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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Roots

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.

Shai_Bio-300x300Scott, 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?

Scott-thumb-300x300Thanks 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.

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Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

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.

39 Responses to Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: Roots

  1. Jesse B. says:

    Amen. Scott, did you read my last comments in the rebuttal from subjectivity?

  2. Martin says:

    Bravo – I can agree with that.

    “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.”

    Still, this is a difficult one. Certainly we can say there’s a big chance that the medium (rather, the form) will ENHANCE the expression (rather, representation) of those values in the lyrics (and, by implication, counteract the expression of other values in the lyrics). The music by itself will rarely be clear in expressing values (exceptions granted) but will often express emotions etc., which are not moral without context, as we have discussed ad nauseam.

    So is this is or will there be a final question from Scott to Shai?

  3. Jesse B. says:

    I think Scott has a final question.

  4. Jon Crappel says:

    Scott, you said — “The hip hop instrumental you gave me was itself morally good.”

    And — “(Christian rap) lyrics are about God and his truth”

    And yet you conclude — “I do not believe hip hop is a medium of communication fitting for the expression of God’s holy truth.”

    That makes no sense.

  5. Jesse B. says:

    Jon,
    “Circus music” is morally good music, but I’m not sure I would choose to express my heart attitude in worship to the Lord with it. For me, I want to “press on”, as Paul said in Philippians 3, To find the best music I can that is, not only in line with Biblical principles, but is fitting before a Holy and Almighty God. Music that is beautiful in its form, and is also proclaiming who God is and how He is to be perceived. The form of the music that is chosen in approaching God says a lot about what that particular person thinks about God and how to approach Him.

    To illustrate this, would it be appropriate to present a prestigious award (like the Nobel Peace prize or the lifetime achievement award) and as it is being brought out on stage, there is circus music in the background? Circus music exudes right and joyful feelings, emotions, and attitude for the right setting. Circus music, although good music and harmless, gives. A different message in the presentation of the Nobel Peace prize.

    In the same way, music that may be morally fine can also be completely inappropriate for a certain setting.

  6. Jesse B. says:

    Yes, those feelings are right for accepting the Nobel Peace prize, but there is also a feeling of playfulness and silliness in circus music. (I’m not sure why I put it in quotes before……lol)

  7. Jon Crappel says:

    Jesse,

    Perhaps you may feel that way, but even after all of the digital ink spilled Scott has not proven his assertions that music sans lyrics can a) be morally good, or b) that hip hop is inappropriate to God’s ears. We are left with his opinion that those things be the case. I agree that circus music would probably inappropriate for the example you mention, but if you can’t discern the difference between circus music and, say, Taste and See (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCo2I_E-Hh8), then, well, I’m sorry. All you prove with that example is that some music is inappropriate for some occasions, not that hip hop is inappropriate for the worship of God, or even to express truths about him.

  8. Martin says:

    … which takes us back to the original claim that ‘rap is good for teaching’, for example. If that is true, there may be some application here, as long as both the lyrics and music go along with each other. Certainly, I hesitate to call some Christian rap that recites Romans or other sections of the Bible ‘immoral’. So how should we deal with this?
    a) Say rap/HHH is always immoral? Scott already said Shai’s sample was moral, so this does not fly (and many of us believe it never flies anyways).
    b) Say that HHH can be tweaked to be made suitable for biblical messaging but the examples are few and far-between?
    c) Argue that rap musicologically communicates ‘laid-backness’ (as I tried to show in my own blog post) and hence, is not suitable for Christian messaging?

    Other options?

