Since Shai Linne is a busy church planter/assistant pastor, and I am a busy seminary professor in the last week of the semester, we’re finding that it’s taking a bit longer than we’d hoped to put together our discussion about Christian rap. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I’d like to answer a few questions that were posed from my post yesterday clarifying my comments from the NCFIC panel.
First, since the short comments on the panel could hardly be called an “argument” against rap (I found it amusing that Joe Carter set our short remarks against much fuller blog posts as if they were equal sides of a debate!), and since yesterday’s post wasn’t intended to be a complete argument either, I really would urge you to read my more thorough (yet still not complete) series of posts from several years ago about Christian rap:
After you’ve read that series, here are some responses to questions posed in my post from yesterday. I felt like many of the questions were answered adequately by other commenters; I’d like to particularly thank Bruce Colgan, Martin, Christian Markle, ttpog, Doug Merrill, and Chris Ames for their thoughtful responses. So I won’t address the questions they already answered.
However, here are some brief responses to some other unanswered questions:
Curtis Allen asks: “Why is the Bible seemingly unclear about the issue of music, and even the arts per se?”
The key word in this question is “seemingly.” I do not believe the Bible is unclear about the issue of music. To argue that it is would be to deny the sufficiency of Scripture.
I believe that the Bible is our supreme authority and that it is sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that every single issue in the Christian life is addressed in Scripture by precept, principle, or example. Music is no exception.
Just because you don’t think anything in Scripture addresses musical style doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t clear on the matter. Just because good Christians disagree on how to apply Scripture to contemporary situations doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t clear. Just because there are no “proof texts” or lists of approved styles doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t clear on the matter.
My colleague, Waylan Owens, helpfully addressed this very matter with regard to another related matter of culture:
You see, to say that “the Bible is not clear” with regard to some aspect of what life in Christ entails cannot be true, lest God be accused of demanding back from us something He refuses to reveal to us. What Moody must be arguing is that Christians of similar theological views on key doctrines disagree on some point of application of the Bible to life.
Saying that the Bible is not clear is a euphemism for, “we do not agree on what the Bible says.” And since that is the case, to ascribe to God, to His Word, and to His Holy Spirit lack of clarity when the real problem is our own disharmony and failure to hear Him clearly, is a very dangerous position to take.
I could ask a similar question to Mr. Allen: Where in the Bible do you find a clear, explicit proof text that says that any and all musical styles are fitting for the communication of God’s truth?
But I wouldn’t ask a question like that, because the Bible is not an encyclopedia of proof texts, commands, and prohibitions. Rather, it is an all-sufficient, all-authoritative revelation from God by which we are to align our perceptions, preferences, desires, opinions, judgments, lifestyles, behaviors, choices, worship, preaching, music, and daily living.
So what in Scripture addresses musical style? Here is just a sampling:
And there are many more.
Finally, I should say that I firmly disagree with Mr. Allen when he says that “the Spirit will also be speaking to us.” I do not believe that the Spirit of God speaks to us except through the Word that he inspired.
Christian Markle asks: “Brother Aniol, Can you offer any first hand support for your assertion regarding the ready admition of rap artists that ‘the cultural milieu out of which rap was born is un-Christian’?”
I would first direct you to the opening chapters of Curtis Allen’s recent book, Does God Listen to Rap? Mr. Allen does an excellent job of tracing the roots of hip hop culture and rap music.
I would also direct you to the interview Mark Dever did with Allen and Linne in which they all acknowledge the sinful culture of secular hip hop.
Kenton Slaughter states: “The redemption of rap is no different than the redemption of industrialized work.”
Mr. Slaughter make a significant category error here. He is attempting to compare industrialized work with rap:
Industrialized Work = Rap
Working sinfully = Rap with sinful lyrics
But these are not equivalent categories. The more relevant category with which to compare industrialized work would be musician. I will quickly agree with defenders of rap that when a musician is converted, he need not change his profession, provided he lives out his profession in a Christian way. However, it is highly possible that the music that musician composed and/or performed was itself an expression of sinful values and beliefs, and therefore this new creation must change the music. Here is the better comparison, from my perspective, of course:
Industrialized Work = Musician
Working sinfully = Rap music
I am completely in favor of redeeming the profession of musician, or even redeeming music. Music was created by God, and it is therefore good. But when sinful humans take what is good and turn it into something bad, redemption of that thing will mean that it will change in form to something good again.
Nick states: “I think it would really help if you got the charge of racism out of the way once and for all.”
I firmly deny that race has anything to do with this discussion. I grew up in Detroit, after all! The rapper I’m most familiar with is Eminem! :)
Seriously, though. Race and culture are not the same thing. For one thing, I agree with Thabiti Anyabwile that there really is only one race.
But even if we recognize the (errant) modern conception of race that involves physical characteristics, I would certainly repudiate any criticism of races in those terms, but race is not culture.
As I’ve argued in this journal article, culture is behavior, and behavior is always moral. Even if a particular group of people happen to like a certain kind of behavior, that doesn’t mean to critique the behavior is to critique that group per se. When Paul said that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Tit 1:12), he wasn’t critiquing what it is to be Cretan; he was critiquing a kind of behavior that had unfortunately come to characterize this group of people.
That is what is going on in this discussion.
Furthermore, as I’ve said before, I am just as critical of musical forms from my own background and culture. I believe that the Christian songs that adopt sentimental tunes of Victorian England, Vaudeville, and Broadway are equally inappropriate. I do not believe that Country Western or Rock and Roll should be used in the worship of God or in communicating gospel truth. I would not choose for worship in my own church many of the songs I grew up with.
Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I look forward to continuing this conversation.
I truly appreciate the continued dialogue of these important matters. I welcome questions, push-back, debate, disagreement, and challenge (although I don’t mind a little agreement and encouragement now and then as well!).
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.