Monday, June 17, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we head to the mailbag to answer a question about contemporary Christian music and its historical parallels.

It is the 17th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Hey everybody- a happy Monday- a happy early Summer- and a happy day to get into the mailbag. I have a small suite of questions in my inbox devoted to Christian music, the Jesus People, etc. It’s obviously a favorite on this show- and I was reminded of a question when I was working on this past weekend’s show on youth groups and youth culture-


The question comes from Andy in Muscatine, Iowa. Muscatine- home of Phil Vischer of Veggie Tales and Holy Post fame, also home to Norman G. Baker- a pioneer in radio, also a total quack who thought fluoride and aluminum gave people cancer, peddled fake cancer cures, and was convicted of federal crimes on account of them- great story.


Andy asked- given my fascination with the Jesus People Movement and Contemporary Christian Music, what “parallels do I see in other times in church history”? Great question- and way to think historically! “This is interesting. What is a possible parallel that might help me understand or contextualize this, or that, thing better….”

So- when was there a popular response to the Christian faith- outside the traditional organs and vessels of the established church when a kind of art and subculture developed?

Ok, Andy, I took some time thinking on this one and the first answer I have is: the Medieval Mystery Play.

So- since the demise of the classical era (let’s place this around the fall of Rome in the 400s) there isn’t the theatre in the classical sense. And there were no more universal tales as Europe had fractured into hundreds of hundreds of warring factions, many with their own origin stories- their own Iliad and Odyssey.

Christianity had an initially cold relationship to the theatre- some church fathers saw acting as no more than lying to an audience that has agreed to be lied to. And so ‘Christian theatre’ was not a thing.

Enter the various minstrels and acting troops that began criss crossing Europe throughout the Middle Ages- groups of 3 or more actors would travel from inn to inn, pub to pub and perform comical skits for the audience.

One key to a successful following across people groups is a common stable of known characters and situations. And many of these Medieval Troupes realized that the Bible offered a common cultural touchpoint. And sir these troupes began acting out Bible stories- “miracle” or “mystery” plays in which, by whatever means, the good triumphs in the end.  

Nonetheless, Church officials condemned these mystery plays- you can’t have “holy” characters and stories “defiled” by a modern debased art such as play-acting.

The church claimed that the theatre was the devil's playground and that acting was the devil's pastime… and you can hear the Medieval hippy, presaging a Larry Norman saying, “Why should the devil have all the good pastimes?” 

The Mystery play and its practitioners would soon find their industry to be booming. To protect themselves from subpar interlopers they created a guild- that’s right- a “union” and soon the “Christian Actor” was a thing parallel to hundreds of years later when Christian musicians, asking “why should the devil have all the good music” created a subculture which became an industry with unions and all that.

Of course- using popular art forms is a constant in the church- from the ‘forms’ of the various chants borrowed from the Greeks, to the developing world of the visual arts where by the time of the Renaissance “Christian” art was such that norm that it was considered “art” in a way that later forms would not be given the same benefit of the doubt.

The theatre would be attacked by later Puritans in England, and the Restoration of the Crown (Charles II) would lead to the explosion of theatre arts in England and beyond, but these- outside of the passion play- remained secular.

But there was a time when modern expression and biblical content merged- became a professional class- and weathered the criticism of a church wary of popular culture- it was both with the Mystery Play of the Middle Ages and the early Contemporary Christian Music scene. Great question, Andy from Iowa- future birth place of captain James T. Kirk.

You should send me a question- for reals- I like getting them- at and tell me something interesting about where you are from.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and a benediction from an exhausted Apostle Paul at the end of the Epistle to the Galatians:

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man from Indiana who knows Iowa as the other piece of bread on the Illinois sandwich- He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite movie takes place in the Hawkeye state- I’m Dan van Voorhis. 

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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