  9. Jesse B. says:

    There is too much emphasis on a certain genre of music (in this case, christian rap, of course.) When the Lord commanded sacrifices in the Old Testatment, it need to be a lamb without blemish, otherwise it was not a sweet smelling savor to the Lord. The same principle applies here. The bible just does not say “thou shalt not approach the Lord with this tyrpe of music.” There are principles that apply that God either accepts or doesn’t. In a previous post, I posted links to the national anthem, and it was clear and obvious that one version contained principles that made that rendition bad or unacceptable while the pther made it good and acceptable. It is simply distasteful and in some cases sin to approach a Holy and Almighty God with principles, that he has said in his word, that he does not accept. These principles are clearly portrayed in genres of rap and hip hop. Also, the principles are not only clear, but the outward manifestation of the flesh is clear. It is very clear simply by watching music videos on MTV and seeing how the people dance to that sort of beat or in a rap video. If the world can clearly see what the genres mean and there original, intended purpose, christians should pay attention to that. There is rarely an occasion for the christian to take note of the world, but this is clearly one. The world seems to know more about the effects of music than a lot of christians today.

    Galations 5:24, 25

  10. Rick says:

    Scott said: “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.”

    This seems like an argument for continuing to hold to a position that holds no weight Biblically (I don’t think it is an apples to apples comparison anyway). Surely the Christians in Corinth that refrained from eating meat were making arguments about why it was wrong to eat the meat. Paul was saying they had no ground Biblically for their arguments, yet he was willing to refrain for their sake since they were the weaker brothers. Do you think for a minute that Paul thinks these weaker brothers are to continue in their weak state or are they to mature in their faith and understanding of Scripture and no longer be the weaker brother?

    If you apply Scott’s reference of this passage to rap (which you would assume that is why he used the illustration), Scott’s argument seems to be that we should avoid rap for the sake of the weaker brothers. But the weaker brothers in this illustration would be the ones arguing that it is sinful. It reminds me of what some would call the professional weaker brother. So this is a perplexing argument to me! Is Christian rap sinful or not? The lyrics in Shai’s songs are excellent. If the music itself is sinful, show us how. Yet I have to point out that Scott once again refused to show us how the music itself can be sinful even though Shai has been asking:

    “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.”

    It is not beside the point….it is exactly the point of the discussion. Scott has said that the lyrics are good, he has said that some of Shai’s music is good, yet we don’t know how to identify the ones that are sinful in Scott’s eyes. So show us how!!

  11. So after reading Scott’s last statement I can see his logic. The only question I have is since he does not feel like hip-hop is the correct medium to proclaim God’s truth, what of those who use rap music to proclaim God’s truth? Are they wrong for doing so? On a personal level, what about the clear gift that God gave me to rhyme words in a rhythmic pattern that coincides with a beat? Do I simply say “God you gave me this gift but I can’t use it because it is not an appropriate vehicle to proclaim your truths”?

  12. Also I even though Scott did say that a music genre’s sinful origins does not necessarily mean it will always be sinful. Although it is worth noting that all music as a human expression has sinful origins–not just rap music.

    Here’s an excerpt from Curtis Allen’s “Does God Listen to Rap?” book taken from the chapter titled “The Indictment of Origins.” I would encourage you to buy the book and read the whole thing, include the totality of this chapter:

    “Every culture in the world makes music, and nearly every person on earth loves on kind of music or another. Where did music come from? What does the Bible tell us about its origins? For the Christian, it’s a very interesting story…

    …This week, nearly every Christian church meeting across the globe will include music as a fundamental means of worshiping God. It happened last week and it will happen every week. It will happen until the day Christ returns to take us all home. And from that moment forward, music will still play a central role as saints beyond number sing unimaginably glorious songs to God (see Revelations 19 for a taste). So if music has been present in every culture we know of throughout history…and if music will be inseparable from the eternal worship of a perfectly holy God…then music must have begun in the holy line of Seth…right?
    Seems like a logical assumption, but that’s not what happened. Music began in the wicked line of Cain:
    “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch [this is a different Enoch from the one who was taken to heaven — I guess popular names are nothing new]. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Mathushael, and Mathushael fathered Lamech. And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” (Genesis 4:17-21)

