There’s a cool conversation going on at Sphere of Hip Hop regarding the different approaches that Christians take within the context of hip hop. I’m really enjoying the mutual respect and thinking that is starting to come out. We’re basically discussing the differences between what I’m calling “Christian Hip Hop” and “Hip Hop made by Christians.” It has a lot to do with how Christians should go about making music and addressing what are the goals and methods to be used, etc. It’s a good conversation. It actually started as some recognition of Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, and Lecrae’s music. These guys tend to make a lot of doctrinally rich hip hop music, from a clear Christian worldview.
For as long as I can remember, there’s basically been a divide between those who made explicitly Christian hip hop music (think T-Bone or Cross Movement) and those who made creative hip hop and sought to infiltrate the hip hop culture (think LPG or DeepSpace5). Both groups are very passionate about their approaches and I think there’s something to be considered from both groups. On one hand, there’s concern that one group makes music that won’t actually be listened to by non-Christian hip hop listeners because it is so explicitly “churchy” and on the other hand, there’s concern that there’s no clarity on the gospel from those who are just making hip hop. Often times, these groups are actually talking past each other.
Regardless of whether or not these groups realize it or not, they are actually involved in the issues of contextualization, missional living, and gospel faithfulness. Plus, there’s issues related to ecclesiology as well.
You see, some Christian hip hop is very churchy and preachy and does great for church youth groups. You know, “When I say Jesus, you say Christ” type of stuff. Then there are some people out there who claim the label Christian but are essentially no different from non-believers in their subject matter, even to the point of using language and participating in activities that have historically been outside the bounds of Christian living. So we have a lot of polarization going on.
Anyway, one of the commentators @ Sphere, Stank Breaf Steve, had an insightful comment:
Far as theology rap goes I think practicality is key. I wanna hear how YOU live. I wanna hear how the gospel applies to YOU. I want to hear how emcees LIVE. Their experiences, their downfalls, and wisdom THEYVE attained. Not their interpretation of some book of OTHER peoples experiences, downfalls and wisdom THEY had attained. Your intellectual understanding of scripture, hermenuetics, logic and arguments, church history, ancient hebrew and greek culture dont impress me. The fact youve found out how to be a loving, patient, non gossiping, self controlled and humble servant of people through Jesus in the midst of all THIS ish we go through does. Basically I wanna hear how people KNOW God, not merely how they understand him through texts.
I really can relate to what Stank is saying here. When I was actively involved in the hip hop culture with touring and releasing two albums, that was my exact approach. Yet I can also sense a few changes in my thinking regarding my own personal perspective on Christian hip hop. Here is my response to what Stank stated.
First, it is my assumption that every Christian is to be a part of the overall mission of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 24:14; 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; etc.). I also believe that every Christian is gifted by the Spirit to build up the church (cf. 1 Cor. 12-14). So regardless of whether Christians use the term “evangelistic” or “missional” or “church ministry,” those things should be part of the lifestyle and should also be priorities to some degree. I sometimes wonder if these assumptions that I have are equally believed or understood by other Christian hip hop heads. What are your thoughts? I’m not discussing necessarily how those assumptions are fleshed out, but the fact that they are foundational starting points to the Christian life, etc.
But I’m not sure anyone is trying to “impress” people with their thoughts on theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, methodology, etc.. Is that the impression that you have from those who make music that revolves around those themes? Maybe some are, I’m not sure, but I get the feeling that folks like Shai have a genuine desire to build up the Body of Christ in the best way they either know how or are convinced as being the most effective at doing so.
Most of the music made by emcees that are just contributing to the hip hop culture (and who happen to be Christians) rap a lot about being dope and killing beats and rocking shows, so it seems to me that they are pretty interested in impressing people, right? And judging from what you are saying, I think you and I are actually on the same page regarding that group of rappers, as nothing in your comments made me think you love listening to rap about rap and rapping.
Now I’m really into theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, apologetics, methodology, logic, church history, and pretty much everything that’s related to those fields. I get geeked out when the latest copy of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society shows up on my door and I can’t own enough commentaries on the Greek New Testament. I love reading them and reflecting on the ideas that are raised. This is basically summarized in Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology, Historical Theology, etc.
But I’m also a pastor, which means that I’m aware of the fact that the majority of the people in the congregation I serve are not nearly as deep into those subjects. It’s not they don’t love Jesus or have interest in Scripture, but their emphasis is on Practical Theology. The first two and a half years of being a pastor I was HEAVY on theory and light on the practical. It took awhile for that to balance out.
So here’s my question: Is it possible that the “divide” between the different types of Christian hip hop have more to do with the age-old division between Biblical/Systematic/Historical Theology and Practical Theology? Scholars are generally concerned with what the text meant in the ancient world (exegesis) whereas the person sitting in the pew is concerned with what it means now (contextualization and application). Hermeneutics is actually concerned with the whole process. It seems like some of the Christian hip hop is very focused on the theory and the information whereas others are heavy on the application.
One thing I know is that theology does matter because what we believe shapes our actions, so the answer is not to avoid digging into biblical texts and doctrine, etc., but people also need help in knowing how to apply gospel truth.
So I’m not sure practicality is actually the key, though it is super important. I think balance is key. There needs to be clarity on both the information/truth and clarity on the application/contextualization, and maybe it doesn’t need to be divided up as encompassing songs that are “biblical/theological” and songs that are “practical.” Maybe there’s a way to wed those two together… at least I sure hope so. Stank Breaf Steve, I think we are saying very similar things though… as you say you “wanna hear how people KNOW God, not merely how they understand him through texts,” which if I’m understanding correctly, isn’t saying that one is more important than the other, right?
What are your thoughts?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Luke, I appreciate the approach you’re laying out, because to me the issue isn’t really whether hiphop has a Christian label or Christians have a hiphop label (though I might argue a case that the former is idolatry 🙂 ). To me the question is what should be the priority of a Christian’s life. Christ should be the starting point and center. As you said, from there every believer has a responsibility to edify the church and to evangelize the lost. If these areas are truly the focus of a Christian’s life, then I would expect to see these elements bleeding through in every aspect of their life. Regardless of whether it’s hiphop music or seeker sensitive services, the idea that “we’re trying to reach the lost for Christ, so we can’t actually mention Christ” seems more like a weird bait-and-switch rather than a biblical approach to evangelism.
Personally, I’m finding the “practical” theology vs systematic theology issue to be a matter of spiritual maturity. As I’m growing, the gap between the two is closing in my life. The swings back and forth aren’t as drastic as they used to be. And it’s easy enough to see that they’re directly related since doctrinal error can and often will lead to practical error. So which is more important? I’d agree with your answer to say that both are important to the Christian message.
That said, I would LOVE to find spiritually deep, doctrinally sound, boom bap hiphop that is entirely non-preachy and non-churchy, but rich with scripture . More meat, less cheese or something. I said you should make a dope album rapping the creeds. I was joking, but I sort of wasn’t. I like singing “Jesus love me, this I know.” It’s a fun little song and it reminds me of the majority of the Christian rap I hear. However, when I sing “A might fortress is our God” it’s so doctrinally rich it fills my soul. I wish there was more (any?) Christian rap in that tradition.
You should check out http://humblebeast.com/ for more music. Outspoken turned me onto it. Braille is on the label, among others. So far… I’m LOVING what I am listening to. It is the perfect blend of what I’m talking about and is essentially about as doctrinally rich AND missional engaged as one could ask for.
It is basically what I am trying to do… now.