#3.More nuggets before the main course! Hors D’oeuvres Devotional #3.
For many musicians music is a very effective means to a variety of ends. For some, music is primarily a means of acquiring money, fame, status, etc. For others, music is most importantly a means of creative expression for the purpose of empowerment and societal impact. Of course, there are various hybrids of these goals for almost everyone, and yet for believers in the Lord Jesus another more weighty element comes into view—the glory of God. This latter idea brings us face to face with the challenge of not only the “what” but the “how” music should be used and leveraged for the purpose of bringing God glory. Often, “success” becomes the initial indicator of whether a person is doing something right or wrong, and in Christian circles in particular, if God is perceived to “use” something for a “positive” ends, this becomes an even greater confirmation that they are indeed doing something right. How God Do It is about acknowledging that our music, or lives in general, can have all the key ingredients that make for good music/art such as “swag” and eloquence (“chatter”), and God may even “use it” for some positive purpose, however, some of these things we put stock in are the very things He has revealed that He does not use lest they compete with His glory. Let all who have His heart imitate His way of doing what He wants, how he wants.
Yea…uh-huh, uh-huh…Let’s just talk…yeah…Ah…trippin’, slippin’..
Got swagga in that music/ chatter in that music/
Yeah God might use it/ but that ain’t how God do it.
How God Do It Devotional Thought
Of all the things that Scripture teaches us about Jesus, ranking pretty high is the idea that God knows what He’s doing, and how to do it. This basically says that God is all wise, which as A.W. Tozer has insightfully remarked, “…is the ability to devise perfect ends (‘the what’) and to achieve those ends by the most perfect means (‘the how’). “Sadly, we think we know better, and like the apostle Peter, rebuke some of our Lord’s ideas when they don’t “jive” with ours. There is a classic account in Jesus’ life when he had to teach His disciples this principle. He, the rabbi, had to demonstrate that His ability and wisdom trumped theirs, even extending into the realms they felt so adept and confident in—fishing. After these professional fishermen fished all night (the “wise” time to fish) and caught nothing, the Master flexed His wisdom and gave them instructions that landed the best catch of fish in their lifetime. You see, He was teaching them, and consequently us, that He even does “our thing” better than we do. If He does “our thing” better than we do, of course He does His thing better than we do.
This wisdom is always at work in all of God’s acts and strategies, and God has been known to give details and specifics about what He wants, and how He wants it. He seems to care about the “how” as much, or more, than the “what.” As early as Genesis 4 we encounter God rejecting an offering from Cain, based on some breach of “the how” the offering was to be made. We see it again in the specificity of “how” the ark of Noah was to be built. All throughout Israel’s history there were specifications on “how” to do everything—worship, war, live, thrive, the list goes on and on. Eventually, the Lord Jesus would model for the apostles, and all believers, how His kind of earthly ministry should be carried forth.
Spoiler alert—God always wants things done in a way that gives Him the most glory. It’s not good grammar but—that’s how God do it.
Jesus Himself and the gospel message are God’s wise ideas—which look foolish to the world, and “unimpressive” to those who want “signs and wonders.” However, “in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom; it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” God is pleased not only to save, but to save in a certain way. He chose One who, according to Isaiah 53:2-3, “…had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men…one from whom men hide their faces…and we esteemed him not.” Man always chooses flamboyant, impressive people and ways. We “ball so hard…u can’t find us!” We choose to use those who have more “baller status”—the more flashy, majestic, strong, eloquent and wise. Well, the Lord Jesus has shown us a different way—His way.
The church has been given the task of carrying on the mission of Jesus, in the “Jesus way.” However, as I mentioned, His ways can rub us wrong, causing us to adopt other strategies that we are more comfortable with and in. Let us constantly ask the question, “How does God do it?” “How does God ‘get the job done?’” Well, we at least know, He saves, builds, preserves, and gets His glory, not through man’s abilities, but through the Spirit-empowered simplicity of devotion to Christ and His gospel. The crux of God’s acts throughout history boil down to this. This is how God do it.
As one who does use music to spread the gospel I have applied this to my church ministry, even my rap endeavors. Not all believers have this goal in mind, but if saving, or even drawing to Christ is a claim and/or goal, God has revealed that He does this through the proclaimed and lived out gospel (Rm. 10; 1Cor 1-2). This may seem foolish, and may seem like it doesn’t “work.” However, 2 Cor. 4:2-5 disavows the use of slick tactics, and sly techniques.
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
God is not merely concerned about the what, but also the how. You can have swagger, chatter, and can flatter, but that is not how God does it. I’ll close again with Tozer who rightly sums it up this way, God accomplishes His will in ways that firstly gives Him the most glory, and then “does the highest good of the greatest number for the longest time.”
The Ambassador Presents Hors D’Oeuvres – EP
Now Available Digitally Everywhere
#2.This devotional is on the track, “Yah! You See Me!” from my new EP.
Even as Hip hop culture, based on its history, is no stranger to rejection, marginalization, and the pursuit of “mainstream” acceptance, the hip hop artist that seeks to rep Jesus Christ often goes through the same trek. Jesus said that “a city on a hill cant be hid,” which means that the light of His representers should be seen, and their presence be felt—even in a culture that can sometimes be unwelcoming to anything perceived as “too preachy.” The song “YAH! You See Me” declares that Ambassador, and people of like passions, are in the mix and are committed to represent Him boldly. They can not and will not be muted or deterred from hustlin’ for the real Jesus “cause He’s a beast!” So to wake up all of those who may be sleeping, we say—“YAH! You See Me!”
Oh man! I guess I should just go right in. Yeah…
Hidden Christianity, private Christianity and “tucked Christianity” are all oxymorons because Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:14-16).
Firstly, He wasn’t just talking about individuals, but believing communities of His who gather in His name, for His glory, to fulfill His mission. Secondly, He wasn’t merely saying that you shouldn’t be hidden, but that authentic, believing communities of His couldn’t be hidden from the surrounding culture if they were truly engaged in fulfilling His mission. Simply put, Jesus has a vision that there would be a visible people, belonging to God, whose light shines before men in a way that would be noticeable and glorifying to God.
There are many platforms that can be seized for the glory of God, from small to great. One person brings God glory as they faithfully carry out duties at home, school or work. Another person brings God glory by leveraging for Jesus Christ, positions and opportunities of influence that provide great levels of wide spread visibility. All in all, to shine light before men is to humbly but boldly display God honoring deeds with the intent that on lookers will see God’s character and His weightiness. Private meetings, private beliefs, inner feelings, all have a place, but they really are not the way that our light shines before men. It’s when those hidden convictions reveal themselves in full view of the surrounding culture that God is glorified by that culture. What good is salt-less salt? Good for nothing, Jesus would say. What good is “covered light? In like manner, good for nothing. Well what good is it if the Lord’s people are not visible or not making any impact? Jesus says, this can not be. When the “bottom drops out,” and “all hell breaks loose,” the world should at least know where to find the people of God. They shouldn’t have to look far, but we should be there to say, “you see me!”
