Game is a tragic figure under the care of a pastor who has failed to present him with biblical Christianity.
“I’m tryin’ to go to church/Get some chicken wings/After that hit the strip club.” These words are typical of Game’s raps on the religiously-tinged Jesus Piece. Already controversial prior to its release because of the cover’s street-influenced depiction of Jesus, Jesus Piece’s lyrics mix Christian imagery with, as Game puts it, “life, love, family, religion, music, and the streets.” Game’s rhymes do not represent a new, spiritually awakened identity for hip-hop, but rather, are pretty standard fare when compared to Rick Ross (“God Forgives, I Don’t”), Meek Mill (the “Amen” controversy), and Kanye West (the Rolling Stone cover). However, Game’s story does have some differences.
Game was baptized in 2011, goes to church almost weekly, and discusses life with his pastor, Bishop Noel Jones of City of Refuge, several times a week. You would expect Game, with his newfound faith in Christ, to move hip-hop beyond its celebration of misogyny, materialism, lust, drinking, and smoking weed, but instead, he simply grafts a little Jesus onto those themes. Game is clear in this regard:
It’s me bringing Hip Hop culture in touch a little bit more with Jesus themselves. Just by mentioning it, I got more people saying “Jesus” and “Jesus piece” in Hip Hop than ever before.
When asked if he was on a musical path similar to Christian rapper Lecrae, he responded with “I wouldn’t even call it getting my Lecrae on.”
Track after track on Jesus Piece reveals a man who wants to be a Christian but at the same time, doesn’t want “to change all the things that I love doing” (e.g., smoke weed, go to the strip club). “Hallelujah” is a perfect example of his lack of struggle between the things of this world and his Christian faith in a song Game calls a “funny, braggadocio song about what goes on in my head during church.”
I know we in church and no way that I’m thankin Rome
But inside the Bible is the perfect way to sneak my foe
But I don’t wanna do that, I came to take the service in
And stare at all the women who brought their Louie purses in
I wanna live righteous and you know I love Jesus
But you can’t catch the Holy Ghost in the Prius
Then there’s the materialistic and self-congratulatory excess of “Name Me King,” a song about which Game has said “We deserve the right to be kings in our own right… No one has really dethroned Game yet.”
Open the pearling gates
Bright white lights Madonna
Angels lined up in my honor, ya’ honor
Name Me King
I took the crown, infiltrated their fortress
Kidnap the queen, rode away in white horses
Name Me King…
Named my little n***** King meaning
You should bow at his feet before God intervene
Game has called “Can’t Get Right” one of the album’s more meaningful songs, and it finds him understanding God’s grace as license to do whatever he wants.
Sometimes I gotta step in the church, cause I ain’t tryin’ to go to hell
As the blood spills from my pen
It’s time to confess my sins, cause I ain’t tryin’ to go to hell
I smoke weed, pop pills, but I’m thinkin’ it’s time for me to chill
Cause I ain’t tryin’ to go to hell
I’m tryin’ to get some head tonight, have a stripper in my bed tonight
But I ain’t tryin’ to go to hell
Not only is Game consistent on Jesus Piece regarding his lack of struggle between his sinful behavior and his Christian faith, but in interview after interview he states as much. For example:
I thank God very often, and ever since I got baptized last year, I’ve just been in my Bible and going to church as much as I can. But I haven’t changed who I am. I’ll still do the things I love to do.
But what about those counseling sessions that Game has with his pastor three to four times a week? Does he really not have the ears to hear the Gospel spoken into his life? Or is something else going on? Game spoke a bit about his relationship with his pastor, and revealed why there has been no transformation in his life:
Herein partly lies the reason why Game is no different from the majority of Americans who identify themselves as “Christian” but live lives that are anything but: He has a pastor who is unwilling to point one of his congregants towards repentance. Repentance, Pastor Voddie Baucham Jr. writes in What He Must Be: …If He Wants to Marry My Daughter “is the result of an accurate understanding of the significance and gravity of sin, coupled with an overwhelming desire for remission of that sin through the person and work of Christ and a turning from sin and dead works to faith and obedience.”
What [Bishop Noel Jones’] response is every time I tell him what I want to do, what I’m doing is, “Listen son, I’m not your judge, only God is your judge. Whatever you doing, you’ll have to face that on that day and it’s not for me to judge.” Which is cool ‘cause then we can go back to talking about the cool s*** that helps keep me going… It makes people looking at me say… Oh man, he bipolar but I’m really not bipolar. I’m not different than anyone else.
And as if the lack of a presentation of a proper sin/grace framework wasn’t enough, Bishop Jones also preaches one of America’s most popular alternative gospels, the “prosperity gospel”. Bishop Jones is the senior pastor of the 17,000 member City of Refuge church in Gardena, CA and according to his bio, “No matter your point of reference, there are few places you will travel on this side of heaven without hearing the great name of Bishop Noel Jones.” Listen to any of Jones’ sermons on YouTube and you’ll find them filled with promises of health and wealth, along with some “oneness pentecostalism” (i.e., a rejection of orthodox trinitarianism).
While preaching on the book of Ruth, Jones made this doozy of a statement:
Ruth got the whole house… the bed is mine, the house is mine, the estate is mine, everything in here is mine… I’m in the back but I can’t wait for it, everything is mine. I got favor, the house is mine. I got favor, the car is mine. I got favor, the millions are mine.
Then, in the same sermon we have this claim that a life of poverty is somehow antithetical to God’s desires for his people:
And everything Ruth enjoyed as the wife of Boaz, Naomi enjoyed all of it. Job had a bad experience, Naomi had a bad experience but at the end of the day they didn’t die in famine, they didn’t die in poverty.
With Game’s album then, we have something of an endorsement of Bishop Jones’ prosperity theology, something even secular outlets, such as HipHopDX, have asked about:
DX: Do you subscribe to Prosperity Theology though; the doctrine that says financial blessing comes to those that are faithful?
Game: I just believe in Jesus, man. And I understand the process of donating and offerings and tithes and all of that, and I’m down with it. Whenever I can give, or whenever I can remember to pack my pocket full of cash, I’m gonna put it in the collection plate or in the envelope and send it on its way. At the end of the day, whether it does anything or not, it makes me feel good. And of course the church don’t charge anybody for membership or charge anybody to get in, but at the same time the lights gotta be kept on and there’s programs for kids and the choir and all of that stuff gotta be paid for. So I’m just doing my part.
Game is a tragic figure under the care of a pastor who has failed to present him with a Christianity that, as Dr. Michael Horton states in Christless Christianity:
[Brings] me into the chamber of a holy God, where I am completely undone, and [tells] me about what God has done in Christ to save me; [tells] me about the marvelous indicatives of the gospel—God’s surprising interventions of salvation on the stage of history despite human rebellion—and the flickering candle of faith is inflamed, giving light to others.
But Game, like so many self-professed Christians in this country, is “not quite accosted by the death sentence of the law [and] not regularly hearing the liberating Good News of the gospel.”
If we’re honest, we all want to “assimilate God to our own experience, felt needs, and aspirations” and agree with Game’s statement that “I got my own relationship with Jesus, and I don’t think I need to explain it to anyone.” We want the benefits of Jesus without the cost of ourselves. But as Paul Washer explains, “If [following Jesus Christ] doesn’t cost you anything, it’s because you’ve bought into ‘American Christianity’.”
Jesus Piece is both a sobering reminder and a call to better understand the Gospel in our own lives and to spread the sweet fragrance of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins to our neighbors in the world and in the church.