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Is Rap Really a Canvas?

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series

"Is Rap Really a Canvas?"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

The following abridged discussion took place here.

Credo Mag: In the past you have been criticized for redeeming such a “depraved genre” as hip-hop. What is your response to this criticism?

Shai Linne: Arguments against “depraved genres” are ultimately arguments against redemption itself, because depraved genres are the products of depraved human beings- who need redemption. (In fact, “depraved genre” is a misnomer because it’s ascribing moral value to a medium, which by definition is morally neutral until informed by content.) Once God has redeemed a person, it’s fitting for the Christian to take the “genres” or vehicles  (such as books, cameras, canvasses, the internet, language, musical forms, etc.) that he or she once used for evil and now use them to promote the glory of God. Those who make the objection (especially as they use the internet to do so) are often unaware that they themselves use “depraved genres” all the time.

Shai Linne’s response to the question can be boiled 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.

I’d like to consider these propositions, and then weigh the validity of the argument. Let’s begin with the first: rap is a medium.

What is a medium? What does Shai Linne mean by medium? A dictionary definition of medium would say something like a medium is a means of conveying something. Fairly vague, and unhelpfully broad. Air can be a medium for airplanes, water a medium for fish, and wires a medium for electricity.

In the context of the discussion, Shai Linne is talking about media for messages. That is, he is focusing on those media that can communicate ideas – be they musical ideas, images, or messages written in language and recorded on a screen or a book. He later gives the following as examples of such media: “books, cameras, canvasses, the internet, language, musical forms, etc.” Leaving aside that those are very unlike things to be grouped together, it seems clear that he is limiting his discussion to media that can carry messages.

Linne regards the musical genre of rap as a medium. That is, rap, and we would assume, other genres of music, are simply media for messages to be added to them– on the order of cameras and canvasses. To be fair, perhaps he has defended this assertion elsewhere. However, here the validity of the idea is simply assumed to be true.

I would say, for Linne’s assertion to be true, rap must be like other media of messages in the same way. In Linne’s categorization, these media carry no messages of their own. That is, cameras have no messages of their own until a message is added – until an image is captured. The device only communicates the story of its pictures once those pictures are added. Canvases have no messages of their own until a message is added – until a picture is painted. The canvas only communicates the ideas of the painting once they have been added.

Does rap qualify as a medium in this sense? That is, can we extract rap as a set of rhythms and verbal intonations, that remain meaningless until lyrics are added? Is rap like canvas, film or memory space in a computer?

To answer that, let’s propose an experiment. Imagine hearing a rap song in a language foreign to you. The message of the lyrics is for all practical intents and purposes meaningless to you. All you can make out is the music and the intonation of the rapper. This is as close as we can get to Linne’s idea of rap as ‘medium without message’. As you listen, does it carry the neutral significance of a blank screen? Is it film awaiting an image, creating in you no responses whatsoever? Is it a blank sheet of paper, or 100 megabytes of space waiting to be used? Do you really feel nothing, and make no associations, and experience no like or dislike for the music?

I doubt it. I think we hear it the way we hear the neighbors arguing. We can’t always make out the words, but we understand the mood, and therefore we understand the significance. An angry tone of voice may be a medium to communicate an idea, but it is more than a medium. It is a form – a shape into which the words will be poured. It has a particular shape by its volume and tempo and pitch. And before we add the words to it, it is a shape which already has a meaning of its own.

If the reply comes that such interpretations of rap come through association or by how rap is used, my answer is, how does that help the idea that rap is like a camera or a canvas? In fact, it tends to weaken such a notion. It shows that rap, for whatever reason, carries meaning in ways that devices and technologies do not. If rap is a medium, then it is a medium in a very different  way to media like devices and canvases. It is more of a mold that will shape the words placed into it– and ought not to be compared to radios, MP3 players or computer screens.

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About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

39 Responses to Is Rap Really a Canvas?

  1. You spent this entire article jumping all over Shai Linne for comparing rap music to a "medium" that can be used for both immoral and moral purposes.

    Then you conclude by saying, "(Rap music) is more of a mold that will shape the words placed into it."

    I could respond on my blog by writing an entire article criticizing you for all of the faults in your analogy too. It is not merely a mold for lyrics, since it contains some degrees of creative beauty as music by itself. It is not definitively a mold, since it does not guarantee universal lyrical uniformity to its mold. So your analogy is faulty as well.

    However, I'm not going to devote an entire article to proclaim how wrong your personal opinions and analogies are in a public setting. I'd like to make a comment to focus on something that the Bible actually discusses that you are disobeying.

    Philippians 2 says that Christ was a humble servant who esteemed those whom He came into contact with as better than Himself. He knelt before them, washed their feet, and simply pointed them to God. He did not jump all over them publicly for not worshiping with styles that were at the level of the excellencies of heaven, or for using less than perfect analogies.

    This blog, however, consistently comes across as a couple of arrogant classically trained young white guys who expect all people groups, in this case black people, who desire to glorify God to transform themselves into 200 year old, classically trained white people in order to be acceptable worshipers. That mindset not only is inconsistent with the humility of Christ, but it causes unbiblical disunity amongst the people of God, which is something that God hates.

  2. Yeah, you've nailed it, Rick. That's why I do what I do – I want the Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho members of my congregation to play the harpsichord and sing German chorales.

  3. Your response is about what I expected. Rather than attempting to clarify your position, or engage with mine, you instead decide to respond with arrogant sounding sarcasm at somebody who just doesn't get it like you do.

