This afternoon I was watching an Internet video from Hillsongs United, "One Way." It's breathtaking to me to see all the youth jumping and down and singing at the top of their lungs--to praise Jesus. As I watched the video (several times actually), I couldn't help but think about the man who really made it all possible--Larry Norman, who passed away last month at the age of 60.
Norman has been called the Father of Contemporary Christian Music (originally labeled Jesus Music), and deservedly so. In the late 60s, Norman was watching while an entire generation of young people were slipping away in rebellion, when he figured out that rock music could be used to reach out to them. At it goes with such groundbreaking music, he was scorned by "established" church authorities who labeled such Norman classics as "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" (about the Rapture) and "Sweet Song of Salvation" as the "music of the devil" (his answer to them was another classic, "Why Should the Devil Had All the Good Music?"). Ironically, Jimmy Swaggart, a major critic of Christian rock, admitted that his own "honky tonk" style Christian songs were unwelcome in churches in the 50s.
Of course others, including Billy Graham, concluded otherwise, seeing a new way to reach the young for Jesus and to encourage worship among youth. Norman's music stood out so much, that Time magazine named him the most important song writer since Paul Simon (of Simon & Garfunkel). Norman even got to share his witness with the Beatles' Paul McCartney, who had sought him out to discuss his music.
He walked away from Capitol Records when the company refused to title one of his albums "We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus, and a Lot Less Rock N Roll."
Norman had an immense influence on subsequent Christian artists, including Randy Stonehill and Keith Green. At it was at a Vineyard Bible Study he led that Bob Dylan became a Christian, after which he released his now classic album Slow Training Coming.
Norman's influence on Contemporary Christian Music was no less of that of Elvis and the Beatles on rock music in general, opening a door for many young people to find Jesus and worship Him wholeheartedly. For that, the church world owes him a tremendous debt. RIP.