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Can Rap be Christian? Culture

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series

"Can Rap Be Christian"

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We are discussing Christian rap this week in response to Mark Dever’s recent interview with Shai Linne and Curtis Allen.

Monday I argued three important points:

  1. Man is completely depraved and thus cannot trust his own preferences implicitly.
  2. Music is a medium of human communication and thus must be carefully evaluated to determine whether its communication is sinful.
  3. Cultures are imbedded with values since they are external expressions of value systems.

Tuesday I dealt with the objection that believers are not totally depraved. I agreed with this assertion, yet I made two points that prove that we must still carefully evaluate musical forms, especially a form like rap:

  1. Even believers are still influenced by indwelling sin.
  2. Rap music was born in a debased culture of unbelievers.

Wednesday I considered the nature of neutral objects and their uses. I argued that the idea of music (sounds in and of themselves) is a neutral object, but when a human uses the idea of music to create a song, that song has now entered the category of “use” and is therefore either good or evil.

Today I would like to consider an objection to my third assertion related to culture.

It is common today to insist that all cultures are equal. To assume otherwise is elitist. Instead, we are lead to believe that culture is simply neutral, cultural expression simply being conventionally shared preferences of a given society. With this kind of thinking, to claim that hip hop culture or rap is sinful is an elitist attitude not fitting for a Christian.

Already with our discussions of depravity and communication, this kind of thing should be revealed as errant. However, let us consider the nature of culture more specifically for a moment.

Culture is a visible expression of worldview. It is religion externalized. One of the explanations of this is T. S. Eliot on Culture. He says the following:

“We may go further and ask whether what we call the culture, and what we call the religion, of a people are not essentially aspects of the same thing: the culture being, essentially, the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people. ” (27)

So if culture is an expression of worldview, then it follows that those societies that have been more influenced by a Christian worldview will have cultures that express more Christian values. On the other hand, societies that have been for centuries shaped by immoral or anti-biblical values will develop cultural idioms that reflect that. Cultures are not created in a vacuum. Societal influences and values shape culture.

I think it is undeniable that Western culture by and large has been influenced by Christian values more than perhaps any other in the world. 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.

So each culture (Western, too) must be parsed for its meaning. What worldview does it reflect?

Then, of course, there is certainly room for difference of preference between one culture and another as long as what is preferred reflects Christian values. There is nothing inherently superior about Western culture over another culture that has been shaped by Christian values, but I wonder if there really is, at this time, another such culture in the world. But if there is, their cultural expressions certainly may sound quite a bit different from one another, although there will be many similarities since art is based on the created order itself.

There is a difference, in other words, between saying something sounds strange to our ears and saying something is immoral or objectively ugly. The latter is universal, the former is subject to background.

So do I think Western culture is better than, say, some Satanism-influenced, tribal African culture? Well, I would say in many ways yes, and in others probably not. 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.

On the other hand, there are aspects of Western culture that are deplorable, especially with the influences of secularism and commercialism. There might be some aspects of tribal African culture that has escaped those influences and are therefore superior. At the end of the day, I believe that the inner culture of the Church will never sound exactly like the culture around it. Christians always have to pick and choose (and sometimes invent) the best forms for the expression of Christian sentiment. It’s just the case that in some culture that have been influenced for centuries by Christian values, there may be more from which to choose.

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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.

4 Responses to Can Rap be Christian? Culture

  1. Scott, isn't the inequality of cultures seen more as racist than as elitist? We've even seen some of those charges being brought forward on SI in discussing this interview. Minor quibble, however. I agree with your point on the values of culture.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. My heart is truly burdened by Scott’s comments. I’m afraid his embedded prejudice has blinded him from the appearance of godliness that western culture easily assumes because it’s not as loud or apparent in its godlessness as cultures, he thinks, are rooted in African tribalism.
    With this kind of thinking (thoughts that western culture has displayed more Christian morals and therefore, somehow more reliable as a form of worship) is perhaps an extremely dangerous perspective because people are going to go to hell thinking they know Jesus but, in fact, were only Westerners or Americans with morals.
    No culture has a moral pass… if you’re looking for a pitchfork and horns to find satan – you are bound to miss him.

  3. Gosh – just realized this was posted 4 year ago. I don’t know how relevant it is to the overall discussion of Christian rap, now. Although I stand by my concerns I wonder if Scott still stands on his posted views.

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