A Middle-Aged White Guy’s Opinion of Christian Rap
I knew this was a pretty big trend; but apparently it is bigger than I realized. Christian rap music. Holy hip-hop. That’s right. And apparently one of the growing groups of listeners is middle-aged white guys. Honestly, I just don’t get it. One evidence of the level of growth in this segment is the fact that in less than a month, uber-blogger Tim Challies has posted about it not once, not twice, but three times.
There are a couple of things about this trend that I find particularly surprising – or at least interesting. The first (and admittedly less important) is the seemingly close relationship between Christian rap music and Reformed, or Calvinist, theology and its leading voices. Stereotypical Calvinism is known for a lot of things, but energy and excitement and acceptance is not normally among them. It just seems like an odd pairing to me. It may seem odd, but it is undeniable. Christian rap music often includes audio samples of popular Calvinist preachers and pastors in the songs, especially John Piper. In fact, Piper seems to be the living patron saint of Christian rap. But equally strange to me is the frequency of Jonathan Edwards quotes and allusions in the songs.
The second thing I find interesting is how quickly and fully Christian rap has been accepted by otherwise conservative church leaders. I am not saying it is wrong, just interesting; and it has happened much more quickly than most previous innovations that have come to the church. While I don’t think this is necessarily wrong, I do think there are some issues to be aware of.
Let me preface this by stating that I do not think rap music is inherently wrong or sinful. I tend to fall into the camp that says music is generally amoral (not moral nor immoral). My primary issue with rap music as a genre is the hip-hop culture that surrounds it. The reality is that there is some baggage that is naturally attached to rap music. Whether or not it is fair, it is real. And the truth is that some of this carries over – again, this may not be fair – to Christian rap music.
Because I am not well versed in rap music, I will speak in generalities, realizing there are numerous exceptions. Rap is the musical expression of the hip-hop culture. As in any culture, there are some unifying themes and guiding principles. Again, there are always exceptions. Much of the hip-hop culture glorifies violence (including against women), drug and alcohol abuse, gang activity, and rebellion against authority. This is not the first cultural movement to be characterized by some or all of these stands; but in many of the previous versions, I do not believe the music was as closely identified with the larger culture as is true with rap music and the larger hip-hop culture.
Throughout the history of Christianity, the church and individual Christians have taken forms from the larger culture and redeemed and reshaped them for the building up of the church. I think that is what is being attempted here. My caution, and one of the reasons I cannot personally endorse Christian rap music has to do with perceived connection with the larger hip-hop culture; a culture that is in complete opposition to the Kingdom and our call as believers. Socially, culturally, I am not sure rap music – even Christian rap music – can be divorced from the larger hip-hop culture. This is a personal conviction. I realize God may not lead all of us to the same convictions. That is why they are personal.
I want to admit something: one of the things that makes this an easier opinion for me to hold is the fact that I don’t like rap music. For the most part, I just do not enjoy it. On top of that, my kids generally don’t enjoy it. One possible exception is TobyMac, who is arguably more rock than rap.
With all of that said, I refuse to make moral pronouncements about the use of Christian rap music as a form of worship or to reach out to individuals this musical form speaks to. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words regarding whether or not to eat meat offered to idols. I believe for me to become involved in the Christian rap music scene, or to lead my family there, would be wrong. I also realize it is just music. If you are a mature believer with a different conviction, I urge you to follow where God leads you. I offer my caution along with my encouragement. I only ask that you not look down on me or criticize me for my convictions.