Is it Chrostian rap or is it that there are rappers that are Christians? As Christian Hip Hop (CHH) expands beyond the borders of Christendom this question has begun to be asked more and more. A while back SPZRKT wrote a break up letter to CHH and recently John Givez expressed his desire not to be considered a “Christian rapper.” First of all, I feel that this is even a topic of conversation is incredible absurd and silly. It is more than eerily similar to she whole Chrostian band vs Christians in a band debate. Because of it’s striking resemblance to this debate I will let Jon Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot answer why that is a ridiculous question.
“To be honest, this question grieves me because I feel that it represents a much bigger issue than simply a couple SF tunes. In true Socratic form, let me ask you a few questions: Does Lewis or Tolkien mention Christ in any of their fictional series? Are Bach’s sonata’s Christian? What is more Christ-like, feeding the poor, making furniture, cleaning bathrooms, or painting a sunset? There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds. The view that a pastor is more “Christian” than a girls volleyball coach is flawed and heretical. The stance that a worship leader is more spiritual than a janitor is condescending and flawed. These different callings and purposes further demonstrate God’s sovereignty. Many songs are worthy of being written. Switchfoot will write some, Keith Green, Bach, and perhaps yourself have written others. Some of these songs are about redemption, others about the sunrise, others about nothing in particular: written for the simple joy of music. None of these songs has been born again, and to that end there is no such thing as Christian music. No. Christ didn’t come and die for my songs, he came for me. Yes. My songs are a part of my life. But judging from scripture I can only conclude that our God is much more interested in how I treat the poor and the broken and the hungry than the personal pronouns I use when I sing. I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me. I do have an obligation, however, a debt that cannot be settled by my lyrical decisions. My life will be judged by my obedience, not my ability to confine my lyrics to this box or that. We all have a different calling; Switchfoot is trying to be obedient to who we are called to be. We’re not trying to be Audio A or U2 or POD or Bach: we’re trying to be Switchfoot. You see, a song that has the words: “Jesus Christ” is no more or less “Christian” than an instrumental piece. (I’ve heard lots of people say Jesus Christ and they weren’t talking about their redeemer.) You see, Jesus didn’t die for any of my tunes. So there is no hierarchy of life or songs or occupation only obedience. We have a call to take up our cross and follow. We can be sure that these roads will be different for all of us. Just as you have one body and every part has a different function, so in Christ we who are many form one body and each of us belongs to all the others. Please be slow to judge “brothers” who have a different calling.”
I could and maybe should stop right there, but that wouldn’t be much of a blog, but here are my reasons why it is okay and good for Christian rappers not to want “Christian” as part of their genre.
1. They are not ashamed of the gospel.
You could take most any CHH song snd listen to it for about 30 seconds and you would have to completely oblivious to miss the fact that they are Christian. And take a look at their twitter feeds. Listen to their interviews. Yeah, it’s kind of obvious that they are Christian and they want you to know. If they do not want to be identified as “Christian” rappers then it is clearly due to being ashamed of the gospel.
2. Separation from CCM.
There are many good artists in CCM, but let’s face it, most of CCM isn’t exactly the most musically talented of genres, while CHH is overflowing with talent. If you label music as “Christian” it immediately becomes in some way associated with CCM, which ends up pitting limits on the quality of their music. On his new album Southern Lights: Overexposed done along with Dre Murray, Alex Faith raps “I’ll never be a gospel artists and I don’t fit in with CCM.” It’s a shame that there isn’t more quality CCM but if you call artists “Christian rappers” something like TobyMac is what will be expected.
3. Expansion of audience.
When a certain label is placed on a genre it creates a certain target audience. For example we label books and TV shows as either “kids” or “teen” ect. This signifies who is expected to read these books or view these shows. Labeling certain music as “Christian” will no doubt reduce the number of non-Christians who pick up the music.
4. Expansion of Subject Matter.
When exactly is a piece of art distinctly “Christian.” By labeling art as “Christian” it seems to limit the content which can be addressed. Does it have to be about specific salvific issues and doctrinal content? Is talking about racism and violence “Christian”? Is a love song for one’s wife “Christian”? As Francis Schaeffer has said “I am afraid that as evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract.” Again ““Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person as a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.” In the US where we have a distinct sacred/secular divide, issues of justice and love are not considered sacred but secular and therefor do not fit into what we would classify as “Christian” music.
5. The Evangelical response.
I admit most conservative white Evangelicals have been more receptive to CHH than you would expect. It has been praised by the likes of John Piper and Mark Dever, but there has also been criticism of the genre in general and certain content covered. The National Center for Integrates Family Churches had a panel at their conference about CHH where they utterly condemned Christians who create hip hop music. The words “disobedient cowards” were used to describe CHH artists. NCIFC literally criticized every aspect of the music possible. It would take a whole series of blogs to unpack all that they have said and that has been done before, but I find it incredibly ironic that a bunch of old white guys felt they had the authority and knowledge to intelligently critique the genre of music. Oh, and the fact that rap music can’t be redeemed. How about 18th century British pub music? Charles Wesley was inspired and influenced by this when writing his hymns. I guess we shouldn’t sing “Jesus Lover of My Soul” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” anymore. They are too worldly.
Besides the genre itself, the content of the music has also been criticized as well. Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans”, which addressed the love of the Puritans by many contemporary pastors and how this makes him uncomfortable due to the fact that they owned salves. received severe backlash following it’s release. Well known evangelicals Owen Strachan and Joel Beeke both strongly rebuked the piece for its characterization of the Puritans as slave owners, which in fact many were. (It is funny that this is critiqued when in fact Propaganda compares himself to the Puritan’s at the end showing he finds himself no more holy. Anyway, that is besides the point.) If white evangelicals want “Christian rappers” to not critique evangelicalism, and embrace every element of the “young, restless and reformed tribe” then they shouldn’t complain when they don’t want to be identified as such or be associated with evangelicalism. As Sho Baraka has rapped “Instead of truth, they’d rather be duped/I guess they want me to make more songs for youth groups.”
While many pastors are listening to CHH, these artists are largely not creating this music for the church, but to reach the streets. I don’t see Lecrae sitting in the studio imagining what music will sound good at the next church retreat.
Hopefully this question goes away soon as it is just not important and is something that just screams of cranky Calvinists with nothing better to do than criticize something. And the truth is that CHH artists are not going to be the ones losing if they are criticized by evangelicals. Most of these artists are good enough that they don’t need the endorsements of famous pastors. By firmly embracing Calvinism, Lecrae and other CHH artists have done more for evangelicalism than evangelicalism has done for them. Ultimately it will be the church losing out not the artists if there is a rift between them. (Though I don’t see this happening.)