There have been times when I have intentionally hid myself in order to jump out and surprise someone. When I emerged from my hiding place I say, “Yah!” The intent was to make my previously hidden presence known in a way that couldn’t be missed. That is what the song YAH is about. YAH is about being present, visibly in the mix, almost impossible to miss. Believers in Jesus should be marked and known by a love, faith, discernment, Christ-likeness and commitment that is impossible to miss. Now, certainly the world can overlook, mistake, or misinterpret the deeds of believers. 1Pt 1:4:4 speaks of the countercultural lifestyle of believers as being shocking and even offensive to the surrounding culture. Peter says, “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you…” Paul indicates something similar when he states that even when the glory of the light of the gospel radiates, a blindness—which keeps that shiny gospel veiled—exists among those who are not alive in Christ (2 Cor 4:3-4). So, a measure of blindness and ignorance to our presence can be expected, but there can still be an intentional effort on our part to broadcast the gospel and display our witness of that gospel publicly. God will be glorified by our imitating His ways in His world. We have been designed by God to be seen even as lights in the darkness are. Let us be able to say, “you see!”
We live in an increasingly secular society. By “secular” I mean that basically our society prefers that God be pushed to the margins of public life—or in extreme cases, pushed out of the picture entirely. I like scholar D.A. Carson on this matter of “secularism” when he notes, that secularism has to do with “The squeezing of religion to the periphery of life…More precisely, secularization is the process that progressively removes religion from the public arena and reduces it to the private realm… (Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited).” I don’t think we can comply with that secularist principle. We are Christ’s means of being proclaimed and celebrated among society.
Even if they do not, at least in the church (universal, and hopefully local), Jesus has supremacy in everything. He’s not only welcomed to be “somewhere” in our lives, but to be central in our lives.
Perhaps someone may perceive me to be overstating the case about obstacles to representing Jesus Christ fervently in the public arena. I know, as many can attest, there are still segments of society that permit a tinge of religious (in a good sense of the term) zeal. The same is even true for the Hip-hop culture, which, historically has been favorable to religious consciousness. They call it personal “faith,” and/or “spirituality,” but if done with skill, and of course restraint, it has been received fairly well. But that’s kind of my point–”personal faith” is welcomed, because that usually means “private faith.” What I’m longing for, and what Jesus was referring to, is a faithful life that shines publicly. Not long ago the Hip-hop magazine XXL served notice that Christian hip-hop would not “work,” especially since it was too preachy and prone to impose their beliefs on others. Bold, robust, aromatic faith in Jesus Christ seems always to be relegated to the category of “overdoing it,” while passionate, blatant, overt praise of anything else (even wrongdoing) is welcomed.
My prayer is that God would protect and uphold our commitment to be His city on a hill. The Lord has informed us that “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk 8:38). We exist for His glory, and the world can and should encounter who we are, whose we are, and what we stand for. Let’s use every platform and every opportunity wisely in light of the times we are in. In the words of Paul in Colossians 4:5 “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Turn to your neighbors and say, “YAH—you see me!”
The Ambassador Presents Hors D’Oeuvres – EP
Now Available Digitally Everywhere
#1.I would like to share with you some devotional thoughts behind my new EP, “Hors D’Oeuvres” that dropped on last week. But first, check out the lyrics below that I will be expounding on. “Turn this light out… and so it begins…”
Hors D’Oeuvres Devotional Thought
Recently, I have been contemplating the nature of both the message and ministry which our Lord has entrusted to us who have placed saving faith in Him, and been sent into the world as His representers. It was the risen Christ who dispatched Spirit empowered believers into the world, which He described as the sending of “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt 10:16).
Apparently, Jesus means for His servants to brace for some kind of certain hostility, and some measure of opposition. The “beef” that we face is usually due to the message we preach and the ministry we do for the sake of Jesus. So in light of this reality, what would lead us to offer the world anything from the Master’s table? What if they disrespect it, or mock it, or refuse it? Thus the concept of “the hors d’oeuvres.” Hors d’oeuvres are usually not requested, they are just available for the public based on the Chef’s desire to provide them.
I’m reminded of a similar thought in the book of Isaiah, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price (55:1). Later, the Lord explains that the way to eat freely, not by coercion, but in response to the gracious offer, is to “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” (2-3).
Our message is from the Chef—and He has prepared truth to feast on, and eternal life to consume. We must come to grips with the fact that Hip-hop, like the entire world, has no innate appetite for the gospel, or the God who offers it.
In light of this reality some have concluded that we should not give the gospel to them. In fact, within Christian Hip-hop circles and some “seeker oriented” ministry circles, gospel-centeredness seems like an obvious counter-productive method of missional engagement. Often, when the gospel is too present, or the exaltation of Jesus and His principles too forefront, people will say, “that’s for the church.” The inference is that it must be for the church because the world would never want that.
To this logic, I say “NO!” The elevation of Christ, and the offer and explanation of His good news is as much for the world as it is for the church. The imperative nature of our call to “go and make disciples of all peoples” means that God, our Chef, has provided that which people are free to take or leave, but it is very much intended for them to partake of and find life.
As hors d’oeuvres are given freely for enjoyment, so the crux of our message and ministry is offered regardless of whether it has been requested or not. We offer it, expecting it to be received as an acquired taste. We believe, as Jesus told the Pharisee, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6:44).
Jesus Himself is an acquired taste, and without an appetite for Him due to the drawing of the Father, people will not desire anything that makes too much of Him. Thus, the hors d’oeuvres concept applies. We dare to keep Jesus on our menus, and on our tables—not because people want it, but because God says that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations…” (Lk 24:47).
To go even further, we persistently offer Him because Acts 4:12 declares that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” People can go on iTunes and order what they want, but as for me and like-minded believers we say, “Come and get up on these hors d’oeuvres!”
True (biblical) Christians love their Lord and His people.
They know from Scripture that it is both/and, not either/or. Fundamental to a true Christian belief is the belief that love is not merely a “feeling” or a four letter word, but it is an action.
Jesus demonstrated the ultimate love (and provided us with a paradigm of Christian love) when He gave Himself for sinners while they were still sinners–while they were “a mess!” (Rm 5:8). Certainly we Christians have our issues. We can often be hard to love, but this is what makes agape (God’s love) so amazing. God’s kind of love flows from God’s kind of heart. It causes Him to lavish us with good things, and to not deal with us according to our bad things. Of course He can justly do this because of the cross, but He moves from being simply able to love sinners to actually loving sinners. It is because of a loving Christ that we have not only received love, but have also been given an amazing job. We are His priesthood, which means that we get to carry out His affairs, and we are the ones He set apart to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pt. 2:9). This is tip of the iceberg. God’s love for us is manifested in countless ways, and His love for His people is unquestionable. But not only has God Himself chosen to love us, He commands His people to do likewise and love one another. While the same thing stands true–we can be difficult to love–Ephesians 5 says we are to imitate the Lord in regard to this love for those whom Christ loves. Let’s chop for a few about the love of the saints for the saints.
Perhaps you’ve observed that rarely does a professing Christian admit to “not loving the saints.” Most (if not all) Christians I know, agree that it is wrong to not love the saints. Jesus even tells us that it is wrong to not love our enemies, so of course He demands we love our spiritual family. But equally true is the reality that obedience to these commands do not come easy, and we struggle to admit that we often do not love the saints. Some try to have it both ways–they want credit for their love claim, but justification for their lack of love deeds. They say “I love them, but I don’t have to like them.” I’ve heard many Christians relish in the fact that they love “the world” more than Christians. I’ve witnessed countless others who will not publicly say that, but their actions, alliances, and affiliations prove that they love “the world” more than the true church.