    This is the first reference in the Bible to music. The world’s first musician, and probably also the world’s first instrument maker, was Jubal — Cain’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson. Although we don’t know anything else specific about Jubal, we do know that Scripture records nothing positive about anyone in the line of Cain, and we know that Jubal’s father actually boasted about being a murderer (Genesis 4:23).
    Because Scripture always tells us what we need to know about a particular topic, I feel safe in concluding that the father of music and musicians was an idolater from a long line of idolaters, and that his music therefore intended to glorify man, not God. Nevertheless, I am certain that the ability for Jubal to do these things came from God. That is, God blessed Jubal with special musical abilities, knowing that he would use them for sinful purposes. The Bible appears to be telling us that music as a form of human expression has wicked and sinful roots.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could trace the origin of music to the line of Seth, Noah, Abraham, David, and Jesus? Yet God, wise in all things, chose to bring music into the world through the unrighteous family tree of Cain. Does it seem sufficient, then, simply to claim that rap can’t glorify God because it arose from a culture of rebellion? Maybe that makes sense to you. But to me…evaluating any form of music entirely by its earthly beginnings looks like a higher standard than the one God uses.”

  13. Sorry about the first two sentences in my above comment. I meant to say “While Scott did say that a music genre’s sinful origins does not necessarily mean it will always be sinful, it is worth noting that all music as human expression has sinful origins–not just rap music.”

  14. Martin says:

    Hi Kelsey,
    Whereas it is good to see you read Curtis Allen’s book, I would strongly recommend you also read Scott’s books or at least many of his posts on this site: you will find that most, if not all, of Allen’s arguments have been refuted (just search for some keywords on each of his chapters on Religous Affections). Once we realize that, we can see that Allen is still arguing on a level that we must transcend in this discussion.

    Specifically to his argument on the origins of music, I am not so sure that his line of reasoning really sticks. First, Jubal’s brother Jabal was ‘the father or all who lived in tents and raised cattle’ – clearly a lifestyle taken on by the chosen People of God later on. There is nothing wrong, of course, with raising cattle and living in tents – whether you are otherwise a good man or not. The same could be said about Jubal’s activity. As we know, Israel used instruments to praise God.

    Second, I think Allen goes too far in calling Jubal the father of music. What the Bible states is that he invented instruments. There may have been other instruments before that, such as bells or cymbals and drums that he did not invent. Even the fact he is called the ‘father’ of two groups of instruments may not mean that he invented them; it may simply mean he perfected them and started to design and build – and probably, sell – them. I find it hard to believe people were not at least singing before Jubal, and probably used some kinds of rhythmic or other instruments as well. In any case, there was music, and the Bible does NOT call Jubal the father of music.

    I really think you are still missing the main argument. Noone here says we should not use computers because they were invented and developed by people who may not have been Christians. The same with music. According to your example, you are saying music originated with idolaters, so Scott and others say we should not use music. Of course we all know this is nonsense, but it would be the logical argument following from Allen’s explanation of origins.

    His example says nothing, however, about musical style and how music communicates and shapes lyrics. Since that is the real question we are trying to address here, his argument is moot and really not helpful.

    Leaving the question whether association or origin makes a style sinful in itself, Scott has argued well above that we should take association into account, and if a style was created to express specific ideas and feelings that are not congruent with biblical thinking and feeling, we do well to examine whether such styles can help express biblical messaging or whether they may actually hamper any such effort. All this has nothing whatsoever to do with Jubal’s inventions.

  15. Jesse B. says:

    In regards to origins, let’s not forget the passage in Genesis 4 that Kelsey referred to starts in verse 16. Cain went out from the presence of the a Lord and so everything that happened from then on was in rebellion, or at least disregard, of God and His Word. Not until verse 26 ate we told that man started to “call upon the name of the Lord.”

    Also, from another angle. Lucia er is described as being perfect, before his fall. (Ez. 28:15) He was created with instruments and it is logical to conclude that his music and the instruments were perfect. When Lucifer fell, it is, again, logical that all his music and instruments were also now corrupt. I think this is the real origin of corruption in the world of music.

