Each Tuesday in Music Matters, Matthew Linder explores the intersections of music, culture and faith.
Exploring the controversy over Shai Linne’s “Fal$e Teacher$”.
When Shai Linne’s Lyrical Theology Part 1 dropped at the beginning of April one song stood out, “Fal$e Teacher$”. In the final hook of the song, Shai does the unthinkable; naming the names of twelve different pastors (Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Fred Price, Kenneth Copland, Robert Tilton, Eddie Long, Juanita Bynum and Paul Crouch) followed by the refrain “is a false teacher.” While he attacks these pastors’ theology (the prosperity gospel) preceding these final words, it seems rather uncouth to actually call pastors false teachers. Are Christian allowed to do this or has Shai allowed hip-hop style (this is a lyrical diss after all) to overshadow Galatians 6:1 where believers are asked to restore those in sin “in a spirit of gentleness”?
In an interview with Matt Smethurst at The Gospel Coalition Shai explained why he chose to name names:
In studying the teachings of all the people I named, it was clear they fit the biblical category of false teacher—and have for many years… I was specific because, had I only named the teaching rather than the teachers, people would have assumed that some on the list didn’t fit the description. The American church has no excuse for putting up with this stuff. We have an abundance of biblical resources here. But for saints around the world who may lack those same resources, I wanted to sound the alarm so that they might re-examine in the light of Scripture what’s being exported to them.
And this intention is clear with the opening lines of the song:
One two one two, Yo!
Special dedication to my brothers and sisters on the great continent of Africa
To Saints to Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe.
Don’t be deceived by what America is sending y’all man
But the real question is there biblical warrant to call out specific people as false teachers? Shai believes so, as he explained in a seven minute video discussing the song. In a quick search of the New Testament, we can see over and over again not only is false teaching condemned but those who preach falsely are called out by name:
“Some have rejected these [faith and good conscience] and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymanaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19b-20).
“Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:17b-18).
Paul did not hesitate to call these men false teachers. This might seem harsh, but some of the harshest words in the bible are towards false prophets in the Old Testament and false teachers in the New Testament. An accusation from Paul that a person was a false teacher was not something to take lightly, and Shai is working from that same pastoral role. Shai is concerned about his brothers and sisters in Christ who may not have the same access to biblical resources as we do in the United States.
This is why Shai drops three biblical passages in the song in regards to one of the main roots of false teaching and of the aforementioned pastors’ teaching—material wealth. By quoting Matthew 7:16 (“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”), he encourages believers to examine what is produced by the teachers of this theology. Then with 1 Timothy 6:9-10 he identifies that material wealth is the key to why these teachers “have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Rounding out the song Shai ends with recitation of 2 Peter 2:1-3, a passage thematically congruent with the Shai’s verses and pointing to what is the stark reality of the marriage of the gospel with greed: “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
But it is another passage that I think embodies Shai’s hip-hop polemics: “Rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14). “Fal$e Teacher$” is not a case of style accosting biblical truth but Shai using hip-hop’s truth-telling function to lead those under these teachers to the only truth that matters. Not the gospel plus something else, but as Tullian Tchividjian elegantly puts it, “Jesus plus nothing equals everything.”