Death Rattle or Life Preserver? An Appeal to the NCFIC Panelists

Guest Post by Brian Davis: Brian is a Christian Hip Hop Artist who goes by the name God’s Servant. Brian is currently a church-planting intern with at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and is planning to plant in Philadelphia. Brian also completed the internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Like many, I was shocked by the recently released panel from the NCFIC on “Reformed Rap”. I wanted to chime in on the dialogue and offer some thoughts- both as an individual that is sympathetic to the panelists’ theological bent, as well as one who is a Hip-hopper culturally. There seems to be a lack of people who identify with both worlds, so I figured I would cast my lot in the pile. I hope it is helpful to the conversation.

I do want to preface by saying that I think these brothers are probably very godly men. While I haven’t heard of all of them, I have heard of some of them and their reputations are those of men who love the Lord, His Word and His church. My response is aimed at interacting with the thoughts they shared, not to make statements about the men themselves. I am sure this video is not reflective of the state of their godliness or the best barometer at assessing their lives–lives which are probably marked with decades of faithfulness to our Lord. I want to honor these men in the Lord, thank them for caring about the glory of God and share my thoughts to hopefully aid in future discussion towards unity in the body.

With that being said, I can’t help but lament how careless these brothers were in their language, and how revealing it is of a cultural elitism that is far too welcomed in Christianity and made at home by some of our leaders. When speaking of Christian maturity, we do not bring up the prevalence of the fruit of the Spirit in peoples lives, or their rootedness in the Word of God and how firmly they cling to the gospel. Rather, we reference sideways hats, music styles and earrings, as if that is somehow a good measurement of maturity from God’s point of view? Where is that in the bible?! We would all do well to do as these brothers suggest- adhere to every word we find in Scripture to ensure our worship is acceptable to God. However, the converse of such an admonishment is that we must be equally careful not to add to God’s Word in our efforts for purity in worship. By neglecting the former we end up like Nadab and Abihu; by neglecting the latter we end up like the Pharisees.

In an attempt to respond to some of the principles presented in the panel, I thought I would take a slightly different approach. Rather than going argument for argument (there have been several responses done in that format), I thought I would select a few key issues surrounding the conversation and try to interact with them. It seems to me that the issue in this debate (which is no new debate at all) is the mishandling of the bible, the confusion surrounding culture and the clouding of the glory of God.

1. The Mishandling of the Bible

The words of the psalmist echo in my mind here, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word” (Psalm 119:9). What a comfort this is! The Bible is a blade to cut through all speculation with a two-sided edge. On the one edge, it cuts down the careless heart that recklessly wanders into the presence of a Holy God. On the other edge, it cuts away the legalistic heart that would require something of a worshipper that God does not require in His Word. Some of the biggest straw men arguments that I hear lobbied against Christian Hip-Hop accuses those within the culture with phrases like “worldliness”, fleshy/flesh feeding, carnal, immature, etc, Now, while this sounds very God honoring and considerate (and I believe the brothers who make these accusations intend to be), it lacks exegetical integrity and hermeneutical care as it rips biblical phrases out of their contexts and seeks to apply them in ways that cannot be biblically sustained. For instance, to insinuate, as this recent panel did, that Christian Hip Hop is bad because God doesn’t just care about what’s being said but how it is being said and that anyone who holds to the sufficiency of Scripture should agree… is quite simply, ridiculous. These panelists attempt to demerit the offering of Christian Hip-Hop artists by arguing how “worldly” these rappers are, that they’re desiring to draw attention to themselves (even if the lyrics are admittedly drawing attention to the person and work of Christ), disobedient cowards, immature in their faith and, by way of implication, untaught by the Word of God. Yet surprisingly, they have no Scriptural support to make such confident assertions, and they actually abuse the only passage(s) that they use. One brother referenced Romans 12:2 (which is a classic prooftext for these flimsy accusations). A plain reading of the rest of the chapter dissolves the very premise of such improper use. Paul is not concerned with if the readers look like Romans in form, but rather he seems concerned that they act like Christians by faith. This is just one of many examples of such brothers making statements that may sound biblical, but lack sound biblicism.