These contemplations recently struck me as I found myself surrounded by a spreading trend of Christians who seemed increasingly more unabashed in publicly expressing everything from mild distaste to varying degrees of hostility towards Christians or “church.” Of course I’m not referring to outright persecution or physical aggression. It usually takes more subtle forms like joining with “the world” in affirming a caricature of Christians or the church. Without differentiating good church from bad church, good Christianity from bad Christianity, or without any helpful nuances, everything related to God, except God Himself, is often dishonored by His own representatives. Tragically, all this takes place in the sight of a world that is watching. The world thinks that it sees, when it really, at best, only sees “men as trees” (Mk 8:24). Jesus gives sight to the blind, and shines light into the darkness. He was the one who said that His people are the light of the world (Mat 5:14), but I have a funny feeling the world does not see us in that light. Worse, we may not see ourselves in that light. My observation has been that often “the world” seems to think they are right in their assessments of God and His people, and they feel that they have found allies who share and affirm their misconceptions, or unbalanced judgments. The result is that they grow more hardened in their misunderstandings, and could get to the point where they neither see a need for the special grace found only in Christ, or for the special people who belong to Christ. In which case, they would much rather stick with their notions of “spirituality.” Worldly spirituality is usually some combination of individualistic piety and private faith, or an understanding of God that they come up with themselves. I believe sometimes we help them to feel justified in thinking this, and this troubles me, even though I know God will not be hindered ultimately.
Hip hop has never had a shortage of “spirituality.” They have never been without a respect for “respectable” aspects of people’s personal “faith” claims. However they also have often displayed an extra ignorance of Christ rightly revealed. As true of “the world” (from the biblical perspective), hip hop culture has always seen the Bible, God, and God’s people through skewed lenses. One of the blessings of having a Christ-centered, gospel-centered, gospel proclaiming, and theologically oriented Christian rap movement was that it was able to dispatch representatives who would shine light, and expose the broader hip hop listening context to a “right” understanding of God and His people. We could accomplish this in part through our rhymes, but only in conjunction with our robust oneness, and our aromatic Christ-likeness.
Back to it…
While some public critique of ourselves may be necessary at times, we can never let that rival or shroud our main commitment, which is to use our public platforms to honor Christ and show off one of the most potent marks of the true Christian–love for all the believers. This vertical and horizontal display of love is what makes us the city on the hill which cannot be hid. Platforms are perfect tools for showing off, we just have to remember what we should be showing off. Love for fellow believers is how Jesus said all people would know we are a part of Jesus’ squad of disciples (Jn. 13:35).There are many ways to love the saints, but one way is to cover her shame as Joseph set out to do when he thought Mary, the mother of our Lord, had been promiscuous (Mt 1:19). Another way to love the people of God is to show believers honor rather than either indifference or disdain (Rm 12:10).
In this era of public platform ministry, our love for our platforms is obvious, but our love for God’s church should be more obvious. Our claim to love the people of God is constantly being asserted, but we should be disturbed by how comfortable some seem to be dishonoring her before unbelievers. That’s a mark of “the world”- dislike and disdain for believers. Let’s not share that mark. Christians have a different mark–love for the brethren. Jesus prayed in John 17 that “the world” would see our love for each other, as well as our oneness. This, He said, would impact the world so that they would believe Jesus was sent by the Father, and the world would come to know about a unique love relation between God and His people.
Perhaps the church’s reputation for pharisaically being hostile toward the “world” has caused a sense of justified response. However, pendulums will swing to extremes in both directions. Today I sometimes see more love, tolerance, and honor for “the world” by Christians than I see by those same Christians for the saints. It hurts to see this because, whenever the world’s watching, we have a great opportunity to show them a correct (though not perfect) version of faith in Christ. We should avoid both extremes, and live out the biblical order of Gal 6:10–”…as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith”. 1 Peter echoes this same sentiment, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood…” This is the will of the God that saved you and me (if you’ve been saved). Everyone gets treated with the dignity that is based on the “imago dei” (image of God ), but a unique love is to be shared and displayed among and toward the believers.
Lastly, the love of God extends, as they say, from the gutter-most to the utter-most. As imitators of God’s kind of love, we must be mindful to love the lowly, and not just “big shots.” I recall Jesus’ admonition in Luke 14:12-14,
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Here is another opportunity for our love to impact the watching world, especially in hip hop where being “hip”, “cool”, and socially accepted is a prerequisite for being embraced. We must be careful because there can be a temptation to only want “the world” to know about “the cool” acceptable believers (by their standards). Paul has already informed us of the fact that there are not many externally impressive, socially exalted Christians.
1Cor 1:26-29 – 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
God has rigged things this way, and still He says, “love your ‘not so noble’ and ‘not so wise’ and ‘not so powerful’ family. Show off that love in the public so “the world” will want to belong to God’s family.” If we communicate to “the world” that we don’t even like “us”, why should they want to be a part of “us.” Jesus has one body of Christ, and He loves her. Let’s get back to advocating, asserting, and affirming what Psalm 16:2-3 says,
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the saints…, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.
AN OPEN LETTER
In Response To: XXL’s “New God Flow:
Religious MCs Shed Title of ‘Christian Rappers’
to Attract Mainstream Fans”
From: The Ambassador
September 19, 2012
A Preface for my Christ Family
Recently, I had the chance to read an article in XXL Magazine, which had the potential to excite me because it focused on Christian rap, but in the end somewhat disappointed and even grieved me. Internally, I was restless until finally deeming it necessary to respond for the sake of the glory of Christ, the benefit of His people, and the benefit of the mission to reach hip hop with the gospel. This is in no way meant to be adversarial or contentious, even though it may be kind of controversial. In light of my own flaws and inadequacies, and the tender nature of the subject matter, I have been hesitant to publicize my thoughts, but at the end of the day I concluded that this is what I do. Using hip hop artistry as a ministry, I proclaim the gospel, explain the gospel, and contend for the gospel even at my own peril. I confess, like pastor John Piper, “Some controversy is crucial for the sake of life giving truth. Running from it is a sign of cowardice. But enjoying it is usually a sign of pride.” He goes on to say, “Humility loves Christ exultation more than Christ-defending confrontation…” (Piper, Contending for Our All). I say, “yes and amen!” So I am not trying to “win” an argument, but rather seize a teachable moment. Leveraging this moment at this time makes good sense, especially since the issue at hand has a lot of buzz among “fans” of hip hop and Christian hip hop.
I intentionally wanted this dialogue to play out publicly because I see and sense a shift happening among those who are long time participants and supporters of what is known as Christian rap. I see the impact of some questionable thinking and acting that is affecting so many people that similar to Paul in Galatians 2, I find it beneficial to publicly draw attention to some of these matters.
My Objective/My Hope
My hope is that this stimulates thought, maybe sparks dialogue, and by grace provides a mature voice among a people group so young and impressionable. You may or may not know that I (The Ambassador, formerly of The Cross Movement) have given a considerable amount of my adult life to what I have seen as a missionary opportunity among the hip hop generation. As an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ and a participant of the Christian rap community, I take a special interest in matters that relate to both Christ and hip hop. I rejoice when the hip hop community does well, and hurt when we don’t. I in no way want to cause drama, but the silence, if not the absence of leadership, is making me feel compelled to say something. I am not privy to any major voice of influence speaking to us today, though I know I am not the only one. The world’s recent intrigue with Christian rap must be met by godly, biblically literate servants who will rightly inform them of the mind of Christ and His ways. These times call for people who both know the Scriptures and the culture enough to address issues that pertain to it. I am no one in particular, but I have joined with many others who have long been laboring and praying that the “world” would become familiar with God’s “urban house of representatives.” If hip hop needed a witness of Christ, we determined that by grace we would avail ourselves. Now, there seems to be an unprecedented level of awareness of Christians who use hip hop in one way or another, so it seems as though God is answering the prayers. Every time I look up, some mention of either a Christian who does hip hop, the genre of Christian hip hop itself, or a pastor who engages hip hop-related issues is in the “headlines” of the secular community. Sadly, when I listen to their commentary of us, I find a few things that just don’t sit well with me. I’ll highlight a few statements from the XXL article and respond to them.
