Last week, a spirited discussion broke out over the issue of the appropriateness of Christian Rap/Hip-Hop. The genesis of this conversation came as a result of a video circulating involving a panel at a conference of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (ncfic.org). The panelists were to address the question, “Any thoughts on Reformed rap artists? … Their musical styles would be considered offensive to some but the doctrine contained within the songs is sound.” The responses were near universal: the musical expression itself—in its very nature and not merely in the words—were far below what is acceptable for mature Christians. One panelist, Geoff Botkin, referring not the the musical genre of rap but the Christian artists themselves, called them “disobedient cowards” for not seeking to change the culture but rather to capitulate to it. This perhaps elicited the strongest reaction. (The video of the panel’s responses can be seen in the links below).
There were many excellent responses (see, especially, Mike Cosper, Owen Strachan, Ligon Duncan, and Joe Carter’s scoring of the debate) as well as some pretty deficient rejoinders and apologies (here and here). I really appreciated Cosper’s reflections on the theological underpinnings of all music:
“After all, what is music? The most rudimentary definition is that it’s sound arranged in time, and clearly both sound and time are God’s ideas. He made creation so that it hums and buzzes and resonates. He wasn’t surprised when Stradivarius found a violin hiding in a maple tree, or when Leo Fender found a Telecaster in a block of ash, and he wasn’t surprised when DJ Grandmaster Flash (amongst others) started mixing vinyl records and beats to give birth to Hip Hop. Even the idea of sampling is derivative of the Creator’s imagination: have you ever heard sound echo in a canyon?
To dismiss these cultural artifacts as evil is to give the devil far more credit than he’s due. He’s never made anything, he’s only corrupted. Human handiwork, too, is always and only derivative; we haven’t so much invented as we’ve discovered. We are merely “Thinking God’s thoughts after him,” as Johannes Kepler once said. God is the first musician, the first inventor, the brains behind it all, including hip hop. He is the greatest DJ in history. The Providential Producer of every good thing.
A tree can’t be evil if God has called it good. When someone carves it into a drum, it’s still good. When someone plays music on that drum, it’s still good – including the sounds it emanates. When someone starts worshiping a demon while they beat the drum, they’re rebelling against a holy God, and they deserve to be rebuked. But the drum is still good. So is the sound that comes out of the drum; Satan didn’t invent it, he merely deceived someone into using it for evil means.”
But perhaps my favorite overall response was by Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, particularly in his daily podcast for Monday, December 2 (here, he discussion begins at the 6:21 mark). Some of the same comments are made in his blog post from yesterday as well. In speaking of the case made by the members of the panel Mohler writes,
“I recognize the arguments made by the panelists. I am tempted to make them myself. In fact, I have made them myself … in my head. I know the arguments well. Form matters when it comes to music, and the form of music is not incidental to the meaning communicated…”
However, Mohler captures those arguments and evaluates the reason behind his impulse to make those arguments in his head when he says,
“Am I holding back? No, I allow myself those arguments in my head when I want to absolutize my preferences and satisfy myself in the righteousness and superiority of my own musical taste and theology. The problem for me is that my theology of music will not allow me to stay self-satisfied on the matter, and by God’s grace I have not made arguments out loud that would violate that theology” (emphasis mine).
“Rap music is not my music. I do not come from a culture in which rap music is the medium of communication and I do not have the ear for it that I have for other forms of music. But I do admire its virtuosity and the hold that is has on so many, for whom it is a first and dominant musical language. I want that language taken for the cause of the Gospel and I pray to see a generation of young Gospel-driven rappers take dominion of that music for the glory of God. I see that happening now, and I rejoice in it. I want to see them grow even more in influence, reaching people I cannot reach with music that will reach millions who desperately need the Gospel.”
You can read the rest of his comments here.
**UPDATE: Scott Brown, the Director of NCFIC and the moderator of the panel where the controversial comments were made, has issued a heart-felt apology here.