  16. Jesse B. says:

    Sorry for the many typos, i kept forgetting to bypass my phones auto correct feature.

  17. At the end of the day, I can honestly say that while I respect Scott’s opinion and perferences, I still wholeheartedly disagree that rap cannot be used to proclaim the truths of God. I do however admit that it does have its limitations, as the case with all musical genre’s. There are simply some things that rap cannot do but another genre can do better. However, does not rule out the fact that God can still use rap music as worship unto Him.

    With that being said, I will continue to rap for the Lord, serve people with the gift He has given me and pray that He continues to get all the glory. On a side note, Shai Linne is getting ready to release Part 2 of his “Lyrical Theology” album series. This one is called “Doxology.” Here’s the link to Christian Hip-Hop online magazine Rapzilla.com. Information about his new album is on there and so are other Christ-glorifying rappers as well. I would encourage you all to peruse around the website and consider listening to Shai’s album when it comes out and see if yourself if this is God-honoring.

    Grace&Peace

    http://www.rapzilla.com/rz/news/74-behind-the-scenes/8123-shai-linne-reveals-album-cover-a-release-date

  18. Sorry, still more typos

    ***I do however admit that it does have its limitations, as the case with all musical genres.***

    ***With that being said, I will continue to rap for the Lord, serve people with the gift that He has given me, and pray that He continues to get all the glory.***

    ***I would encourage you all to peruse around the website and consider listening to Shai’s album when it comes out and see for yourselves if this is God-honoring.***

  19. Martin says:

    Kelsey, just two things:
    # God is not using rap (or anything else) for worship; we do.
    # Nobody denies rap can carry truth. God often uses us despite our own shortcomings, so if rap is sub-optimal, of course that does not mean it’s always ineffective. Yet, the fact we are all imperfect does not mean we should not strive for perfection. Likewise, if rap does create the wrong affections while trying to communicate biblical truth, it does take away or even distorts the message, and so we need to evaluate these things and look for alternatives if we want to communicate well.

  20. Jesse B. says:

    Well put Martin. I would add that Nadab and Abihu probably had the same conclusions as you, Kelsey, and of course, the Bible records the deathly consequences of wrongfully approaching God. Isaiah 59 states that our sin separates us from God and, sadly, that happens every day. I don’t know about you, but I desire and strive to not be separated FROM God, but to be separated UNTO God.

    As I mentioned before, the Bible does not specifically say “though shalt not rap”, but there are certainly principles that need to be applied to our walk with God, especially if believers desire to please God in everything we do.

    (The words in caps are for emphasis)

  21. Rick says:

    Martin, why do you say God does not use rap or anything else for worship? Let’s go to a common ground….God has used hymns to help teach people about him. Not sure what you are trying to get at with that comment.

    Secondly, your next statement comes with the assumption that rap is “sub-optimal.” I agree that it can be sub-optimal in certain settings, because it simply won’t reach some people in certain settings. However, the same can certainly be said about hymns. The style of hymns would be so distracting to some that it would be sub-optimal in those settings as well. How are you determining that it is sub-optimal? Are you stating that rap is always sub-optimal or only in certain situations?

    Jesse, Nadab and Abihu disobeyed God’s commands for how things were to be done in the temple. There were clear commands and they disobeyed it. Are you saying there are clear commands that rap is not to be used? You actually say there isn’t, so this isn’t a good comparison.

  22. Martin says:

    Rick, my comment really was very simple. We worship God; God does not worship. So WE choose whatever worship style we think is best; God is not using worship to do anything; He may accept our worship but that is His only role.
    Did you read my article on rap that I posted a few weeks ago? That should answer your other queries about rap specifically.

  23. Jesse B. says:

    Rick,
    As I said, the Bible does not specifically state, “Though shalt not rap”, (and of course not, rap was not invented, didn’t exist) but there are are clear principles in the Bible that forbid any approach to God that is on man’s terms.

