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
I was raised in a loving Christian home where my parents taught me the grace and love of Christ at an early age. However, that did not keep me from being surrounded by the trappings of fundamentalism in the Bible-belt. While my parents and pastors taught me that we are all sinners (“bad guys”) in need of the death and resurrection of Jesus to save us and forgive us of our sins, I was surrounded by those who adhered to a form of Christianity that seemed to say Christians are the “good guys” and non-Christians are the “bad guys.” There were those who seemed to think God was impressed with them because of what they did and didn’t do, and God was mad at anyone who was different than them. Regrettably, I would find myself from time-to-time adopting this way of thinking. I would be harsh and judgmental towards those who didn’t “act like Christians.”
One of my favorite short stories that I read in school was “The Lottery.” It tells the fictional story of a festival on June 27th in what seems to be a small, Middle America farming town. The story describes the townspeople gathering in the square while children play, women gossip, and the men talk about farming and the weather. Then, as is the annual custom, a lottery is performed where the heads of the families draw a slip of paper out of a black box. One husband draws a slip with a black spot on it. Then, slips are put back into the box for him and all of his family to draw one more time. On this occasion, Mrs. Hutchinson is the one who finally draws the slip with the mark on it. This story ends with a dreadful twist as the townspeople pick up stones and begin pelting Mrs. Hutchinson in the head until she dies.
This story kept my attention in school because of the striking end to it. The serene picture of a town festival in 20th century Middle America is shattered by a brutal and barbaric tradition. It is a shocking piece of fiction because the end reveals a fertility cult that practices human sacrifice in 20th century Middle America. Old Man Warner tells why they do this annually, “Lottery comes in June; corn will be heavy soon.” They do this to ensure the harvest will happen. They do this to ensure economic stability.
This barbaric practice is actually deep in human history. Ancient pagan fertility cults would sacrifice their children to the gods because they thought that would guarantee the harvest. In Leviticus 20, the Lord spoke through Moses to prohibit the Israelites from doing this sort of thing. They are forbidden to sacrifice their children to Molech the way that the peoples around them did. These people would plant the blood (seed) of their children in the ground to appease the gods so that rain would come and the crops would grow.
What is striking is that ancient, pagan fertility practices aren’t ancient at all. Miles from where I write this there are babies being brutally slaughtered so people can ensure economic stability (and a host of other stabilities). We in America are sacrificing our children by the millions to false gods like Molech (money, sex, comfort, career status, etc.). And, what is more shocking is that those who are pro-abortion are finally admitting that child sacrifice is taking place. In a scandalous article by Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled, “So What if Abortion Ends Life?” she says at the conclusion of her article, “She understands that [abortion] saves lives not just in the most medically literal way, but in the roads that women who have choice then get to go down, in the possibilities for them and for their families. And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing” (emphasis mine).
A friend of mine, Dean Inserra, who is the Pastor of City Church Tallahassee, tweeted the Williams article and called abortion the #1 social justice issue of our day, and I think he is right. Fighting the cause of social justice is all the rage among young people, especially young evangelicals. But, I fear that some young evangelicals love social justice issues that are seen as hip and cool in the mainstream and shy away from the social justice issue of abortion because it is so controversial. By the thousands we will raise our voice and wear a T-shirt for the 27 million slaves worldwide, and we should, but where are the T-shirts for the 42 million babies aborted every year worldwide?
The church needs to engage in this social justice issue, and that means more than voting records and bumper stickers. It means teaching our people that parenting is more important than self-fulfillment. It means sacrificing our time to volunteer in the nurseries and children’s ministries of our churches. It means Christians investing their time in tutoring programs and after school care. It means championing adoption and foster care. It means the community of faith adjusting our lifestyles even if we don’t have kids to help others adopt or to provide for single moms. It means fighting against poverty. It means recognizing that abortion is not just a women’s issue, but it is also a men’s issue. Many women would raise a child if they weren’t abandoned by the biological father. Churches need to train young men in how to man up. It means this and much more.
The Church also needs to minister to those who have had abortions. Fertility cults and child sacrifice may seem barbaric and distant, but they are not. According to Williams’ article, one in three women will have an abortion. That means this issue and the people affected by it are everywhere around us. They are in our homes, in our schools, in our workplace, and in our churches. Yes, we need to take up the cause of the most helpless of our society, but we also need to minister to the women who have chosen to abort (and the men who encouraged it). We don’t need to ostracize or demonize them. Instead, we need to share with them the story of a Father who sacrificed His Son on the cross to end death, end sin, end oppression, and end all that curses this world. We need to share that for those who believe in His sacrifice there is NO condemnation!
Recently, I observed a young father worshipping Christ during a chapel service. He had one raised and the other holding his crippled 18mo old daughter; she was enjoying a few minutes out of her wheelchair.
One of my dearest friends waits daily for his hospital-issued beeper to go off so he can rush his four year old daughter, “Leah,” to the hospital for a heart transplant—Leah’s heart will not last much longer.
Several years ago, a close family member was kidnapped, beaten, molested, and left unconscious in the edge of the woods; a few high school boys thought this was a good idea for gang initiation.
What emotions manifest when you hear these stories? Fury, for me! But, furious at who? Or what? Psalm 97:10—“O you who love the Lord, hate evil!”
Rarely are we reminded of Scripture’s instruction to hate sin. I do not have in mind the theological dilemma about whether or not God hates sin and sinners, but simply the fact that when Christians grow deeper in their love for God, their hatred for sin should deepen also.
Rape, incest, abortion, fathers who abandon their families, theft, sex trafficking, greed, million dollar mansions built next to tents and trailer parks, genocide, homicide, infanticide, suicide, sex trafficking—all man-initiated realities in God’s good world, but not what God intended.
Cancer, hunger, still-born babies, tornadoes that destroy towns, hurricanes that sink cities, tsunamis that devastate districts and earthquakes that cripple countries—all the effects of sin in creation that have taken the lives of countless millions.
How can these things be??? They are both the effects and outworking of sin.
And here’s the kicker, we are participants.
Men, every time you gratify yourself with a glance at a short skirt, a gorging at the buffet, or yet another draw-attention-to-yourself comment about who you know or what you’ve done, you fight for sin’s team. Ladies, each time you cover your mouth to whisper gossip, starve yourself so you’re more relationally marketable, or enjoy the thought that your kids are better dressed and better behaved than so and so’s kids, you fuel sin’s fire. As the redeemed of God, we certainly still struggle with sin, but it is not enough to “try harder to stop”; while resting in the sin-destroying work of Christ in our lives, we must increasingly hate sin and its effects. We must recognize that when we sin, we participate in the very evil that rapes women, kills children, starves families, and ravishes every ounce of order in creation. Hate sin!
But, love righteousness. God’s mission is to destroy this sin and evil that He too hates. By way of Christ’s finished work, and His Kingdom come, God will destroy death, sin and evil and restore all things to Himself where His people will reign with Him forever with righteousness and equity. What a privilege to share this great news with those who are slaves to sin, but can become slaves to righteousness.
As your love for God deepens, so should your hatred of sin. Don’t counsel porn addicts simply to “stop.” Help them understand that they’re contributing to the very thing that causes chaos and suffering in our world. Hate sin, but love, evermore, the One who has crushed it and will destroy it.
He bids us come and fight for His team. And, Christ, the team captain, “loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed [Him]…” Heb 1:9
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