A New Kind of Christian(?) Music

Disclaimer: I am neither a musician nor a music critic–just a guy who really enjoys music. Also, this post does not cover a convergence of new, theologically sound Christian rap and hip-hop (artists like Lecrae and Flame), simply because I am less familiar with those genres. But I am grateful for them and believe a lot of what they are doing would fit well within the points I cover below.


When I was in high school I went through a brief “burn all of your secular music” phase. I think it may have been a rule or something for committed Christian kids growing up in the South, I don’t know. I get a lot of knowing smiles when I talk about it with people who grew up in a similar place that I did. Like maybe there was a youth pastor’s convention somewhere and some really successful guy offered up this great idea that everyone took and ran with.

I now realize how misguided and unnecessary it all was, but try going back in time and convincing my sophomore self of that. Good luck, because I don’t think you’ll be able to convince him.

I mainly look back on that time period now and think, “Man, I broke a lot of good CDs…”

Of course it is helpful to practice discernment in what media we put into our minds and there is a lot of Christian music that I love and am grateful for, but it is an unhelpful overreaction to draw such a hard line between sacred and secular (I’d love to chase all the rabbits in that sentence but we’ll save them for another day). The phase didn’t last long for me, and at some point after my Christian radio-only binge I said, “You know what? Never mind.” And to be honest, I haven’t listened to a ton of Christian music since. For a few reasons:

Mainly because a lot of it just felt too trite, too glossed-over. Like it didn’t tell the truth about reality and brokenness and the human experience. Much of it also felt very feminine, because a lot of it is actually geared towards Christian moms driving their kids around in a minivan. I was never all that surprised when a guy would say, “Can we turn this?” And to add to these, some of it just flat out wasn’t good music.

Then a couple of years ago I heard about a young self-produced band out of Texas called The Oh Hellos. I remember hearing the first song I listened to and thinking, “Oh. This is different.”

Here’s what NPR had so say about them recently in a premiere of a new song:

Opposites attract in songs by siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath, who perform as the folk duo The Oh Hellos. Their instrumentation and singing are exuberant, just this side of ecstatic, even though their lyrics deal with wandering, grief and regret.

As much as I loved the music when I first heard them–which was beautiful, creative and well-done–the thing that caught my attention more than anything was the lyrics.

Creative Subtlety

There were clear hints of spiritual insight and depth of reflection, but they weren’t overly obvious for the most part. For example, their song In Memoriam:

well, it’s a long way out to reach the sea
but I’m sure I’ll find you waiting there for me
and by the time I blink, I’ll see your wild arms swinging
just to meet me in the middle of the road
and you’ll hold me like you’ll never let me go
and beside the salty water, I could hold you close,
but you are far too beautiful to love me

it’s a long climb up the dusty mountain
to build a turret tall enough to keep you out
but when you wage your wars against the one who adores you,
then you’ll never know the treasure that you’re worth
but I’ve never been a wealthy one before
I’ve got holes in my pockets burned by liars’ gold,
and I think I’m far too poor for you to want me

it’s been a long road, losing all I’ve owned
and you don’t know what you’ve got until you’re gone
and it’s a nasty habit, spending all you have, but
when you’re doing all the leaving, then it’s never your love lost
and if you leave before the start, then there was never love at all
and heaven knows I’m prone to leave
and yet you’re far too beautiful to leave me

The first time I heard this song, I was like, “Oh! Did that just say what I think it did?” I listened to it over and over, more moved every time by the little gospel-bombs hidden throughout. Far from putting it into a well-worn box in my mind and moving on, I wanted to dig deeper and notice new lines.

Their music says something, clearly. But it says it in such a way that doesn’t turn off a large swath of people with its obviousness.