(XXL) “Christian rap just can’t win.”
This is how the article starts and what an opening line! It hit me in the gut like a body shot from Mayweather, because XXL expresses the sentiments of almost all secular hip hop analysts and loyalists, and far too many Christians as well. Straight-up, no chaser; they get down to brass tacks—Christian hip hop is not a “winner.” Whatever you or I may have thought about it, at least from XXL’s perspective, (and I’m sure they represent the perspective of many others) Christian hip hop has been weighed in the balance, been found wanting, and has been de-legitimized. Throughout the article several critiques are provided to substantiate this premise, but, they happily report, there is a small group of people who are wising up to this fact and doing what it takes to start “winning.” These are producers and rap artists who are distancing themselves from the whole “Christian hip hop thing,” and becoming the new face of a “new God flow.”
It becomes very apparent from the article that “winning” is simply determined by whether or not the mainstream hip hop world embraces you. The logic is straight forward:
- There is a way to be accepted by the secular mainstream world of hip hop producers, websites, and rap fans, and if you achieve that, you “win.”
- There is a way to get shunned and stay relatively unrecognized to the mainstream world and this would mean you haven’t “won.”
By XXL’s standard, Christian rap is stigmatized by its “preachiness, heavy handedness, and religious upfrontness,” and consequently has ensured its mainstream failure. However, XXL also seems to believe that with the right adjustments, rappers who abandon that sinking ship may find the “win” that they are truly looking for.
While I’m not certain how much history they have surveyed, what collection of artists they have considered, or what efforts they have evaluated to arrive at this judgment, I can see why they feel pretty confident in their conclusion. As the article reports, and a number of interviews and online discussions confirm, there has been an increase in the recent “shedding” of Christian labels by many artists. This probably gives XXL the comfort that they are not far off in their assessment. Artists who formerly held the banner of not only a personal Christian faith, but also explicit Christ-centered presentation are abandoning that “brand” like it’s the plague. After reading this article, I thought to myself, “Why wouldn’t the secular hip hop community assume that ‘Christian rap’ can’t win when so many in the Christian hip hop community seem to agree?” XXL goes on to praise a small contingent of what they call “religious MC’s” who they report have adopted a new approach (though it’s really very old), opting to create art that’s much milder and “just dope.” While mainstream hip hop seems to claim to have no problem with rappers believing in God, they do seem to perceive Christian rap as “over-doing-it!” Since the mainstream has rejected that fanaticism, they recommend that truly talented artists and producers who want to reach as far as they possibly can, wisely avoid, or get out from under the box of corny Christian rap if and when they can.
The views of XXL reflect the views of many, and as I read this article I wondered if they had been informed and affirmed by Christian hip hop “insiders” who share a similar view. This article is all about what XXL, and I believe what many Christians, see as the “wisdom” and benefits of “shedding” the Christian label, and “refusing to do Christian rap music.” To my knowledge there has been no public tweaking or rebuttal of this article by any of the artists, and that saddens me some, but I also know how the media can edit things in and out, and obscure the truth. However, I also have been a part of enough conversations and debates to know that this is rapidly becoming the popular view of Christians in hip hop. This debate about the Christian rap label and the pros and cons of Christ-centered content has taken place for well over a decade, and we have always been divided on it. The surprise to me is that in this XXL article, some of Christian hip hop’s most notable figures are being reported and even praised for dropping the very thing that they have actually been instrumental in putting on the map. Even though some are shifting away from it now, their very presence in this article, and some of their notable achievements, indicate that Christian rap does have some commendable qualities and admirable participants. Christian rap may not “win” in the sense of overall mainstream acceptance, but it certainly has made enough noise to catch the attention of the mainstream. Furthermore, it has not been Christians doing merely “positive” music, or merely “good” music that has gotten the attention of the music industry, but rather Christians who have gained a serious following because of their radically passionate commitment to Christ. Up until now, the “winning formula” has been a combination of artistic skill, talking about “real issues,” and a strong, explicit, passionate representation of Jesus and His gospel. XXL has announced that a change has come. I guess the question is, “is that change a good thing or not?”
(XXL) “Mainstream hip hop fans shun the genre for trying to hammer God through their ears.”
Ok…now the substance of the indictment begins to surface. Mainstream hip hop fans are said to shun the whole Christian hip hop genre because mainstream fans don’t like God being “hammered through their ears.” I’m not even sure who exactly they would say is guilty of this, but I find that this is often the claim when Jesus is boldly presented and offered to the public. Of course, I’m sure there are some cases of extremists out there, but Christian hip hop’s most high-profile and most sterling examples would not be guilty of “hammering God through people’s ears,” though that may be the perception. Interestingly, hip hop in general does hammer content through people’s ears all the time. The radio plays the same songs over and over again—hammering us with redundant themes. Instead of “God,” however, it just happens to be sex, money, ego, swag, objectification of women, and many other things. So the “hammering” is not the real problem, but I would say that it’s the content. Mainstream hip hop is turned off from Christian hip hop most fundamentally because the mainstream is turned off by the Christian God. Kanye West was right about this in Jesus Walks—“you say I can rap about anything except for Jesus.” It was true then, and it is true now. When Jesus is being glorified, and not just mentioned; boasted in, and not just discussed; emphasized, and not just alluded to, the mainstream is turned off. Couple this reality with the very real “baggage” of the Christian hip hop movement and it becomes easy to see why the mainstream is turned off.
While we can do things to make matters worse, even the best Christian with the most skill, nicest demeanor, most considerate tone, and most diplomatic approach will meet the same outcome that the perfect Christ himself met—rejection. This ought to not really be surprising because the Bible prepares people for this kind of reaction. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have been told that the world will not embrace you but rather shun you, simply because He chose you (Jn 15:18-19).
Let Me Testify! (A Little Christian Hip Hop History)
For those who don’t know much about the history of Christian hip hop let me testify quickly. Many recognize the group Cross Movement as one of the pioneers of Christian hip hop even though there were many groups that preceded us (hats off to them). When initially forming the group, passages like John 15:18-21, and a host of others, plus personal experiences, caused us to brace for the strong potential that we would have to accept a place on the margins of mainstream hip hop culture until God would choose to change that reality. We also knew that God, in His sovereignty, may not change it, and possibly we could always exist on the periphery of the mainstream. In those days, Christianity was not viewed favorably in hip hop, and it became clear that the mainstream would never let hip hoppers make Jesus Christ and things related to Him the centerpiece of their content or the subject of their anthems. Contrary to the claims, most Christian rappers don’t say “Jesus” in every line, and do rap about generic issues and topics that the average person can relate to. But as soon as Christ comes into the picture as more than just a passing reference, they “get the boot” by the culture. I remember us trying to be considered “just rappers” without the “Christian” label, but when our rhymes were evaluated, people would classify us as something different than “just rappers.” We stopped fighting it. The life changing good news about who He is and what He’s done on the cross is foolishness to some, a stumbling block to others, and just plain irritating and irrelevant to most—hip hop included. So, we proceeded with the understanding that the mainstream would probably never fully accept us because even when we rapped about “regular stuff,” we would do it from Christ’s perspective. Well, eventually this commitment to stay the course strengthened an already existing, but small genre. There are now rappers, dancers, Internet sites, radio show hosts, and fashion designers, etc., who do it for Jesus Christ’s glory above all else. None of us want to be marginalized by the mainstream, but that’s what often happens. We accept the fact that this is what can happen to those who want to honor Christ in more than just a cliché way. Each one will have to decide how to deal with this reality. XXL suggests that the way to do it is to get on board with those who get rid of the labels and just rap.