  4. Okay Rick, let's have a look. You begin by saying upfront that you don't want to engage my position. You dismiss it, claiming you could write whole blog posts on this topic, but you won't.You go on to on to say that the real reason for your posting is not to engage in the argument, but because you want to help me with my sanctification – in particular my lack of humility.

    You do this by equating this post with arrogance, assuming that it is deeply rooted in pride and contempt for others, and quite unlike Philippians 2.

    Having done that, you then say not only this post, but the whole blog smacks of arrogance, racism and schismatic attitudes.

    While you're helping me with my humility, you might want to remember that love 'thinks no evil', 'believes all things' and does not answer a matter before it hears it.

    When the response to your playing of the man instead of the ball is thrown back at you in the spirit you gave it, you feign rationality and pretend that you wanted open-minded debate in the first place.

    Disingenuous is the word that comes to mind.

  5. David,

    I never said that I wouldn't engage in your argument. I said that I didn't think correcting somebody's imperfect analogy was worth dedicating an entire blog article to, which is what you did. I'm obviously engaging your argument here.

    I also never said that you wrote this article out of contempt for anybody. I said that you didn't come across as counting others as more significant than yourself in humility. And if "love thinks no evil" means that I can't call you out on a clear violation of Scripture, which you admit to at the end of comment #4, then I'd say disingenuous accurately describes what you are doing by calling Shai out over a music style that the Bible never talks about.

  6. Uh, no, Rick. Saying I returned your comment in the spirit it was given is not admitting to being unscriptural. It's actually Proverbs 26:5. And since it is clear I am speaking to one who reviles ( calling us/ me racist – arrogant – schismatic) without inquiry (Prov 18:13), I am now going to obey Prov 26:4.

  7. Rick, can you prove to me from the Bible that the medium of rap is an appropriate vehicle for the expression of biblical truth?

  8. So my plea for humility turns into your public labeling of me as the fool of Proverbs. Interesting. Sad. And symptomatic of the deeper roots of pride in those who write this blog.

  9. So my plea for humility turns into your public labeling of me as the fool of Proverbs. Interesting. Sad. And symptomatic of the deeper roots of pride in those who write this blog.

  10. Scott,

    I'd be interested in discussing that. But I'll have to wait for a few hours to get to it. Btw, sorry for the double post. I'm on my phone, and it's being weird.

  11. I'd like to say first of all that I never accused you guys of racism. That word never even came out of my mouth. I will admit that I believe you are cultural elitists, in that you have elevated your music style to acceptable worship status, and relegated other styles to unacceptable status. I think that is a serious misunderstanding of what makes our worship acceptable to God according to 1 Peter 2:5. But I don't think that necessarily makes you racist. I'll answer Scott's question to me in a moment.

  12. Scott,

    No, I cannot go to Scripture to try to prove that rap music, or any other style, is inherently acceptable for communicating biblical truth. That would be eisogesis. And I could ask you the same question about your prefered styles.

    I can, however, draw some general conclusions from Scripture, and personally apply them to rap music, or any music for that matter.

    For example, let's look at communication from the point of view of both speaker and listener.

    Luke 6:45 says, "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."

    This verse illustrates the truth that biblical communication is born from hearts that treasure Christ.

    Let's apply this to rap music. What does rap music communicate? I've heard rap music communicate a wide variety of emotions, including, but not limited to anger, desperation, and joy. But these emotions can be used both righteously and sinfully. So as I listen to the rap song, I would ask, "What is the artist angry about? What is the artist desperate for? What is the artist joyful over?" And the answer to these questions will derive both from the life of the artist, as well as the lyrical content of the song. As a result, I would conclude that an artist whose heart for Christ expresses biblical anger, desperation, or joy in the style of rap music, by faith in Christ, is doing something acceptable. And I would also conclude that an artist whose heart for himself expresses sinful anger, desperation, or joy in the style of rap music, in self-confidence, is doing something unacceptable.

    The communicating artist also needs to take into consideration the hearer. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

    The communicating artist needs to communicate in a way that builds up the listener by giving them grace in their context. This is going to differ from person to person. What edifies you may not edify me. So the artist needs to consider who he is communicating to, and then communicate in such a way that gives grace to them.

    As we apply this to rap music, I believe that rap music can be used to edify certain groups of people by pointing them to be angry at sin, desperate for Christ, and joyful for the cross. And I also believe that it can be used to corrupt people by causing them to further dwell on and rejoice in their sin.

    So there are alot more factors involved than simply saying, "Rap is acceptable," or "Rap is unacceptable." It's biblical usage is going to depend on a number of factors in both the communicator and the listener.

  13. Rick, I applaud you for how you sought to prove that rap is acceptable from Scripture.

    I completely agree with you on the following statements: "I cannot go to Scripture to try to prove that rap music, or any other style, is inherently acceptable for communicating biblical truth. . . . I can, however, draw some general conclusions from Scripture, and personally apply them to rap music, or any music for that matter."

    I could not agree more. Well done.

    So here's the thing–in your first comment, you seem to be arguing that it was arrogant of David to even attempt to argue that rap was inappropriate for expression of God's truth. All David did in this post is exactly what you did in your comment; he sought to "draw some general conclusions from Scripture" and try to apply them to the medium of rap. This argument was just as legitimate as yours.