    I was simply pointing out that Nadab and Abihu chose to approach God on their terms and it was sin (sin because it was not what God commanded) and therefore clearly not accepted. God only accepts worship, prayer, communion at the Lord’s table, etc. on God’s terms, as He has revealed in His Word.

  24. Martin,

    Sorry about that, I missed another typo. I was going to say that God can still use rap music for his glory but also wanted to say that He is still pleased with His children using the musical style to worship Him.

    On another note, you said that “if rap does create the wrong affections while trying to communicate biblical truth, it does take away or even distorts the message, and so we need to evaluate these things and look for alternatives if we want to communicate well.” I can agree to some extent. For example, the worship leader at my church last year thought it would be great if I rapped during worship one Sunday morning. The worship team sang the chorus of Awesome God and after the third repeat I came in and rapped a verse about the greatness of God. If I’m honest, I will never do that again. Why? Because I noticed that once I got up to rap the people in my church were no longer worshiping the Lord but standing in awkward silence. This wasn’t the first time I rapped in front of my congregation, so they all were familiar with who I am and what I do. This was, however, the first time we decided to use rap during worship. Another reason why I won’t rap in this format again at my church is the fact that the majority of my church does not listen to hip-hop or is familiar with the culture. So I will admit, like I did above, rap has it’s limitations and can be distracting depending on the context. For some in my congregation, it may have produce wrong affections. For others, it may have just confused them.

    Now my question for you is, what if rap does not bring about wrong affections or cause confusion? What if the people in my congregation were completely familiar with rap, hip-culture, and me rapping about the greatness of God did not bring about wrong affection or confusion? Is rap still inherently sinful?

    I honestly feel like if rap music produces in someone wrong affections, it’s purely subjective. Like I’ve mentioned in some of my other comments, I’ve gone through the majority of the rap songs made by Christians. None of them have me thinking sensually or entice me with wrong affections. Yes I appreciate the instrumental behind the lyrics, but ultimately my main focus is on what is being said about Christ or the Christian life as it pertains to rap made by Christians.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94KGfRsfnj0

    Take this song for example. Thi’sl, Flame, and Json all came together to make a very raw, authentic, and unashamed song and music video proclaiming “To live is Christ but to die is gain.” Some will feel uncomfortable with the aggressive nature of the instrumental and song overall. Some might even say that it is unbecoming to act in such a way in regards to martyrdom. That’s understandable, that is he/she’s preference. However, for me, this song challenges me. As I listened to and watched this music video I began to ask myself “What if I was in that same situation?” “Would I unashamedly proclaim ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ or ‘You can take my life (because I rep Christ)’?” While the hook and verses have an anthem like feel to it, the overall feel of the song is sobering. For me, this is a very effective song in what it’s trying to communicate.

    Ultimately, this song is saying “Let’s live boldly for Christ and if we are faced with death because of our lifestyle then let’s unashamedly proclaim ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain!’ However, let’s not simply do this out of pure emotion because this is the reality that many Christians face today. We aren’t saying ‘You can take my life’ just for the hype or fun of it. Let’s boldly proclaim ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain!’ because we truly ‘are not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.'”

    Again, I am not entirely sure how rap music made by lovers of Christ cannot be accepted by God as worship according to the standards that are set in Scripture.

