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Some answers to questions about my views on Reformed rap

Since Shai Linne is a busy church planter/assistant pastor, and I am a busy seminary professor in the last week of the semester, we’re finding that it’s taking a bit longer than we’d hoped to put together our discussion about Christian rap. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’d like to answer a few questions that were posed from my post yesterday clarifying my comments from the NCFIC panel.

First, since the short comments on the panel could hardly be called an “argument” against rap (I found it amusing that Joe Carter set our short remarks against much fuller blog posts as if they were equal sides of a debate!), and since yesterday’s post wasn’t intended to be a complete argument either, I really would urge you to read my more thorough (yet still not complete) series of posts from several years ago about Christian rap:

After you’ve read that series, here are some responses to questions posed in my post from yesterday. I felt like many of the questions were answered adequately by other commenters; I’d like to particularly thank Bruce Colgan, Martin, Christian Markle, ttpog, Doug Merrill, and Chris Ames for their thoughtful responses. So I won’t address the questions they already answered.

However, here are some brief responses to some other unanswered questions:

Curtis Allen asks: “Why is the Bible seemingly unclear about the issue of music, and even the arts per se?”

The key word in this question is “seemingly.” I do not believe the Bible is unclear about the issue of music. To argue that it is would be to deny the sufficiency of Scripture.

I believe that the Bible is our supreme authority and that it is sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that every single issue in the Christian life is addressed in Scripture by precept, principle, or example. Music is no exception.

Just because you don’t think anything in Scripture addresses musical style doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t clear on the matter. Just because good Christians disagree on how to apply Scripture to contemporary situations doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t clear. Just because there are no “proof texts” or lists of approved styles doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t clear on the matter.

My colleague, Waylan Owens, helpfully addressed this very matter with regard to another related matter of culture:

You see, to say that “the Bible is not clear” with regard to some aspect of what life in Christ entails cannot be true, lest God be accused of demanding back from us something He refuses to reveal to us.  What Moody must be arguing is that Christians of similar theological views on key doctrines disagree on some point of application of the Bible to life.

However, that does not mean that the Bible is not clear.  It means that sinful Christian men and women do not come to a consensus on what the Bible teaches about a certain thing or behavior.

Saying that the Bible is not clear is a euphemism for, “we do not agree on what the Bible says.”  And since that is the case, to ascribe to God, to His Word, and to His Holy Spirit lack of clarity when the real problem is our own disharmony and failure to hear Him clearly, is a very dangerous position to take.

I could ask a similar question to Mr. Allen: Where in the Bible do you find a clear, explicit proof text that says that any and all musical styles are fitting for the communication of God’s truth?

But I wouldn’t ask a question like that, because the Bible is not an encyclopedia of proof texts, commands, and prohibitions. Rather, it is an all-sufficient, all-authoritative revelation from God by which we are to align our perceptions, preferences, desires, opinions, judgments, lifestyles, behaviors, choices, worship, preaching, music, and daily living.

So what in Scripture addresses musical style? Here is just a sampling:

  • Romans 12:1–2: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:1–5: And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • Galatians 5:22–23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
  • Ephesians 4:15: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
  • Ephesians 4:22: Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.
  • Ephesians 4:29: 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.
  • Philippians 1:27: Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.
  • Colossians 3:12: Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
  • Colossians 4:6: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.
  • 1 Timothy 4:12: Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
  • Titus 2:1–15: But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
  • Hebrews 12:28–29: Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
  • 1 Peter 1:15: But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.

And there are many more.

Finally, I should say that I firmly disagree with Mr. Allen when he says that “the Spirit will also be speaking to us.” I do not believe that the Spirit of God speaks to us except through the Word that he inspired.

Christian Markle asks: “Brother Aniol, Can you offer any first hand support for your assertion regarding the ready admition of rap artists that ‘the cultural milieu out of which rap was born is un-Christian’?”

I would first direct you to the opening chapters of Curtis Allen’s recent book, Does God Listen to Rap? Mr. Allen does an excellent job of tracing the roots of hip hop culture and rap music.

I would also direct you to the interview Mark Dever did with Allen and Linne in which they all acknowledge the sinful culture of secular hip hop.

Kenton Slaughter states: “The redemption of rap is no different than the redemption of industrialized work.”

Mr. Slaughter make a significant category error here. He is attempting to compare industrialized work with rap:

Industrialized Work    =     Rap
Working sinfully     =     Rap with sinful lyrics

But these are not equivalent categories. The more relevant category with which to compare industrialized work would be musician. I will quickly agree with defenders of rap that when a musician is converted, he need not change his profession, provided he lives out his profession in a Christian way. However, it is highly possible that the music that musician composed and/or performed was itself an expression of sinful values and beliefs, and therefore this new creation must change the music. Here is the better comparison, from my perspective, of course:

Industrialized Work     =     Musician
Working sinfully     =     Rap music

I am completely in favor of redeeming the profession of musician, or even redeeming music. Music was created by God, and it is therefore good. But when sinful humans take what is good and turn it into something bad, redemption of that thing will mean that it will change in form to something good again.

