Happy 20th Anniversary, Jesus Freak!

20 years ago this past weekend I was a Freshman in my first semester at Spring Arbor University (then Spring Arbor College). As a long haired 18 year old who had gone to a Christian high school the previous two years I was well aware that there wasn’t a whole lot of quality Christian music so I often bypassed Petra, Stryper or Carmen for Nirvana, Alice in Chains and the Beastie Boys. Honestly, I still prefer the latter.

Christian music has always had its share of struggles from a lack of creativity to being painfully repetitive or lyrically empty. It was just as true in the 90’s as it is today.

However, there were two albums in 1995 that defied that trend – one was Jars of Clay’s self-titled debut album (released October ’95) and the other is DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” release.

This past weekend “Jesus Freak” celebrated its 20th anniversary and not ironically 20 years later I’ve started growing my hair out again (though there may be less of it this time) and there’s a shocking amount of flannel in my closet again.

The album that defined a Christian generation is nearly old enough to drink legally (though I’m sure the old DC Talk would have encouraged good young Christians not to partake of Jesus’ first miracle.)

I gave the album another listen and perhaps I listened through rose colored lenses but I thought it was still fantastic.

They musically did something different from the rest of Christian culture – they were creative musically and didn’t follow old musical trends from pop music. Instead, they pushed the boundaries and other band followed their style.

Lyrically, DC Talk was able to strike a balance between being catchy and challenging. With lyrics like these from “What if I Stumble?”

What if I stumble
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step
And I make fools of us all?

Will the love continue
When my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble
And what if I fall?”

or these on-point lyrics about racism that still ring true from “Colored People”:

“We’re colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We’re colored people, and they call us the human race
We’ve got a history so full of mistakes
And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace”

and these from the haunting “What Have We Become?”:

“What have we become?
A self indulgent people
What have we become?
Tell me where are the righteous ones?
What have we become?
In a world degenerating
What have we become?

Speak your mind, look out for yourself
The answer to it all is a life of wealth
Grab all you can cause you live just once
You got the right to do whatever you want
Don’t worry about others or where you came from
It ain’t what you were, it’s what you have become

Don’t worry about others or where you came from
It ain’t what you were, it’s what you have become

What about love?
What about God?
What about holiness?
What about mercy, compassion and selflessness?”

I typically don’t live in the past musically, I like to keep moving forward trying new music and finding those diamonds in the rough artists like John Mark McMillan (today’s great Christian song writer) but as I look back on 20 years of “Jesus Freak” I want to celebrate the brilliance and pray for some kind of artist to create this kind of honest, challenging and tonally refreshing music again.

You can listen to the whole album again here on Spotify. Wearing flannel shirts on your torso and around your waist at the same time optional.



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