A Testimony to the Impact of Christian Rap
Obviously, testimonies aren’t the end of theological debates and should not be. Because we know that God’s grace can shine through even in man’s shortcomings and make much of our mistaken ideas, we should never assume something is right because it works from time to time. So, I’m not arguing for pragmatism. However, testimonies can be effective in putting real faces to our theological debates which oftentimes seem to be treated with very little regard for people. For example, the latest internet firestorm in Christian circles was kindled during a Q&A session at NCFIC, where one of the gentlemen called people who performed Christian Rap “cowards”. Simple proof that the less engagement we have with people on the other side of our theological battles, the easier it is to lob our grenades over the “enemy’s” fences. So with that as my backdrop, I was very grateful when I was asked by my brothers and sisters at RAAN to put a face to the discourse by offering my testimony.
SALVATION COMES TO A NAME-IT, CLAIM-IT KID
I marvel at God’s grace as I think on my unusual Christian journey. As a preacher’s kid, I was raised in the church my whole life, but it was one Spring evening in 1997 that the Lord really captured my heart. As I heard the Gospel preached that evening, I was convicted of my sin before a Holy God, driven to forgiveness and repentance through the sacrifice of Christ, and began this incredible journey that has resulted in an ever increasing sanctification by the Spirit! What’s unusual about that journey you say? Nothing really except for the fact that it was in the midst of a prosperity theology, and I write now as Calvinistic Baptist pastor! My father, as a small rural pastor, subscribed wholeheartedly to the prosperity gospel (known as Health/Wealth or Name it, Claim it). Nevertheless, it was here that Christ met me!
The first three and half years of my new Christian life were prosperity gospel centric. I simply BELIEVED what I had been taught my entire life! I BELIEVED that the Lord wanted me wealthy just as He did every other Christian. I BELIEVED that sickness IN THIS LIFE had no place in the life of the Christian since it had been defeated on the cross! I BELIEVED that God was subject to the authority of my words and was convinced that I possessed power to call things that are not as though they were. I BELIEVED that any lack of the aforementioned was nothing but a demonstration of a lack of faith or a sign of disobedience in my life. I was passionate in these BELIEFS, well-versed in all of the popular ideas within this theology, and extremely active in my local church and the university campus ministry.
However, it was in the midst of these beliefs that the Lord brought two unforgettable challenges to my understanding of the Christian Faith.
(1) My Sister’s Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis
(2) Christian Hip Hop.
And the two worked hand and hand!
FAITH FILLED SUFFERING AND CHRISTIAN RAP
My sister was diagnosed with MS in 1999 and quite frankly, I had no answers for it. I was committed to my BELIEF system and petitioned the Lord over and over again in prayer, through fasting, in sacrificial giving to different ministries, and even traveling to hear and see some of the more popular “faith healers” in the movement. To top it off, she wasn’t battling the disease due to a supposed “lack of faith”. On the contrary, it was in 1999 that she herself placed her complete trust in Christ for salvation. It was this year that her faith was at its highest, and it was this year that our prosperity theology yielded its least. As I began to search the scriptures afresh, I grew acquainted with the reality that saints were not exempt from suffering due to their faith, and as a matter of fact, our faith often served as the soil for suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19, 2 Timothy 2:3, James 1:2-3). I wasn’t hearing much of that in the churches I was attending, in the books I was reading or in the fellowship circles I was frequenting, but oddly enough, I was hearing it somewhere else, from the mouths of rappers!
I was first exposed to the Christian rap group, Cross Movement in 1998 in a local Christian bookstore in Columbus, MS. Amidst all the CDs, there was one particularly appealing looking CD called “House of Representatives”. It was available to demo in the store and boy, did I ever! I was hooked instantly! The production was top quality, the rhymes were absolutely “off the hook” (a good thing by the way), but it was more than the beats and lyrics. From the moment the first song blasted through the headphones, I recognized that these brothers truly had something to say about Christ and His Gospel! Something deeper than what I’d heard before! Something more enduring! I was captivated by these brothers who looked like me, dressed like me, sounded like me, but was completely entrenched in the type of knowledge of God that I could not identify with! One song led to another, one album led to another, and as 1999 came to my family’s door and passed, and our theology left us with no answers, I surprisingly found answers in the rhymes of these brothers! I visited their websites, read articles produced by them, read authors and listened to preachers they recommended, and tested it all by the Scriptures. As I did, I slowly begin to see their theology was not only sounder than anything I ever had the privilege of sitting under, but that it was more historical and more biblical than anything I’d ever sat under!
The Lord used Christian Hip Hop to drive me to reformed theology!
Fast forward fourteen years. My sister and my father have both gone on to be with the Lord, and I’m now pastoring the same small rural church my father once did. Before his death, he and I spent years wrestling with the grand truths of Scripture, renouncing the prosperity gospel completely, and embracing a more historical and biblical understanding of the Christian Faith. Our church’s teaching now is obviously a lot different (several years ago, we adopted the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 which is not exactly prosperity gospel). While I miss both my father and my sister, I’m still amazed by the journey. A journey that began in prosperity theology and ended in reformed theology. A journey that began with the belief that I was in control of God’s actions towards me and ended with the belief that God is always in control and that is the safest place to be. A journey that would use as catalysts, of all things, faith-filled suffering and Christian Rap. I guess God is quite satisfied taking the things considered foolish and confounding the wise with them for His Glory (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). By the way, that applies not only to Christian Rap, but to me as well.