  25. Martin says:

    Thanks Kelsey – an interesting contribution. Some more ideas:
    # Again, God is not using any worship forms; we are.
    # When you say He is pleased with His children using the musical style (of rap), how do you know? Is He ever NOT pleased with our worship? Was He pleased when you used rap in worship in your church? What are biblical criteria we should use to determine if God is pleased or not?
    # As to whether rap is sinful, you need to ask those who hold that view; I am unable to answer this question.
    # As to your ‘what if’ questions, I’d like to refer back once more to the article I posted a few weeks ago (The Holy Hip Hop Conundrum), which will answer your queries.
    # As to the Youtube example you gave, I believe that it is challenging for you – it is a heavy theme and the lyrics are certainly not easy to swallow for me either. Now I could write for a while about why the song starts with a text on martyrdom but then seems to portray gang violence instead, or why the ‘martyrs’ are portrayed as being antagonistic and not at all humbly accepting of their fate, why the imagery stereotypically reinforces the depravity of hip hop culture, or the theological difficulties of linking the violence depicted with God taking someone’s life.

    The question I have for you is what do you think an artist with a substantially larger repertoire than just hip hop would choose to write music about martyrdom and the idea of leaving one’s very life in God’s hands? I really doubt a trained musician would choose hip hop.

    I have to agree with Scott here; hip hop may be good for some things but not for all. Forcing this genre to express the deeper ideas these artists were trying to express in their song must necessarily lead to bad art. The song is not about martyrdom; the genre and the way the words are put and spoken makes it about something else, and fails to convey a Christian understanding of the issues it tries to portray.

    I believe that is a conundrum, i.e. artists who identify with hip hop (or rock or whatever else) and then try to express ideas in this predetermined form which would be better expressed in other forms. Whereas I believe I understand what you mean about those immersed in hip hop culture ‘getting it’ more easily than those who are not, I would also submit that they are simply used to hearing everything in hip hop ‘language’. Yet, this does not necessarily mean they can extract from that what a well put biblical message could be if it were in another musical form. Really, if you turn Händel’s Messiah into a hip hop suite, you will find it no longer expresses the same feelings; something will be lost. The genre has its limits, and so it cannot be used as a vessel to communicate whatever we would like it to. Even though it is the preferred ‘cool’ language of those immersed in its culture, it will never be able to do what other forms can do. Recognizing this would help us understand how art works and how an artist can and must choose among the forms he is able to peruse in order to maximize – sometimes even, enable – the expression of the affections and emotions that will best carry the intended message.

    Maybe that is what your congregation knew intuitively when you did that rap during worship time. Using an inappropriate musical form will produce a clash between lyrics and music-induced emotions, and someone with a larger repertoire than those immersed in a sub-culture may see this much more easily.

  26. Martin,

    Thanks for the reply and you’re thoughts. I do want to take the time to reply back to everything else you said, so I’ll shoot a reply back when I wake up in the morning. Although, before I go to sleep–and before I forget–I do want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with your point about how hip-hop has its limitations.

    Recently I’ve been wondering if hip-hop truly can be used to proclaim weighty theology. Some would say yes, depending on the style of hip-hop. I would say the best style of hip-hop to teach weighty theology would be East-Coast boom bap, where there is less emphasis on the instrumental and more emphasis on lyricism. This would be the lane that Shai Linne and some of the artists on Lampmode records run in.

    While I appreciate what they do as artists, I would rather hear a song that tackles weighty theology written in the style of folk music or as a hymn. I personally see rap as a story telling poetic art form, not so much as an art form that can effectively and explicitly teach theology. Practically speaking, a rap song that deals with one aspect of the Christian artist’s life and how he/she applies biblical truth to that situation often grabs my attention. I can appreciate artists such as Shai Linne and company in how they strictly want to tackle weighty theological truths in an explicit manner but for some reason those type of rap songs don’t hit home as much. For some reason a hymn or a folk song that tackles weighty theological truths in an explicit manner hits home for me. The interesting thing is that I relate to hip-hop more than any other genre of music. I do, however, recognize the limitations of the genre as it pertains to me, my emotions, focus, and affections. When I want to hear a song that tackles life as a Christian, I tend to listen to rap. When I’m in the mood for a song that tackles weighty theology, I tend to listen to hymns or folk music. It’s not as black and white as I’m making it seem, but it is a simplified example of my own musical preferences.