Maybe it would be good here to look at a couple passages that actually do deal with “worldliness” and deeds of the flesh. Now we would all agree that the bible is clear that we are to put to death what is earthly in us (As Colossians 3:5 words it), yet what are these earthly things? The list we find in Colossians 3:5, 8-9 plainly tell us what these earthly things are!

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  (Col. 3:5-10 ESV)

It seems to me that the things Paul is here telling us to put to death and put off are the very things that the wrath of God is coming on; ungodliness. These are things that do not reflect the character of God; the very things that actually go against the good rule of our God and King. So Paul here is arguing that if we have been raised with Christ we should not sin–because that goes against our profession and our identity as being hidden with Christ in God. But notice the list of earthly things: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desires, covetousness, anger, wrath malice, slander, obscene talk and lying! These are sins because the deeds of the flesh are rebellion against the law of God. But friends, also notice what is not in the list. Even when Paul is using clothing imagery to communicate being in Christ (the put off, and put on language Col. 3:9-10) he doesn’t actually EVER mention clothing! This surely would have been the perfect time for Paul to fill us in on God’s dress code for maturity. However, it seems to me that the dress code God is concerned with is not of articles of clothing but the attire of the heart. Our obedience is not in our fabrics and our linens but only our faith working through love (Gal. 5:6).

This is why, I believe, as he goes on to talk about what we are to “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”, we get more apparel of faith rather than “biblically” driven cultural taboos. Instead of being told to put on button-ups and caps facing straight forward, we are told to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Instead of being told what musical style to use, we are told what songs to use: psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Even in Galatians 5, we are struck with how obvious the deeds of the flesh are–not how open for interpretation they are! “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Gal. 5:19-21 ESV, emphasis added) The way the panelists were interacting with the biblical language of feeding the flesh and being worldly, it seems they would add beats, earrings and rapping right to the list! Yet clearly friends, God is not outlining music styles and non-sinful cultural expressions. Rather, He is outlining sin and rebellious acts, warning that those who do such things, “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21 ESV). To use the language of this text to demonize any culture is a horrible use of the Bible and seeks to imprison those whom the gospel has set free. When speaking on loving the world and indulging the flesh, the bible is not talking about neutral cultural preferences, but rather walking and indulging in sin against God. It is quite understandable why the opposing arguments are not presented from biblical exposition, but always from the random application of “biblical” pejoratives. I think this is because their arguments aren’t based on exposition at all. It is precisely because of a high view of Scripture and our commitment to its sufficiency that we not only reject these accusations as unbiblical, but we are concerned at the freedom with which Christian leaders are permitted to make such outrageous statements disguised as theologically anchored critiques. We are completely open to correction and critique from any Christian seeking to rightly apply God’s Word, but make no mistake- we do require a chapter and verse in context.

2. The Confusion Surrounding Culture

One of the most alarming things for me about this conversation is the obvious prejudice and cultural elitism that is given a pass. The opening question of the panel is undergirded with offensive language that I don’t even think people were aware of. I have heard Christian leaders talk about those within the Hip-Hop culture in such a degrading way that it blows my mind that these ideas and individuals haven’t been opposed to their face! We speak of individuals in the Hip-Hop culture using categories that would never be applied to any other cultural group because it would be considered shameful. Yet why is evangelicalism so silent in condemning such prejudice? These brothers are taking their personal cultural prejudices and saying that they are God’s. But Praise God that He is not like us! I have both my ears pierced, regularly wear a snapback hat sideways, listen to AND make raps about King Jesus and have to try extremely hard to have a whole conversation without using some form of ebonics. Friends, are THESE indicators of immaturity? Are THESE the fleshly habits God is telling me to mortify since I have been raised with Christ? Are THESE the fruits of worldliness that Scripture warns me of? Of course not! And if you are tempted to think otherwise, it may be an indicator that you are operating with some cultural prejudice that may not be carefully sifted through Scripture and may even be oppressive to your brothers and sisters in Christ that are of the Hip-Hop persuasion (or any other cultural affiliation).

