When it comes to hip hop, controversial topics are not spared. No matter the topic, from politics, sports, race, or religion, hip hop goes head on with these topics unapologetically. Many hip hop artists aggressively state their opinions on a variety of subjects in their music in hopes that they will strike the listener’s conscious. Through the ages, hip hop has successfully engaged the mind and heart, stimulating action from its hearers. Hip hop artists have created movements, united people over social issues, and even partnered with religious organizations. Some would even go as far to say that hip hop is its own religion, and has its own belief system.

For a long time, hip hop artists have engaged in religious talk and activity in their music; from using religious symbolism to some being outright blasphemous towards a particular religion or religious figure. Hip hop artists have called themselves god, they have named their albums after God, and have many times paralleled their life to the life of Jesus or some other religious figure.

Hip hop is very god conscious in the sense that most people in hip hop culture have some form of spiritual or religious belief system. Hip hop’s religion is “god consciousness”. In regards to this, the church has a history of retreating whenever hip hop engages the topic of religion or Jesus, forgetting the promise that Jesus gave us in Matt. 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” My point is no matter the culture or its sin, Christ will build His church on the basis of who Christ is. Matt. 16:18 reminds us that Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) is the rock in which Christ will build His church. Because of this fact, hip hop’s aggressive and bold approach to God and religion shouldn’t make Christians scared and inactive, but should produce in us a readiness and urgency to give a defense for the hope that we have in Christ (1 Pet. 3:15).

The Apostle Paul’s Example
Apostle Paul gives us a great example of this when he proclaimed the Gospel in Athens on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Like the culture of hip hop, Athens was a city of high art and the home of great philosophers who influenced thought and shaped the culture of the city. The city was the cultural and intellectual center of the Roman Empire. Mars Hill was an important meeting place for philosophical and religious discussions and debates. The city was also a very pluralistic city in which the people worshipped many gods.

The Apostle Paul addressed the god conscious culture by directly pointing it out. “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22-23).

Paul was not intimidated by their god consciousness. Rather, Paul was able to engage the culture, stay committed to the Gospel, and not compromise biblical truths. Paul used their own Greek philosophy and belief system as a spring board to the Gospel message. He spoke to their religious inclination, while at the same time revealing to them their Gospel ignorance. Paul saw their religious tendencies and even idolatrous ways as a launching pad for His presentation of the Gospel.

This does not mean people will accept our message or that the culture of hip hop will change. Although the Apostle Paul started strong with his Gospel presentation, he was not able to reach many people nor did the culture really change. Our job isn’t to change the culture, but to proclaim the message of the Gospel with boldness. We shouldn’t see the paganism or religious culture of hip hop as a reason to fall back. We should see it as a reason to penetrate it despite the consequences.

Hip Hop and the Gospel
Paul’s troubled spirit towards Athens’ idolatry didn’t cause him to separate from the culture. Our displeasure and distaste for the idolatry found in hip hop culture shouldn’t cause us to disengage with it, but should move us to mission. As the church, we are called to walk in love imitating the love of Christ who gave Himself up for us (Eph. 5:1-2).

In the Gospel narrative, we see a God who is holy and just, but who is also gracious and merciful. God dealt with the sin of His people by going on a rescue mission by dwelling among us and engaging us with His truth (John 1:14). As God’s people, we are not set apart to be distant; we are set apart to engage and be on the offense.

In hip hop culture, there are many religious efforts to reach God or to gain some form of relational peace with a “higher being.” As Christians who associate themselves with hip hop culture, we must see the god consciousness as an opportunity to engage with the Gospel. Any form of religious talk or activity, from song title to 16 bars, can and should be used by the church to make a bridge between false belief and the truth of the Gospel. We shouldn’t write off or angrily dismiss the religious beliefs in hip hop.

Though many in hip hop culture will reject the Gospel as many of the people in Athens did, we can trust that there is a ransom in hip hop culture that God is calling. Every culture needs to hear the Gospel and we have the answers that hip hop is looking for. We must see and be ready for the opportunities to connect, discuss, and persuade. Hip hop’s idolatries in the form of religion may contradict the Gospel, but it doesn’t eliminate the Gospel power for reconciliation between people in the hip hop culture and God. Hip hop culture and religion will continue to intertwine together. This should excite the church, as it is only a catalyst for Gospel proclamation and Gospel clarity.

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