(XXL)…But times are changing. Heavyweight producer Boi-1da [pronounced “Boy-Wonda”] (Drake, Eminem, Nas), former Clipse member Malice—reborn as No Malice—and a host of upstarts including Lecrae, Trip Lee, Bizzle and Thi’sl are among those helping to give Christian rap a new baptism by fire. That’s because they refuse to be labeled as “Christian rappers” doing “Christian rap.” Instead, they insist they’re Christians trying to make dope rap music, which may or may not include biblical messages.”
I’ve been saying this for years, and I continue to say this emphatically—if a person wants to be just a “regular rapper” THEY ARE PERFECTLY FREE TO DO THIS! THIS IS NOT A SIN! The label “Christian rapper” is the least of the issues—though I believe there is some importance to it. My concern is more about what XXL reports as “the host of upstarts” doing something new and better for Christian rap by “refusing to be labeled as Christian rappers doing Christian rap.” This seems like an attempt to now separate these artists from the community that gave birth to them without explanation or qualification. As I already mentioned, at least a few of the people they are referring to in this article have made their most noteworthy mark by becoming icons of the Christian rap era. If mainstream hip hop is ready to remove the label, and still allow Christians to be as Christ-centered as they once were, then by all means remove the label. However, judging from the rest of this article, I don’t think that is the case. The whole reason Christian rap exists is to provide a context where the most unashamed proclamation of Christ is welcomed and not quenched.
It’s not new for Christians to seek to be considered unlabeled people who provide unlabeled services, in hopes that the “world” would recognize the “dopeness” of their natural abilities. It’s also not new to witness artists go from Christ-centered, Christ-exalting “art,” to a more general and sometimes ambiguous form of presentation. Everyone knows that advocating Jesus and His recipes for life and godliness, will not “work” based on the way the world defines “work.” I wish the secular hip hop world would just acknowledge the truth, especially in regard to the quality of both “Christian rappers,” and “rappers that happen to be Christians.” There are good and bad versions of both. XXL seems to only have commendation for the person who believes in Christ, but not the one who also centers on Him. Christian “believing” is ok…just not Christian “doing.” God in the heart is ok…God spilling out of the heart is not as welcomed. Perhaps it goes outside the intention of the article, but XXL doesn’t communicate even the possibility that Christian rap has been, or can be done well. It has been done skillfully, tactfully, professionally, and relevantly, all while still remaining to be saturated with Christ. It’s true that it will probably never be a mainstream favorite, but it could receive more honorable mention. The only positive thing that XXL did have to say about Christian rap was that it now has a “fighter’s chance” because of the new trend of leaving it, or in their words “shedding” it. XXL goes on to further critique Christian hip hop…
(XXL) “In the past, Christian rappers were either too didactic, too distant from the culture or too corny… And in hip hop, a genre that rewards braggadocio, outlaw behavior and more, heavy handed topics weren’t welcome.”
This opinion of Christian hip hop should go un-criticized because XXL is entitled to their point of view, however isn’t it just ironic that hip hop rewards “bragging” and “outlaw behavior,” while shunning Christian rap for its “heavy handedness?” The truth is that mainstream hip hop has been the hub of a ton of vices that indeed have colored the entire genre and caused some people to think only negative thoughts about it. The broader “secular” society, not to mention the religious community, has often had to distance itself, and even shun secular hip hop. Hip hop’s defense regarding this has historically been, “Not all of us are the same,” or “What about the positive examples?” In the XXL article Christian rap is not given that same courtesy. Not all are “too didactic, distant, or corny.” Why can hip hop welcome profanity, immorality, violence, materialism, etc., and not welcome a “sub-genre” because it’s too didactic, or supposedly too distant from the culture? Sorry to “beat a dead horse” but again I think the truth is obvious—there is a double standard here. The mainstream can detect a Christian who is “in but not of” the culture. When the Christian in hip hop simply talks about acceptable topics, avoids anything perceived to be too offensive, walks in step with the styles and trends, steps up their swag, and displays artistic talent above everything else, he/she is acceptable to the mainstream. This kind of Christian is exactly like everyone else and therefore able to be embraced like everyone else. This confirms what Jesus said, “…if you were of the world, the world would love you as its own…” (Jn 15:19).
The Christian Rap Label—“To Be or Not to Be?”
While it is clear that the Christian rap label is a liability in the mainstream, Christians now have to decide what they will do with it. Do we keep it because it has become so embraced by so many, or do we shed it because it limits our mainstream acceptance? We should note that the Christian rap label is not inherently spiritual, and its absence is not inherently compromising. While according to this article, the label is a stumbling block to mainstream acceptance, I personally would caution against believing that “shedding the label” will ultimately be sufficient for the mainstream. The label of “Christian rap” can disappear, but if too much of the presence of Christ and His gospel remains, the mainstream will still shun you. So actually, more than the label has to go, but also the emphasis on Jesus, His glory, and His mindset has to go as well. We can be as relevant and creative as we want, but if our ideas and allegiance can be traced to Christ, we will ultimately be seen as a Christian who’s rapping “Christian stuff.” Even if they don’t label you as a “Christian rapper,” they will see you as something different. Everyone would like to believe that they will be the exception, and perhaps someone will. But overall, the mainstream will not embrace too much Jesus.
Those of us who accepted the label have traditionally said that the label has merely served to forewarn people that Jesus and things related to Him would be showing up in a way that is not “normal” or even welcomed by the mainstream. The label was more of a description at first that explained why Jesus was getting so much shine in our life and rhymes, and why appeals were being made on His behalf. The producer Boi-1da rightly noted that Jeezy’s rap is not called “drug dealer rap,” and Lupe’s rap is not called “smart rap.” However, most people do describe them that way. It’s not a genre, but it is a primary description of their raps because the description fits. The same is true with Christian rap even though it does also have an official genre. None of us want to be confined by it, but most of us know we can’t escape being defined by it because “it is what it is.” There really is a movement that is growing like wild fire. There is a community of rappers and rap enthusiasts that like to hear more than just lyrical capability, but want to hear the word concerning Christ through the medium of the music, fashion, and more. Whoever has an ear to hear, let them hear. The mainstream does not have to accept it, but we wish they would.
(XXL) “The Toronto hitmaker believes talent stands out above everything, and that the new class of Christian-tinged hip hoppers has mastered the balancing act between cool and compassionate.”
