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Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: How Hip-hop is an appropriate medium for communicating God’s truth

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.

Scott-thumb-300x300Shai, 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.

Shai_Bio-300x300Great 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.

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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.

64 Responses to Discussion about Christian rap with Shai Linne: How Hip-hop is an appropriate medium for communicating God’s truth

  1. Steven says:

    That was beautiful.

  2. Mackman says:

    Fantastic. Now we’re getting somewhere!

  3. Martin says:

    Hmm… still have to read the longer post by Shai but ad hoc, I wonder whether a good challenge would be to ask whether ‘teaching’ and ‘admonishment’, the two main functions of strength in hip-hop that Shai identifies, are not intended as being part of corporate worship in Colossians, i.e. an area I think most of us here agree is not suitable for hip-hop due to the skill required.

    So OUTSIDE of corporate worship, such as private listening, is music enhancing admonishment and teaching, or is it reducing its effectiveness? See what Scott will reply to this…

  4. Mackman says:

    Martin,

    Why would it be “reducing its effectiveness” outside of corporate worship?

  5. Rick says:

    Excellent response! I still believe Mr. Aniol needs to go back and actually answer Shai’s prior question though. In a prior post, Aniol had said “There are musicological ways to explain this [why music is incompatible with Christianity], but I don’t even think that is necessary…” Shai stated, “I absolutely want to hear the musicological way…” This requested was dodged and skipped over. Shai was very cordial to let Aniol get away with that, but I see that explanation as absolutely critical to Aniol’s stance.

  6. Martin says:

    For the simple reason that if I want to exhort you, it would be really odd if I were singing or chanting instead of simply talking normally to you. Same for teaching: imagine professors chanting at university, rather than teaching with a normal voice and without rhyme.

  7. Rick says:

    Martin, where do most people spend more time listening to music….inside or outside of the church worship service? I believe that answer is obviously outside of church. If Shai Linne’s music is more likely to be listened to outside of the church it seems like he is actually teaching more than what we are able to teach within the church walls on Sunday morning.

    BTW, I’ve been in a service where rap was actually used as a special instead of a congregational. It’s not actually my type of music, but the words of it hit my like a ton of bricks…it was outstanding! I know that is just my experience though and it wouldn’t be for everyone, but you could say the same thing about hymns.

  8. Zachary Rohman says:

    The bottom line is certain types of music effect different people differently. That’s why Scott doesn’t see the same thing in regards to hip hop music while I’m edified through it

  9. Martin says:

    Rick, I ave to agree this may be a weak argument. Certainly, Shai IS teaching with his music, as are other hip-hop artists. I do not question that. Also, since music recordings did not exist when Paul wrote those lines, he couldn’t have possible anticipated the use of music of whatever genre in cars, at work, or at home. My point was mainly directed at the applicability of Colossians to the discussion: if this scripture has the context of corporate worship, it simply does not apply to the points made. On the other hand, I agree it is futile to argue music would not serve such functions outside of worship at all – and you may then argue that people don’t listen to sermons in their cars but do listen to rap, so what?

    I guess I agree with you then that we need to look at the musicological theory to determine whether hip-hop is suitable or not to convey scriptural lyrics. Something definitely happens through the form of rap. Is a rapped exhortation qualitatively different than one that is spoken normally?

  10. Mackman says:

    I’m still confused, Martin.

    Yeah, it would be weird if, in a one-on-one personal conversation with someone, I started rapping instead of talking. But I don’t really see the relevance of that statement, because NO music is going to be useful in a one-on-one personal conversation with someone. You’re speaking as though this is somehow REPLACING one-on-one conversations, which is odd.

    For that matter, it’d also be really weird if, in a one-on-one personal conversation with someone, I started reading the Bible to them without otherwise interacting with them at all.

    This isn’t a lecture hall, and this isn’t a personal conversation (although good Christian hip-hop does capture the honesty and authenticity of such a conversation). Shai has already addressed the power of hip hop in other posts: in fact, the power of the music is the main reason people are ATTACKING it. In light of that, to argue that the same affect might be achieved by a lecturer is very strange indeed.

    Could you explain your position a bit more?

  11. Mackman says:

    In light of your last question, Martin: “Is a rapped exhortation qualitatively different than one that is spoken normally?”

    This is the one thing both the opponents and proponents of Christian hip-hop agree on. YES!

    I’m honestly very puzzled that you are now questioning that, given our previous conversations on the power of music.

  12. John C, says:

    It seems to me that the entire burden of proof has been laid on Shai’s shoulders, and in my opinion has responded and answered beautifully. The question that was posed to Shai should be turned around and answered by Scott. Can he prove, by light of nature and scripture, that hip-hop is not a legitimate vessel of communicating God’s truth and gospel. It appears to me that the crux of Scott’s argument is rap is bad, because of the perceived connotations that the hip-hop culture has. I think this is a tough leg to stand on from a biblical perspective. I don’t think a biblical stance can be made for this. If that’s the case, then music should be tossed all together. Our hymnals are filled with music that was taken from old bar tunes. If a remote tribe is reached with the gospel, would we also hold that they only worship with certain instruments and a certain style. Or would God not be ultimately glorified by having their once pagan musical tunes be redeemed by now accompanying God honoring and exalting lyrics.

  13. Nick says:

    @Martin,

    My understanding is that Wesley’s were attempting to teach with their hymns.

    I know in church history teaching and music go way back. The heretic Arius used music to teach his heresy. AFAIK no one condemned him for using music — only for his heresy.

