We have studied some statements by Shai Linne and boiled them down to four propositions.
1) Rap is a medium.
2) Media are morally neutral until informed by content.
3) Christ’s act of redemption means that even media formerly used for evil can now be used for God’s glory.
4) This is what Shai Linne is doing with rap.
We have considered the first two, and now we turn our attention to the last two. Linne’s statements about redemption are fairly common views in this debate. In essence, such views see Christ as redeeming sinners and their ways, meaning that those now-redeemed sinners can turn those redeemed ways toward Christ and His glory.
What does Scripture say about our redemption? First Peter 1:18-19 is probably one of our clearest answers:
1 Peter 1:18-19 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Notice who or what is redeemed. Believers are redeemed. What are they redeemed from? They are bought out of their former futile ways or behavior. If culture is in fact an expression of a belief system, then culture would be the conduct that emerges from that collective view of ultimate reality. Peter says that Christ redeems us from this very thing: from the culture that emerged from the futile and aimless views, propagated from one generation to another. Christians are in the process of progressively being changed from this old way of thinking and acting into a new way.
Here’s the key question: Does Christ redeem the futile ways themselves? Does He redeem the ways in which we expressed our ungodliness, so that they may now be enlisted in His service? Or to carry the logic through, does He redeem the cultural artifacts that were used to express ungodliness? Here we do not mean, does Christ redeem the computer that was used for pornography, or does Christ redeem the sound system that was used for raucous parties. It is nonsense to speak of a redeemed computer or a redeemed boom-box. What we mean is, are there cultural expressions, such as music genres, certain leisure activities or forms of recreation, that Christ redeems and transforms?
First, we note that this would be an argument from silence, because the Scripture only speaks of believers being redeemed. Second, if Christ redeems us from futile ways, what will the implications be for those cultural artifacts that propagated those ways? A man who was a nudist and owned a nudist colony can be redeemed, and he is therefore redeemed from the futile way of nudity. What will that do to the cultural artifact of the nudist colony that propagated this sinful behavior? Well, put simply, it does not redeem it. The nudist colony ceases to exist, and the land it was on is now used for something God-glorifying. But it does not become a Christian nudist colony, for no such thing can exist. The cultural artifact of a nudist colony could not be redeemed or transformed. It could only be abandoned. It was itself a sinful expression of sinful hearts, and sinful behavior is not what Christ redeems. He redeems people from sinful behavior.
[To pre-empt my friendly objectors: Yes, I have chosen nudity as an example because we’d all agree that people need to be redeemed from nudism, and nudism has a vehicle that promotes it – the nudist colony. If you feel that this is an unfair comparison to rap, will you not concede that people need to be redeemed from what 99% of rap propagates? Won’t you agree that rap is usually used as a vehicle for these ungodly values? Is there no way that the shoe fits – that the form was developed because it suits the content?]
If rap emerged from a worldview that did not have Christ at its center, and was used to express values and beliefs that were hostile to Christ, then the form itself is linked to its original worldview and purpose. Christ did not come to redeem arrogance, pride, murder, fornication, greed, rape, rebellion, illegal drug-use, gangsterism, hatred, and so forth. He came to redeem people from those things. To then say that Christ redeems the form that emerged from futile ways is to misunderstand what form is, and to misunderstand what redemption does and for whom.
Form is not a placeholder, it is an expression. If expressions are sinful, Christ does not redeem them. Redemption is not a hard-scrubbing of sinful barnacles off a neutral object. Redemption is buying humans out of sinful ways so that they may glorify God.
Despite accusations to the contrary, I hope my readers understand that I bear no hostility to rappers like Linne. Like Paul, I am thankful whenever the gospel is preached, even if the method or motive is not commendable (Phil 1:18). However, it’s some of the responses to these articles and other recent similar ones that are very telling, and curiously disproportionate, if this matter is indeed the non-issue and matter of preference that such responses usually say it is.
Regardless of how bystanders interpret my motives, my understanding of the Christian imagination and the affections leads me to see that matters like this are not peripheral, stylistic matters of personal preference. They go to the heart of how we imagine God, which is foundational and fundamental. We don’t want to be idolaters. That’s my agenda.