    When doing some thinking about this these questions pop into my mind: am I right by saying that what I said above is simply my preference? Or are there objective truths to the examples I gave? On an objective level, do other genres of music best suit weighty theological topics? Or is it purely subjective, dependent on the person and their musical preferences?

  27. Jesse B. says:

    Kelsey,
    As I understand, the Christian life is void of ant of our preferences. For example: it is NOT my preference that a follower of Christ should suffer, however Jesus tells us that believers will suffer if they truly desire to have a deep and abiding relationship with Him. I could be stubborn and refuse to believe what Christ say, but the fact remains that believers will suffer. When it comes to approaching God, and walking with God, our preferences are just that…..preferences, things we would rather do our way. A big part of the Christian life is humbleness and to give up our preferences is where God wants us to be. The reason for that is so that we are 1)transformed into the image of Christ and 2)that our preferences become God’s preferences and we become more like minded with a Christ. Phil. 2 describes the humility of Christ and the humble mindset. There are other passages like 2 cor. 10:5 that encourage the believer to humble even his thinking. Also, Isaiah 55:8 is one verse that always keeps me humble. Another good reminder is the final exhortation in Ecclesiastes……that the whole duty of man is to fear God And keep His commandments. Man’s preferences are, imo, selfish (reminding myself here too. :-) )

  28. Jesse B,

    Agreed, the Christian life is to be characterized by Christ-like humility. My question is, are preferences selfish in and of themselves or do they become selfish when we make our preferences law? Do our preferences become selfish when we begin to glorify our way of doing things and demonize everyone else’s preferences?

    In my opinion, I don’t see preferences as selfish in and of themselves. I will say, however, that there does come a time where we will need to lay down our preferences to better serve our brother or sister. Just like the example I mentioned with my church. I would love to rap again during worship. Rap music is the dominant genre of music I listen to and know how to make. I can neither sing nor play an instrument well enough to join the worship team (I’m currently learning the piano). I would love to contribute to my worship team musically, but right now all I do is rap. These are my preferences. However, I will lay down my preferences because I know that after rapping the first time during worship, it confused a lot of people and their focus was not on Christ.

    I am compelled by 1 Peter 4:9-11 and Matthew 25:14-30 to submit all my gifts and talents to God and to use it to edify His church. While I would prefer to rap in front my church outside of worship, I understand that it might be a stumbling block for many because of the form. So what do I do? I change the form. Instead of rapping to a beat, I’ll share a Spoken Word/Slam Poem. Sharing a Spoken Word poem with the people in my church seems to be a lot more fruitful. At the same time, I know that my pride can be an issue. I could be feeding it while sharing a Spoken word poem even though I’ve laid down my preference to rap. So I tend to be very cautious about how often I’m in front of my church.

  29. Jesse B. says:

    Kelsey,
    I don’t think I can tell you specifically what preferences you should or shouldn’t have (although the Bible is clear on practical principles like our thought life, speech, and the doctrine of separation.),that’s between you and the Lord. Your walk with the Lord is completely different than mine and so the Lord knows your heart and will direct you, if you are 100% yielded in this.

    I can and do exhort you to seek the Lord’s guidance. Seek it sacrificially, earnestly and steadfastly.

    Psalm 37:4

  30. Jesse B. says:

    Keep in mind that if you earnestly and steadfastly delight yourself in the Lord, as the hymn writer states, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim…” along with your preferences and/or preconceived notions.

  31. Martin says:

    Kelsey, it seems to me the reason for being of this website is to show that there are indeed objective criteria to evaluate the questions you raised.

    I would submit that weighty theological discourse should be provided as preaching (or teaching) and that songs will do better in taking single aspects and selected thoughts to emphasize them, and so illustrate a sermon or important doctrine.
    Surely you can sing the Book of Romans, and maybe I’d agree this would best be done with something like rap chant. The bigger question is, however, should I even chant the Book of Romans? Why do I want to use this or that genre to do things that music may not be the best medium for?