  14. Nick says:

    I am going to go out on a limb here and try to predict the response of Scott and others to Shai’s arguments. I am guessing they are going to response by saying something like this: Shai did not prove that the musical genre of rap is not sinful. All he did is show what the musical genre of rap works well to teach, admonish, etc. But he did not show his rap music (without regards to lyrics) does not communicate anger, rebellion, etc.

    To which I would reply: Why does he need to show that, when he cannot see those things in his music? How can he prove something doesn’t exist? Since you are making the claim, which we disagree with, why don’t you take a song from Shai and prove how it communicates anger, rebellion, etc.?

    [As an aside, atheists are wrong in using the argument I just used because Romans 1 tells us God's existence is self-evident. The claim that rap always communicates anger is not something I would call self-evident, hence I am within my rights to ask for he who makes the claim to prove it.]

    I hope I am wrong, but if you guys end up arguing that way, and then refuse to show it in specific examples, then I really see no way to continue any fruitful conversation on this topic.

  15. Luke Wolford says:

    I look forward to how this discussion between Scott and Shai will go. One example in Scripture of art used in worship being used for both good worship and sinful worship has come to mind. In Exodus 32, Aaron led Israel into idolatry with a golden calf. When Solomon was constructing the Temple, he made the sea to sit on twelve oxen statues (1 Kings 7:23-26). Evidently, bovine statues were not forever banned from association with worship of God. Applying this to music, there are sinful songs. We should not use these songs in worship. That does not mean that all songs of the same genre of sinful songs should be rejected as inherently sinful since statues (which were used by the Gentile nations for worship of false deities) could be used in legitimate worship of God. You may say that songs and statues are not the same. While they are not, they are both examples of art.

  16. Doug Merrill says:

    “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.”

    I’m not sure that I concur that the faster and more that I communicate in a limited window, the more effective I am. I listened to “Release Me From this Snare” and found myself nowhere near grasping the content because of the pace of the lyrics. When I think of fast talkers, it’s not usually in a good context. That’s probably due to my advanced middle age syndrome.

    I’ve asked this question in a number of threads and no one has been able to provide me an answer: Where is the Biblical mandate/justification for “redeeming Culture” or “redeeming a style of music”?

  17. Lucius Cincinnatus says:

    I may have misunderstood, but I think Scott’s initial question as he intended it was left mostly unanswered. How is the genre of rap (aside from the inserted lyrical content, word-count capacity, or performer’s motivation) a fitting medium for communicating God’s Word? Or, stating it differently, how is the medium of rap (its melody, harmony, and rhythm) musicologically appropriate for admonishment, lament, imprecation, etc.? In what way or manner is the music (minus the lyrics) of hip-hop “geared toward admonishment” or other holy affections?

  18. John C, says:

    Doug, I don’t think you could make the statement of there being a biblical “mandate” to redeem a culture, but I do think that the redemption of a culture is a direct and natural effect of the redemption the culture’s people. I think the over-stepping occurs when we think, feel, and encourage a people to adopt a new “more redeemed” culture upon their redemption. Whether Scott is out right saying that (it definitely seemed others on the original panel discussion video were saying this) or not, it seems a natural stance if you roll out his arguments completely. The problems with this is, who decides what the most “God honoring” culture is, and when does this become the exact battle Paul is fighting in Galatians. “Yes, feel free to follow and worship Jesus, as long as your worship looks and sounds like this.”

  19. Mackman says:

    Doug,

    Where is the Biblical mandate/justification for a style of music NEEDING to be redeemed?

    It’s like speaking of redeeming screws, because they were used to build gas chambers. It’s like speaking of redeeming a forge, because it was used by a murderer to make his weapons.

    Better still, it’s like speaking of redeeming statues, because pagan cultures used statues in their false worship (thanks to Luke Wolford for pointing out that the temple itself incorporated bovine statues, despite the history of bovine statuary in Israel).

    Hip-hop as a concept doesn’t NEED redemption, because it’s not inherently sinful. It is a tool, a mode of expression, and it can express good or evil.

  20. Mackman says:

    And Lucius: That’s not the question Scott asked: It’s a smaller subset of the larger question. The question he DID ask is what will likely dominate the rest of the questions/answers/rebuttals, and it will undoubtedly end up with the melody, harmony, and rhythm (which Shai touched on this in an earlier post (http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-culture/discussion-about-christian-rap-with-shai-linne-how-does-rap-flavor-its-truth-content/)).

    Right now, though, I think Shai is setting his foundation for why rap is something that SHOULD be used to spread the Gospel. He’s demonstrating the potential it has to teach, admonish, repent, and give glory to God.

    Now that he’s set that foundation, (“here is what rap is uniquely suited for”), we’re going to be moving on to the crux of the issue (“Given that rap is suited for this, can it express it in a God-honoring fashion that’s consistent with the truth and beauty of God?”)

  21. Doug Merrill says:

    Good question, Mackman. I don’t know the answer to it because it’s not my argument. I hear/read it time and again from those who attempt to justify using certain styles of music.

    If we’re going to reference OT examples (statues of cows), can anyone provide me Biblical examples of the Israelites borrowing aspects of the culture of those around them to be used for worship with God’s approval?

  22. Mackman says:

    Doug,

    I think that happens for a couple of reasons:

    1: It’s shorthand. They use it to mean “using something for good, that had previously been used for evil.” And it works fine in that context, as long as you don’t try to make it more than it is (such as using that term as evidence that we see hip-hop as inherently sinful).

