This is Shai Linne‘s final question to me in our 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 the right hand side of this page.
Scott, in your statements on the NCFIC panel, it seems like you made an argument against hip-hop by alluding to its cultural origins. Here are some of your comments:
“Are we allowing the art forms, the way truth is communicated in Scripture to also govern our art forms? When it comes the art form of hip-hop, very few will disagree with the cultural milieu out of which it grew. What it was intended to express by those who created the art form.”
On the panel, there wasn’t time to flesh out your arguments. Can you unpack what you were trying to say?
Thanks for this opportunity to address those comments. First, let me clarify what I did not mean. I did not mean that the sinful origins, roots, sources, or associations of something automatically and in every case render it sinful. This is certainly not always the case. Because of the common grace of God, even good things can come out of bad. For example, a godless composer can indeed produce music that is honorable, noble, and beautiful. Furthermore, good things can be co-opted by sinful people for sinful purposes, but that doesn’t render those things necessarily sinful.
However, the origins of something do present strong indications of what that thing is fitted to do. This is particularly true for a medium of communication. Communicative forms are developed to carry certain kinds of messages well, and by nature they don’t do other things well.
Let me give an example: Smoke signaling was created to be able to send short messages over long distances very quickly. The form of communication itself is suited to its purpose. But, because that form does short messages over long distances well, it is incapable of doing other things well, such as theological discourse. On the other hand, written prose is very well suited to theological distance, but it doesn’t do quick, long distance messages well. There would be no point in ignoring the origins of smoke signaling and insisting that I can “redeem” the form and make it do theological discourse well for those who prefer smoke signals. In other words, the origins of a form of communication can give us good indications of what kind of communication it is able (and not able) to express, and we cannot somehow change what a form of communication does well, no matter our good intentions.
So, when something is produced out of a sinful value system in order to communicate sinful sentiments, that should at least cause us to pause and evaluate that thing before embracing it. If a particular form of communication is originally designed to express sinful messages, there is great reason to assume that the medium will naturally express those values. There are exceptions to this, but it should at least motivate us to carefully consider the medium before using it to communicate Christian truth.
The second reason that sinful origins should at least raise red flags for Christians is that biblically speaking, associations do matter. Associations with sinful activities don’t necessarily render something sinful itself, but the Bible is clear that sinful associations may indeed be reason to reject something.
This was certainly true for Paul with meat that had been offered to idols. Paul was clear that the meat itself was good. But did Paul tell the Corinthians to “redeem” the meat that had sinful associations? No, he told them to avoid eating the meat for the sake of the gospel and the weaker brothers.
These factors have influenced my thinking about rap all along. You’ve focused on my belief that music itself can communicate (even sinfully) with or without lyrics. But that’s really beside the point for this discussion. Christian rap has lyrics. I’ve never said that all hip hop music is necessarily inherently sinful. In fact, I presented my opinion that the hip hop instrumental you gave me was itself morally good.
On the contrary, what I have said is that since Christian rap has lyrics, and those lyrics are about God and his truth, the medium of communication must be fitting and appropriate for that lyrical content. And my argument has been that I do not believe hip hop is a medium of communication fitting for the expression of God’s holy truth. Rather, it naturally expresses sentiments that are ill-fitting for biblical values.
Recognizing the origins of hip hop is only part of what leads me to that conclusion, and only because origins do help to give some indication of what a medium of communication is suited to express. After more cultural and musical investigation, other factors that I’ve explained in this discussion confirm my belief that hip hop music and performance practice are well suited to the expression for which they were originally designed and not suited to communicating the gospel or worshiping the Sovereign of the Universe.