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A Brand of His Own

April 2, 2024

Lately, I have found myself playing Chris Renzema’s new release, “Narrow Road” on repeat. Something about his raw, honest lyrics has captured my attention since the day his music started filling my Spotify queue on March 13, 2020 – ironically the day of the COVID shutdown. In a world where secular artists are feeding depression and anxiety with their cynical lyrics, and Gen Z believers are growing tired of the shallow answers offered by some CCM artists, Chris Renzema somehow manages to balance faith with real human experiences. So, I wasn’t surprised to see that he made it to my top 5 on Spotify Wrapped for the fourth year in a row this past December.

Speaking of Spotify, Christ Renzema is just one example of an artist who has paved his way forward with the help of Spotify. Though now signed to Centricity Music, Renzema’s songs spoke for themselves in the early days of his self-produced albums. A Native Michigander, Renzema began discovering his passion for Christ-centered music by leading his youth worship band. Songwriting naturally flowed out of his faith and feelings, and shortly after high school graduation, he released his first EP “Age to Age” in 2014. A year later, he left music school at Taylor University and moved to Nashville. Amidst countless ambitious artists in the Music City, Renzema’s imprint might have seemed minor, and for a couple of years, it was. But he remained faithful to his craft, and through the platform Spotify provided, his 2018 album “I’ll Be the Branches” attracted the attention of Centricity Music (the same label that produces Lauren Daigle and Andrew Peterson). In 2020, he was nominated to be one of the contenders for GMA Dove Awards’ “New Artist of the Year.” Today, he boasts 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify and is featured on countless playlists, including Top Christian Contemporary, Top Christian and Gospel, and Most Favored.

Renzema’s rise to fame is unique to this era of Christian music. Historically, CCM artists gained popularity through the prominent churches or revival movements of their time. Love Song originated from Calvary Chapel’s Marantha! Music and the Jesus People Movement of the ‘70s. Across the pond, Matt Redman co-founded the Soul Survivor Movement and led worship at the ensuing church with his original songs in the ‘90s. Australian church Hillsong greatly defined and established the CCM genre in the 21st century. Cody Carnes, Kari Jobe, Brian and Jenn Johnson, Brandon Lake, Brooke Fraser, Chris Brown, Tiffany Hudson, Chris McClarney, Abbie Gamboa, you name it… all rooted in one famous megachurch or another. But Chris Renzema is his own brand.

Perhaps that is what causes him to be so characteristically authentic and down-to-earth. His songs are reminiscent of the early days of contemporary Christian music, when the musical accompaniments were simple and acoustic, the focus was on Jesus, and Scripture was forefront of the lyrics. The message and style were relevant in the ‘70s, and it remains relevant today as Gen Z is seeking something real in a digital, filtered, hurried world. The earthy, homegrown vibes of his music reflect the restoration of folk music among Gen Z. He’s even been described by one Spotify user playlist as the “Noah Kahan for Christ-followers.” But beyond the timeliness of his genre, Renzema unabashedly asks the questions other young believers have certainly wondered: “Is it true there’s no room for an anxious heart?” Wrestling with the feeling that “when [he] look[s] at [his] phone, it’s like walking through the valley of death,” he declares in response that Jesus is “the prince of peace.” He’s tackled hot topics like anxiety, deconstruction, and the everyday struggle of growing up. Songs like “Narrow Road,” “Caught in the Reeds,” and “Jacob” bridge the gap between the teachings of Scripture and the lived experiences of today’s young adults.

When I listen to his music, I’m reminded of the character of Jesus – the One who “always took the time to be with the lowest and the last in the line, no matter what they were like.” Needless to say, I’m looking forward to Chris Renzema’s return to Liberty. He has stopped here a few times throughout the years, headlining The Gray Havens and then performing a couple of his own shows. This spring, he’s taking on the big stage!

Join us on April 5th at 8 pm in the Vines Center as Chris Renzema encourages and challenges us with the songs of his newest album “Manna” and with some old favorites, too. Citizens will be headlining the night, and tickets start at $10 for students.

References:

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/chris-renzema-mn0003680224#biography

https://www.westmichiganchristian.com/local/1084-singer-songwriter-reflects-on-music-and-his-west-michigan-roots.html

https://www.klove.com/music/blog/music-news/51st-gma-dove-awards-meet-2020-s-new-artist-of-the-year-contenders-996

Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship by Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth

https://www.allmusic.com/artist/matt-redman-mn0000321944#biography

https://open.spotify.com/

“No Room for an Anxious Heart” by Chris Renzema

“A Four Chord Protest” by Chris Renzema

 

Written by Moriah Joseph

Moriah is a sophomore studying Music & Worship and TESL. She is passionate about the power of words and music in communicating the Gospel and hopes to one day use both in the mission field in Latin America. When she’s not busy in the practice rooms and library or working an SA event, she loves improvising on the piano, serving at her church, and spending intentional time with friends and family. She has always loved writing and is so grateful to be a part of the Student Activities blog team!