    2: Sometimes people are too quick to use the opposition’s terms in a debate. It’s easy to hear the accusation “hip-hop is inherently sinful,” and instead of arguing with that assertion, they simply side-step it and say, “But it can be redeemed!”

    Does that make sense?

    As to your other question:

    We all know that the harp was David’s instrument of choice, and that many of his Psalms specify that they’re to be sung/chanted to the accompaniment of the harp (or lyre).

    But the origin of this music lies not with the Israelites, not with the children of Abraham, not even with the children of Seth…but with the descendants of Cain (Genesis 4:21). And as the arc of Genesis makes fairly clear, the descendants of Cain were not God-fearing people.

    That means that someone, at some point, looked at the harp being used for pagan purposes and thought, “Do you know what that would be really useful for? Worshiping God!”

    Aside from that, it’s difficult to name specific examples just because culture is often unconscious. I mean, in the construction of the tabernacle, they make use of gold, silver, and precious jewels…all things which would undoubtedly have been used to construct pagan idols long before that. Is not that an appropriation of culture?

  23. Reuben says:

    Luke,

    The idols/ statues argument is important to address. Israel didn’t just make a golden calf. They made a distinctive idol. Remember the pagan Egyptian culture out of which they had just come? Moses’ response was to grind it to powder and burn it. There was no redemption to be made out of that pagan culture. Syncretism is always destructive to the Christian walk….ALWAYS.

    Solomon’s statue was no where in that realm, and would not have been a distinctive idol.

  24. Cheryl says:

    It seems that people against hip hop are concerned with the appearance of evil, due to the connotations that are assumed about the sound and rhythm of hip hop.

    Those who find themselves more concerned with hip hop music over actual Biblically defines sin, might want to look at how Jesus dealt with the Pharisees who were more concerned with outward appearance than true repentance.

    If Jesus could become human flesh and remain sinless, and music created by depraved humanity can be used to worship a holy God at all, than hip hop being used to worship God to me is beautiful thing. It shows the tender mercy of our Lord, condescending to humanity, showing love to drug dealers, single mothers, orphans, as well as the religiously proud, using crooked sticks to draw straight lines. As he does with any form of music used to glorify his name.

  25. Jonathan says:

    I personally feel this issue is much simpler than what is being conveyed. While in a different context, the flute and harp are described as “lifeless instruments” in 1 Corinthians 14:7. Similarly, God calls us (as those brought from death to life) to use our bodies as “instruments of righteousness” instead of “instruments of unrighteousness.” (Romans 6) — two chapters later in Romans 8, we see even all of creation eagerly yearns for redemption. We have a promise in Ephesians 1 that all things in heaven and earth will be united together in Christ. Even if drums, guitars, etc. are inherently evil, is it too much for our Sovereign God to use these supposed “instruments of unrighteousness” for His good pleasure? The God that raised the dead in me (and raised every Christian from death to life according to Ephesians 2) — is it beyond His grasp to turn something evil into good?

    I do not believe the instruments themselves are evil. However, if they are, can we not agree that even God can use them for good, and therefore, can use Rock and Hip-Hop as genres for good and His glory? I fear we are making God much smaller than He truly is. While I do not believe this will convince everyone, I do pray we humbly consider that God can use His gospel in a variety of methods and forms to draw people to Himself.

    God bless.

  26. Mackman says:

    Jonathan,

    That type of logic doesn’t work. Just because God can use evil for good doesn’t make it NOT evil anymore.

    To paraphrase CS Lewis, God used both the treachery of Judas and the faithfulness of John for his glory…but that doesn’t mean we should act like Judas.

    If it could be proven that a specific type of music was inherently evil, we would be bound by our love for Christ to stop using it.

    That said, i don’t think it CAN be proven. And I know that it hasn’t been proven yet.

  27. Alan says:

    The exegesis of Shai from which he says he’s buttressing his point is faulty. There is one verb in Colossians 3:16, the 3rd person singular present imperative from enoikeo. The Word, singular, is living, in you, plural. The command is to allow the Word of God continuously to live in the church members there at Colossae. With that as a start, what are the results? The results are found in participles. The participles are not communicating the action of the sentence. The first two participles go together — teaching and admonishing. When a church member has the Word of God living continuously in Him, He can teach, and wisdom connect more to admonishing. Teaching and admonishing can and will occur because the Word of God is living in someone. People can and will be taught and admonished with the Word that lives in a person with wisdom. Wisdom would be the proper application of the Word living in someone, so that church member can also admonish in the application of doctrine, as Paul often does in his epistles, beginning first with teaching and then moving to practice.

    The third participle, and separate from teaching and admonishing, is “singing.” In the original language, it is toward the end of the sentence. The teaching and admonishing and the singing are not the same result. The teaching and admonishing are one. The singing is another. There are two results here. Someone will teach and admonish the Word of God. Then someone will sing. They are not the same thing. What someone sings, when the Word of Christ is living in Him are psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. The teaching and admonishing is of one another. The singing is to the Lord. You are not singing to one another. You are singing to the Lord.

    And it is singing. Singing is a song, which assumes a melody, because singing requires a melody or it isn’t singing, it’s just talking of some sort.

    Does God want to be rapped to? Is that what He’s asking for in Colossians 3:16? No. Is Colossians 3:16 calling for people to be rapped to? Again, no. Teaching and admonishing occur in a way that we see teaching and admonishing in scripture. That is not rapping the message to people.

    Setting aside whether I like rap or not, which is irrelevant, the wrong exegesis has yielded a wrong belief and practice. We preach and teach and admonish people with the actual Word of God, like we see in 1 Peter 4:10-11. We sing to God.