    Now obviously, the conclusion David drew (and the one I would draw) is different than yours. That's fine. Let's have discussions on this level; this is healthy Christian discernment.

    But please do not imply that it is arrogant, prideful, or racist to argue that someone is wrong when they defend rap.

    Now as to the principles you use and how you apply them, I obviously disagree with you, but I do not disagree with the process you went through to arrive at your conclusions.

    Perhaps this is not the best place to work point by point through your arguments. I and a few others have dealt extensively with the issue of rap music, using the very process you employed, in this series:

    I would encourage you to read the arguments in that series, and if you'd still to discuss this issue on the level of the arguments, I (and I'm sure David and others) would be more than happy to.

  14. Scott,

    I’ve taken some time to read over your articles multiple times, as well as the article by David that you link to in your first article. I appreciate the respect that you communicated for men such as Mark, Shai, and Curtis. I also appreciate your approach of applying theology to music, rather than reading music style into the text. And I also appreciate much of your pre-suppositional points as well.

    Before I make any of my arguments, I would like to say that I’m speaking for myself. I am not defending any of Mark’s, Shai’s, or Curtis’s reasoning. I’m simply stating how I understand applying theology to music style, and how I evaluate your approach.

    I’d also like to say that I know my response here is long. But in David’s article that you linked to, he says, “We are also in a time of impatience with detailed and extended argument.” So I’m taking that as an invitation to lay out my case in detail.

    The major point that you begin with is the total depravity of man. And being a five point Calvinist, I can appreciate this line of thinking. I agree that, “Since humans are totally depraved, there is always the potential that the way a man communicates could be sinful.” I agree that “all of man is completely depraved,” and that includes the way he communicates. I agree that rap music communicates through the form, as well as the lyrics. I agree that our preferences can be wrong. I agree that more is being communicated in rap music than mere lyrical propositions, and that culture is not inherently neutral.

    Perhaps the sentence that most drove this point home was when you said, “Culture is the external expression of values. Cultures do not develop in a vacuum, they are developed in the crucible of human value systems.”

    In your final article, you do a very good job of detailing how the human value system in the culture of Hip Hop expressed itself externally in the form of rap music. You mention anger and discontent. I would also add to that desperation and delight in sin.

    I love your statement, “When a medium of communication is birthed out of a certain value system, there is great reason to assume that the medium will naturally express those values.”

    My conclusion regarding how the total depravity of man applies to rap music is that rap music, both lyrically and musically, is an external expression of anger, discontent, desperation, and delight in sin that speaks out of the abundance of a totally depraved heart.

    However, I think that if we really believe in total depravity, that we must take that conclusion much further than rap music. If every sinner is totally depraved, then every external cultural expression of totally depraved hearts is marred by depravity. That is why country music often celebrates adultery, divorce, and depression. It’s why heavy metal music celebrates darkness, rage, and death. It’s why pop music celebrates sex outside of marriage, man’s image, and self-indulgence. It’s why many folk music cultures celebrate drunkenness. And it’s why influential classical composers also celebrate adultery and self-indulgence.

    I would say that every man from every culture has externally expressed the depravity of his heart in every style of music. This is not limited to styles from Africa. It extends to all depraved men expressing all depravity-marred styles everywhere. Thus, all forms of contemporary and classical styles are marred by depravity in that they are expressions of totally depraved sinners.

    At this point, however, I’m guessing that you would point to the difference between the value system of a Christianized culture, and the value system of a sinfully worldly culture. You make this point in the fourth article saying, “It is undeniable that Western culture by and large has been influenced by Christian values more than perhaps any other in the world.” You also admitted, “That is not to say at all that there haven’t been anti-biblical influences as well; there certainly have been. But by God’s common grace we haven’t been influenced by Satanism or Eastern mysticism to the same extent as other societies. That has influenced the development of culture.” And I agree when you said, “So each culture (Western, too) must be parsed for its meaning. What worldview does it reflect?”

    Specifically with Western high art culture, you said, “The high art of Western culture, at least, has been shaped and developed in a crucible of Christian influence. Western high art as we know it was nurtured in the Church; Romanism to be sure, but Christian theism nonetheless.”

    Here’s where I’d like to take your pre-supposition a bit further than you have stated again. Not only do I believe that total depravity extends to all cultural expressions of music, I also believe that it expresses itself in two basic ways that are found all throughout Scripture.

    The first cultural expression of total depravity is self-indulgent license. And it is in this expression that most, if not all of today’s pop music styles express their depravity. That has been well documented in this thread and in other articles. And we both agree on this. So I won’t belabor the point. It makes sense that many Christians would desire to use this style in their worship. And it also makes sense that others would accuse these Christians of worldliness.

    The second cultural expression of total depravity is self-righteous legalism. One of my challenges to you would be to explore more extensively the worldview of Western high art that was born in Romanism—a legalistic, works-based self-righteousness. You have admitted this, yet also labeled this context as “Christian influence,” and “Christian theism nonetheless.” I would remind you of your own words, “When a medium of communication is birthed out of a certain value system, there is great reason to assume that the medium will naturally express those values.” So how does a theological value system of self-righteousness express those values musically?

    It makes sense that many Christians would desire to use this style in their worship. And it also makes sense that others would accuse these Christians of self-righteousness, since its style was born out of a theology of self-righteousness.

    Isaiah 64:6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

    In Philippians 3, Paul describes his biblically influenced, yet self-righteous value system as, “confidence in the flesh,” and labels it as, “rubbish.”

