Guest Post by Brian Davis: Brian is a Christian Hip Hop Artist who goes by the name God’s Servant. Brian is currently a church-planting intern with at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and is planning to plant in Philadelphia. Brian also completed the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
Like many, I was shocked by the recently released panel from the NCFIC on “Reformed Rap”. I wanted to chime in on the dialogue and offer some thoughts- both as an individual that is sympathetic to the panelists’ theological bent, as well as one who is a Hip-hopper culturally. There seems to be a lack of people who identify with both worlds, so I figured I would cast my lot in the pile. I hope it is helpful to the conversation.
I do want to preface by saying that I think these brothers are probably very godly men. While I haven’t heard of all of them, I have heard of some of them and their reputations are those of men who love the Lord, His Word and His church. My response is aimed at interacting with the thoughts they shared, not to make statements about the men themselves. I am sure this video is not reflective of the state of their godliness or the best barometer at assessing their lives–lives which are probably marked with decades of faithfulness to our Lord. I want to honor these men in the Lord, thank them for caring about the glory of God and share my thoughts to hopefully aid in future discussion towards unity in the body.
With that being said, I can’t help but lament how careless these brothers were in their language, and how revealing it is of a cultural elitism that is far too welcomed in Christianity and made at home by some of our leaders. When speaking of Christian maturity, we do not bring up the prevalence of the fruit of the Spirit in peoples lives, or their rootedness in the Word of God and how firmly they cling to the gospel. Rather, we reference sideways hats, music styles and earrings, as if that is somehow a good measurement of maturity from God’s point of view? Where is that in the bible?! We would all do well to do as these brothers suggest- adhere to every word we find in Scripture to ensure our worship is acceptable to God. However, the converse of such an admonishment is that we must be equally careful not to add to God’s Word in our efforts for purity in worship. By neglecting the former we end up like Nadab and Abihu; by neglecting the latter we end up like the Pharisees.
In an attempt to respond to some of the principles presented in the panel, I thought I would take a slightly different approach. Rather than going argument for argument (there have been several responses done in that format), I thought I would select a few key issues surrounding the conversation and try to interact with them. It seems to me that the issue in this debate (which is no new debate at all) is the mishandling of the bible, the confusion surrounding culture and the clouding of the glory of God.
1. The Mishandling of the Bible
The words of the psalmist echo in my mind here, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word” (Psalm 119:9). What a comfort this is! The Bible is a blade to cut through all speculation with a two-sided edge. On the one edge, it cuts down the careless heart that recklessly wanders into the presence of a Holy God. On the other edge, it cuts away the legalistic heart that would require something of a worshipper that God does not require in His Word. Some of the biggest straw men arguments that I hear lobbied against Christian Hip-Hop accuses those within the culture with phrases like “worldliness”, fleshy/flesh feeding, carnal, immature, etc, Now, while this sounds very God honoring and considerate (and I believe the brothers who make these accusations intend to be), it lacks exegetical integrity and hermeneutical care as it rips biblical phrases out of their contexts and seeks to apply them in ways that cannot be biblically sustained. For instance, to insinuate, as this recent panel did, that Christian Hip Hop is bad because God doesn’t just care about what’s being said but how it is being said and that anyone who holds to the sufficiency of Scripture should agree… is quite simply, ridiculous.
I was very troubled by this video clip of a panel that discussed the question: “What about Reformed Rap?” And I have to be honest, the more times I have watched it the more troubled I get that Christian brothers would speak the way they do about the Reformed Hip Hop movement. Three things in particular stuck out about this panel:
1) Sufficiency of Scripture – The most disappointing and ironic part of the discussion was that the scriptures were hardly mentioned. Now, the panelists spoke often of the sufficiency of scripture and its implications for musical worship. However, only once did a panelist make a passing quote of a scripture and never was a passage or reference explicitly mentioned. In fact, the panelist who posted the video clip on his blog spoke the most of sufficiency but he never mentioned a scripture. It’s extremely disappointing that a group of men that advocate the sufficiency of the scriptures so harshly critiques this genre without consulting the scriptures to do so.
2) The Implication that the Bible exhorts or endorses certain styles while condemning others – Several times it is alluded to that there are styles (in particular Hip Hop was mentioned) that are not “honoring to God” or they are distracting. Now to be sure there are certain things that would probably be tough to sing corporately, but this panel was ruling this genre out altogether. I believe the onus must be on these panelists to argue that the Bible commends or endorses a certain style and rules out other ones. For instance the Bible often mentions music and musical instruments, some that seem to imply there is quite a bit of beat to them (though we weren’t there so we cant know) in places like Psalm 150:3-6 which states, “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” In addition, David commends this in 1 Chronicles 15:16, “David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.” These are just a few of the many biblical texts that mention music and musical instruments without making a comment on styles. Again the onus is on these panelists to make a compelling argument from the scriptures as to why certain styles are out of bounds and if they are going to make this argument they need to at least use some scriptures to do so. Instead to bolster their arguments they make assumptions that the beats of rap songs distract from the message. In addition, they seek to bolster their argument by saying a good musical genre for the Christian should be memorable and rap fails at this. I think this argument actually works against what they are trying to argue because rap (due to the beats) is very memorable which is why I know of parents who use Christian hip hop to catechize their children because it is so memorable and rich theologically. Finally, some of the panelists use the cultural milieu that Hip Hop came out of to argue against Reformed Rap. A couple of quotes from Ed Stetzer’s Calling for Contextualization, Part 7 to address this argument and its irony:
“Of course I think it’s kind of strange to say, “I don’t believe in engaging culture or contextualization” while wearing a suit that became popular 50 years ago, singing music that became popular 100 years ago on an instrument that became popular 300 years ago on furniture that became popular 600 years ago.”