  28. Jonathan says:

    Mackman,

    That is a valid point. I don’t think it can be proven that a specific type of music is inherently evil either, and if it were, we should cease to use it. I am curious as to what others think about the harp and lyre being called “lifeless instruments.” I would agree with a poster (I believe from a previous thread), that hip hop (much like the lifeless lyre and harp) is a morally neutral instrument that can be used for God’s glory or for man’s. I praise God as I have seen prisoners see and believe the gospel via the medium of hip hop! I have seen men in inner-cities literally come alive from the dead due to the truth of the gospel message as conveyed in hip hop. I enjoy hymns. I enjoy modern praise. I enjoy Christian hip hop. I have seen men and women of many different ethnicities praise God through them all. I long for the day of Revelation 7:9-12 where people from every nation, tribe, people and tongue will worship the only one worthy to be worshipped! And while I am interested in this debate, I pray that our attention will be on the gospel which is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3).

  29. Nick says:

    @Alan,
    Setting aside your exegesis (let’s grant it for the moment), are you saying there are no admonishments in the Psalms? Is Psalm 2 singing to God, or admonishing those who would not listen to Him (or to His Messiah)?

    I always understood the answer to be both — it both pleases God to sing that Psalm, and the Psalm is an admonishment (or rebuke) to unbelievers.

    As you know, that’s not the only Psalm that’s not directed to God, but it instead addresses people. In Psalm 100, in some very real sense, people are also singing to other people.

  30. Mackman says:

    Alan,

    Not going to dispute your exegesis of this particular passage. But when you say “We preach and teach and admonish people with the actual Word of God,.. We sing to God.” what do you mean by that?

    Do you mean that ALL songs directed at people are sinful? Because that’s kind of a weird thing to say, given that there are Psalms directed at people (I literally opened up my Bible to a random page and found Psalm 107, which is directed at people, not to the Lord).

    Do you mean that the ONLY appropriate teaching, preaching, and admonishing are when you solely read directly from the Bible? Because that’s also a weird thing to say, given that when Jesus, Paul, and everyone else taught, they did so by interpreting and explaining the Word, not just reading straight from it.

    Also: “Singing is a song, which assumes a melody, because singing requires a melody or it isn’t singing, it’s just talking of some sort.”

    So… rapping is just “talking of some sort”, then? If that’s the case, what’s the problem that you have with it?

    You claim that you’re “Setting aside whether I like rap or not,” but the truth is, you’re not setting that aside. It colors everything that you say about rap.

    First, you say that it’s just “talking of some sort,” so that way you can say it’s not singing.

    Then you IMMEDIATELY break from that claim, because you clearly have a problem with it in and of itself, and why would you have a problem with “talking of some sort?”

    And then you unilaterally and unequivocally state that “God doesn’t want to be rapped to.” You have skipped over literally everything that you would need to demonstrate in order to make that claim.

    You dislike rap. We get it. But you’re correct when you say that whether you like it or not is irrelevant. Now can we get back to actual discussion, rather than unqualified and unwarranted assumptions?

  31. Mackman says:

    HEY NICK WE THINK ALIKE ISN’T THAT COOL?

  32. Nick says:

    @Mackman
    Lol… I’ve been noticing that! :-)

  33. Luke Wolford says:

    Reuben,

    My point was that the statue of a cow was used for both good and evil. The good came after the evil. Therefore, for the specific art form of statues of cows, the prior use in paganism did not negate its use in connection to the worship of the one true God as part of the architecture of the Temple. The one statue was an idol and needed to be destroyed. The other did not. To try to make a musical application, a sinful song is sinful no matter the genre, but the genre need not necessarily be evil.

  34. Luke Wolford says:

    And, to answer about syncretism, I agree that it is not right. For example, it would not be good to use the song of the Beatles which praises Hare Krishna in church (or at all, really). But, does that song make the genre sinful? That is the question I’m trying to address in my illustration from the statues.

  35. Rajesh says:

    Luke,

    God commanded the making of the brazen serpent (Num. 21:8). There is no indication that Moses would have ever done so had God not directed him to do so, nor is there any indication that God ever approved of others doing so.

    Similarly, concerning the Solomonic temple, everything about it was explicitly commanded by God and revealed to David, who then gave all that information to Solomon to do exactly and only what God specifically commanded would be made and done (1 Chron. 28:11-19). Again, there is no evidence that this authorized any other human being to do so again.

    God is perfect in all His ways, and He can direct humans to do things that He does not authorize any of them to do on their own. Neither the brazen serpent nor the cherubim nor the bronze oxen show in any way that the golden calf could be redeemed.

    Moreover, neither the brazen serpent nor the cherubim nor the bronze oxen were directly part of any divine worship. The golden calf. on the other hand, was a sinful manmade object of false worship.

    Has God given any explicit revelation that authorizes believers today to “redeem” sinful things in sinful human culture that sinful humans have made for sinful purposes?

  36. Nick says:

    Hi Rajesh,

    Your logic leads inevitably to the conclusion that any Pagan religious symbol becomes always and forever inherently evil by a human act. As I mentioned in your blog, this would mean a golden toy calf figurine, with no association today to that idol, but rather based on some cartoon, would by default be evil because of what happened in the past (even if the kid and parents had never, ever heard of the Israelite incident!). That’s where your logic leads to.

    Which means of course, that anything that had any Pagan association can be tainted just like that. How do you know you don’t have something in your house that was used, thousand of years in the past, for some form of Pagan worship?