    So my conclusion regarding the Western high art that you promote is that it is also marred by depravity, in that it, being born in Romanism, is an expression of hearts that have confidence in the flesh, that pursue self-righteousness, and that such depraved expressions are labeled in Scripture as, “a polluted garment,” and “rubbish.”

    If what I have concluded is true, then what should be our response? The typical legalistic response to those engaged in the cultures of license is to condemn their worldliness. That, I believe, is cultural elitism because it looks down on other cultural expressions of depraved humans, while assuming that its depravity born style is acceptable to an infinitely holy God. The typical license response to those engaged in Western high-art is to write off any warnings of human depravity as self-righteous.

    If our pre-supposition is that cultural expressions born out of and marred by human depravity are inappropriate forms for communicating biblical truth, then at this point, according to my line of reasoning, we would be left with no legitimate forms of musical expression.

    So my evaluation at this point would be that we are currently working with an incomplete picture. And as a five point Calvinist, I find Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints to have just as significant implications on our depraved cultural expressions as Total Depravity does. I also believe that a systematic approach to the connection between the theology of God and the praise of His glory in Ephesians 1 would open up a lot more of the picture. And I also believe that the Priesthood of Christ in 1 Peter 2 that makes us acceptable worshipers has profound implications on the discussion.

    So in conclusion, my evaluation of your thoughts are that they are heading in the right direction, but that they are incomplete. And due to the incompleteness of your approach, you have come to a number of faulty assumptions and conclusions.

  15. Hi David,

    I've enjoyed your work here. When I read this post, I was thinking of Josiah's eradication of the false worship and practice of Manasseh and Amon after he took the throne of Judah. 2 Kings 23:4 says: "And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Bethel." In particular, I notice that he took the "vessels that were made for Baal…and he burned them."

    Why could these vessels not be redeemed for God's use? Why burned? Why discarded? They weren't morally neutral. They were not an appropriate implement for worship. And that reminds me of what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 10. The defense of the Corinthians was that the idol was nothing. But Paul argues that it isn't nothing, there is more to it than just the wood or stone. There is the demonic activity and the association. I would argue further that the language of rap itself is ungodly, not in fitting with God's character. The Corinthians attempted to bring the ecstasy of Corinth into the church. Something causes or shapes ecstasy—certainly demons, but more than that. Factors contribute to an ecstatic experience that counterfeits true spirituality. We are required to judge them, and I don't think it's that difficult. It wasn't for Paul in Corinth.

    I believe what is easy to read that is truly happening with these "Christian rappers" is more like the ecstasy that entered into Corinth. They are using the vessels of Baal to worship God. It is a dangerous shift that replaces true spirituality with a carnal counterfeit. Maybe the lyrics are fine, but the feelings manipulated are not spirituality, but carnality, and so the people involved have their discernment ruined as to what is true spirituality (like those at Corinth).

    What is really happening with the "Christian rappers," I'm afraid, is reformed new measures, church growth methodology. Preaching the gospel didn't impress the Greeks or the Jews like wisdom and signs did. Preaching the gospel isn't impressive to a certain urban environment like rap. The idea is that the vehicle of rap will embellish the gospel for its hearers. Doesn't sound too Calvinist, does it?

  16. Hi, Rick. I really enjoyed reading your comment. Thank you for engaging in this discussion.

    A few thoughts based on your comments:

    1. My point about total depravity is that it should lead us to at least be aware of the possibility that various human forms of communication could communicate sin. But this does not mean that "every external cultural expression of totally depraved hearts is marred by depravity." This statement is contrary to Scripture. Even totally depraved people can do good things. Romans 2:14 teaches that sometimes unbelievers can "do what the law requires." I think it is clear that unbelievers can do good things for two reasons. One, God's common grace even to unbelievers. Two, sometimes, as in Romans 2:14-15, unbelievers "borrow" the biblical worldview and thus can produce something good. It's sort of ironic that I'm the one in this discussion defending the idea that unbelievers (and believers) can do good things! :)

    2. In your paragraph about various kinds of music expressing depraved message, you bounce back and forth between form and content. In other words, when I'm talking about rap, I'm primarily discussing the form rather than the lyrical content (of course we would both repudiate depraved lyrical content). You seem to switch back and forth in that paragraph. In other words, I would deny that classical composers, for example, in most cases, celebrate adultery and self-indulgence in their musical form. They may in the lyrical content (of some operas, for example), but not in the musical form, certainly not in the same way as rap.

    3. In your paragraph about legalism, you have moved from the realm of worldview and value systems (which was the point of my discussion about culture), to a discussion of committing particular sins. Of course all Christians commit sin, and one of those sins is legalism (such as that of Romanism). But that doesn't change worldview. There are really essentially two world views. One acknowledges a supreme Creator in whose nature and character are found transcendent, absolute values to which mankind must submit (you can see here how an unbeliever, including a Romanist, could hold to this worldview). The second finds its end in self and denies any absolutes outside self. These are the two general value systems that create various cultural forms. This is why I would suggest that the West prior to the Enlightenment (pre modernism) produced a culture that is generally befitting Christian values, while the culture that eventually emerged in post-Enlightenment more and more evidenced the self-indulgence you mentioned. So in other words, I don't think a musical form can really express legalism.

