My friend and Grammy-winning hip hop producer Alex Medina sent me a link to the above video. It’s a panel from the recent Worship of God conference put on by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. Here’s what the event info says about the discussion:
At the recent Worship of God conference, attendees were encouraged to prepare questions for the concluding time of Q&A. 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.” Panelists Dan Horn, Scott Aniol, Geoff Botkin, Joel Beeke, Jason Dohm, and Joe Morecraft weigh in.
Update at 11:07pm–Two things to make very clear, as I’ve thought about this: 1) This kind of panel unwittingly makes a cultural standard, not the gospel, the ground for being welcomed by the church. This cannot help but make those who like rap and identify with its culture feel unwelcome among Christians. This is a major issue–we’re not just talking about a panel here, but about Christianity and culture and possibly ethnicity. Hence this post. 2) I just remembered that, as a Christian rapper (with a new cd coming out soon–gulp), I’m implicated here. I’m a “disobedient coward” too (keep reading below). This is a blow, for me and for others–especially those who are serious rappers and producers.
I know very little about this conference and these panelists (with the exception of Joel Beeke, a historian and theologian whose work I have profited from). A few of them said some things I can affirm; several of them made statements that were laughable and even offensive (for a full transcript and sound critique go here). One panelist said that reformed rappers are “disobedient cowards”; we also hear that Christian hip hop artists are “serving their flesh.” Those who practice this craft “follow the world” and are showing others “a picture of weakness and surrender.” Another person said that “Rap is the death rattle in the throat of a dying culture.” Let’s just note here that even if this is true–and it is most assuredly not–Paul gave thanks when the gospel was preached, even if it was preached in “pretense” (Phil. 1:18). I am afraid that these remarks do not meet the Pauline test. They slander gospel rappers irrespective of their message.
I want to stop at this moment and call on NCFIC to repudiate the claim that reformed rappers are “disobedient cowards.” Christians can disagree over rap, but that one–and a number of other comments–was beyond the pale. How grievous that these remarks were made at a conference on worshipping God, the greatest privilege we have as followers of Christ. Nothing will unify us and occupy us more in heaven than worshipping God; few things divide us more on earth. I genuinely hope that the members of this panel will take back their remarks, and that repentance and forgiveness will follow. Rappers and hip hop artists are right to be wounded by this. They have been wronged.
Several panelists make the very tired, very old (and, it must be said, very stereotypically white) argument that the “beat” and format of hip hop is fundamentally undignified, self-exalting, and hostile to sound communication. My mind boggles at these comments (did pianos descend from heaven, by the way? Did trumpets? Aren’t all instruments products and creations of fallen beings?). I can think of many rap songs that were in and of themselves like a systematic theology textbook for me. The Ambassador’s “What Do You See?” gave me concepts that I later doubled down on while reading John Stott’s Cross of Christ. Flame has songs on hermeneutics and the Trinity that can–even for a seminary graduate!–be hard to follow, because they’re so dense and packed with biblical truth. I could go on. Trip Lee, Lecrae, Propaganda, Timothy Brindle, Shai Linne, Voice, and many others have given the church a body of musically beautiful, lyrically elegant, and theologically rich material. I listen to Beautiful Eulogy songs and weep, they’re so spiritually powerful.
I am ashamed–heated-up, Paul-against-Peter ashamed–of professing brothers and sisters in Christ who call these godly musicians “disobedient cowards.” We train (and have trained) a number of gospel rappers at Boyce College. They are godly men (thus far no women). They do not deserve to be attacked and slandered.
If you want to read an excellent book on this topic, make sure you get the brand-new Does God Listen to Rap? by my friend Curtis “Voice” Allen (also, here’s a recent Christianity Today piece I wrote on this subject). I wrote the foreword and shared some of my background in rap. I heartily commended Curt’s arguments for why rap can be used by Christians. I also talk about using our diverse gifts and talents for God’s glory in Chapter 6 of my hot-off-the-presses book Risky Gospel; I’m so thankful that fellow believers are doing so through rap. The body of Christ is not one sex, one ethnicity, one tribe; it is a glorious collection of many peoples all united in Christ and by Christ. We use our own cultural background to make much of him, just as we will do in all the ages to come.
In closing, if I may riff of a great rapper, if you’re out there and you’re rapping for Jesus (or you support those who do), keep your head up. God is blessed by your work. I can imagine that you are hurt, justly wounded, angered, tempted toward disillusionment, and more. Stay with us, with those who support and love you. Your vindication will come.