    Luke’s point is perfectly valid. Not every golden calf is by default evil just because one was. And by analogy, not every rap song is evil just because one was.

    You should read the recent post titled “Corinth and Christmas” on this very site by Jason Parker. He wrote:

    Paul does not teach, “If you do the actions that idolaters do, then you are idolaters, too.” He does not teach, “If you use the symbols idolaters use, then you are idolaters, too.” Rather, he teaches, “If you participate with idolaters in their idolatry, then you are participating in idolatry, whether that is your intention or not…. Gillespie failed to make the distinction that the apostle makes, namely, that it is not association per se which makes symbols problematic but participation.”

    I am in no way suggesting Mr. Parker would agree with me on music. But he does seem to agree with me on this point.

    God bless,

    Nick

  37. Luke Wolford says:

    Rajesh,

    I am not arguing that the particular golden calf which Aaron made was redeemed. It needed to be destroyed. My point is the golden calf idol did not make any statue of a cow (for the sake of musical argument, could it be argued that it would be a genre of sculpture?) inherently sinful.

  38. Alan says:

    Mackman,

    You wrote 10 short paragraphs in a comment responding to me. The last five were about one little participial phrase in my last, very short paragraph, “Setting aside whether I like rap or not.” You conclude and judge that I don’t like rap and that colors everything I write. I didn’t say I didn’t like rap and I said what I like is irrelevant, but you write five paragraphs about that. Do people like talking to you? Are you a good discussion partner?

    I exegete Col 3:16 and you say it’s weird. It’s “weird” because you say that Psalm 107 is directed to people. All 150 psalms, 5 books of psalms, inspired by God to the nation Israel, were for Israel to sing to God. Col 3:16 itself says that psalms were sung to God. Every single time you read “sing,” “singing,” “praise,” etc., it is directed to God. Every time. In the psalms, you don’t read, sing to people. It’s always sing to God. No matter what you read in the way of the content of the psalm, it is still sung to God. It was written to sing to God.

    John MacArthur writes this among many times of saying the same thing on Ephesians 5:19: “Now I want you to notice that . . . . the singing of the saints is always among themselves to God. That’s true all through Scripture. You really don’t ever find evangelistic music as such. . . . we are to have it among ourselves, directed toward the Lord. . . . It is to be used in our worship, in our corporate sharing, in the celebration of our life together in Christ and as a praise to Him. It’s really not music for the world. They’re on the outside.”

    I would hope you could respect that in every single case it is directed to God. And again, what music I like, my taste, which I haven’t said, is irrelevant.

    Nick,

    If you want to preach Psalm 2 to the lost, that would be fine, but singing is to God, in every place there is singing. You won’t find a place that it says otherwise, and that is 90 or so. Silence isn’t permission. Psalm 2, as Hebrew poetry, speaks to the psalmist, to Israel, the heathen kings, etc. The psalm is sung to God. Because it says, Be wise O kings, doesn’t mean that it is to be sung to kings. Psalms are sung to the Lord.

    Anyone,

    In matters of worship, it is directed to God. It is regulated by what God said. God punishes innovation repeatedly in the OT. A major way that music has gone off the tracks is that it became a method for evangelism outside of what God has said. Shai Linne does not exegete Colossians 3:16. He reads into the text. If this is “rap at all costs,” then that doesn’t matter, but if the Bible is sole authority, God’s glory matters, not to us, not to us, to God be the glory, not to us, not to us, to God be the glory, then we follow what God says.

  39. Rajesh says:

    Luke,

    It was not only the golden calf that Aaron made that was inherently sinful. Jereboam sinned immensely against God by making two golden calves (1 Kings 12:28-33). Hosea 10:5 shows that there was a sinful idolatrous calf in Bethaven. Hosea 13:2 shows that the Israelites again made multiple sinful metallic calves that were idols. (I did not closely study these passages or check commentaries, so perhaps these two references in Hosea may refer to the same sinful calves.)

    We have no way of knowing how closely these various sinful calves resembled each other. Nonetheless, Scripture gives us multiple passages showing that God’s people have sinned repeatedly in this way.

    Moreover, I find no biblical data whatever that shows in any way that God ever authorized, sanctioned, or otherwise approved of any righteous person’s making a close facsimile of any of these calves and using them as a “vehicle” for communicating divine truth in any context, much less in a worship context. If you know of any such biblical data, I would be glad to hear from you (or Nick or anyone else) about that data.

    A prudent person takes the data that God has given and lives his life in accord with all that God has given us for our profit (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

  40. Luke Wolford says:

    Rajesh,

    I think we may be talking past each other. Idols are always condemned in the Bible. I am arguing that just because the art form of sculpture is used for evil does not mean that sculpture can not be used for good things.

  41. Martin says:

    Alan, how sure are you about your exegesis of Col 3:16? Did you check the parallel scripture in Eph 5:19f.?
    “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”

    It seems to me this one speaks about the horizontal aspects of corporate worship with much certainty, so at the very least your conclusion that worship is always only to God (in the sense that there is no intended teaching or exhortation towards Christians) is mistaken.

    Nick (on your earlier comment) there is no doubt that music with lyrics teaches; I am not denying that. My question was whether the aim to convey a maximum of content in a song is not inferior to simply teaching with a normal voice and not with music.

    To John C, I don’t believe Scott is just trying to say rap is bad because of the associations with hip-hop culture (although that certainly is an issue that needs to be considered). I can’t speak for him but as far as I understand his argument, the point is that the musical form shapes the lyrics in a way that is fitting for hip-hop culture and attitudes but not to accompany Christian lyrics. I agree that a more detailed musicological argument would be helpful to see this more clearly.