XXL goes on to describe what they call “the new class of Christian-tinged hip hoppers.” For the mainstream, this is the acceptable Christian—the “Christian-tinged” one. The word tinge means “imparting a trace or slight degree of some color.” In other words, the mainstream will only accept those who display a “hint of Christianity,” those “slightly colored” by their faith. They will not allow “fanatics” or people who are as passionate for Christ as Wiz Khalifa is for weed. They will not allow a person to be as redundant with biblical truths as Jay Z is about money. You cannot glorify spiritual wealth like Kanye does material wealth, and you can’t be as focused on God’s love as Young Money is on lust. Under normal circumstances, a truce has to be made with the mainstream— keep God and God-related things to a minimum and we will not shun you. We will even give you magazine space, website exposure, and paint you in a favorable light to our constituents. Supporting this idea is the following statement made by producer Boi-1da…
(XXL) “Now rappers are staying up with the times and not trying to force God down [fans] throats. And that’s for the better…”
I believe that’s the main issue right there. Jesus is too polarizing a figure, and He either draws you near or pushes you away. We’ve already commented on how by their own standard, secular rap shoves a ton of data “down everyone’s throats.” Admittedly, the “shoving” is done cleverly, stylishly, and many times with lyrical brilliance. People are free to either take it or leave it. Are Christian rappers really forcing God down anyone’s throat? Or, or are they simply making much of Christ and inviting “fans” to join them in experiencing the joy and delight of who He is and what He’s done. That’s what any rapper “worth their salt” does—try to bring the crowd in. People want the life of the rapper if the rapper paints a compelling picture of a life worth having. People wear the clothes of the rapper if the rapper wears the gear in a compelling fashion. Christian rappers are not doing anything different; they’re just focusing on different things, boasting in different things, and seeking to rally people around different things. To be reduced to merely talking about our lives, which every rapper does, talking about our neighborhoods, and giving a few moral tips on how to live a little better, is to shift from the noble work of ministry to the normal work of industry. That’s not “wrong,” it’s just a downgrade, in my opinion. I do recognize that this is what has to be done to please the masses and not get shunned. I’m reminded of what Paul said, “…am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or, am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10) Even Paul knew you can’t do both even if you wanted to. (Ouch…this is too convicting for me and I’m writing it!)
Conclusion… Encouragement to the Believers
Here is where I get “preachy!” This is in no way intended to dis XXL. They are merely reporting on what they have seen and heard from some of their observations and sources. This is written more toward the generation of hip hoppers and hip hop consumers who may have an interest in Christ and/or Christian rap. I would hate to see you shrink back from the one who called you, or adopt the views of people who do not have the mind of Christ. I pray you will not cherish the world’s embrace and exaltation to the point where theology ceases to inform the strategies you either personally use, or applaud. Christians have always tried to “reach more people,” and that is a good thing. But the Scriptures have given us the parameters for that mission. The Lord has a people; let us be His witnesses, who seize every available platform to present this world the good news that they may not readily see as such unless the Spirit of God opens their eyes. In the Bible, Israel praised height, strength, and wealth, and the Gentiles praised status, wisdom, and skill. Hip hop praises these, and similar things, but God has always chosen to bring those things to nothing so that people would not rest their confidence in anything other than Christ. The story of Christian rap is amazing in and of itself. God has been good to us. Truly, God can take the “foolish and weak things” and do extraordinary things. As Christian rap has carried that good news into the world, countless numbers of people have been transferred from darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son (told you I was getting preachy). Even some of the top, more honored rappers (who used to be known as Christian rappers), are in large part, who they are today because of God’s grace and great work among Christian rap. Stand firm people, and let’s take back the narrative. Let’s give XXL something new to write about. To God be the Glory.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
Your comments are welcome below!
(Part 1) God Doesn’t Want Them: Remember Jonah?
How Does Jonah Apply to Hip-Hop?
The Worst Part
“Set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love, and purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
I quickly want to address 2 things because they are rapidly becoming FAQ’s:
- Why Are Christians Defending Hip hop?
- Christian “Rap” vs. Christian “hip hop”
- To persuade those of you who aren’t hardened in your bias to believe that there are many Christians who are apart of the hip hop people group but are more interested in the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ than hip hop itself.
- To encourage the Church not to shrink back from embracing Christian ambassadors of Jesus Christ who properly submit their hip hop-ness to the lordship of Jesus.
- To To explain why “Christian hip hop” is something that is being made too big a deal of.
- To encourage greater thought and research among those Christians who have good intentions, but have never biblically worked through the complex issue of the Christian and hip hop.
Q: “WHY ARE CHRISTIANS DEFENDING HIP HOP?”
It’s so villainous, it’s so sinful; it’s got to be demonic! Why are you Christians defending hip hop? Lately I keep hearing this question and I look in all directions as if to say, “who me?” I’m not defending hip hop! Don’t get it twisted, I know that a lot of people are defending hip hop, but I’m not apart of the camp that feels that need. However, for almost 14 years I have been on a mission to reach the hip hop people group with the gospel as an indigenous missionary to the culture. Every so often I am forced to provide a biblical defense for my claim to be called to reach hip hop culture, and more specifically to reach it indigenously (as a native to it). This current defense would not even be necessary if there had not been a recent revival of anti-Christian hip hop sentiment. This sentiment is from of old, and it is an attempt to make the church detest the hip hop culture to the point where the church ceases to be a missionary to it, and ceases to be a haven for those Christians who consider themselves to be apart of the Christian hip hop community. Let’s dive in.
LET’S GO BACK…
Recently it seems as though hip hop has become the new hot topic in the church. Pastors are buying DVD’s and having their whole congregations (not just the youth group) look at it. They are having discussions and forums about hip hop and often the conclusion is “away with hip hop—away with Christian hip hop!” Long before Craig Lewis’ rise to church-fame many Christians like myself were boldly and radically living out the glorious Christian faith with many of the non-sinful aspects of hip hop still visible. There were talks of us looking like the world, but as our Christ-like character shined it became difficult for our critics to deny the fact that our primary allegiance was to Christ. Several of our critics became our allies as they became convinced that we were not advocates of the sins within hip hop, only advocates of Christ being lord of the non-sinful elements of hip hop. Daily we lived out the commands of Christ in the sight of a world that was growing in regards to its hip hop orientation. During that time, the church hailed us as beautiful models of what it meant to be in but not of the culture. It was as though we had become a display of Christ-likeness with a hip hop twist.
One thing had become apparent, we shared a common faith with Christians who had no hip hop connection, and we shared certain aspects of a common culture with those who had a deep hip hop connection. This delicate balance is learned over time and through much biblical searching. When the Christian faith is properly integrated with any culture, a beautiful and biblical combination is there present. The fact that our anchoring faith could be lived out through our indigenous culture was news that we had hoped and prayed for. We had no desire to go off to the side and “do our little hip hop thing,” we wanted to be accepted as apart of the nucleus of the church by our elders and leaders in the faith. We expected to run into some immature people in Christ who would not be able to get beyond our exterior because we see so much of this in the bible. Biblically speaking, one of the marks of spiritual immaturity is a faulty value system. The Corinthians measured value and status the same way their surrounding culture did, so like the culture and unlike God, they despised small and weak things. In our present day, I believe something similar is happening. God sees the Christian in hip hop one way, and the church sees us the opposite way. The church can sometimes tend to esteem the appearance of godliness more than godliness itself. When this happens some people judge our Christianity by our appearance, while others will evaluate us on the bases of our faith, conduct, speech and character.
