One blazing summer when I was an angsty tween in Protestant church camp in the mountains of rural Alabama, one of the young worship leaders got on stage during the obligatory “cry night” to give his testimony. It was the usual “I was just a troubled young man with no direction—until…” fare, but then he got to the part about how he changed his life after his conversion. A big part of this change was, apparently, him taking a hammer to his entire “worldly” rock music collection, which he encouraged everyone else who had “made a decision for Christ” that night to go home and do as well. He billed it as the best way to separate oneself from the world as a good Christian. I swallowed hard and tapped my combat-booted feet on the floor nervously. Oh God, I prayed silently, you can have everything else. Anything else. Just not my AFI albums.
Needless to say, I did not immediately go home and trade in AFI and Dead Kennedys for Chris Tomlin and David Crowder. For some people, that is a necessary step of conversion, and more power to them. But, as someone with a deep connection to Ignatian spirituality, I strive to find God in all things—even the most unlikely places. While there is a lot of popular music out there antithetical to the Christian life, some songs are more theologically accurate than they seem at first listen. Here are 10 of my favorites, and some from my fellow Epic Pew authors.
10. “Hallelujah” by Panic! At the Disco
9. “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” by My Chemical Romance
When I was in high school, this song was the anthem of teen angst, to the point where it was almost a cliche. Listening to it years later as an adult, the cliche effect has worn off and its glaringly honest words about the human condition and trying to seem like you have it together before God and men when you are deeply broken inside are still as universally relatable at twenty-five as they were when I was fifteen.
8. “Cosmic Love” by Florence and the Machine
Like many of Florence + The Machine’s songs, this one has many layers of meaning, from mundane to highly mystical—even the title hints at more than just a normal “earthly” love. The lyrics are all about the search for love in the darkness; not just for the loved one him or herself, but for Love itself. A great song for anyone experiencing a dark night of the soul or a season of dryness.
7. “Young Volcanoes” by Fall Out Boy
It’s really hard not to snap your fingers and sing along to this one. This song is bursting at the seams with happy energy, and its lyrics mirror the Christian joy we should have in the world, and the victorious nature of salvation history of which we are a part.
6. “Let The Flames Begin” by Paramore
With an overarching theme of perseverance through suffering, this could be the theme song of the entire Church throughout the ages. It reminds us to never stop being who we are—no matter what.
Best lyric: “This is how we dance when they try to take us down, this is how we’ll sing. This is how we’ll stand when they burn our houses down, this is what we’ll be, oh glory!”
Parallel Scripture: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”/// 2 Corinthians 4:8
Theme song of: Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
5. “Parabola” by Tool
Eccentric Tool front man Maynard James Keenan’s issues with organized religion are no secret in many of the band’s other songs, especially their early work (and he would probably hate that this song made the list), but Parabola is clearly all about an intense, transformative religious experience when you listen to the lyrics, and a grandly cosmic one at that. A great song for anyone going through conversion or awakening to the presence of God in their lives.
Best lyric: “We barely remember who or what came before this precious moment, we are choosing to be here right now, hold on stay inside this holy reality.”
Parallel Scripture: “It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”///1 John 3:2-3
Theme song of: St. Hildegard of Bingen
4. “Heavydirtysoul” by Twenty One Pilots
This is a song for people looking for redemption when they feel too lost to be saved. Twenty One Pilots have gained a reputation for writing very real, very honest songs that correspond perfectly to the messy, scary journey of the spiritual life, and “Heavydirtysoul” definitely delivers on that front.
Best lyric: “Can you save my heavy dirty soul?”
Parallel Scripture: “But the publican, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!'”///Luke 18:13
Theme song of: St. Dismas the Good Thief
3. “Times Like These” by the Foo Fighters
A classic from adorable rock dad Dave Grohl, “Times Like These” is a totally chill song of hope and encouragement. Every time I have a terrible day and this song comes on, I always feel like it’s God’s way of saying “Chin up. I got this. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Best lyric: “I’m a new day rising, I’m a brand new sky to hang the stars upon tonight.”
Parallel Scripture: “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”///Revelation 21:5
Theme song of: Venerable Matt Talbot
2. “This Year” by The Mountain Goats
This is the song you listen to when literally everything has gone off the rails and you start to feel like the hero of a quirky indie movie with her back against the wall. When it feels like every single demon and temptation in hell is gunning for you and all you can do is grit your teeth and defiantly persevere. Whatever you’re going through might threaten to chew you up and spit you out, but put on this song and by God, you’ll be determined to make it. And by God, you will.
Best lyric: “There will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year, and I am gonna make it though this year if it kills me!”
Parallel Scripture: “For the Lord my God helps me, therefore I am not disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.”///Isaiah 50:7
Theme song of: St. Rita of Cascia
1. “This Is Gospel” by Panic! At the Disco
Yes, P!ATD makes this list twice because I am, to use the vernacular, total P!ATD trash. Also, because this song is literally what the Church is all about. The fallen ones. The vagabonds. The insufferable. Both the lyrics and the video are heart-wrenching tributes to anyone who has been cast out, oppressed, forgotten, or made to feel unloved. It cuts to the heart of our faith, which should and does exist not to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive again.
Best lyric: “This is gospel for the vagabonds, naturals and insufferable bastards confessing their apostasies.”
Parallel Scripture: “He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”///Luke 4:18-19
Theme song of: St. Francis of Assisi