Monday a video called "What About Holy Hip-Hop?" was posted online at Ncfic.org, the website for the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. I know little about this group and do not want to insinuate that the families and churches involved with it believe as these panelists do on this subject. That the question was raised at one of their conferences, however, indicates it is on the minds of the attendees. The moderator even states they have received the question in various forms. From the introduction:
One of the questions we received was: "Any thoughts on reformed rap artists? … Their musical styles would be considered offensive to some, but the doctrine within the songs is sound."
I'm not a particular fan of the hip-hop or rap styles, though I did watch with interest when a slew of bearded gospel men got their bells rung by Propaganda's "Precious Puritans" a while back. While not a fan of rap and hip-hop, neither am I an opponent. I do know there is a difference between rap and hip-hop. This puts me a step or three ahead of the six panelists.
It is also not important, for the purpose of evaluating this video, to distinguish between "reformed rap artists" and the broader "Christian rap artists."
I encourage you to watch this video. It is only 13 plus minutes long. You will be hard pressed to find a better example of preference masquerading as biblical teaching. Because I recognize none of these panelists by face or name, I will merely refer to them as speakers 1-6 in my remarks.
After 90 comments and dozens of commenters at the original post there was not a single person supportive of the views presented in the video. Numerous commenters expressed dismay at the lack of cultural awareness and biblical exegesis displayed. These men seem to have committed the sins of the Pharisees by erecting their own laws by which they sit in judgment of others.
They judge the hearts of other believers, make assertions that things not called sins in the Bible are sins nonetheless, make observations about rap or hip-hop then contradict themselves before finishing their complaint. This is just awful stuff.
1st panelist: "I would be very against reformed rap, and let me tell you why: Words aren't enough. God cares about how we deliver the message." Then, a few seconds later, "We're given the words because we are a words based religion, the emphasis needs to be on the words."
Well, which is it?? Are the words important or are they not? You cannot say the words are not enough and the emphasis needs to be on the words. James's warnings against double-mindedness wave a flag here.
This panelist then proceeds to criticize rap based on his perception that rappers try to draw attention to themselves, and demonstrate how their skill is better than anyone else's skill. Huh? The subject is not 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg or LL Cool J. We aren't talking about a bunch of half-naked women jiggling in a video while a guy goes on about "bi--hes" and "hos." The question given to the panel is geared toward Christians who perform rap or hip-hop. This is a clear evidence of Panelist 1 judging the motives and hearts of not one or two, but ALL followers of Jesus who perform rap or hip-hop. Would any more evidence be needed to see his sin is at least as great as the so-called sins he is condemning?
2nd panelist: "Music is a medium of communication. God cares not just what we say, but how we say it…if we truly believe in the sufficiency and authority of scripture, scripture will not only govern what we say, but it will also govern how we say it. The question I always want to ask it-'cause remember the scripture is given to us in literary art forms: narrative, poetry these sorts of things, parables, and those should govern our art forms as well."
Poetry? Did he really say poetry? Did he say God cares how we say it, then say that the scripture should govern our art forms, then list poetry as an art form in the scripture? Has this guy ever heard hip-hop?? Does he not realize it is poetry, therefore governed by the sufficiency and authority of scripture? He contradicts himself in the space of a few sentences.
The problem seems clear: he does not like the musical styling of rap and hip-hop, then tries the "sufficiency of scripture" approach to sanctify his personal preference. It will not work.
I also find his argument about what it means to "redeem" the arts to be weak. He says when something is to be redeemed it is to be "changed." (The accurate word picture is to ransom, to rescue or to buy as in a market.) But, having already said the words of reformed rap are doctrinally dense, and having said poetry (thus the lyrics) is a governed art form, the only thing to "change" is the musical style. In other words, the only way to save the words is to jettison the style that birthed them. I guess Lacrae needs to grab a Stetson and join Darius Rucker on the country circuit.
This panelist's closing statement, "as is expressed in the very word of God itself," is problematic for him, as the very word of God itself does not support what he said.
