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Joe Markko
Genesis of a Genre: The Birth of Christian Rock
Joe Markko, author

Adult; Music, Performing Arts, Travel; (Market)

October 31, 1969: Hollywood, California.

Contemporary Christian Music is still four years away from being “a thing.” Larry Norman, one of the progenitors of the emerging genre, has just released his first Christian album, “Upon This Rock.” Amy Grant is 9 years old. Matthew Ward, of the 2nd Chapter of Acts, is eleven.

At the Salt Company Coffee House in Hollywood, Larry Norman shared the platform with a Southern California “power-trio” who called themselves, Agăpē.

Intrigued with the gritty and unapologetically loud “blues-edge” to their music, Larry Norman “came out of his seat,” excited by the possibilities. No one else in his experience had yet married such hard-driving, high-energy rock music to the Gospel message.

Playing out against the backdrop of the Jesus Movement – the “Fourth Great Awakening” in American Evangelical history – 20,000 people were reported to have responded to Agăpē’s audacious, Gospel message.

And then, at their peak, they simply disappeared.

A prequel to Contemporary Christian Music, the untold story of Agăpē is a story of beginnings; the Genesis of a Genre. It’s a tale about “the days of old” and The Birth of Christian Rock, when minstrels became messengers and the Word became flesh once again.

Markko tells the story of Agape, a Christian hard rock band on fire to share the gospel. Growing from what became known as the Jesus People Movement, Agape was at the birth of Contemporary Christian Music in Southern California in the late 1960s, together with Larry Norman and others. The band took off in a burst of evangelistic energy, growing in musicality and popularity together with the new Church in the Park. Markko traces the band’s development from coffee shops to arenas, a story of Bible study, growing audiences, bassists coming and going, and a horrible car accident. The group broke from Church in the Park following serious accusations of sexual harassment against its pastor Ron Turner, “a living billboard for Jesus.” Agape eventually found itself unable to keep booking gigs and eventually dissolved.

Markko was part of the Jesus People movement—“a unique dispensation of God’s grace telling the world, ‘I am still here. I still love you’”—and music scene as a performer with the All Saved Freak Band, and his intimate knowledge powers this history. His approach is celebratory, not digging deeply into conflicts or controversies, though Markko does history a service through his extensive interviews with participants in the band and others, including Turner, plus photos of the band and its orbit.

Agape was emblematic of the movement, which has often been overlooked in other histories of Christianity in twentieth century America, especially considering how Contemporary Christian Music morphed into worship music rather than evangelistic music. Markko recounts the band’s journey with the tenor of a storyteller spinning a yarn about the old days. He warns us not to expect historical precision, but his excitement about the movement of the Holy Spirit and the proclamation of the gospel is infectious. A reader interested in the history of Contemporary Christian Rock, or the Jesus People movement, will appreciate this lively retelling.

Takeaway: Spirited history of pioneers of Christian Rock and the Jesus People Movement.

Comparable Titles: Richard Bustraan’s The Jesus People Movement, Ed Zipp and Debbie Zipp’s First Love.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-