Beyond the Flap about Christian Rap
by Johnathan Pritchett
SBCToday contributing writer
When Paige Patterson and Al Mohler both defend Reformed Christian Rap, Southern Baptists are bound to take note, especially those who do not follow contemporary styles of music in the wider culture of Christendom. A discussion panel at the recent Worship of God Conference sponsored by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches raised a question about Reformed Christian Rap. The panel made a few off-the-cuff comments, some of which were unfortunate; the video went viral, and a kerfuffle on the Internet ensured. That is to be expected. I commend the analyses of Patterson and Mohler to readers getting up-to-speed on this recent rumpus.
This post is not about all that, though. Subsequent comments from all the people weighing in on this issue have also noted the need for a wider discussion. This is the lone entry from SBCToday seeks to further the discussion rather than rehashing what already has been repeated.
In one sense, this conversation really is old hat. It seems that every time a new form of music enters Christian culture and steadily gains popularity as a ministry vehicle anywhere in the world, there is always a controversy. Dissenters rip verses like 1 Thess 5:22, Rom 12:2, and James 4:4 out of context. Advocates cite Ps 33:2, Ps 150:3-6, Ps 98:6, 1 Chr 15:16, and so on.
Since that conversation has been done to death, it is time to stop and assess some things. As I have written before here on this site, I believe that all things should be done for the glory of God, and reflect objective truth, goodness, and beauty. Those things are not in the eye of the beholder, but are grounded in the very nature of God. I believe that because I believe this is what the Bible teaches. Beyond that, I have seen that objectivity reflected in just about every musical genre. Sometimes it takes a tutored ear to hear it in certain musical genres, but unless someone is deliberately trying to make ugly and false noise, for me, almost everything is okay in my book – almost — though I prefer that some forms of music stay out of corporate worship services altogether. On the other hand, I also hope and pray that in a culture of Christendom, we would embrace all true, good, and beautiful art forms that bring glory to God. This is especially so if they are an effective delivery means for the Gospel.
Full disclosure: I was a Christian Rapper. See “Cross Soldiers” on Myspace and you will unfortunately be exposed to my horrific contributions to the genre. Before that, I was in a hard rock Christian band, which thankfully was before the time the Internet was in full swing, thus sparing me further embarrassment with my high school music efforts also being firmly embedded somewhere on the World Wide Web.
So, this discussion is one I have had for some time now, and given this history, I am a bit sensitive to it. I have not changed my views even though I am now a middle-aged white guy who has stopped pursuing that kind of music. Back then, I was only average at best; but it was fun, and preaching in that context is actually where I cut my teeth presenting sermons, even to the most hostile of crowds in the dirtiest bars in the Mid-South. Hey, many Christian artists merely give a testimony during their performances, if even that. So, yes, I am a bit biased toward being generally positive in embracing musical genres others in the SBC may not like. Yes, God uses it to bring people to Himself. I’ve seen it first hand. God is mighty to save.
Back to Reformed Christian Rap music. People often discuss the high theology in the lyrical content. Many praise songs we sing in contemporary services do not even come close to matching the theology in some of these rap songs. When was the last time you sang a praise chorus in a contemporary worship service that went into depth about the hypostatic union? I applaud high theology in any musical expression, even theology that contains soteriological views I reject.
But there is a picture bigger than just Reformed Christian Rap. There are other kinds of Christian Rap as well. Some of it contains sound theology that isn’t Reformed. However — and this is what is important to know — there is also an enormous amount of it that goes under the banner of “Christian Rap” but is, in the vernacular, “straight up garbage.” By garbage, I don’t simply mean it “sounds terrible” compared to other Christian Rap music, like my aforementioned contributions.
By garbage, I mean theological garbage.
As mentioned above, I was involved in the local Christian Rap scene here in Arkansas years ago, and almost all of the Christian rappers I knew of were in the extreme end of the charismatic, prosperity movements, complete with all the abysmal theology that goes with it in their music and rhetoric. Also, many of the rappers wore absurd amounts of jewelry, were flaunting money, and some even used the “n-word” minus the “r” in their lyrics — all under the guise of “relating to the people.”
In that sense, there is a bridge too far in these sorts of endeavors to “reach the lost” through popular genres of music, and heresy is heresy regardless of the vehicle it rides. As I have continued to survey the full spectrum of Christian Rap music over the years since my departure from it, not much has changed. Still lots of garbage Christian Rap music out there.
As far as theological garbage goes, the same can be said about a lot of Christian Rock, Christian Alternative, Christian Heavy Metal, Christian Praise Choruses, Southern Gospel, certain hymns even, and whatever else. Some of these artists and composers are not regenerate, live wickedly, and use the banner of “Christian music” as a means to get a crowd because they couldn’t hack it as secular artists and they just want to make some money and do music for their own glory and selfish ambition. This is neither unexpected nor surprising though, but it is worth the reminder.
Being from Arkansas, I remember when Evanescence openly claimed, despite the denials, to be a Christian band before they hit it big, and remember when they were pulled from LifeWay and other Christian retail stores when they made some questionable comments for public consumption. We’ve all seen other bands and artists that were “Christian” when they were nobodies, then get popular and go secular, or their lives go into the toilet, or they simply become nominal Christians who are snickered at behind their backs among their secular peers for clinging to their old beliefs, but not living according to them.
For the record, I don’t even believe every song a Christian musician performs has to be about Jesus, or contain rich theology. However, every Christian artist needs to live like a Christian, serve the Lord, pursue truth, goodness, and beauty, and do all things to the glory of God (Col. 3:23-24). Like pastors, theologians and anyone else in the Church, these Christian musicians are not above scrutiny and accountability.
So, I’ll add some more proof texts that actually are relevant to the discussion. 1 Thess 5:21, 1 John 4:1, and Rom 12:9 are pertinent to this issue of Christian music, rap or otherwise.
The body of Christ is diverse, each person with different gifts, from different cultures, etc. The whole book of Ephesians speaks to this mightily. The cross of Christ unites people from all tribes, tongues, and nations (Rev 5:9). God has not baptized any particular sin-stained culture. God redeems people from all cultures. God’s redemptive scope is cosmic (Rom 8:20-22). Thus, one sin-stained culture should not be completely abandoned in favor of another sin-stained culture in terms of artistic expression, clothing style, etc., within the bounds of Christian reason and biblical standards of conduct.
One does not get saved and have to therefore dress like a middle-aged white guy from the South and sing out of the Heavenly Highway hymn book (with horrific songs like “Ain’t It a Shame” and all that) and dare not go beyond those bounds. That kind of notion is, of course, complete rubbish (they should use the Baptist Hymnal instead…just kidding…sort of). The good ol’ South that I love is sin-stained as well. So, trying to impose some arbitrary standard of culture on people within the Church that cannot be grounded in good exegesis of Scripture is an errand of the foolish.
Now, having said that, this lone SBCToday contribution wants to add to this further discussion, this old hat discussion, one little bit of biblical wisdom: Use discernment with everything labeled “Christian,” and this biblical principle extends beyond music genres, but as the Scripture says, “in all things.”