    So in summary, what I am talking about is two general wordlviews, which produce kinds of culture, rather than particular sins. Particular sins can certainly be expressed through lyrical content, and certain physical sins can be expressed through music, but sinful theological ideas really can't be expressed through form. Form basically expresses either transcendent values or self-indulgence. This is why, by the way, I believe that other non-Western cultures whose religions emphasize the transcendent, such as the Orient, have produced some cultural expressions that would actually be fitting for Christianity. Cultures rooted in self-indulgence, however, can produce only expressions that express such self-indulgence.

  17. Kent,

    Your point about vessels that could not simply be re-consecrated is an interesting one. I hadn't thought about that, and it is probably worth investigating, given all the arguments about redeeming things for God's use.

    I'll be touching on 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 in the next post.

  18. Thank you for writing about the term "medium"/"media".

    Having read your essay, it seems you do not agree that that Rap can be a "canvas". But if Rap is *not* a canvas, then what *is* Rap? You state: "Canvases have no messages of their own until a message is added." You cite a foreign-language rap song that contains an "angry" voice.

    Yet, I must stop there and ask: What's wrong with an angry tone? Since there is Righteous Anger, can't there be also a Righteous Tone of Anger? Can't it be possible that when Christ Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, that He rebuked them in an angry tone of voice (a Righteously Angry Tone of Voice)? Can't it be possible that when Paul rebuked Peter to his face, that Paul actually had an angry tone of voice (a Righteously Angry tone of voice)? Their voices were presumably audible to their listeners. The voice of the angry dude in the foreign-language Rap song is presumably audible to his listeners.

    Therefore, can't we ask: What's wrong with an angry voice; Can't anger be righteous anger?

    And so: if there is such a thing as Righteous Anger, is it not possible for us to be spiritually convicted by that Righteous Anger — in a positive way — towards what is holy and pure and good and true? Isn't it possible for someone to listen to a conversation where it's David rebuking Saul, or Nathan rebuking David, or Jesus rebuking the Pharisees, or Jesus rebuking Peter, or the Apostle Paul rebuking Peter, or Jonathan Edwards rebuking his congregation and readers, or a Christian man today rebuking someone last week for bad behavior? Let's say the Christian man is rebuking his son or daughter or student or colleague. Can't the colleague become convicted by the Christian man's tone of voice?

    If there is a message, then there is a messenger and (generally speaking) there is also one receiving (reading or listening to) and interpreting the message.

    If I may go back to the term "canvas", I'd like to suggest that "the soundscape" is a "canvas". Within the soundscape, there can be a message (or lack thereof), a messenger, and a receiver (the listener). By "soundscape", I suppose I mean sounds (or the sum of all sounds) within hearing distance of a person or group at one time.

    I will mention something else here. One Bible verse just came to my mind. I know it's probably been discussed here before: if so, I hope you'll allow me to mention it again. And that verse is: "Make a joyful noise unto The Lord" (Psalm 98, and also Psalm 100). What if a Rapper, within a Rap song, is attempting to convey a joyful noise unto the Lord? Isn't it for *The Lord* to decide what is joyful and what is not joyful? Or, can we indeed discern what is a joyful noise unto The Lord — and what is not? I'm asking this question sincerely. Although God is the intended receiver of the message, maybe we might be able to discern whether a message is truly joyful or whether it is not. I'm just asking. But if we are not the intended messenger, then what Scripture supports the point of view that we *could* or *can* discern what is or is not joyful when God Himself — not us — is the intended receiver of the message?

    Now, I will go back to my suggestion that we use "soundscape" as an example of a "canvas". If there is no sound, then could the receiver (the listener) actually be drawn closer to God? I've heard differences of statements on this. A wonderful Christian young lady I used to know, once told me (and I'm paraphrasing) that she felt most closely in the presence of God in quiet. (Actually, speaking for myself, I would make a similar statement.) But another Christian might say (and I'm paraphrasing) that he or she feels most close to the Lord when there is sweet songs of praise with the piano and harp and acoustic guitars. Can we judge either of those persons? No, I don't believe so.

  19. Todd,

    You asked'What is wrong with angry tone of voice?' The answer is, it depends on the object. If the object is in sin, then an angry tone of voice may be appropriate, and often called for. If the object is not, or if the object happens to be God Himself or His works, then it is not appropriate.

    Beyond that, we want to ask, what kind of anger are we talking about? Rage? Annoyance? Irritation? Fury? Jealousy? Vengeance? Petulant Tantrums? Anger, like joy or sorrow or fear has many gradations, some appropriate in some situations and inappropriate in others, some always inappropriate.

    Can a work of music carry that nuance of emotion? Yes, and if woven into an overall theme which rightly portrays God or creation, it may be helpful and necessary. The question at hand is, does rap do that? Is rap capable of nuancing subtle gradations of feeling? If rap is an angry sound, what kind of anger? Does the form of rap helpfully communicate the truths of God? I would say that the form of rap has far more problems than merely the possibility that it communicates anger.

    As to God being the recipient of the message,we are still given commands to offer up certain kinds of affections to God – joy, fear, contrition, awe, gratitude. It would be odd if we had no idea what these were and had no way of knowing if we were doing so, and then God expecting us to obey commands to feel these things and worship Him with them. In other words, for God to require these of us, the implication is that we are not only capable of knowing these emotions, but we are capable of recognising these expressions when we use them in worship.

  20. Scott,

    Sorry it’s taken a while to get back to you. Your response really helped to flesh out your position a bit more in my mind. There’s a lot we could explore. But I’d like to hone in on your interpretation and application of total depravity in particular.