    On the Luther and bar song claim, this sadly is commonly accepted as truth. It may be related to someone not understanding that a ‘bar’ in music sheets is not the same as a bar as in a pub. Whether that is so or not, in Luther’s time there was no ‘secular’ music as we know it today, in terms of genres that were not within the Christian worldview – because before the Enlightenment, there wasn’t really anything but the Christian worldview in Europe (notwithstanding the superstition fostered by the Catholic Church). Scott wrote on the Luther myth some years ago: http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-culture/did-luther-use-tunes-from-love-songs/

    And to answer Mackman (also from hours ago), I see your points that music would not replace normal conversation but the question is a) does rap really achieve the goal of communicating A LOT in a very short time, as Shai proposes (no doubt there is a lot of information but does it get across as well as less information in other genres?) and, more importantly, b) how does rap shape this information (we all agree it does) and does this reinforce it, debilitate it, or change the message so it no longer is the original message intended? Sub-questions here are, of course, whether such conclusions can ever be objectively valid for all or whether subjectivity will reign forever. I guess that’s why we’re all here. Sadly, nobody has yet taken up yesterday’s challenge on the song you posted :-(

  42. Rajesh says:

    Luke,

    Yes, the art form of sculpture can be used for good things; God’s commanding that the oxen be made for the Solomonic temple shows that. But the style of sculpture used to make the golden calves was an inherently evil style of sculpture.

    Here’s another example. Photography is a legitimate artistic discipline that can be used for great good. The style of photography, however, that takes pictures of totally unclothed children in sexually explicit poses is inherently evil as is everyone of those individual photographs.

    That style of photography was wicked from the first such picture taken and remains inherently wicked. It is irredeemably wicked.

    An entire genre, style, or category (whatever term you think is best) of photography is inherently evil. On what grounds is it legitimate to assert that there are not nor could there be entire styles of music that are also inherently evil?

  43. Mackman says:

    Martin,

    First off, I would like to hear YOUR take on the song I posted (after all, you issued the challenge!).

    Secondly, to address your other points:

    A; To people who enjoy rap and listen to a song more than once – the people, in fact, who listen to rap and are in a position to profit from it – the information does indeed get across very well. I’m afraid I can’t offer anything more substantial than a simple answer to your simple question. I myself can process most of any given song on the initial listen, with the added pleasure of almost always discovering additional layers, additional insights and truths, on subsequent listens.

    B: To talk about “rap” shaping the message is to cloud the issue, as you yourself have experienced.

    Since “rap” covers everything from Beautiful Eulogy’s “Acquired in Heaven” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zy7a9E-L7M) to Flame’s “2nd Coming” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJoeJ-U3C1s), from Lecrae’s “Desperate” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8IMvTYwXTw) to The Cross Movement’s “Free” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYTIrTqPlTI), talking about “rap” as if it’s one generic beat isn’t helpful in discussions like this.

    I think that’s a large reason why Shai’s initial response was so broad. It’s because rap, as a genre, is HUGE, and while you can talk about particular styles, you can’t talk about “rap” as if it were one beat that always communicated the same message (“Fornicating and punching people is awesome!” – Generic Rap Beat, probably).

    We’ve already had discussions where you have heard aggression, where I merely heard a quicker cadence and rhythm than is normally used. That tells me that perfect objectivity in this situation is likely impossible. However, it’s clearly not all subjective either. I think a proper understanding of how hip-hop communicates its message REQUIRES at least a rudimentary understanding of how people in the target culture perceive things like “rap” or “talking quickly.”

    For instance, if YOU hear aggression in a song, but the target audience does not, is the song defective? I would argue that it is not.

    Thoughts?

  44. Alan says:

    Martin,

    I’m sure about my exegesis of Colossians 3:16. You didn’t answer it. You just asked if I was sure. Yes. I’m sure. It’s fine to question, but why ask if I’m sure? You ask if I’m sure and then you go to Ephesians 5:19. Ephesians 5:19 doesn’t say anything about teaching and admonishing. However, if we look at Eph 5:19, a verse Shai Linne did not use to make his point, it says singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, so it is singing and making melody to the Lord. It doesn’t say singing and making melody to people. This fits with all the OT passages. The first part of the verse, lalountes heautois. John Eadie in his Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, writes: “Giving expression among yourselves, or in concert.” MacArthur writes about this verse: “Among whom do we sing? All right, among whom? . . . . among ourselves and ultimately verse 19 at the end says, “To the Lord.” So, our song is directed among ourselves to the Lord. Now I want you to notice that. . . . this is important to just make this mention that the singing of the saints is always among themselves to God.” He agrees with Eadie. The songs are not being sung “to saints,” but “among the saints” “to the Lord.” This again agrees with everywhere in the OT.

    Sometimes people might say, “You’re right.”

  45. Luke Wolford says:

    Rajesh,

    I don’t think that is the best example. The photographs are evil because they are used for sexual perversion, were made in sexual perversion, etc. Secondly, if one uses pornography as a genre of photography it still does not match music. Pornography for many reasons, one of which is that it gives rise to lust which Jesus condemns as adultery. It is also impossible to have pornography which does not bring lust. That is its intent and purpose. What we are trying to establish here is if certain genres of music carry sinful connotations regardless of what the lyrical content is. Any genre of music can have good lyrical content. While music can communicate, that communication is not as easy to show to be sinful as pornography is. That is why I don’t think your example holds up.

