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 Shai’s answer to my second question.
Shai, we both agree that how we communicate God’s holy truth is important. We also agree that some ways of communicating a biblical message are ill-fitting. Without resorting to arguments from silence, please prove, by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, that rap is a fitting and appropriate medium for communicating God’s holy truth and his worship.
Great question, Scott. To make a full case, I need more space than I have. For those interested in more of my thoughts on this question, I’ve written about it here. I’ll take your question a step further. Hip-hop’s appropriateness can be proven not merely from the light of nature and Christian prudence, but from Scripture itself. One of the most well-known New Testament passages dealing with the church’s music is Colossians 3:16:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
In this passage, music is seen as one means of teaching and admonishing one another, according to the word of Christ. Like Luther once said, “Music is the handmaiden of theology”. Understood properly, music in the church should serve a teaching function. So how does Hip-hop do with teaching? The form of rap, which allows for a much higher word count than most other genres, is ideal in terms of communicating a large amount of information in a small amount of musical space. By virtue of its form, it potentially has the most teaching, “pound-for-pound” of any genre. No other genre that I’m familiar with allows for a detailed overview of the entire Bible in less than four minutes. In no other genre would it even make sense to defend the reformation understanding of the extent of the atonement.
Many more examples of Hip-hop’s suitability to teaching could be given, but let’s look at admonishment. What does it mean to admonish? The dictionary definition is “to warn or reprimand someone firmly” or “to urge earnestly”. Hip-hop is not only good for this, it’s actually better at this than other genres. In most of our hymns and contemporary praise songs, there are relatively few examples of admonishment. One example from a hymn would be the following line from “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted”:
“Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate”
That’s a powerful line that admonishes us to look at the cross and see the evil of sin, lest we think of it in a casual way. As I said, lines of admonishment like this are relatively rare in the church’s hymnody. But in Christian Hip-hop, admonishment is everywhere, because the most popular forms of the genre are geared towards admonishment. I’ll give one example. Many pastors would say that the biggest pastoral issue today is the issue of pornography. The church could certainly use some gospel-saturated, Christ-centered admonishment about that. However, I doubt that’s going to be the topic of a Chris Tomlin or Keith Getty song anytime soon. But check out “Step Into the Light” by Timothy Brindle. Lyrics are here under “Step Into The Light.”
Because the music of Hip-hop pulls from other musical forms, it has a flexibility that other genres simply don’t have. This is important because the various literary forms we find in Scripture cover a wide range of human emotional experience. For instance, psalms of lament and imprecatory psalms are part of the same psalter. It’s the rare musical genre whose form makes room for both. Hip-hop does this. On the same album I linked to above, you’ll find “The Faithfulness of Christ.” Lyrics here under The Faithfulness of Christ, a somber, penitential song that is as moving on an experiential level as it is robust in its theology of repentance and sanctification.
My time is up. If I had more time, I could also show the striking similarities between some forms of Hip-hop and the prophetic oracle employed in Scripture. I could talk about the spiritual gift of exhortation (Romans 12:8) and how many forms of Hip-hop are suited to exhortation. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I could speak specifically on internal rhyme and how the best lyricists in Christian Hip-hop display a beauty and complexity in the structure of their lyrics that Watts, Toplady and Newton couldn’t begin to fathom. But that will have to wait until another time.
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.