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Can Rap be Christian? Neutral Things

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series

"Can Rap Be Christian"

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

As we discuss the issue of Christian rap, I am moving toward an evaluation of the form itself. But before we get there I must lay the necessary groundwork to prove that such an evaluation is necessary or even possible.

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.

Today I’d like to answer an objection that relates to my second assertion about musical communication.

Some people will object that there is nothing moral about notes and rhythms; there is nothing moral about songs. They are merely neutral objects like knives or hammers or guns. How we use them is what matters.

The argument goes something like this:

A gun is a neutral object. If I use that gun to shoot a deer to feed my family, I have used that neutral object in a moral way. If I use that gun to kill my neighbor, I have used that neutral object in an immoral way.

A song is a neutral object. If I use that song with a text about God and his goodness, I have used that neutral object in a moral way. If I use that song with a text about sex and violence, I have used that neutral object in an immoral way.

The problem with this kind of argumentation is that it relies on a significant category error. They are right to say that objects are neutral and uses of objects are moral. Anything a human being does is either moral or immoral.

But here’s the important fact: a song is the product of human action! It has already entered the “use” category. Songs don’t exist in a vacuum; they are products of human communication. And any action of a human is either moral or immoral.

So this is where total depravity and Pelagianism come into play. If we deny that a human action might possibly be sinful, then we are dangerously close to the Pelagian heresy.

Instead, we must judge every human action, including music produced by humans, based upon criteria outside ourselves. Particularly principles from the Word of God and comparison to God’s creation.

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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.

24 Responses to Can Rap be Christian? Neutral Things

  1. What music was NOT born in a debased culture of unbelievers? Was there music in the garden prior to the fall? If so, please elaborate what it sounded like. I find much of classical music to be debased and sinful. Preference? Or am I misinformed and indeed we had classical music before the fall?

  2. Salzo, you're exactly right that everything created by man has the potential for being sinful. That's why we must use criteria outside ourselves as we judge things like music.

    However, some cultures have been developed with more Christian influence than others, and therefore some musical expressions were influenced by Christian values more than others. Some cultures and music was actually nurtured within Christianity itself.

    It still has potential for sinful influence, because even believers are sinful, so it also must be judged.

    But part of the judging is evaluating the cultures, values, and influences that developed it.

    I'm actually going to be dealing with this issue of culture more specifically in tomorrow's post. Stay tuned.

  3. My point is – we waste our time on "music". It's a distraction from the gospel. I have heard a well known fundamentalist say "We will never use Sovereign Grace or Getty music because I despise the original genre of the songs". Another said that "T4G plays barroom music during free time between the sessions" (also alluding to Sov. Grace and Getty). Another has said that "abortion, like rock music, is not called sin in the bible – we must infer it." I can cite references to all of these if you doubt me. All quotes from very public forums.

    Let's end the music debates and focus on challenging our brothers and sisters to approve that which is excellent (Phil 1:9-11). Let the Spirit do the work of the Spirit as the hidden in our heart Word of God transforms souls. I can tell you secondary separation co-operation stories that would make your skin crawl. It's not worth destroying brothers and sisters over a so-called rock beat. Yet we continue to do it.

  4. Salzo, the gospel is truly what is of upmost importance to me. Yet music is what we use as a vehicle for the communication of the gospel. That's why it also is important. Of secondary importance, to be sure, but important nonetheless because of the precious cargo it carries.

    So our "battles" over music are indeed battles over the integrity of the gospel that it serves.

  5. Salzo, without letting myself become drawn to far into the discussion, let me just sum up my thoughts: well said.

  6. Salzo,

    You seem to think that debates about music and the Gospel are mutually exclusive. I should like to say that they indeed go hand in hand. Furthermore, Scott is exhorting and encouraging believers to find what is excellent (Phil. 1:9-11 / Phil. 4:8) in music.

    We ought to be very concerned about what we offer to God in terms of music. God has been known to take both the offerer and the offering very seriously. Just reading through Leviticus will show how meticulous God is about what He deserves to be offered.


    I think music is primarily not a means of communicating the Gospel, but rather for worshipping God. Am I wrong?