“Much of what you do in your worship was controversial or considered too far at some point in the past. Just music alone is enough to help you think through some of the issues. Can we sing songs not in the psalter? What about musical instruments? That was hotly debated a few hundred years ago, and of course, many Christians were against it. And once you okay musical instruments, which ones are acceptable? Reading how the church has handled the issue of culture historically will help you think through your own church and culture issues (and music is just one easy to see example).”
3) The Assumptions and accusations about the motives and intentions of Reformed Rappers – Finally, and probably the saddest aspect of this panel, are the assumptions and accusations made about the intents of the hearts and motives of reformed rappers. They are called cowards, those who capitulate to the World, attention seekers, and those who seek to serve their own flesh. This aspect of the panel was very discouraging and almost enraging as these brothers slandered brothers by making assumptions about their hearts and their motives. Though it is clear that are times to judge fruits, these panelists should consider the warnings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 that pertain to judging hearts and motives: “In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” It is disheartening to see that not one of the panelists thought these assumptions and accusations were out of bounds!
My hope is that my reformed rapping brothers will keep on rapping and giving the church rich theological songs that exalt Christ, edify the saints, and engage unbelievers. And my hope is that there will be more conversations on this topic where light instead of heat rule the day. And most of all I hope the scriptures are central to those conversations and not on the periphery.
Note: There will be a follow up post to this blog from Brian Davis who is a Christian hip Hop artist named God’s Servant. Brian is currently a church-planting intern with us at Imago Dei and is planning to plant in Philadelphia. In addition, Brian completed the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
And to get a taste of some Christian Hip Hop check out his song, Worthy is the Lamb
When denominations that question the authority of the Scriptures and some of its clear teachings reject In Christ Alone by the Getty’s we should not be surprised. However, when SBC Convention leaders question the content of that song and say they will not sing the line in question (“Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied”) this should be alarming for Alabama and Southern Baptists.
This is exactly what has happened in a recent article entitled, “Why Disagree about the Words of a Hymn?” penned by The Alabama Baptist’s editor Dr. Bob Terry. There are many avenues one could take to disagree with this article but the one that is most striking to me is that he seems to indicate we either need to emphasize his love or his wrath when he writes, “But God is not the enemy. He is our seeking Friend (Luke 15). That is why I prefer to focus on His love evidenced at Calvary rather than on His wrath.” This is problematic because it makes it seem like we have to choose one or the other, when both are on display at the Cross and in the song. The problem is that the author seems to deny or at least minimize Penal Substitution. This type of theology (though very common in liberal circles who get weak stomachs talking about wrath) minimizes God’s just anger toward sin, his holiness, the great offense of sin, and in so doing disrespects the work of Christ in becoming the propitiation for our sins.
There is much more that could be said here but others have addressed this better than I can:
- Timothy George’s No Squishy Love
- Russell Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Wrath of God?
- Jason Duesing Christ Has Defeated Every Sin: Another Hymn Edited
Why is this a big deal? As you will see in the articles above, the gospel itself is at stake. And if we are not unified around the key elements of the gospel then cooperative missions is impossible. In a way, this article is a stinging reminder that the Conservative Resurgence is not over. In a similar way to how the conservatives did not want to give CP dollars to liberal institutions in the past, we hear many Southern Baptists question why give CP dollars to state conventions that still have vestiges of moderate theology. Some state conventions do not even ask their employees to sign the BFM2000, which affirms Penal Substitution. This sort of article (and this is not some minor disagreement like whether we disagree on the time of the rapture) just adds to the uneasiness of many to give CP dollars to state conventions where some of that money will go into the hand of liberal institutions and leaders. The SBC was started for the propagation of the gospel through cooperative missions; if the gospel is lost we have nothing to take to the World!
I am thankful that we sang In Christ Alone last week unedited in my local church gathering. I sang the line in question with joy and celebration because it reminds me of my former self, the wrath I deserved, but more than that the work of the Savior I love on my behalf! And it calls to mind the truths of Isaiah 53 – so we are going to keep signing that line because in it is good news, the best news you can ever hear!
 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
 And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Recently, the Gospel Project hosted a panel at the SBC on “Christ-Centered Preaching” with Ed Stetzer, Trevin Wax, Eric Hankins, and Baptist21’s Jon Akin. You can listen to that discussion here.
The whole situation at LC is a sad one. No matter which side one takes in this controversy, when allegations of dishonesty are being made at a Baptist institution, it is heartbreaking. Our desire in the interview was to shine light on this situation and to quote Alfred from the newest Batman, for “truth to have its day.” We attempted to do this by asking the questions that many have asked us about this controversy. Shining light on this situation is difficult since many questions are being left unanswered. But, here are a few reflections on the interview and the controversy:
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