I was very troubled by this video clip of a panel that discussed the question: “What about Reformed Rap?” And I have to be honest, the more times I have watched it the more troubled I get that Christian brothers would speak the way they do about the Reformed Hip Hop movement. Three things in particular stuck out about this panel:
1) Sufficiency of Scripture – The most disappointing and ironic part of the discussion was that the scriptures were hardly mentioned. Now, the panelists spoke often of the sufficiency of scripture and its implications for musical worship. However, only once did a panelist make a passing quote of a scripture and never was a passage or reference explicitly mentioned. In fact, the panelist who posted the video clip on his blog spoke the most of sufficiency but he never mentioned a scripture. It’s extremely disappointing that a group of men that advocate the sufficiency of the scriptures so harshly critiques this genre without consulting the scriptures to do so.
2) The Implication that the Bible exhorts or endorses certain styles while condemning others – Several times it is alluded to that there are styles (in particular Hip Hop was mentioned) that are not “honoring to God” or they are distracting. Now to be sure there are certain things that would probably be tough to sing corporately, but this panel was ruling this genre out altogether. I believe the onus must be on these panelists to argue that the Bible commends or endorses a certain style and rules out other ones. For instance the Bible often mentions music and musical instruments, some that seem to imply there is quite a bit of beat to them (though we weren’t there so we cant know) in places like Psalm 150:3-6 which states, “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” In addition, David commends this in 1 Chronicles 15:16, “David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.” These are just a few of the many biblical texts that mention music and musical instruments without making a comment on styles. Again the onus is on these panelists to make a compelling argument from the scriptures as to why certain styles are out of bounds and if they are going to make this argument they need to at least use some scriptures to do so. Instead to bolster their arguments they make assumptions that the beats of rap songs distract from the message. In addition, they seek to bolster their argument by saying a good musical genre for the Christian should be memorable and rap fails at this. I think this argument actually works against what they are trying to argue because rap (due to the beats) is very memorable which is why I know of parents who use Christian hip hop to catechize their children because it is so memorable and rich theologically. Finally, some of the panelists use the cultural milieu that Hip Hop came out of to argue against Reformed Rap. A couple of quotes from Ed Stetzer’s Calling for Contextualization, Part 7 to address this argument and its irony:
“Of course I think it’s kind of strange to say, “I don’t believe in engaging culture or contextualization” while wearing a suit that became popular 50 years ago, singing music that became popular 100 years ago on an instrument that became popular 300 years ago on furniture that became popular 600 years ago.”
“Much of what you do in your worship was controversial or considered too far at some point in the past. Just music alone is enough to help you think through some of the issues. Can we sing songs not in the psalter? What about musical instruments? That was hotly debated a few hundred years ago, and of course, many Christians were against it. And once you okay musical instruments, which ones are acceptable? Reading how the church has handled the issue of culture historically will help you think through your own church and culture issues (and music is just one easy to see example).”
3) The Assumptions and accusations about the motives and intentions of Reformed Rappers – Finally, and probably the saddest aspect of this panel, are the assumptions and accusations made about the intents of the hearts and motives of reformed rappers. They are called cowards, those who capitulate to the World, attention seekers, and those who seek to serve their own flesh. This aspect of the panel was very discouraging and almost enraging as these brothers slandered brothers by making assumptions about their hearts and their motives. Though it is clear that are times to judge fruits, these panelists should consider the warnings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 that pertain to judging hearts and motives: “In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” It is disheartening to see that not one of the panelists thought these assumptions and accusations were out of bounds!
My hope is that my reformed rapping brothers will keep on rapping and giving the church rich theological songs that exalt Christ, edify the saints, and engage unbelievers. And my hope is that there will be more conversations on this topic where light instead of heat rule the day. And most of all I hope the scriptures are central to those conversations and not on the periphery.
Note: There will be a follow up post to this blog from Brian Davis who is a Christian hip Hop artist named God’s Servant. Brian is currently a church-planting intern with us at Imago Dei and is planning to plant in Philadelphia. In addition, Brian completed the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.
And to get a taste of some Christian Hip Hop check out his song, Worthy is the Lamb