Old Discussion, New Faces
There is no way to introduce this blog without sounding a bit monotonous- it is a blog about “Christian Rap”, “Rappers that happen to be Christians” and various positions on “engaging culture”. We’ve heard all of those phrases before and to some ears it’s lost its freshness. Nonetheless, the discussion still matters and we have room to grow together.
Recently there have been renewed discussions on the role of our Christianity in our art. The questions being asked are, “How should we label ourselves- Christian rappers or rappers that are Christians?” “Should we be evangelistic or doctrinal all the time?” “How should I view my music if it’s a job like other jobs?”, etc. The discussion isn’t anything particularly new, as it’s been debated extensively over the years. I myself have been in and out of the discussion for the past decade and have seen it develop with time. Despite the different answers that people give to these questions, this in-house debate isn’t between the “devout saints” in one corner and the “carnal Christians” in the other. It’s between Christians who love the Lord, trust the Bible, and are seeking to honor God in the arts. We can respectfully discuss this topic without being suspicious of each other’s agenda.
The Agenda That Matters
Speaking of agenda, imagine that you’re in the first day of class when the instructor walks into the room and hands everyone a syllabus. What he has done is effectively set the agenda for everyone in that room for the remainder of the semester. He has authority over the students so far as that class is concerned. The people in that room are very different in age, gender, ethnicity, occupation and interests, yet they all find a common link in that they will study the same material and take the same tests together. Something like that happened when Jesus came into the world. In Luke’s Gospel, we learn about the start of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Luke 4:17-19 records:
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1-2a. The eternal Son steps into humanity, grows up, enters the synagogue and reads Isaiah 61 with authority- effectively establishing and clarifying the agenda from then on. Proclaim, proclaim, proclaim. That’s the repetition that we see. We know that this is an agenda with a time stamp on it, because Jesus intentionally leaves out the remainder of Isaiah 61:2 which continues to say “…and the day of vengeance of our God.” When Jesus returns again, it won’t be for proclamation of good news, but for judgment. Jesus extended this ministry of proclamation to His Church in the great commission in Luke 24:46-47:
and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Christians have the unique honor to proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected for sinners. That’s not all we do, but it’s not less than that, either. Our instructor has walked into the class, so to speak, and has handed us the syllabus. The syllabus can be read on His pierced hands and feet (Luke 24:30-40). Christians, in all of our diversity, different abilities, various preferences, etc. are all called ultimately to a singular ministry of the proclamation of Jesus. This applies to you if you are a farmer, a rapper, a mom, an NBA player, Anglo, Chinese, introverted, extroverted, etc.
Theology Rap Only?
Okay, so does this mean that every song that a Christian writes should unpack a theological term, explain the gospel, or teach Christian doctrine directly? Is this a call to make everyone a theological rapper? Does this singular ministry mean that everyone should be the same? I don’t think so. Following God’s agenda actually gives our distinctions weight and purpose. We become a harmony, not a unison. However, the question “Should every song be about the Gospel?” almost betrays the depth of the Gospel, and here is where my main contention rests.
Scientists study some of the smallest particles currently known to science. Recently, there was a discovery of the so-called “god particle”, a subatomic particle thought to give mass to all matter. This particle has countless articles, papers and books written on it. The whole discipline of subatomics has thousands of books to it’s name. A spec of near nothing has seemingly endless things to be said about it! If something so small can be fitted with so much complexity and generate so much discussion, how much more could be said about the massive eternal God who made the heavens and the earth! His Gospel is rich and deep- deep enough to write 10,000 songs about without scratching the surface or being one dimensional. The implications reach wide, also. The Gospel is actually that super-subject that every music writer ever dreamed of because it provides endless depth for the most creative mind.
God is not making theology rapper clones, but people rocked by His grace. The world is ours for our benefit (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) and every slice of God’s world is an avenue to Gospel proclamation in disguise. We all need wisdom so as to make the best uses of God’s good gifts, our freedoms, and the precious Gospel that has been entrusted to us.
Phillip Michael Holmes
Great perspective Tony and very helpful to the conversation!