Nick states: “I think it would really help if you got the charge of racism out of the way once and for all.”

I firmly deny that race has anything to do with this discussion. I grew up in Detroit, after all! The rapper I’m most familiar with is Eminem! :)

Seriously, though. Race and culture are not the same thing. For one thing, I agree with Thabiti Anyabwile that there really is only one race.

But even if we recognize the (errant) modern conception of race that involves physical characteristics, I would certainly repudiate any criticism of races in those terms, but race is not culture.

As I’ve argued in this journal article, culture is behavior, and behavior is always moral. Even if a particular group of people happen to like a certain kind of behavior, that doesn’t mean to critique the behavior is to critique that group per se. When Paul said that “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Tit 1:12), he wasn’t critiquing what it is to be Cretan; he was critiquing a kind of behavior that had unfortunately come to characterize this group of people.

That is what is going on in this discussion.

Furthermore, as I’ve said before, I am just as critical of musical forms from my own background and culture. I believe that the Christian songs that adopt sentimental tunes of Victorian England, Vaudeville, and Broadway are equally inappropriate. I do not believe that Country Western or Rock and Roll should be used in the worship of God or in communicating gospel truth. I would not choose for worship in my own church many of the songs I grew up with.

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. I look forward to continuing this conversation.

I truly appreciate the continued dialogue of these important matters. I welcome questions, push-back, debate, disagreement, and challenge (although I don’t mind a little agreement and encouragement now and then as well!).

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, 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 four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.

12 Responses to Some answers to questions about my views on Reformed rap

  1. I also think Curtis’ point on the New Covenant was misunderstood/overlooked. To me that is the heart of the matter.

  2. I’m saddened by this whole thing. American so-called Christians spend more time in meetings and conferences discussing things that ultimately have no bearing in eternity. I would encourage all who read this blog to spend more of your time and money reaching the lost for Christ. Then we’ll probably spend less time disparaging brothers in the reformed rap circles.

    While we are at it, we should get rid of all instruments in the church. (Don’t crucify me, I’m just kidding.)

  3. Perhaps I’ve missed something in the Scriptures, particularly those which you have cited here, but what is “heavenly” or “not-worldly” music as you define it?

    All you have done in your citation of the Scriptures in the first section above is explain that Christians must avoid that which is worldly and pursue/promote that which is pure.

    What makes the 17th Century hymns or other “pure” music any more godly than that of rap?

    Further, with what authority do you support this claim?

    Do you simply propose that your method of hermeneutics is superior than that of those who support the ministry of the gospel through rap music?

    What “culture” do you propose is most godly? That of the Puritans that founded America? That of first century Rome? Israel? How does this practically work itself out in life today?

    What prevents us from redeeming the genre of rap music for the kingdom of God?

    Just a few questions I had after reading through the post. I am encouraged by your desire to obey our God, but I am discouraged by the Spirit of disunity you have fostered with your unhelpful comments by authoritatively deeming what is and is not “holy.”

    Thanks brother.

    P.S. You also say this isn’t about race toward the bottom of your post, supporting that idea with the fact that the rapper you know best is Eminem. believe you, that it isn’t about race, but last time I checked, Eminem is still white, which doesn’t support your claim of it not being a race issue. Just might want to change that up a bit.

  4. Once again,most of the scriptures you sight are not about music or acts of worship. We should at least begin with those. Also, missing from your list of applicable scriptures is Romans 14.

  5. The conference was on worship–which is our highest and greatest priority. Moses ties worship with love for God in Deut 6. The familiar mantra “why are we wasting time on _____________ [fill in the blank] when we should be doing (evangelism or the like)” works if we are discussing issues like the color of church building doors. But worship is everything, and it deserves great attention, and even argumentation which might point out great differences.

    [Tongue in cheek alert]. Why are some so anti-Caucasian? Did these ones call Scott up and talk privately before posting the hints or clear references to his being racially motivated in his critique of rap/Christian rap?

  6. Thank you for your response. My point was that some things can be redeemed. Obviously a poor example, though. Some questions:

    1) How do you define culture? What is included in culture? Is it homogeneous?

    2) Hip-hop music and culture are derived from other genres and cultures that were not expressively violent. Reggae, Rhythm and Blues, jazz, soul music, Jamaican and West African music, etc. All of these have come together in hip-hop in some sense. When you say that hip-hop is inherently aggressive, arrogant, etc., do you also take it to mean that the genres from which it is derived contain the same things?