Now I am all for a critical assessment of things. Let’s open up the text and chop it up! There are many in the Christian Hip-Hop movement that I personally disagree with concerning philosophy of ministry and how the glory of Christ is stewarded in our culture. However, to make arguments about dress, artistic preference (i.e. beats, and rhythms, melodies), musical style and other neutral cultural identifiers as if God is making them is ignorance at best, and shamefully arrogant at worst. Must the Africans put down their vibrant drums as they sing their doxologies? Why must the Hip-Hoppers turn down their beats to do the same? I fear my brothers who would lobby for such monocultural expressiveness envision a monochromatic assembly gathered in glory all wearing button up shirts, sweater vests and calmly singing to an organ. I envision something quite different, but alas, all is conjecture. We know that in glory there will be representatives from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5:9), so we should expect those representatives to be giving glory to God in their respective tribes, languages, peoples and nations even now. This screams of diversity and differences that should be filling up with praise to God for His glorious grace and the manifold ways we should find it. Care and charity must be given here, as we seek to better understand each other and stir one another up to love and good deeds. Above all, in our efforts to protect the glory of God, we must be careful to not cloud it with our own ideas and obscure it.

3. The Clouding of the Glory of God.

The biggest thing at stake here is obviously the glory of God. From what I can tell, our brothers who are so vehemently opposed to Christian Hip-Hop are so because they deeply care about the glory of God. They fear the Lord, they love Him and do not want His name or glory profaned. And we are certainly brothers in that! When I look at these men, I see brothers who have probably been walking with the Lord longer than I’ve been alive and from whom I could probably learn much about pursuing holiness and growing in godliness. I would love to have such a conversation and relationship. However, I also see error. The glory of God is to be displayed and protected in accordance with God’s Word–not our intentions and personal preferences. Otherwise, what we end up protecting is not God’s actual glory, but the glory of God according to us, which isn’t glorious at all. This should give us great pause and meditation, cause us to tremble before His Word and to stand firmly against anything contrary to it. Before we know it, if we are not careful, by being careless with the Bible we could end up clouding the very glory of God we are intending to display and make clear. This is a danger I am sure the brothers on this panel wholeheartedly agree with.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In an effort to forward the conversation, I have a few encouragements for my brothers and sisters who may think differently than me on the Hip-Hop issue.. For those who find themselves filled with zeal for their Father’s house and opposing Christians in the Hip-Hop culture, I have 3 suggestions that I think may go a long way:

  1. Actually build a relationship with one of these “reformed” Hip-Hop artists and talk about your differences and theological convictions–you may be surprised. A lot of the statements that were shared in this video, whether these brothers were aware of it or not, are completely untrue. It is quite clear there are massive misunderstandings at play, that are functioning as opportunities for Satan’s device of division. It is amazing what sitting down with a brother, sipping some coffee and talking about the theological framework for engaging with Hip-Hop can accomplish. Most of the Christian hip-hoppers I know LOVE talking about theology and culture, so it shouldn’t be a hard sell. I personally live in Wake Forest right now, which is where the organization hosting this video is based, and I would be delighted to link up with any of the brothers in video and have some good conversation about the Bible!
  2. Remember that we are for you. Do you remember John’s Q & A with our Lord in Luke 9:49-50, after the disciples were corrected on their views of “who is the greatest” by Jesus? “John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you'” (Luke 9:49-50 ESV). Worst case scenario, if you are still not sold on our method but are charitable towards our salvation, you can rest assured that we are for you. We share your zeal for our Father’s house. We share a deep-seated sense of the weight of God’s glory. We share your high view of Scripture and its sufficiency. So I’d encourage you to at least rejoice that the gospel is being preached, even if you are skeptical of our intentions (Phil. 1:18). Our hearts are wide open to you; widen your hearts also.
  3. Please don’t despise us… God has welcomed us (Obviously, I am pulling on Romans 14 here). I would like to encourage you not to judge us. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom. 14:4) We are brothers. May we speak of each other with the dignity Christ has bestowed on us, outdoing one another in showing honor and filling in with charity what we do not understand. I am thankful for the brothers in the dialogue and remain hopeful the Lord can use this conversation to strengthen our unity as His church. Here, in Him, there is neither Puritan or Hip-Hopper, but Christ is all, and in all.

soli deo gloria,

Brian Davis

a.k.a. God’s Servant