Update (12/10 6:00am): Shai’s reply is posted below.
Shai Linne and I are having a conversation between Christian brothers about Christian rap. This post will not make sense unless you start at the beginning of this discussion and read through all the posts. You can find the other posts in this discussion on this page or on the right hand side of this post. This is a rebuttal by me and reply by Shai to Friday’s post.
Shai, thank for your helpful explanation of how different kinds of rap are more suited to different subjects. I appreciate the perspective of an expert who understands the nuances of the art form.
This is not so much of a rebuttal to your answer as an observation and a plea that I hope will help us move this discussion on to the next level.
First, I am thankful that you acknowledge that musical forms do communicate, that they shape their lyrical content in particular ways, and that certain forms are more appropriate for specific kinds of truth content than others.
Second, I fully recognize your caveats: You do not believe that inappropriateness is necessarily sinful, and you believe that musical communication is culturally conditioned rather than universal.
Let me just say that I agree with both of those caveats in many, many cases. Often times what music communicates makes it inappropriate for a particular context or content, but that doesn’t mean it is sinful. Furthermore, I agree that much of what music communicates is culturally conditioned. I obviously do not believe this is always the case, but I’d like to set this issue aside for a moment for the sake of our discussion.
In the meantime, third, I would simply like to observe that you did not use any Scripture to prove that “southern Hip-hop is strong when it comes to encouraging excitement and rallying around something.” You did not use the Bible to argue that “often times the medium is, in my opinion, not appropriate to the gravity of the message.” You did not use Scripture when you insisted that southern Hip-hop “wouldn’t be the best style to use if the song were an introspective prayer to God confessing sin.” You used your own perception and understanding of music to make those assessments, and I believe you were quite justified in doing so.
But here is the point I would like to stress here: often we who argue that certain forms of music are not fitting to communicate God’s truth are cut off from any discussion because the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that music communicates, how music communicates, or that some kinds of music are inappropriate for holy matters.
I would like to ask that at very least you acknowledge that appealing to silence in Scripture is not a legitimate argument used to end all debate about the appropriateness of particular forms of music for Christian purposes. Rather, it is our responsibility as Christians to actively evaluate what particular music means and determine whether or not it is appropriate for a given subject, whether or not that meaning is culturally conditioned.
Granted, we may disagree on exactly what rap communicates and whether it is appropriate to communicate the Word of God. But this is exactly where the debate should occur.
I’m convinced that if we could get past the “But the Bible doesn’t say anything about music!” argument, we could really move this discussion along to actually discuss the merits and demerits of the genre of rap itself.
Thanks for your reply, Scott. You observed that I didn’t use Scripture in my last response to you. Of course, this is because the answer to the question you asked isn’t found in Scripture. Like you acknowledged, “…the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that music communicates, how music communicates, or that some kinds of music are inappropriate”. By the way, I’m really glad to hear you say that. I think that acknowledgement helps to move the conversation forward.
You said: “I would like to ask that at very least you acknowledge that appealing to silence in Scripture is not a legitimate argument used to end all debate about the appropriateness of particular forms of music for Christian purposes.”
I’m with you on that. I agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6) when it says
“..there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word…”
The question of the appropriateness of different styles/ forms (apart from lyrics) falls under the category of “Christian prudence”. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important or that we shouldn’t discuss it. To give an example, the matter of how we order our corporate worship services (i.e. the number of songs we sing, whether or not we make announcements, how long the sermon should be, etc.) is not explicit in Scripture. These are matters of Christian prudence. The silence of Scripture on those particulars shouldn’t end the discussion about it.
But here’s the thing: While the Bible “doesn’t explicitly say that music communicates, how music communicates, or that some kinds of music are inappropriate”, I think we would agree that Scripture does speak explicitly, directly and repeatedly about the content of the church’s music, both descriptively and prescriptively (1 Chron.16:23, 2 Chron. 5:13, Neh. 12:46, Ps. 9:11, 30:4, 59:16, 89:1, 96:2, 101:1, 119:172, 138:5, 147:1, Is. 12:5, 42:10-12 Col. 3:16, James 5:13, etc.). Between the two (content and form), the Bible says a lot about one and very little about the other. So why would we emphasize style/ form when Scripture de-emphasizes it? When I evaluate a song that claims to be Christian, my primary consideration is the lyrics. Form is of secondary importance. That doesn’t mean we that can’t or shouldn’t evaluate form, but it does mean that when we do so, it requires the humility to acknowledge that we’re in the realm of Christian prudence. On top of that, when we attempt to make a cross-cultural evaluation of a form/style, it requires that we familiarize ourselves with the culture enough to make an informed evaluation.
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.