He paved the way for the entire genre of music we know today as Contemporary Christian Music. Some would argue that it would have happened anyway, but honestly, there were a whole lot of barries that needed to be overcome, and Larry Norman was just the right person to do that.
(To better understand the conservatism of the times; here’s an example: Over a decade after he released, Upon This Rock the sales of contemporary albums in the Christian bookstore in Sault. Ste. Marie were still conducted in a back room, with the product placed in a plain paper bag before the customer could return to the front of the store.)
Larry wrote songs about his relationship with Jesus, but also challenged the Christian culture of his day. He taught the difference between what was cultural and what was spiritual. He declared boldly that as music was changing, so the church needed to keep up. And he backed up his thesis with examples from church music of previous centuries. In doing so, he created an entire apologetic for those musicians who heard the sound of something different in their heads, and encouraged them to write and record and not be constrained by religious conservatism.
So it was with great sadness that we learned that Larry Norman passed away on Sunday (Feb 24th) at age 60 after a long period of declining health.
I realize that for some readers, the more extreme forms of today’s modern Christian music is not something to celebrate. To those, I would say, look at the fruit. Look at all the kids who became Christ followers as a result of those concerts and listening to those albums. And look at where many of those Christian rockers are today: Leading worship in local churches. In fact, the whole CCM movement begat the modern worship movement. Again, for some that may not be something to celebrate, either; but I assure you that the church growth movement of the late 20th century would not have happened without modern worship. Those churches would be empty.
Much of it all traces back to Larry Norman. There were folk masses in the Catholic Church. There were touring groups with matching outfits that used drums. There were other folk singers with guitars. But Larry’s music was true to itself and true to himself. It was Christian music for a new generation and by a new generation. And all of it pointed to Jesus Christ, Son of God.
There will be many better things written about Larry Norman in the days and weeks to come, because he left such a huge catalogue of songs and articles. I hope you’ll take the time to read them and remember.
~ Paul Wilkinson
(March 21st) – Since writing this I am amazed at the outpouring of memories that has come out since the news of Larry’s passing reached a broader number of people. So many people from that era have such a strong connection to his music. For myself and others, it’s evocative of a spiritual time and place along the pathway of our journey with Christ.