    Total depravity is universal. And you simply cannot use Romans 2:14-15 to prove that unbelievers can do good things. The context shows quite the opposite, as well does the whole of Scripture. This passage in context explains that the Gentiles who do not have the law of God revealed to them in the Word, have the law written on their hearts, and that they will be judged by not living according to the law written in their hearts.

    Unbelievers simply cannot do good. Romans 3:10-12 say that they are declared unrighteous, they do not understand God, they do not value God in seeking Him, they have turned away from Him, and have become worthless. And if there was any doubt, it concludes, “No one does good, not even one.” Romans 8:8 says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Even when unbelievers follow the rules of the law, they do it lacking faith. And Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him.”

    Going back to Romans 3:10-18, it’s interesting to note the connection between total depravity and communication. Just after saying, “No one does good, not even one,” Paul says, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. ‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”

    In other words, total depravity affects every unbeliever’s lyrical content (deceive, curses, etc.), emotive content (bitterness), lifestyle influence (shed blood), destination (ruin and misery), and ultimately theology/worldview/value system (no fear of God). You say that total depravity, “Should lead us to at least be aware of the possibility that various human forms of communication could communicate sin.” But this passage does not use such terms as “possibility” and “could.” It says that it universally and definitively does.

    You say that there are two worldviews and value systems—one that acknowledges a transcendent God, and one that finds its end in itself. But the way you explained those two worldviews and value systems is found nowhere in Scripture. The Bible simply does not decipher between unbelievers who do good for God, and unbelievers who indulge in themselves. The Bible says that every unbeliever is totally depraved, and that they express their depravity through their communication. I would agree that there are two worldviews and value systems. But I would say that every unbeliever has the worldview and value system that finds its end in itself. They all seek self-indulgence, and self-righteousness.

    You say that particular sins can be expressed musically, but that theological ideas cannot be. Yet, every sin is ultimately rooted in a theological problem.

    In conclusion, you claim that the West produced an acceptable culture, and that Asia has produced an acceptable culture. Unless I’m missing something, that covers the Americas, Europe, and the East. But mysteriously, the one place missing from that list is Africa. And in a previous article, you contrast “Western high art” with “Satanism-influenced, tribal African culture.” You do make room for some exceptions to the general goodness of the Western and Oriental world. And you also make room for some exceptions to the general self-indulgence of Africa. But overall, it seems, in your mind, that most everybody has generally acceptable worldviews and cultures, with the exception of Africa. How is that an accurate application of universal total depravity?

    So I’m left to conclude, according to your reasoning, that every continent on earth has produced predominately acceptable world views and cultures, except for the continent of black people. I’m just going to shoot straight with you. I’m really not trying to be unreasonable here. I’m honestly not trying to throw gas on the fire. But my heart naturally cringes at your reasoning. When you only apply total depravity to one group of people, and those who come to reflect that group of people, it really does sound racist.

  21. One more comment…In one of the articles you linked to, you said, "This is why, as non-politically correct as it sounds, some cultures are better than others."

    You know very well that what you are saying sounds racist. And as long as you continue to apply total depravity so inconsistently, you're always going to have to defend yourself against coming across that way.

  22. There is no fundamental misunderstanding on my part. I agree that culture is an expression of our theology. That was the point of my last post. I'm simply being consistent by applying the total depravity of all men to all cultures. And you are picking and choosing who to apply it to.

  23. How can you use the self-glorifying theology of self-indulgent values to condemn its specific styles, and not use the self-glorifying theology of self-righteous values to condemn its specific styles?

  24. I've noticed that the "style is neutral" argument always seems to come down to an accusation of racism and elitism. Is it just me or does Rick's logic lead to the conclusion that nothing produced by any culture is useable because it is equally flawed?

  25. Paul,

    You've hit pretty close to the ultimate point that I'm trying to get to. I would trade out the word "useable" with the word "acceptable."

    Because every human communicates their total depravity both in self-righteous and self-indulgent ways, there is no form or style of human communication that is worthy in itself of an infinitely holy God.

    The self-indulgent response to that reality is to ignore the holiness of God by continuing to indulge in whatever feeds your lusts and pride.

    The self-righteous response to that reality is to claim that God accepts your worship because you have expressed it in a style that is worthy of His holiness. To claim that only some styles are unworthy based on their style, and that no style is morally neutral, is to claim that other styles are worthy based on their style. In that logic, the righteousness is found in the style that is produced by a depraved human. And as a result, the worship is a self-righteous glorification of some men, and a self-righteous condemnation of other men.

    The defeatist response to that reality would be to prohibit all communication, which would also contradict commands in Scripture to worship God.

    The biblical response to that universal reality is to offer your imperfect worship, by faith in Christ, who makes your spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.

    Worship is a direct correlation to the gospel. Just as no human can make himself acceptable to God by the quality of his gift, no worshiper can offer worship acceptable to God by the quality of his gift. And just as the unacceptable person is made acceptable through Christ, so that person's imperfect expression of worship is perfected through faith in Christ alone.

    Revelation 5:9 says that God will save people from every nation, tribe, and language. And if our correlation between lyrical and musical language is a legitimate one, then that means also that God would save people in every musical language as well.

    So respond to the gospel with over-flowing gratitude as one who has been set free from sin and death, and worship God by faith in Christ who perfects our worship, within the nation, tribe, and language that He chose for you to live in.