  7. Jeremiah,

    I think your answer to Salzo about music and the Gospel not being mutually exclusive is excellent, and is also my answer to you. I don't think the Gospel and worship are mutually exclusive, either. We worship because and of through our love of the Gospel.

    But I think I understand what you're getting at. I do not believe that the primary purpose of music is evangelism. That confusion is one of the things that confuses this debate.

    Thanks for your comments!

  8. Scott,
    Thanks for your clarification. I'm never sure whether people mean Gospel or evangelism when they say Gospel. I'm glad you mean Gospel, and I agree with you.

  9. Jeremiah,

    Preference or the Word of God?

    Let's have some Scripture to back what you're saying? And tell me about the cymbals that David played in his day. Are you certain that it was completely orderly (by your definition of order) and in keeping with YOUR favorite genre of music? And what about dancing before the Lord? Did they only dance to classical music?

    Let's leave this matter to the priesthood of the believer at the lowest level and to pastors to manage what they desire in their local church (with agreement and understanding of their people). To continually blog about very hot, divisive and yes, matters of doubt is simply wrong. Read Romans 14 and tell me if we ought to be blogging this issue publicly.

    Rom. 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
    Rom. 14:18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.
    Rom. 14:19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.

    Let's get on with the business of the Kingdom and stop fretting that our children will go home and google the Gettys or Sov. Grace and somehow be drawn to sin because of this music. If a church wants to use rap, Getty, Sov Grace, etc – why should we sit here and blog about it? Is Christ honored by a bunch of people with too much time on their hands tearing down the ministries of others over doubtful (at best) and pridefully preferential (at worst) issues?

    Rom 14:13 says to stop judging each other over these doubtful matters – instead, make sure you don't put stumbling blocks in peoples' way. These public blogs, folks, are stumbling blocks.

    If you really think Shai Linne can minister (singing to one another with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs) to his culture using music from the Wilds and Soundforth, then why don't you go to the streets and minister to the hip hop culture with those tools in hand. Until you've done that, I suggest you leave the man alone and cease the pontification from the blogosphere.

  10. Salzo,

    You are making many assumptions about what I have said. Please refrain from reading into things.

    You also falsely assume that music is a doubtful disputation about which Christians should not speak. If you believe in the priesthood of the believer, surely you should allow for discussion with those who differ with you. I don't think anyone here desires a discussion about their own preferences. Rather, I believe the discussion is in search of what Phil. 4:8 depicts: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    Christians are called upon not only to distinguish between that which is sinful and that which is not sinful, but that which is good from that which is bad; that which is pure from that which is impure, what is true from what is untrue, etc. I think you get the idea.

    I don't know how you can extrapolate that blogs are stumbling blocks. That doesn't seem to be in the Bibles I own. Perhaps it's your own interpretation?

    Please remember that you are interpreting to come to your conclusions. You seem to have concluded that music is neutral, but then you claim that it is divisive. You can't have it both ways.


  11. Today, 21st century, the dealing with the topic of music is divisive. I won't say music is neutral. But I won't castigate any ministry without sound Biblical support. That's why this blog is a stumbling block.

    A blog is a stumbling block because it does everything that Paul is warning against in Romans 14. It is carrying out the very doubtful dispute that Paul tells us not to do.

    If you believe music is NOT doubtful – then let's get some hard and fast Scripture in here to show me why a particular beat is evil. If we can't do that, and if we must make leaps and resort to syllogisms, then we have a doubtful matter.

    Whatsoever things are true, pure, etc – to me Casting Crowns fits the bill. To you it doesn't. Let us each operate in faith for we know whatever is not of faith is sin. So we are allowed to disagree – if we agree it's "doubtful". And then, we ought not to air it on a blog.

    Are you willing to say that a rock beat is inherently evil as outlined in Scripture? If not, then it's doubtful. If so, then let's get on with the Scriptural evidence – which I think we both know doesn't exist.

  12. Salzo,

    I will see a blog about music as a proper application to Romans 14 when you can show me that music is meat. Last time I checked, there was a difference between the two.