    3) You seemed to state that if one were to try to redeem hip-hop, it would be unrecognizable from what it is now. If you could imagine, what would such a drastic change look like? Would it be slower in tempo, have classical harmonies, less rhyming, softer beats (no beats?), simpler rhythm, more contemplative than declarative? I ask because hip-hop music, as exemplified in its earlier days, was not limited in its expression or form.

    4) You said in an article that you had listened to some of Shai Linne’s music. How would you describe his new album, Attributes of God?

    5) You mentioned 1 Corinthians in which Paul refrains from lofty speech and came in weakness. a) how do you perceive lofty speech and reliance on human wisdom, b) how do you perceive Paul’s communication, c) how does rap compare to this perception, d) how does the Christian use of Greek rhetorical styles (whether by Paul or later apologists) compare to what Paul says here, e) how does Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians and especially Galatians 3:1 compare to this?

    6) Just what tunes would you accept as appropriate? Were there legitimate musical expressions before this? When was Christian music conceived?

    Feel free to direct me to articles you have already written.


  7. With all my heart I believe that humility is the key in this discussion. As I read through the comments of the ‘key’ players I am hit with what seems to be genuine grace and humility on one side and a veiled arrogance disguised as mock humility on the other. It doesn’t take much looking to decide who falls on which side. Not that humility is the sole determiner, but I will follow and listen to a humble man all day before answering a fool his folly.

  8. MomT said, “Once again,most of the scriptures you sight are not about music or acts of worship.” You said “most.” Would you please be more specific. Which verses exactly do you feel do not apply or could not apply to music.

  9. Shai described those who critique his style as “relatively uninformed cultural outsiders.” Obviously it would be helpful in this discussion to have grown up experiencing the culture(s) implicated in the rap style. But I would like to suggest that one does not necessarily need to be “inside” any particular culture to be able to discern or make a judgment call on the products of that culture. As Christians, we have the unique privilege to be led and taught by the Spirit to scrutinize, sift, and therefore understand all things. To take it one step further, the mature Christian “makes judgments about all things”; i.e., analyzes, makes judgment calls ( 1 Corinthians 2: 14-15).

    An instance of this is the “culture” of the family. Some of the most discerning and fair-minded teachers God used to instruct my children were single women. Without children of their own, these women were able to understand the needs of my children. Whereas I often would find excuses for my children as to why they were behaving in a particular way (they were “just tired,” or “just hungry”), these women would quickly be able to discern that their behavior was more likely due to their lack of obedience. Now, some moms could argue (and some have) that as single women they “just didn’t get it”–that they were not in any position to tell me what was wrong with my children. But that would have been to silence a valuable perspective. My single friends didn’t need to have children to be able to discern the needs of my children. Likewise, I do not think it necessary to be a member of the cultures implicated in rap to discern whether rap is a necessary means of reaching the lost for Christ in urban areas of our country. At least, I would suggest, the voices of these “outsiders” should be heard.
    The tone of Shai’s statement is not necessarily one of dismissal of his fellow Christian. I do believe Shai to be a mature Christian. But perhaps it would be healthy to remove all doubt by explaining what is meant by “uninformed cultural outsiders,” and why that status is necessary to have a valid voice in this discussion.
    Kathy Hoagland

  10. Scott, you continue to dig your heels into the ground with your position on this subject, and it’s not only sad and misguided… it’s making me seriously question your ability to be trusted in your writings on other matters, many of which I’ve found helpful.

    It’s sad because you’ve missed the forest for the trees…. like the religious leaders of Jesus day, they didn’t see what God was really up to and doing right in their midst. They were so insistent on proving Him wrong, because they didn’t understand Him and what He was doing didn’t fit into their theological framework. Well, let me tell you how it looks from the trenches: the lay-Christian undoubtedly knows that God is moving in the circles of reformed rappers. it’s blowing up, in a God honoring way. People are not only coming to Christ, but seeing and savoring Him deeply because of the truth proclaimed in reformed rap lyrics. They’re memorizing Scripture and doctrine because of the songs. And it’s opening a door and relating to a culture of people that is much different than you’re used to, but most certainly still needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

    You’re failing to see that many of your scriptures and points against reformed rap could be used towards a number of other things that you seem to find acceptable, even the internet itself! Are you forgetting that hymns we sing weren’t accepted by the church because they came from the barroom culture? Those Scriptures they used and arguments they made against hymns are the exact same ones you use today!

    The truth is God can, and most certainly does, use anything He wants to accomplish His purposes and plans… be it a donkey, an illegitimate carpenter from Nazareth, barroom tunes, or even reformed rappers who love Jesus.

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