Until recently the Christian hip hopper was enjoying a time of harmony within the church. A glorious example of Ephesians 2:13-16 was in full blaze—one new man made up formerly opposing people groups. Sure, things have not been perfect, but we experienced a time of relative peace between the older generation of believers and this younger generation of believers. Our connection to the non-sinful aspects of hip hop culture was no barrier to our fellowship; in fact this was the key to a strategic partnership. A ministry like Cross Movement was able not only to rise under these conditions, but also flourish. God used us to spread Christ-centeredness through the means of hip hop music and many believers were strengthened in their resolve to be unashamed Christian witnesses. Hip hop provided us, and groups like ours, the platform to communicate our biblical affections to the hip hop generation and beyond. We were proud to bear the name Christian, and we welcomed being the smell of death to some and the smell of life to others (2 Cor 2:15-16). After many years of faithful service, CM and others were developing “family credibility.” The church was embracing us and we embraced the church. The church encouraged us to glorify God in our uniqueness while maintaining a commitment to Christian unity. We aspired to do just that. We sought to maintain an oneness with Christians through the centuries while still fulfilling a God given obligation to the surrounding mission field of hip hop culture.
Our mission field has been, and will continue to be the very context that God called us in—the hip hop context. We have been informing this contingent that the church at large is taking an interest in their souls. However, true religion as the apostle James reminds us, is not primarily mystical. True Christianity acknowledges a person’s spiritual and social needs. The world is not accustomed to seeing a hip hop that has been sifted through God’s word. They only know godless rap and godless hip hop culture. For many of them the thought that God will accept them is far-fetched. To the hip hop generation we announce that they can become apart of God’s family without being totally stripped of their social identity. This great news is now being frustrated by the recent attack on the whole concept of “Christ and hip hop” or “Christian hip hop.” As Christians and church leaders develop distaste for Christian hip hop, the church moves further away from the idea of using the Christian hip hopper as a missionary to the hip hop generation, or making a place for Christian hip hop converts.
SO WE ARE NOT DEFENDING HIP HOP
While we are not defending hip hop, we are reminding people of the biblical principle of unity and diversity, the reconciliation of all things, and the rights of all people to enjoy God within the context of their natural elements (as long as those elements are not sinful). We do not deny the sinfulness that exists in the hip hop culture. We do not minimize the crimes committed by the culture, and we have no intention of defending hip hop in the least bit. We simply want to stress that hip hop needs the gospel, and that means hip hop needs indigenous Christian missionaries. Those of us that are Christians of the hip hop generation, desire to display a version of the culture that is absent of the sins that the secular culture has become known for. We want to surrender our culture to the lordship of Christ so that He can use it for his redemptive purposes. We need the whole church to do this.
We are asking the church to stay tuned for the implications of properly viewing the relationship of Christians to hip hop. There are too many implications to even begin addressing at this point. However, don’t let your fear or lack of understanding make you a hard hearted skeptic. Let the Scriptures be brought to bear on the subject. Allow me and many of my associates to lay the issue out for you socially, theologically and missionally, and we will all see God glorified among a people that were not his people.
CHRISTIAN “RAP” VS. CHRISTIAN “HIP HOP”
WHY DO WE HAVE TO USE THE TERM CHRISTIAN HIP HOP, WHY CAN’T WE JUST CALL IT CHRISTIAN RAP?
THE PLATINUM QUESTION…
People often ask the question,
“Why can’t we call it Christian rap instead of using the word “hip hop”.
People are being persuaded that God is cool with Christian rap, but not with Christian hip hop. The argument goes, “Rap is just music, and hip hop is sinful culture, so God will accept Christianized music, but he will not have anything to do with a sinful culture.” This is more than an issue of semantics; this is an issue of Christian perspective. Whether we are dealing with music or a culture, God can transform it and get glory from it.
The transformation of music is as simple as redirecting the music to reflect and promote God’s mindset through the lyrics and goal of the song. The transformation of culture requires the transformation of people because people are at the heart of culture. This process is much more complicated which is probably why many people would rather not even deal with this part. When it’s music—“just change the words.” When dealing with culture you’ve got to change the heart, and this something that only God can do. However he does it through people and that is where you and I come in. The church has to decide whether or not to throw the culture out with the sins, or address the sins in order to see a change in the culture.
Christian Rap vs. Christian Hip Hop
Within the church, the term hip hop is becoming taboo. Even using the term “Christian hip hop” is taboo for some. When people express a desire to substitute the term rap for hip hop I always find this interesting since both terms, rap and hip hop, were coined by the secular world. So if both things and both terms have a secular origin, why are we struggling between which one a Christian can and cannot “Christianize.” Something fishy is going on, and it seems to me that the same people that clearly hate or dislike hip hop, apparently like rap. They can kick hip hop to the curb but they want to hold on to their rap. Since they don’t want to ruin their chances of enjoying Christian rap they convince people that God is not opposed to Christian rap. While they say this, they insist that he is opposed to Christian hip hop. Now we know that secular rap and secular hip hop are both godless. We also know that some Christian rap and rappers are godless as well. So how is it that we keep hearing some Christians say that we can keep rap if it is submitted to Christ, but hip hop can’t even be submitted to Christ?
THE TRUTH ABOUT RAP AND HIP HOP
You say, “Rap is just music, but hip hop is a sinful culture (way of life).” You are right about both things, but many of you refuse to believe that sin is not inherent to the original agenda of hip hop (that can be fully defended another time). Hip hop originally was just a combination of four platforms of expression, capable of serving whoever got the crowd’s attention. Like money—money is not evil, but it simply magnifies the abilities of the one in control of it. In the hands of terrorist money can be used to fund diabolical acts, in the hands of the church it can be used to carry out the Great Commission. Likewise, hip hop (a more comprehensive way of expressing yourself) as well as rap (a single format for expressing yourself) can be used to carry out the agenda of Satan or Jesus.
Another thing that many of you refuse to believe (no matter how many times you hear it), is that hip hop can be distinguished from the sinful acts committed by or in the name of hip hop. Listen to this statement by Africa Bambatta, one of the original organizers of hip hop affairs:
Due to their lack of knowledge about the whole of Hip Hop culture, many of our world’s youth are mistaken in thinking that activities such as: smoking blunts, drinking 40’s, wearing a designer label plastered across their chest, carrying a gun, or going to strip clubs are “Hip Hop.” Hip Hop is being portrayed negatively by many artists who work in the element of Rap (emceeing), and this negativity is usually instigated and promoted by the record industry and various other corporations who exploit the culture at the expense of the youth’s state of mind and morality.1
Did you read that? Even one of the pivotal and earliest influencers of hip hop (who’s not a Christian) declares that there is a difference between what we see being perpetrated in hip hop, and what hip hop really is. Hip hop is a servant of whoever is setting its agenda, and right now the world is setting its agenda. But in Christian hip hop, some of us diligently strive to insure that Christ sets the agenda. Hip hop is no more than the tint through which the light of God’s glory can shine. We know that God’s truth alone changes lives, but preaching has been describes as “truth poured through personality.” The “personality” is not the truth, but it is simply the means of providing variety in God’s diverse world.
People are at the root of culture, and neither people nor their culture can just be thrown away. Aspects of their culture can be discarded when those aspects offend God, but you cannot force total cultural assimilation on any group. You see it’s easy to throw away something you don’t care about, but it’s hard to let go of something you feel an attachment to. It is even in Craig Lewis’ interest to make people believe that Christian rap is ok, because he produces Christian rap and he supports his own Christian rappers (how convenient?). I don’t expect him to relent from his position, but many of you are just being dragged through the mud of his unbiblical positions without really allowing someone who knows both the Bible and the issue of hip hop culture to help you work through a biblical understanding of this issue.