    What I'm saying is that music has inherent meaning. (In fact, even eating and drinking have meaning, which is why a discussion over meat offered to idols is even possible. 1 Cor 10:31) Just because something is not explicitly forbidden in scripture does not make it right. I have not previously said anything about a rock beat. If that's what you're concerned about, be it known that I have said nothing about it. You cannot say, however, that whatever is not evil is therefore good.

    Finally, you cannot say that Casting Crowns fits the bill for you and not for me. It is either true, pure, just, etc. or it is not. Your opinion or my opinion of something does not change its reality. Even faith will not change a lie into the truth.

    In order to determine if something is true, pure, lovely, it is necessary to study what those things mean. The Bible is not a dictionary or an encyclopedia. I think it is reasonable that we consult (at least) these resources to determine what is truth, beauty, and goodness. Until you know what these things are, you have no basis upon which to judge one piece of music or another. Sure, Casting Crowns may appear to you to fit the bill. However, I think your stating that says that you do not know beauty when you see it.


  13. Rom 12:18 – Sorry to ever chime in. But you left one comment hanging that you need to back up – please define how CC violates Phil 4:8. You say I don't know beauty when I see it – nice. So please explain to me, Scripturally, how CC violates the virtues listed in that verse. Thanks.

  14. Salzo, I welcome you here, and I welcome debate. But please debate what the music means and whether or not we are correctly applying passages like Ephesians 4:29. Do not claim that what we are attempting to do here is inappropriate, however. There is a difference.

  15. But, Scott, that is the point. I do claim that this blog and many like it are entirely inappropriate. They run amuck with doubtful disputes (debate) which are clearly forbidden as we are to receive one another.

    So I won't say another word as I'll respect your request since this is your blog.

  16. I know this thread is quite dated at this point, but I wanted to bring up something I noticed as I read your arguments. You take the comparison that some make involving guns and songs and say that there is a category error in saying that a song can be a neutral object. Maybe you're right. My question relates to the reasoning you used to claim that "a song is the product of human action! It has already entered the “use” category. Songs don’t exist in a vacuum; they are products of human communication. And any action of a human is either moral or immoral." If this is true, then why doesn't the gun fit the same logic? A gun is a product of human creativity–which is an action of a human–and by your own admission, "any action of a human is either moral or immoral." So a gun must be either moral or immoral.

    Where I'm going with this is to assert that very few people would argue for the morality of a gun as an object. But your own logic requires that you argue for that. In that case, how would we discover the morality of said object? Are there passages of Scripture that speak clearly enough on the morality of guns for us to come to a reasonable conclusion?

  17. Hi, Jonathan. Thanks for commenting. I still think you're making a category error, and here's why. When I say "music," I'm not just talking about blobs on a page (that's not really music); I'm talking about performance. You could possibly say that blobs on a page are the same as a gun, but the actual performance (which in reality constitutes music) is always a use. Performance is equal to pulling the trigger.

  18. I think that might be my point. The performance of the music is what makes music moral or immoral just as the use of a gun makes it moral or immoral. The problem is that performance is almost entirely subjective. If the music on the page is not moral or immoral, but the second you perform that music it acquires morality. Two people who looked at the exact same piece of music written on a page, could potentially perform the music entirely differently. In the case of rap, two people could look at the same piece of sheet music and have two very different performances.

    The conclusion you are coming to in this series is that because it is rap, it doesn't matter who performs it or how it's performed, it will always be immoral. In asserting this, you actually push the morality back onto the music itself instead of the performance. Basically, you're making a judgement call about the outcome of a situation before the situation ever happens. That seems to me to be very dangerous. Though, thinking about this, some might actually call it safe.

  19. Jonathan, while it is certainly true that two different people could perform the same page blobs (!) differently, that is only true within limits. The notes on the page do provide (rather strict, in most cases) guidelines for the performance. In other words, there is a reason we have things called "styles" or "genres" — everyone knows that certain combinations of page blobs create common characteristics in musical performance that we call a "style," regardless of the slight differences in performance among people.

    So, we call something "rap" because it has certain common characteristics, and what I have argued in this series is that it is is exactly those common musical characteristics that are problematic for Christians.

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