Spiritual Honesty

The depth of spiritual honesty in their songs struck me almost immediately. It felt like music that was willing to tell the truth about what it’s like to be a broken, sinful human. For example, the song Wishing Well:

I ran like a speeding train
cut my hair and changed my name
only had myself to blame
for the company I was keeping

curse my restless wandering feet
prone to wander endlessly
all the love you gave to me
it wasn’t enough to keep me

oh, I stole from my father all I thought I could sell
tossed his copper, and I watched as it fell
but there wasn’t any water in the wishing well

bent my knee to many kings
idols of prosperity
heard that dollar calling me
so I sought it in the city

oh, I stole from my father all I thought I could sell
tossed his copper, and I watched as it fell
but there wasn’t any water in the wishing well

for my soul, he made an offer
and to the dust again I fell
and oh, that devil’s got a hold on me now
because there wasn’t any water in the wishing well


Much like the previous song, I noticed that many of their songs also sought to tell a story–whether it be the story of the Prodigal Son that is all of our stories to some degree, or even setting the stage (at least to some extent) of the big, over-arching story of creation that we find ourselves in like the song The Valley:

we were born in the valley of the dead and the wicked
that our father’s father found
and where we laid him down
we were born in the shadow of the crimes of our fathers
blood was our inheritance
no, we did not ask for this

will you lead me?

we were young when we heard you call our names in the silence
like a fire in the dark
like a sword upon our hearts
we came down to the water and we begged for forgiveness
shadows lurking close behind
we were fleeing for our lives

will you lead me?

I mean really, starting a very poppy, anthem-style song with the words “we were born in the valley…of the dead and the wicked”? Brilliant. Sign me up, I want to hear more.

Depth of Insight

My favorite song of theirs is probably Hello My Old Heart. It might be less direct than other songs in some ways, but deeply resonant and thought-provoking (and maybe more direct) in others. It’s one of those songs that has an aching quality about it, telling a truth that never tires of being spoken.

hello my old heart 
how have you been 
are you still there inside my chest? 
I’ve been so worried 
you’ve been so still 
barely beating at all 

oh, don’t leave me here alone 
don’t tell me that we’ve grown 
for having loved a little while 
oh, I don’t want to be alone 
I want to find a home 
and I want to share it with you 

hello my old heart 
it’s been so long 
since I’ve given you away 
and every day I add another stone 
to the walls I built around you 
to keep you safe 

oh, don’t leave me here alone 
don’t tell me that we’ve grown 
for having loved a little while 
oh, I don’t want to be alone 
I want to find a home 
and I want to share it with you 

hello my old heart 
how have you been? 
how is it, being locked away? 
well don’t you worry 
in there, you’re safe 
and it’s true, you’ll never beat 
but you’ll never break 

nothing lasts forever 
some things aren’t meant to be 
but you’ll never find the answer 
until you set your old heart free 

until you set your old heart free

hello my old heart
hello my old heart
hello my old heart
hello my old heart

Christian(?) Music

At the end of the day, I don’t even know whether to call The Oh Hellos “Christian music,” and I think that’s why I’m putting them forth as an example of what a new kind of Christian music could be–good, creative music that just happens to be made by Christians, so of course that will bleed into their art.

Because of this creative subtlety and the quality of music, I would bet there are many non-Christians in the growing audience The Oh Hellos are gaining. (The same is certainly true for Lecrae–it is a wonderful thing when Christians make music so good others can’t help but take notice.)

Of course all kinds of music made by Christians can be helpful, but I pray that more artists follow in the footsteps of The Oh Hellos, and I believe there is much room for it. I don’t know of another band that has been more of a spiritual encouragement to me and stirred my affections for Jesus more in the last few years than they have.

If you like folk/indie music and haven’t heard them yet, please check them out–you may enjoy them as much as I have. They also have a new album coming out on October 16th, which I am very excited about.


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  1. love the oh hellos. also stumbled across this live performance of a song on their new album based on the screwtape letters that gave the chills the first time I heard it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms-b3kYp1dQ

  2. LOVE your thoughtful discussion of my favorite band 😉 I think you’ll enjoy the coming album as much as if not more than TTDDV!

  3. Check out “The Collection”. Another folk/indie band (that actually toured with the Oh Hello’s) that is a bit heavier in their influence, but also have the struggle, the life, and the realness in their songs. I think the words you were looking for to describe the differences in music is “worship music” versus “christian music”. They’re very much Christian, they’re just not making music for church. They’re making music for life.

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