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As a fan of Hip-Hop and born again Christian, I love gospel-centered rap music. I became a believer at Howard University in late 2004, and when a friend in my dormitory introduced me to Corey Red and Precise’s “Resistance Iz Futile” and Da’ T.R.U.T.H’s “Moment of Truth” albums — I was hooked. I’ve been a sucker for good news spit over dope beats ever since.

It has been very exciting to see the evolution of Christocentric lyricism over the years. Christian rap, in its early years, struggled for consistent quality on par with what was being produced in mainstream rap. But the tide would begin to change with the arrival of Cross Movement Records. Cross Movement would soon build a reputation for producing quality Christian rap that Christians could play in front of their non-believing friends without shame. The label would produce several Grammy nominated artists and help introduce the world to some of the biggest names in Christian rap today.

Standing on the backs of their predecessors while trailblazing their own course for success, we find Reach Records (RR). Co-founder of RR and Reach recording artist, Lecrae, has experienced the most mainstream exposure for Christian rap artists to date. Lecrae has been featured in mainstream rap media, and has worked with several mainstream rap artists. He was invited to perform at the 2011 BET Hip-Hop Awards, and took home the Grammy for Best Gospel Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

The Controversy

Lecrae’s mainstream success has caused the Christian Hip-Hop community to wrestle with a new set of questions: How should Christian rappers witness to secular rappers in the music industry? Is a Christian rapper compromising his faith if he makes music that is less theologically explicit? Is it wise for a Christian rapper to make music with rappers who are unrepentant about the rebellious art that they make? Should a Christian rapper openly criticize other secular rappers for the music they produce? Should the term “Christian rapper” be jettisoned in an attempt to avoid certain negative assumptions?

Lecrae’s decisions in response to these questions have been highly controversial. He has purposely chosen to make some songs that are less theologically explicit, work with artists who, in their own careers, produce ungodly music; he has chosen not to criticize secular artists when asked his opinion of their work, and has openly refused to be designated a “Christian rapper.”

In response to the outcry, Lecrae has addressed the controversy, insisting that while the direction of his music may have changed, the mission to reach people for Christ still remains the same. This hasn’t calmed the fears of some saints, however, many of whom are now convinced that the man who encouraged them to boldly yell Romans 1:16 to the world might himself actually be ashamed of the gospel.

While these concerns are valid and certainly worth discussing, it is my belief that Lecrae should receive support from the Christian community for the choices he is making in the music industry.

As we begin to discern whether or not there is any Biblical warrant for Lecrae’s actions, it is important, firstly, to grant Lecrae the benefit of the doubt that his motives are indeed what he says they are. Even if one disagrees with the choices he is making as a Christian artist, we must not assume, unless serious evidence is presented to the contrary, that he is being motivated by selfish ambition. So many believers, rather than critique Lecrae Biblically, simply assert that he is “selling out” for money and fame.

[Tweet “So many believers simply assert that @Lecrae is “selling out” for money and fame.”]

Many Christians project the compromise that they see in other Christians and in their own lives onto Lecrae, assuming that his desire to tailor his music for non-believers is really because he wants to be accepted by them. But how can anyone say this for sure? Does anyone but the living God know his heart? Rather than slander our brother by assuming impure motives, I would charge those who disagree with Lecrae to take him at his word that his actions are meant to reach fellow rappers and unbelievers for Christ–and thereby choose to critique his evangelistic methodology as flawed–rather than assume his actions are the result of succumbing to the temptations of fame and fortune.

Lecrae and Incarnational Evangelism

But is there any Biblical warrant for what Lecrae is doing? I believe that there is. One passage worth noting is 1 Corinthians. 9:19-23. In this passage, Paul presents a picture of missions and evangelism that expands the way Christians should understand reaching unbelievers for Christ. The text emphasizes what can be understood as incarnational evangelism. Paul, while recognizing his freedom in Christ to not submit himself to a certain cultural way of living, chose nonetheless, to adopt a cultural way of living in order to minster to the people in that culture.

When ministering to Jews, Paul chose to submit himself to the law. When ministering to Gentiles, he chose to live as they live. In other words, for the sake of the gospel, Paul chose to make himself as indistinguishable as possible from the people he was trying to reach, all while maintaining Christian integrity.

Why would Paul do this? Why would Paul see the need to adopt some of the cultural precepts of the people he was ministering to? Isn’t just preaching the gospel enough? Why would we ever need to be “like” the people we’re trying to reach? Paul understood that people tend to listen to other people who share mutual life experiences. Humans tend to reject the foreigner and accept their own. In order for the gospel to gain credibility among the people, Paul recognized that he could not afford to ignore their cultural sensibilities.

If Lecrae is to reach Hip-Hop culture, he will be most effective if he becomes as indistinguishable as possible from those in the culture. He’s got to do what other rappers do. Rappers feature each other on their songs, they rap in cyphers, they participate in things that celebrate their culture like award shows, etc. And as long as Lecrae maintains Christian integrity in thought, word, and deed, he should participate in hip-hop culture with them.

[Tweet “As long as Lecrae maintains Christian integrity, he should participate in the culture.”]

Hip-Hop prides itself in recognizing the “real” from the “fake.” Some of the people who Lecrae wishes to reach will dismiss him as not really “one of us” if he does not choose to interact with them. He would also run the risk of losing the opportunity to witness to some in Hip-Hop culture who otherwise would never see someone who is like them, but free from sin.

Grace on the Mission Field

The difficulty for Lecrae arises in determining what the fine line is between Christian freedom to conform to Hip-Hop culture and outright compromise of the gospel. Lecrae and his team will need to pray, seek counsel, and think through how best to witness to Hip-Hop culture. Being missional within Hip-Hop culture will require them to be “as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves” (Matt:10:16).

[Tweet “Being missional will require @Lecrae to be “as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves”.”]

Here is where I believe a tremendous amount of grace must be given to Lecrae. We must remember that he is in a position never before experienced by any Christian rapper. As Lecrae and the team of people around him try to figure out how best to be distinctly Christian while fully engaged in Hip Hop culture, mistakes will be made along the way. My prayer is that when these missteps happen, Lecrae would repent, learn from the mistake, and be ready to teach the next generation of Christian rappers in the music industry what worked and what didn’t work.

[Tweet “We must remember that @Lecrae is in a position never before experienced by any Christian rapper.”]

Pray for Lecrae

It is likely that some will continue to disagree with Lecrae’s actions. That’s fine. It is important, however, that you never forget that this man is our brother in Christ. Moreover, he now has an ever-increasing platform to spread Christian truth. Pray that God would give him boldness to proclaim the gospel as he ought. Pray that temptation in all of its forms would never overtake him, and that he can help bring lasting impact within a culture that badly needs reform. As Christian rap now begins to get more recognition from Hip-Hop culture at large, may Christ establish his truth in the hearts of its listeners. Amen.

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