  26. I get the argument here for rap. All men are depraved, so everything is depraved, so now everyone gets to choose what he wants, because everything is equal—Bach and Bonjovi—all the same. It's only the words that will differentiate the lovely from the ugly. And is it only doctrinal correctness in the words, or can we do Dr. Seuss lyrics and God still be respected, because everything is equal there too. And then like Postman talks about, we can have our newsman hop around like Ronald McDonald when he announces the recent deaths in Afghanistan, because all media are equal in their depravity. This defense can't be true, can't be logical, because it doesn't allow for obedience to scripture. There is objective loveliness, objective corruptness, that God expects us to know and judge. Love is not unbecoming, because something can be unbecoming.

  27. Kent,

    Basing a philosophy of worship on the entirety of the gospel does allow for obedience to Scripture.

    Biblical obedience is loving God and others by living as God has commanded us to live out of a heart of gratitude for the gospel. We obey because we have been accepted. We do not obey in order to be accepted.

    So out of gratitude for God making us acceptable in Christ, we express our love for Him by following what He has commanded us to do in worship.

    One problem with many conservative Christians, however, is that they go beyond the commandments of God and make their personal applications the standard by which acceptable worship is measured. That's not obedience. That's "teaching as doctrine the commandments of men." It's assuming that our worship is acceptable through our following of somebody's personal applications, rather than "acceptable to God through Christ." And that's why Christ labels it as vanity.

    I'm not promoting self-indulgence. I've spoken out quite clearly against that. If the Bible commands us to do something, then we must obey it in love for God out of gratitude for the gospel.

  28. David,

    Thank you for your reply. You raise an interesting point: "If rap is an angry sound, what kind of anger? Does the form of rap helpfully communicate the truths of God?" Could I paraphrase your sentence as: "Does rap helpfully communicate the truths of God in a spiritually pleasing, spiritually pure, loving, and beneficial way.

    You also point out: "Then I would say that the form of rap has far more problems than merely the possibility that it communicates anger." What are you primarily speaking of, when you say that?

    I hope you'll all forgive me in that I have more questions. But can I digress for a moment? I received a new comment (in my e-mail inbox) supposedly from this particular discussion — but when I visit this page itself, I am unable to view the comment. Was the comment deleted sometime after it was approved? If so, may I ask why? (End of digression.)

    Regarding Shai, I suppose that I would ask him: where would he draw the line(s) when it comes to the what, who, when, where, and why we communicate the message(s)? If he's saying that because all forms (or modes, or cultural styles, or methods, or types, etc.) of worship are in essence depraved, then are all forms (or modes, etc.) of worship are presumably validated?

  29. I tell the world but when I tell them they don't listen, "How you rappin but you Christian?" They dont' get it so they just dis it! . . . They can say what the wanna, I ain't scared of these people, the Lord is my Shepherd I fear no evil, my soul was empty, my life was foolish, but Jesus saved me! HALLELUJAH! -Lecrae (LOL @ communicates sound of sinful anger. LOL @ comparison to DR Seuss lyrics)

  30. Hi Scott,

    I would like to inquire regarding your post. You said, "Rick, can you prove to me from the Bible that the medium of rap is an appropriate vehicle for the expression of biblical truth?"

    I would like to inquire whether every area of truth regarding worship — or biblical truth — is mentioned in the Bible, including whether Rap qualifies as a true or valid form of worship.



  31. Jason,


    I *think* I understand your tone but I don't know for sure. It seems to be that you're attempting to validate Rap. You seem to speak in somewhat of a sarcastic way, which is OK with me. I just want to understand your point of view. It's OK with me if you're sarcastic, just as long as I can understand which point of view you're expressing.

    >>>I tell the world but when I tell them they don’t listen, “How you rappin but you Christian?” They dont’ get it so they just dis it! . . . They can say what the wanna, I ain’t scared of these people, the Lord is my Shepherd I fear no evil, my soul was empty, my life was foolish, but Jesus saved me!<<>>HALLELUJAH! -Lecrae<<>>(LOL @ communicates sound of sinful anger. LOL @ comparison to DR Seuss lyrics)<<< OK, I'm pretty sure you're being very sarcastic there.

  32. Todd,

    Your questions are welcome. On your digression, I don't know. Scott or the other writers here rarely, if ever, delete comments. I know that I edited my own comment to you, because originally I had written the comment without addressing you by your name and I wanted to fix that. Maybe that's what occurred.

    Your paraphrase would be about correct. Here's another way of saying it: Does Christian rap not only tell us who God is (propositionally), does it also tell us what He deserves (affectively) The propositional content may be spot-on, and in the case of the rappers we are discussing, it often is. However, none of these men are simply writing academic papers on the attributes of God. They are taking those propositions and placing them into a form – the form of rap. That form carries affective connotations, because it reaches the imagination, not merely the cognitive level of understanding. In so doing, the form communicates what we think God deserves – how we think we ought to respond to God.

    As far as the other problems rap has, I'd suggest you read "The Aesthetics of Popular Art" by Abraham Kaplan. (I'm happy to email you a copy, if you'd like.) Kaplan helps us see how popular forms, often through their exaggerations, deliberate over-repetition and use of sound for sheer effect end up robbing us. Instead of a transformative experience, we end up with a comfortable mirror. When it comes to music for worship, this is especially problematic.

