The Witness

A Letter to Our Young Brothers and Sisters

Carl Ellis

To our dear brothers and sisters,

Our culture — within and outside of the Church — will always misunderstand your Kingdom work … at this, you must not be dismayed.

You know better than anyone we are in the midst of a devastating cultural crisis, a cancer that is destroying souls in our community. This cultural cancer doesn’t discriminate by socioeconomic class or by color, but merely takes different manifestations according to the hopelessness that festers in each of the despairing.

We have seen the rise of ghetto nihilism, Wall Street nihilism, government nihilism, Hollywood nihilism, gender nihilism, and on and on.  Many of our self-appointed cultural gatekeepers are exploiting this crisis for personal gain, instituting programs and legislation that promise satisfaction, yet work against the liberating biblical principles we seek to teach.

For those who live and work in our most hopeless areas, be it in the city, the ‘hood,’ or in the ‘burbs, it sometimes seems as if the deck is stacked against our Kingdom work. And so, we carefully count each hard-won victory as precious Kingdom treasure — each life saved, each family mended, each young woman or man who comes to see themselves a bit more clearly through Christ’s eyes, know him more intimately, and find their ultimate identity in him.

Thanks to your labor, God is not without human testimony. Daily, for decades, you have been used to breathe new life into dry bones.  Yours has been a powerful and refreshing voice of redemption and cultural renewal.
Now, a new set of self-appointed gatekeepers has emerged who are out of touch with our most basic core concerns.

Even more disheartening, these gatekeepers wear our family name … the name of Christ. They have decided one of our many cultural facets — Reformed hip-hop — needs their permission to be valid and legitimate. And while they, as brothers, certainly have as much right as we to speak of moral matters, they have impacted our community with an ill-timed and uninformed voice to assess our cultural and theological expression.

Be assured; we do not need anyone’s permission to teach or ‘do theology’ from our unique cultural position , nor are we required to justify ourselves to self-appointed Christian gatekeepers; they simply have no authority over us as our basis for cultural validation.

We all have a tendency to confuse cultural norms with Biblical ones; yet this is especially harmful when done by the dominant culture of any society.  All too often, the dominant culture is blind to the knowledge that they, too, have a culture in need of redemption at the cross.

Ideally, as we grow, we learn to value cross-cultural interaction, and enter into fellowship that informs us of our blind spots. However, this is radically different from one culture determining what is proper application of Scripture in the context in which another culture lives. To say it another way, one culture cannot use itself or its aesthetic as the standard to judge another; only the Word of God can make that assessment.

Dr. John Frame’s broader interpretation of the regulative principle helps to widen our understanding of worship to include all spheres of life. Frame gives us a helpful scriptural foundation for understanding Reformed hip-hop as a musical genre in the larger artistic milieu.

It is always preferable to bring our culturally dominant brothers and sisters along on our journey of theological expression and help them understand us, rather than just ignore them. However, it is foolish to let dominant approval determine whether or not we continue to minister to the people in our own sub-dominant context.

And while we must constantly examine our own ministry motives and be open to legitimate correction, given the depth of our current cultural crisis we do not have the luxury of extended  preoccupation with illegitimate assertions. We must be cautious stewards of the time we’ve been granted, wary not to spend it all educating Christians in the dominant culture while neglecting those among us who are still blind and searching for the Kingdom Door.

Is it worth the trouble to press on from here? Unequivocally, yes. We need your unique voices to accompany the hands that labor; the didactic role of Reformed hip-hop is a powerful one. When built on sound theology and done skillfully, it speaks to those to whom others cannot speak, and encourages those to whom they will not go.

Of course, we do not limit ourselves to Reformed hip-hop as our singular expression of sound theology, but we may embrace it for what it is: a valuable tool that has brought understanding to a community that desperately needs a theology robust enough to carry the freight and weight of life.

So do not hesitate to use every sound theological tool at your disposal to wage war … the lives  of men, women and children are at stake.  Do not let this distract you from your call to battle the nihilism of our day, redeeming the very vehicle that nihilism hijacked and now uses to demean and destroy us. Through this medium, what once brought death now brings Life; it does so in a reality that the dominant culture is often unwilling to engage — either physically, or even in philosophy.

Those who accuse you are as absent in our communities as the fathers and mothers you stretch yourselves thin to replace.  Yet Christ is present — and we continue strong in him.

You are no one’s coward; you who stare down a full history of negation within and outside of the Church; you who hold a high view of Scripture and of the character of God, who strive to live above reproach to his glory; you who understand all too well the darkness from which you have been redeemed…

Indeed, He has brought us all ‘from a mighty long way’.

We leave you with this:

Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.


Laboring with you,
The Ellises, Carl and Karen

1 Comment

  1. Kara

    The link to the criticism is to a password only video… Can you tell us more about this?

    Standing with you as a white woman who is fed spiritually by Christian hip hop music.

Leave A Comment