    So I am not sure your desire to ‘use your talents’ in church is well placed. You may have learned to do rap well but the question is whether you can serve in this capacity in church. To give an example, if I am a software developer, chances are I may not be able to use that skill at church. That is perfectly fine. I might serve as a deacon or usher instead. Likewise, just because you have some musical or speech talent, you do not HAVE TO be on the worship team, just as an actor (a good speaker) may not be called to serve as a preacher.

    If we think about hymns versus folk versus rap, we sure need to transcend any sub-culture. For example, many churches try to appeal to the youth by using styles that their youth like. Yet, as I already pointed out, this may lead to a loss of information or even, distortion of the Truth. If we want to teach theology not only theoretically but also in terms of right affections, we need to take a birds-eye view on the affections music creates in people that must be larger than just ‘how do some people process rap or hip hop’.

    I don’t think Scott has ever proposed an exhaustive list of criteria but maybe having a church committee that brings in a variety of experience in this field might greatly improve our worship. As I explained in my article, the laid-backness of rap would, if taken as a criterion, exclude it from being used in (most, if not all) worship. On the other hand, I would think a film maker would prefer rap to suggest some kind of social critique, resistance, or coolness about a scene. I think the use of music in movies shows us that there are universals as to how we ‘understand’ the meaning of various genres of music.

  32. Jesse B. says:

    I agree with Martin ‘ s 3rd paragraph. Believers need to be willing to serve in their church, in whatever capacity the Lord calls them to. Our abilities are a gift from God, but He chooses what ones to be used in His service. In essence, I think that service to the Lord needs to be led by the Lord, realizing that our current abilities may not be used or chosen by Him in His service.

    Secondly, the capacity of service the Lord places us may not be a natural talent. He may need to hone that capacity until we are ready to yield it for the Lord’s use.

  33. I’ll just respectfully agree to disagree with you guys Martin and Jesse B

  34. Martin says:

    There’s a rap for you (about popular culture :-)

  35. Jesse B. says:

    This is a great video, however, isn’t this woman making a stand against pop culture, by using a form of pop culture? I like the words and how she compares pop culture/music to a sandy foundation. The Lord is the rock and his ways are the only ways. (Psalm 18:2 Isaiah 55:8)

  36. Martin,
    This poem speaks volumes, however I’m not sure if you were trying to prove a point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using Spoken Word Poetry to convey a biblical message. If using poetry were wrong and unbiblical then we might as well throughout all the Psalms and other poetic passages in Scripture.

    As a side-note, the technical definition for what this woman did is Spoken Word/Slam poetry. Technically it cannot be seen as rap because it isn’t poetry that rhythmically coincides with a drum beat. This is actually the form of poetry that I tend to gravitate towards whenever I minister at my church.

  37. Martin says:

    A thought on the idea that rap is good for propositional communication and teaching: http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=87188c8737bc50c1a2fb8e2c9&id=2c566d688e

    Skye Jethani here argues that there are two ways in which our brain functions: analytical and intuitive. Your brain needs to be engaged in order to get it to the ‘analytical’ level as opposed to intuitive, where not much interaction with propositional content takes place. Now to communicate Christian truth, isn’t the very fact of packaging it in music producing a strong tendency towards the ‘intuitive’ brain function? Never mind the fact that we can purposely overcome this by attentively listening, it seems that putting words to music (especially when it’s as packed as in rap) discourages cognitive interaction with the material. By pushing a lot of content through in a single song, we are not given any time to reflect on it. A speaker/preacher can take pauses intentionally or ask specific questions to cause listeners to think about what was said. Music appears to prevent that from happening and mainly serves memorization of already accepted truth, or more perniciously, to make ‘truth’ more acceptable even to those that may normally be opposed to it upon deeper reflection. Isn’t this even more exacerbated in rap than in other music, due to the fast pace and high concentration of propositional content?

    Just a few thoughts – maybe others have good arguments in favour or against…

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