Should we 'dis' Christian Rap?
'If in one unfortunate moment you took everything that I own, everything you've given from heaven above and everything that I've ever known… If you stripped away my ministry, my influence, my reputation, my health, my happiness, my friends, my pride and my expectations…if you caused for me to suffer or to suffer for the cause of the cross, if the cost of my allegiance is prison and all my freedoms are lost, if you take the breath from my lungs and make an end of my life, if you take the most precious part of me and take my kids and my wife…It would crush me, it would break me. It would suffocate and cause heartache. I would taste the bitter dark providence, but you would still preserve my faith. What's concealed in the heart of having is revealed in the losing of things. And I can't even begin to imagine the sting that kind of pain brings. I would never blame you for evil, even if you caused me pain. I came into this world with nothing and when I die it will be the same. I will praise your name in the giving and taking away. If I have you I can lose everything and still consider it gain.’
These are the lyrics to the first verse of Beautiful Eulogy’s song ‘If…’ from their album, ‘Worthy.’ Beautiful Eulogy is a Christian hip hop/rap group from Portland, Oregon.
Knowing this, has your view of the above lyrics changed?
The lyrics of a song convey a message and are influential and rap music is no exception. The problem with rap music and our convenient straw man, is that historically, rap music is anti-establishment and associated with immorality, violence, drug abuse and disrespect of woman and authority.
So, as Christians, should we ‘dis’ Christian Rap?
My husband would say, 'Yes,' much to the frustration of our teenage children.
He cannot get beyond the obstacle of rap artists' clothing, their provocative lingo, mannerisms and noise. He is in the camp of 'love the rapper but not his rap.’ To him, Christian and rap are a good example of an oxymoron. He is not alone.
As an English teacher, Christian Rap and Spoken Word, as poetic genres and art forms, fascinate me. These guys are talented with words and their use of poetic techniques is sophisticated (oxymorons aside) - not to mention the speed at which they rap and their memorisation skills. As performers, there is no denying they are passionate about their craft and skilled at it.
I don’t think Christian Rap is going away anytime soon, so as Christians, whether we love it or hate it, we have to engage with it at some level.
The discussion is not about condemning or condoning Christian rap.
It is about not ignoring it.
The reason we cannot ignore it is because these are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
One of the least likely preachers in Christian Reformed circles to endorse Christian Rap, is Paul Washer. Speaking of Christian rappers, this is what he said: ‘I have met men who have not so much a passion for a style of music as they have a passion for God and the Truth of God. Everything without that would be vanity and foolish and useless. But the fact of the matter is, some of the words spoken here in the [rap] songs were truth. The type of truth this country needs. The type of truth this world needs. The type of truth that the Church needs. I came here thinking I would hear hip hop. I came here thinking I would hear rappers. I heard preaching. I heard a respect for the truth and a desire to communicate it.’
That is a powerful and confident affirmation. That endorsement is from left field.
I have had the privilege of meeting Christians who are rappers. They are in our Church. They are my brothers in Christ. They love the Lord and are living for Him and seeking to bring glory and honour to His name - and they rap. I have heard some of their testimonies of how God used Rap music to draw them to Himself and to a knowledge of Him. I have heard how Christian rap music introduced them to Charles Spurgeon, John Piper et al. I have listened to their music.
Paul Washer’s premise in his approach to Christian Rap is what he calls the ‘Gideon’s call - God taking the least expected thing and using it for a mighty thing. God taking that which was despised, that which was unable and filling it with His power.
Every one of us who is Christian was found by God to be vile. Our best works were nothing more than filthy rags, but He saved us and He cleansed us and He uses us as instruments for His glory in such a way that even the angels long to trade places with us.’
He goes on to say that in the world, Rap music is known for sin – it is vile and destructive. But with Christian Rap, God has taken it, cleaned it off and made it new and filled it with life.
This is not about denying worldly Rap music’s roots.
It is about affirming Christian Rap music’s fruit.
Through the exposure I have had to Christian Rap artists, I am humbled at their testimonies which point to a wonderful, gracious and merciful God who loves to save and does so uniquely, creatively and supernaturally. We might think of Rap as having its origins in the gutter – but Ephesians 2 reminds us that we have all been rescued out of the gutter, the miry grave.