  33. I think it's kind of humorous that conservatives always get accused of imposing their standards on others. My impression is that it's much more the other way around. It is very difficult to find a church that has conservative music standards. It's much more likely that a conservative will be faced with the choice to worship with others in ways that make him uncomfortable or not go to church. Attempts to talk about the issue are likely to be met with accusations of racism, elitism or legalism. Not only do I appreciate the topics on this site, I would like to see it develop into a church planting movement.

  34. Todd. Yes, I was being sarcastic as you say. Not in a hateful way. More in a . . . dismayed-by-this-conversation way. Rap music sounds angry and therefore wrong/ can we then honor God with Dr. Seuss lyrics / something about Ronald McDonald jumping around / cultures express themselves in music style, and rap is the expression of a . . . african american culture which is worse than white american culture so their music is less pleasing? (i think was the gist of the argument) . . . Can you not see that this is man made doctrine at its finest?! If you just zoom out away from the trees, and look at the forest of your argument its so painfully obvious. It is empty of scripture. Sure, there have been passages used in everyone's argument here. But the foundations of these arguments all begin with man made presuppositions, and then scriptures are manipulatively woven in to try and validate them. Their poster arguments for eisegetical interpretation. Put down your impressively in-depth and finely built arguments, and just look at the clear commands of scripture. Its really quite very simple. . . painfully simple. I trust that you all strive to do this in every other area of your preaching and teaching, do you not? Do it here to! Just start from scripture, stay with scripture, and end with scripture. Leave the man made stuff out of it! Also, humbling ourselves to start with is NEVER a bad thing. Humble yourself, and ask if its possible that maybe you're speaking to a culture/cultural practice (the rap style of music) that perhaps you just simply don't even fully understand? Gasp! Impossible! . . . You can go to any culture in the world and find massive variety's of ways in which people show honor and respect. (Loudly belching after a meal is a fantastic example of honoring the cook in some places. Lets face it, we don't get that! It just wouldn't make an ounce of sense around an American dinner table! In fact it would be embarrassing and flat out rude!) Is it possible that rap music is means to show honor that you just are so far removed from it simply doesn't make sense to you? In my opinion, that is whats fueling all the clear-as-day eisegesis I see going on in these arguments. It'd be REALLY interesting to just see one of you guys immersed (but I mean COMPLETELY immersed into an African American culture) for about 15 years, understand the culture as a whole experientially, and then come back to scripture and try again. I guarantee it'd change those presuppositions you bring to the table. Guarantee it. I feel like I'm sitting here watching you try to convince middle easterners that their belching is inherently rude and does not show honor to the cook. . . and better yet, your throwing scripture into it all. . . Hence my description of "painful to watch."

  35. Premise 1: I am deeply embedded in white, middle American culture.

    Premise 2: Having, by the mercy of God, been exposed to other cultures, I have become aware of serious deficiencies in my own culture, including its prevailing musical sensibilities (the gospel song, etc.).

    Premise 3: I speak against these deficiencies, because I believe that unchecked, they hinder the work of Christ and his church.

    Apparent conclusion: I hate white people.

  36. Just a note to the Moderator(s),

    My new "comments" don't seem to appear at all when I visit this page. I'm quite sure I've commented at least twice. It seems that other people are able to view my comments (because they've sent me replies) but that I am not able. And I've check-marked each of the boxes at the bottom of the page, each time that I post a new comment. Maybe it is my browser; I'm currently using Firefox v13.

  37. Jason,

    The author of this essay lives in a country that is 79.5% African and 9% white. The city where he pastors a church is 73% African and 16% white.

  38. Brothers (and sisters),

    After reading the string of posts here, I feel I must speak up. I want to assure you that I mean absolutely no disrespect. I only seek to understand.

    I was raised very conservative Baptist. I understand the basic fundamentals of the denomination, as well as the major doctrines of the faith. I believe that I understand where the doctrine of scripture ends and the preference of practice begins for many of you who have posted. I share a spiritual kinship with (Lord willing) all of you here and feel nothing but love and respect for you as fellow redeemed.

    Reading this thread, I feel a little stunned. I'm not sure how to process post after post of sarcasm, frustration, and arrogance. There is so much conflict in a place that should have nothing but unity. I know that I am young, and many of you are much more learned than I. I believe so strongly in the Word. But I can't shake the feeling that some of you are so focused on "out-Bibleing" each other that you have lost sight of what really matters in this world. My question is this: if the person you are each trying to convince will not be moved from their position, what is the world-shattering event that will occur from this? If the worst that could happen is that someone will (or will not) listen to "Christian rap," is that worth slandering fellow brothers over? No matter how hard I try, I cannot envision Jesus engaging in such a debate. I can't picture Him tearing Himself away from feeding the hungry and healing the sick long enough to dignify such anger with a response. If the brother who wrote the initial post feels in his spirit that it would be unhealthy for him to listen to Christian rap, shouldn't those who disagree have respect for a weaker brother and praise him for listening to the working of the Spirit in his life? If someone does disagree with this brother's stand against Christian rap, shouldn't the brother have enough faith in the power of the Spirit's ability to change hearts that must be changed? Is God not God?

    I have never met any of you before now. I hope you can believe me when I say that I have a great love for all of you, and sincerely hope to fellowship with you one day in Glory. If I have completely misunderstood any intentions here, I hope you can accept my humble apologies. Please, don't leave love and unity in the dust for the sake of arguments that neither win souls nor bring glory to God.

    Grace and peace to all.

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