So, I’m a little late to this particular party, but I wanted to address a little brouhaha that flared up a few weeks ago in the evangelical community over so-called “holy hip-hop.” It seemed like a good opportunity to enlarge upon my own philosophy of music when it comes to some of the more, well, un-musical genres. Consider this post a continuation of my earlier, hastily penned offering on the perennial question “What is Christian music?”
In a nutshell, a panel of fundamentalist pastors was asked to weigh in on the “Reformed rapper” phenomenon: young, theologically conservative men conveying rich scriptural truths…through hip-hop music. The panelists’ response was largely negative. Here is the link to the entire 13-minute session. (I wanted to embed it but WordPress isn’t cooperating, apologies.)
I’ll be honest: I agreed with about 90% of what I heard in that video. Was it a little over-the-top in some places? Sure. Judging by the way they just passed right over rock and roll, like “We all know that’s Satanic so we don’t even need to go there!” I’ve got stuff on my ipod that would freak some of these guys out. Also, one or two comments were a bit on the harsh side regarding the personal character of the rappers (though the one pastor has since apologized for the “disobedient cowards” line).
But so many other points they made were dead-on, not just for Reformed rappers but Christian artists like (white) rapper Toby-Mac, who fuses the look and feel of hip-hop with pop. The one pastor was absolutely right that Toby-Mac’s “backwards cap and ready to rap” look is unbecoming for a man of his age. It’s the job of older men in the church to help younger men into mature Christian manhood. And however sincere your heart is, the image you present is part of that process too. Another pastor brought up reverence and proper mood-setting, extending his thoughts to repetitive “7/11″ worship songs or even “something you could waltz to.” Surprisingly, he even disparaged certain songs from his own hymnal as joyless “funeral dirges.” Although the cultural connotations of rap were (rightly) key in the panel’s objections, these additional criticisms of “white-bread” Christian music underscored the fact that they weren’t speaking from racism or “fear of the Other. ” They were presenting a cohesive philosophy of worship and art that, at its core, has nothing to do with the race of the people performing it. This isn’t news to anybody who really understands the fundamentalist approach to these things.
However, it was only a matter of days before the race card was being played all over the place in outraged reactions to the panel. People from The Gospel Coalition and other outlets immediately began castigating the pastors as old, white, racially insensitive, Philistine louts who “don’t get creation.” I wish I were exaggerating. Frankly, I’m rather embarrassed for TGC, as they usually have higher standards for discourse and reasoning. Even Owen Strachan, one of my favorites, was offering hopelessly hackneyed arguments like “well, pianos and trumpets didn’t fall divinely from the sky, so what’s wrong with using certain sounds as a vehicle to proclaim the gospel?” Right Owen… because pianos and trumpets are just like an entire genre of music that’s previously been dedicated to glorifying all manner of filth and obscenity.
Look, I understand that some Christian conservatives have no problem with “redeeming” rap. I also understand that the intentions of such rappers are pure as the driven snow, that they truly desire to bring the gospel to young people, and that in particular they desire to model upright masculinity for young men. The lack of male role models is a gaping need in the culture at large, but particularly in the black ghetto culture. I believe it’s silly to create a false dichotomy where either you think everything about Reformed rap is awesome, or you think Lecrae is a dirty rotten sinner for doing it.
However, it’s entirely possible to view what Lecrae and his ilk does as regrettable or unfortunate in some ways without calling it sin. Continue reading