Familiar Rap artists such as LeCrae, Jackie Hill Perry, Trip Lee, Propaganda and Shai Linne have unique testimonies and God is using them to reach into communities that many of us don’t have an inroad into. They have street cred.
Rap artists have a unique voice and relationships with people I would not normally cross paths with. That is the reality.
They are able to take their personal stories and broken histories into a context that is worlds apart from mine, and through the medium of Christian Rap, present transformed lives and a reformed worldview.
They are presenting the Gospel. That is beautiful. That is the Great Commission. That is God at work. They are reaching people that John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon could not reach, but they are 'preaching' the same truths. The format is just different.
The Gospel has credibility and a voice in any community. I don’t.
This is how my logic works and where it affects us on the ground and in the church:
You get a depraved, unbelieving rapper. God saves him. He now hates his sin and the lyrics he used as a rapper and the life he led. He becomes a Christian Rap artist.
He witnesses to his friends, families and community through a music medium that he is familiar with and talented in. He raps the Gospel. He raps the Bible. He raps the Truth.
He no longer has a hatred for authority and he no longer disrespects women. He no longer promotes violence and his language is no longer vulgar. He has a hatred for his past sinful lifestyle. His rap lyrics reflect that. He has a voice and he is heard. His friends and family listen.
He brings some of these friends and family to Church and they sit next to you and me in the pew. We get to build relationships with them and God graciously saves them. Their tattooed and pierced bodies go through the waters of baptism and they become brothers and sisters in Christ. They are now family.
That is how God can and has used Christian Rappers. I shouldn’t ‘dis’ that.
I cannot ignore that.
Their ‘but God’ testimonies become rhythmic and poetic.
Their stories and contexts may be worlds apart from mine, but the same God has written them.
Christian rappers are apologists, defending the truth. Their lyrics grapple with doctrinal and theological truths from a personal platform and they apply that to their circumstances and cultures, fighting the onslaught of worldliness.
They do this with rhyme and alliteration.
Christian rappers strive to be authentic. Their lyrics are grounded in reality and they take their messy stories and histories and review them through the lens of the Gospel.
Sometimes that is hard-hitting and provocative.
Christian rappers can be evangelists. Their lyrics ‘preach’ truths about sin, the wrath of God, the cross of Christ, propitiation, repentance, justification, adoption and sanctification through the medium of rap lingo and jargon. They are proclaiming the glory of Christ to a dying world.
That does not mean we all have to listen to it or enjoy it , but it does mean we shouldn’t overlook it or disregard it.
Christian Rap uses a worldly melody to convey heavenly words.
God is the author of words and music as a means to worship Him and bring glory to Him. I believe this can include Rap music.
The gift of language, even Rap language, can be a means to ascribe greatness to God. ‘Let everything that has breath praise the Lord’ [Psalm 150:6]
Christian rap artist, Jackie Hill Perry, says: ‘God has given artists talent in the church for His glory…As a poet or writer or rapper, a talent has been given to me by God, to exalt God…The heart should always be to make Him as glorious as He is.’
It all becomes about putting the heart of 1 Corinthians 10 :31 and Colossians 3:17 into practice:
'So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.' '
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.'
There is a caution though:
If Rap, as a sub-culture, becomes an identity, a place of belonging and the primary means of self-expression, then it can become self-serving and self-promoting.
If Christian Rap becomes a platform or vehicle to voice a personal activist agenda, then it has the potential to become divisive.
I concede this may not be the end of the discussion, as there are many opinions, perspectives and concerns, but it is good to start having these conversations.
There is always place to agree to disagree on issues like this with grace.
I end with Paul Washer’s gentle warning to Christian rappers:
‘It is so hard to be a true preacher of the Gospel and to live out the truth we proclaim to others. But that is the task for every one of you who rap. For every one of you involved in this, you have a special stewardship from God. YOU MUST BE HOLY. You must follow Him. Don’t you know, that because of what you are doing, people, even good people, Christians, are waiting and looking for you to fail? They are looking for you to do something that will prove this was not a medium chosen by God. So you have to live beyond and above reproach. You have to live what you proclaim.’