The 3rd panelist comes across as the most arrogant and judgmental of the six. First, he refers to rap as a "so-called art form." Bias much there, dude? Both rap and hip-hop are established art forms. He follows with the most arrogant, prideful, Pharisaical and biblically unfounded comment of the entire panel discussion: "It's a picture of weakness and surrender on the part of people who think they are serving God and they're not. They're serving their own flesh, they are disobedient to the word, they are disobedient cowards." Later he implies reformed rappers are "enemies of God."
This, it should be noted, was said from a comfy dais where he was flanked by likeminded men in front of a friendly audience. Not exactly taking it to the enemy.
His statement so baldly anti-biblical I would have walked out had I been in the audience. He is unqualified to make such a judgment as he is not the Holy Spirit. Nothing else he says is even worth the time to discuss.
Panelist #4 sounds much less aggressive, and at one point admits none of the panelists are familiar with "this culture." He even sounds fatherly as he details how he would confront a new believer who listened to this kind of rap. Listen carefully as he explains, "I disciple them and I would break the sin slowly."
Break the sin slowly. What sin? Greed? Idolatry? Fornication? No. Listening to Trip Lee or Toby Mac.
This is about as close as one can get to attributing the work of God to Satan, and it is very dangerous territory indeed. (Some commentators hold that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.)
Edit: Jesse Weimer noted a different possible interpretation, "I don't think he said to break the sin slowly, but break this in slowly, referring to the change he believes should come through discipleship."
Panelist #5 admits to having had Toby Mac on his iPod at one time (one of the panelists asked "Who's Toby Mac?"). This panelist is probably counting his blessings that he made it out of the conference alive. His criticism of multiple-Grammy winner is not about his music; it is because he is still doing rap at 50. Toby Mac has wrinkles and a backwards hat. It's "unseemly," according to this panelist (a failed attempt to indict Mac using 1 Cor. 13:5).
He furthers his screed that older men in the church are supposed to be giving a lift to the younger men in the church. This is fine, well and good. I would certainly agree. But, what in the name of holy hip-hop does this have to do with Toby Mac rapping at 50 years old?
Is not being a consistent witness in the public eye for nearly 30 years a way to lift young men? Is not being gainfully employed, a hard and steady worker at the age of 50 a way to lift and encourage young men? Is not having influence over other artists who are trying to use their talents for the glory of God a way to encourage young men?
Panelist #5 is so locked into his interpretation of scripture, his specific theological grid, that he can no longer see the truth in its simplicity. The simple commands to disciple and be consistent fathers in the faith is poo-pooed because of wrinkles and a backward hat. I would argue that his inability to see beyond wrinkles and a backward hat reveals the panelist's own lack of spiritual maturity.
With panelist #6 we return to the same judgmentalism as the first four. He says, "Some forms of music cannot be separated from the culture from which they come." What culture? Black culture? Urban culture? There is a startling racist subtext at work here.
What about other cultural forms he does not understand or with which he cannot identify? The fact is that many cultural forms adopted by Christians have over time become separated from the previous form. That is why we celebrate Christ's resurrection at Easter instead of the goddess Ishtar, and the birth of Christ at Christmas instead of a pagan festival.
Number 6 says, "I believe rap is the death rattle in the throat of a dying culture." Other people have said it about rock and other modern music forms. I would say it about Nickleback, KISS, Bon Iver and University of Notre Dame sports. As there is not scriptural foundation for my statement, there is no foundation in the scripture for his. It is preference pure and simple no matter how much vigor attends it.
He also resurrects the old "the rhythm or beat might remind people of something in their past" argument. The same argument could be made for virtually any experience of life including sex, a particular food, drink, joke, flavor of ice cream, shoe style or whatever. It is interesting this argument is not used in scripture. It is entirely man-made.
In short, this panelist gives one opinion after another as if his opinions had authority in and of themselves. The entire panel does so. Having a preference is fine, but not when used as the basis for criticizing brothers and sisters in Christ. One needs a biblical standard for such critique.
The scripture instructs us to judge, but to use "righteous judgment." This means our judgment (evaluations, discernments, measures) should be according to what the text says, not what we wish it said. This video also speaks to the danger of trying to work everything into a system of belief when said system has become unmoored from the Bible. When our system, interpretive framework, or theological grid is elevated above the inspired text, we, as these men, will have fallen into error.