  46. Rajesh,
    in making the photography analogy you are arguing exactly what Luke is saying. Not to mention.. it is not the creation but the intent of the creator that makes something evil. Aaron’s calf was made sinful because it was made with the intent of being a idol for false worship. The photographs of exploited children are made evil because of the intent of the person taking them and exploiting the children. Pictures of naked babies are taken all the time and are innocent and beautiful, so one cannot paint with such a broad brush. Artists create art that seeks to glorify God, in one genre you have a Thomas Kinkade who paints beautifully, however you have young artists that paint in a more abstract manner in which the lines are far less smooth or defined, the intent of both are to point toward the beauty of God, and because of that it is accomplished. Now the artist that creates beautiful things but uses them to glorify himself, or the art itself as an object of worship, he is guilty of idolatry. The genre of rap is no different, the intent or the object of the rap is what determines the object of worship… on one hand the focus is money, women, possession, and on the other there is focus on Christ, The Word, doctrine, discipline, Christian manhood, growth, maturity, and so on. The contrast is incredible, and it is a contrast that can be found across the board in EVERY genre of music from Opera to Bluegrass, Classical to Rap. It is not the object itself, by itself and unto itself that is sinful, it is the intent of the objects creator or user that brings evil into the equation. To say otherwise would remove all music from the equation of the worship of God, and we all know that is just not biblical.

    Another issue I’ve seen in this discussion that has rather grated on me is this idea of God not using things born in rebellion (saw it in one of the many comments), yet… He is using us, despite our being born into rebellion at birth and counted in the sin of Adam.

    I could cherry pick a couple of others, but I’m beginning to see the circles taking shape.

  47. Martin says:

    Justin, but that is exactly the question Scott already raised in an earlier post – once you become a Christian, you are no longer supposed to be in rebellion against God. You are not ‘redeemed’ and untouched but TRANSFORMED and changed. So the BIG question is, if we could redeem things like music, what would that look like afterwards? Clearly, if all things are new, it can’t be the same! Incremental or radical change?

    God IS using PEOPLE (not things) born in rebellion after they have been TRANSFORMED into His image (or more precisely, as they are being transformed) but His touch does not leave them the same. So does this apply to music styles as well? Back to my post on December 15, 2013 at 8:03 pm – a, b or c?

    http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-culture/discussion-about-christian-rap-with-shai-linne-example-of-sinful-music-rebuttal/#comment-7971

  48. Actually, there is room for one more… or more.
    If we go down this road, and we somehow see rap as unfit for use in God’s kingdom since we can’t go around talking about redeeming things that are used for evil.
    Then if your church uses a website… horrible since the internet is predominately littered with pornography
    If your church podcasts (especially if it is available on iTunes) how could you be in bed with a company that has an openly pro-gay agenda?
    We could spin this and spin this and spin this, and the reality that churches pick and choose that which they will use to make themselves relevant and if those in charge dislike a style or a genre, or whatever, it is quickly demonized as syncretism, if the adaptation is attempted, or is working for others.

    So at which point and by which criteria are determining which mediums of communication are fit for the gospel despite being hijacked by the sinful nature of men and which are beyond redemption? I’m really curious.

    BTW for all of those that are clamoring around the idea of singing vs. teaching… how does the separation of those two things fall in line with the Jewish tradition of singing the scriptures in the temple gathering?
    again.. curious.

  49. Martin says:

    Why, is the Jewish way of doing things somehow normative for the Christian church? But I already wrote that singing always teaches – even those who are singing along with us, and even if the singing is directed to God :-)

    Your charge about the Internet etc. was made at the beginning of this series and was answered in the comments: http://religiousaffections.org/articles/articles-on-culture/discussion-about-christian-rap-with-shai-linne-can-music-be-sinful/

  50. Martin says:

    Mackman, I believe you’re right: we’re still stuck at that point = that we may want to assign specific meanings to styles, such as aggression, but we have no ability to prove one is right and one isn’t. Some say it’s obvious, others deny. All I can say is, I believe there is a truth there and that some of us must then be in error. It is probably something we could all learn to discern just as the Bible says we can learn to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). These categories have God-given laws but they are not as obvious to see (and can be broken without immediate consequences) as the law of gravity, for example. That’s all I can say now – I’m a student here, not a teacher, I’m afraid :-)

    As for yesterday’s challenge, I really was hoping this would not be a private conversion between just you and me…

  51. Mackman says:

    Justin,

    As one who often angers people unnecessarily by coming on too strong, I have to caution you not to alienate a potential ally.

    Martin has shown himself to be more discerning and less prone to blanket statements than many of the “rap is teh devilz” crowd. Be sure that your arguments are sound, and haven’t been addressed at some point in the earlier posts. When Martin asks a question, it’s not a leading question. He wants to think through it, and unlike many people on this forum, he has NOT already picked an answer and is NOT merely waiting for you to show whether you’re right or a godless rapping heathen.

    Oh, and changing subjects: After a while, responding to the exact same faulty argument with the exact same answer is going to break your mind. So when some people persist in logical fallacies, when they persist in stating assumptions as though they were arguments, simply answer them once and then ignore them: it’s what I do to preserve my sanity.

    Mackenzie

  52. Mackman says:

    Martin,

    Much of the anti-rap/rock crowd has already made up their minds and consider the topic closed for discussion.

    My wildest hope was to get one other person involved to listen to the song, read the argument, and engage with it. My expectations, however, were people claiming that they didn’t even need to listen to it, since their quotes from secular musicians clearly prove that the song is just sex and trumpets.

