24, 2024 40 mins

In 1999, ​singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp was at the top of the Christian music world. Her debut album Kansas was gold-certified, she'd won four Gospel Music Association Dove Awards, and she was on tour with some of the top bands in the business. It seemed like Knapp was destined to be the ultimate ​rockstar poster child for evangelical teens - especially young women. But ​that frame was ​an uncomfortable​ fit for Knapp​....

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April 17, 2024 2 mins

In the second season of Rock That Doesn't Roll, hosts Dr. Leah Payne and Andrew Gill look at how Christian music shaped the world we're living in now. Topics covered in season two include hip hop, feminism, purity culture, hair metal and more. Episodes publish every other week starting on April 24.

Do you have a Christian rock story to tell? Leave us a message at (629) 777-6336.

If you want more seasons of Rock That Does...

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In this bonus episode, Andrew and Leah talk with Lars Gotrich of NPR Music, the producer who brought Amy Grant to play a Tiny Desk Concert. Lars shares how he went from "judgy Christian punk rocker" to someone good at existing in two worlds at once.

To hear the full interview, join our Patreon at

Find Lars’ playlists and tea newsletter at

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What happens when one of the country’s most outspoken critics of white male Christian political conservatism sits down with a well-known white male conservative Christian political pundit? Find out, as Kristin Du Mez and David French discuss politics, culture, and the desperate need for hospitality in the digital age on No Small Endeavor with Lee C. Camp.

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In this bonus episode Leah and Andrew interview Jim Cooper, the composer who wrote and recorded the original score for Rock That Doesn't Roll. He talks about growing up in the DC area, getting obsessed with Fugazi and Dischord Records, then throwing away all his secular music.

The full hour-long interview is at our Patreon. The conversation goes on to talk about abandoning a theology major at Wheaton College for music, ge...

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‘Tis the season for holiday specials and Andrew Gill (producer, Sound Opinions) and Leah Payne (author, God Gave Rock and Roll to You) of Rock that Doesn’t Roll are bringing you a surprise holiday gift: weirdly specific awards for Contemporary Christian Music Christmas tunes! So come on, ring those bells, grab your Christmas shoes, and get ready to Yo-Ho-Ho yourself into some holiday cheer - it’s Christmastime!

Do you hav...

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For 1990s and early aughts youth group alumni, Christian rock is often the source of embarrassment or shame - but does it have to be that way? The season finale of Rock That Doesn't Roll explores the idea that maybe, just maybe, the key to getting over angst about Christian rock isn't rejecting it or avoiding it, but coming to peace with the person you were when you fell in love with it. With insight from historian Randall...

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November 29, 2023 51 mins

The late 90s and early aughts were a banner time for a really specific type of rock band - the are-they-or-aren't-they a Christian band, band. Sixpence None the Richer. Creed. Evanescence. Lifehouse. Owl City. Paramore. They all had different sounds, but they left listeners wondering: are they - or aren't they - “Christian music?” This week on Rock that Doesn't Roll: does an artist who identifies as Christian have to brand...

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November 15, 2023 48 mins

Who could a 1990s Christian rock aficionado turn to in order to find the latest and greatest releases? For mainstream music fans, tastemakers included record store clerks of 1990s indie music stores, or retail juggernauts like Tower Records and Wherehouse - the kind of superfans depicted by Jack Black in High Fidelity. But for many evangelical teens of the 1990s, record stores were not the place to find kid-tested, parent-...

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November 1, 2023 51 mins

For every 1990s Christian rock star who made it big, there were thousands of never-realized, would-be Christian rock dreams. With special insight from Christian music industry veteran promoter Chris Hauser, hosts Andrew Gill (producer, Sound Opinions) and Leah Payne (author, God Gave Rock and Roll to You) follow the CCM aspirations of comedian Kevin James Thornton and artist/faith leader Sunia Won Gibbs. The two Christian ...

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October 18, 2023 42 mins

For 1990s evangelical teens, punk, hardcore, and ska were a gateway to a passionate, edgy way to express their Christianity outside the mainstream. But was the music and the message enough to keep the evangelical faith? In episode two, hosts Andrew Gill (producer, Sound Opinions) and Leah Payne (author, God Gave Rock and Roll to You) follow three Christian punk rock stories from Dr. Bradley Onishi of Axis Mundi Media, auth...

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October 4, 2023 44 mins

Christian rock has a lot of naysayers, but for evangelical teens of the 1990s, it was EVERYTHING. For most kids raised in conservative Christian households, mainstream music was forbidden - if teens were going to rock, they needed to do it God’s way. And the place to find Christian rock gods? Youth group.

In the first episode of Rock that Doesn’t Roll, hosts Andrew Gill (producer, Sound Opinions) and Leah Payne (author, G...

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August 24, 2023 3 mins

Join hosts Leah Payne and Andrew Gill as they explore the world of Christian rock in it’s peak era of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s.

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