    But since we didn’t even get to chuckle at the rehashing of old “arguments,” I was hoping, at least, to get your opinion on it. Even though I’m sure you will disapprove of some of it, I’m hoping that you will acknowledge at least some merit (or even potential merit).

    Mackenzie

  53. Rajesh says:

    Luke,

    I disagree with you. My point was that there is a style of photography that is inherently evil, which disproves the notion that no style of “artistic” endeavor can be inherently evil. I never claimed that my analogy proves that there are genres of music that are inherently evil; what it does do is disprove false assertions that it is impossible for any genre of human “artistic” endeavor to be inherently evil.

    Furthermore, my example also categorically disproves the false assertion that no thing can be inherently evil. Those photos are themselves irredeemably wicked.

    Justin,

    No, I am not arguing exactly what Luke says. There are people who would disagree with your statement about pictures of babies; in any case, I specified a certain style of posing . . .

    I disagree with your assertion, “It is not the creation but the intent of the creator that makes something evil.” When the calf or those photos were/are made, the intent of the creator was/is evil, the act of creating was/is evil, and the final product was/is evil.

  54. Jonathan says:

    Alan (and others),

    What if there was a rap song that was directed towards God? And what if there was actual singing in the song? And what if the beginning of the song had instruments such as the violin and piano (I think these are the instruments haha – I am no music major). Much like the passages you describe and the psalms that you say are all directed toward God, I give you a song from Shai Linne entitled “Lord of Patience.”

    m.youtube.com/watch?v=KR7jJqf5w_c&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DKR7jJqf5w_c

    I would be honored if you took the time to listen and read the lyrics listed, and get your (and others’) thoughts about this particular form of hip hop.

  55. Luke Wolford says:

    Rajesh,

    One thing about your example. It is the content of the photographs that is wrong, much as any song which would glorify sexual deviancy would be wrong, no matter the genre.

  56. Martin says:

    Haha – thanks Mackman for your support. I guess blogging really brings our the worst in you (and hopefully sometimes the best)! Yes, you learn patience and longsuffering (quickly – or else!). A great exercise in brotherly love: seven times seventy, eh?

  57. Martin says:

    Thank you Jonathan for posting Shai’s song above. I’d be interested to know what Scott thinks about it.
    As for me, I agree with many others that this song does NOT reflect anger or aggressiveness in style or lyrics. It is well crafted and I actually enjoyed it very much. Maybe a minor detail I would change is the frequent ‘yeah’, which sounds a little out of place here, and maybe replace it with different words, such as ‘Lord’ or ‘it’s true’ or whatever else might fit. But this is a very minor critique of something that is otherwise artistically well done. Which then leaves, as far as I can see, the following options for our discussion:
    A) We need to admit that there are types of rap that are God-honouring
    B) This song is not really part of the genre we are discussing because it is missing the heftier speech so typical for the mainstream (so what is it then? another or a new genre?)
    C) There are other elements in the song that are not God-honouring (and I don’t pretend to know what these could be)

    Does anyone else who listened to this want to chip in?

  58. Mackman says:

    Martin,

    A) This seems to be the most obvious option.

    B) I can see literally no warrant whatsoever for making this move, except to defend the already indefensible premise that “rap” is, by definition, sinful. Why should people unfamiliar with the genre (and hostile to it) be the ones deciding what fits into it?

    C) This can easily be filled with what I’ve taken to calling the “Aniol”: ” it is enough “proof” to simply point to examples of what “,” for example, look like, and observe that a certain kind of music sounds like that.” In this case, the sins that come to mind off the top of my head are “disrespect” (can you hear how FAST he’s talking?), “Distortion” (pretty sure his voice is slightly auto-tuned), and of course, “being unnecessarily rappish.”

    Of course, the beauty of the “Aniol” is that you can throw literally any sin in there, and just shrug off requests for proof with a smile and more baseless accusations.

    In all seriousness, there is no grounds whatsoever for B. I know you were likely raising it just to be thorough, but I hope you recognize that there would be no warrant for making a move like that.

  59. Mackman says:

    Darn it, keep forgetting that pointy brackets get edited out. In the middle of Aniol’s quote, it’s supposed to read “INSERT RANDOM SIN”.

  60. POJ says:

    Without Holy Scripture we cannot discern rightly General Revelation. Apart from Special Revelation no one can discern rightly what is being spoken of in General Revelation (in fact some even have taken liberty to say this does not really exist). God exist and has shown Himself and continues to speak of Himself in nature, but unless God turns man and gives him light to see he will not turn to God and God’s wrath abides.
    Scripture alone does not speak on every topic. It does not speak on the topic of arithmetic. If it did then I suppose anyone who failed the class would be all sinners in sin. Fortunately Scripture does not tell us how to sing or what musical instrument should be used. The argument could be stated another way. They did not have Drums (which many of our modern day worship services have), I am pretty sure they did not have a Piano or a Organ (I could be wrong here).
    Every time a little child plays an instrument learning how to play the notes yet fails to hit the right notes are in Sin because of the fact that what they are playing is ugly.
    I think the real issue here is that Scott just does not like Rap.

  61. Martin says:

    Sad to see you would fall back on that stance. We dealt with it repeatedly over the past weeks: WHO CARES what someone here likes or dislikes? Scripture tell us to honour God, and so we should try and understand what this means in the realm of music.

  62. […] analogous to these forms of oral presentation. Even Shai Linne acknowledges implicitly that music communicates. […]

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