JUST A WORD OF CAUTION…
Please recognize that it may sound spiritual to boycott every secular contribution to humanity, but THIS IS NOT SPIRITUAL BECAUSE THIS IS NOT BIBLICAL! Don’t mistake me for advocating godless secularism, but I do know that many Christians know that everything secular is not inherently sinful or off-limits to the Christian. The term secular can be used simply to describe “that which is not specifically related to religion or to a religious body.” That includes words like “basketball,” “book,” “music,” and other terms that are not necessarily religious in their use. Rap and hip hop are secular, but both can be sanctified by God and made profitable for the Christian.
So simply switching the words rap and hip hop does not help the Christian; they are both secular until Christ gets a hold of them. Christians can use both of these terms and participate in both of these cultural forms without feeling like they are copying the world. God forbids that Christians copy the world’s values, agendas, doctrines, etc., but there is much that we are meant to share with the surrounding world. To distinguish ourselves in this world we modify terms, abandon certain practices, and redirect agendas. This is a part of the reason why some of us even chose to put Christian in front of hip hop, so that we could serve notice that our hip hop has undergone a change in management. Even this decision to put “Christian” in front of hip hop makes other Christian groups mad. They insist that, there’s no such thing as Christian plumbing, or Christian horse racing, or Christian dry cleaning. (“Lord help me I’m in a catch 22!”)
CHRISTIANS DON’T ALWAYS REMAKE, SOMETIMES WE JUST MODIFY…
When people cynically ask, “What is Christian music,” what are “Christian plays,” what are “Christian bookstores?” I believe they are asking the wrong question. The question is, what we mean when we say “Christian bookstore,” “Christian plays,” or “Christian music”? Everyone ought to know that in these cases “Christian” is being used as an adjective or a modifier, which is then placed in front of everyday things, to add to, or alter what you would normally think of when you hear those generic things. For example, music today is normally a carrier of godless ideas, “Christian music” claims to carry godly ideas. Regular colleges are usually full of orgies, cheating, and anti/unbiblical education, but Christian college at least seeks to be, and facilitate the opposite of these things. My point is that the negative aspects of these things don’t automatically force Christians to invent some other word for these things, that is impractical and it is nowhere prescribed in Scripture. However, Christians have often given terms new meaning or higher meaning than the culture around them. The term “church” was a secular term, and Jesus said that he was going to build His church. In the secular world the cross has a negative stigma for being either an offense or foolish, but God did not stay clear of it. Instead he made that which was shameful and foolish, glorious and wise. I AM IN NO WAY EQUATING THE CROSS AND HIP HOP, but I’m just illustrating the way in which believers can take something common, and modify its meaning. In our culture we use modifying words such as adjectives. There is hip hop, but we do Christian hip hop.
YOU ARE SPIRITUAL, BUT ARE YOU SOCIAL?
If Christian is a term to describe your faith and your true spiritual identity then you are in good standing before God, but what is your connection to your social surroundings? Christians are prone to want to love God, and disconnect from people. We usually do this because we think that they are so sinful that God has given us permission to treat them like they have the plague. Guess what, we were designed to have vertical (God-ward), and horizontal (social) connectedness. We were not left in a totally Christian world, but we were left in a secular world, with a charge to impart our faith into every culture (Matt. 28:19-20; Ac 1:8). That means there will be a social connectedness with mankind (Christian and non-Christian). People are quick to point out the sinfulness of hip hop culture, and I am quick to agree. Hip hop is sinful, but so is every culture. No earthly culture would be cool to identify with if sin was an automatic disqualifier. We could not say that we are African or American because both of these broader cultural contexts, as well as the subcultures within them, are riddled with sin. However, the Bible teaches that cultures are free to develop, but that the sinfulness must be addressed by the transforming power of God’s Spirit.
Hip hop does not need a defense, and Christian hip hop is the free choice of the believers who want to use this concept to capture both a spiritual and social identity. Please people, understand the issue. We are not defending hip hop or seeking to imitate the world. We are in Christ, I hope when you see us you can tell. We live in the world, and I hope that when you see us you can tell. It just so happens to be that for the Christian hip hopper, he/she is in Christ and in a hip hop oriented world—that should explain things.
1 “Rap and Hip-Hop Guide,” online: http:/rap.about.com, accessed 13 July 2004.
Your comments are invited below!
OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM THE AMBASSADOR
Dear Friends and Supporters:
First I want to thank everyone for your understanding, mercy and grace while my family and I worked on rebuilding our marriage and reconciliation. From the very beginning, I have wanted to communicate with you. However following the advice of the church leadership, and others to whom I entrusted my restoration, I remained silent.
Back in late April 2009, the Lord exposed me and consequently delivered me from being entangled in a season of willful disobedience, deception and darkness. I was involved in a non-sexual but very inappropriate relationship with a woman other than my wife, thereby betraying my Lord, my wife, family, Epiphany Fellowship (the church I love and was instrumental in founding) my co-laborers and ministry supporters like you.
It has often been suggested that no genuine Christian can willfully sin habitually for a prolonged period (1 John 3:6). And that those who do sin cannot do so without some sense of great conviction and internal disturbance. My life is a personal witness to this statement, as I for several months battled great depression, gradual and graphic spiritual deterioration. However, it indeed was God’s mercy that exposed me, breaking sin’s enslaving grip on me. It was also His mercy which used that to lead me to experience what David did when Nathan revealed that the “gig was up” and said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).
Like David, I instantly knew that, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). I was crushed by an enormous weight of guilt, shame, fear and sorrow, and I knew that the journey back to “ground zero” would be insanely difficult. Even to this day, I wrestle with that shame from time to time, but I also know there is one place I can turn—the gospel! I have to continually contradict my feelings and believe the rest of 2 Samuel 12:13, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
After nearly a year of retreat, rehabilitation and intense family focus, God’s grace has me reset on a trajectory toward spiritual wholeness. Like Paul the great apostle I admit, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect…” “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). God’s grace is teaching me that I am not supposed to attempt to “work” my way back to some supposed level of super-spirituality and then come out feeling “qualified.” But I am to recognize that I am never “sufficient in myself,” but “our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). As someone once said “He doesn’t call the qualified, but rather qualifies the called.” I am deeply comforted by this gospel truth and equally dependant on its reality. Without this comforting and affirming word, I might never have come back to the service of our Lord.
So I say now, what I believed then—I sinned greatly against the Lord Jesus, my wife and family, the other woman and her family, my church, and all my ministry co-laborers and supporters. I ask you to forgive me for being a prime example of the spiritual leaders I have often “put on blast” in the past, and further reinforcing the notion that the church is full of hypocrites. Forgive me for how my actions have caused many to be confused and insecure about the faith, and brought disruption to the peace of homes, churches, and ministries. May God give you the grace and the ability to forgive me, “as I have received the Lord’s forgiveness” (Colossians 3:13). By God’s grace, many that I have offended have forgiven me, most notably, my wife and kids. Pray that the Lord will continue to permit us to build on this foundation that will give the Lord Jesus Christ the greatest glory.
This has been an extremely painful time and now I accept the fact that although God’s grace is based on the merit of Christ and not my own performance, favor with man (Luke 2:52) must be gained through consistency over time. All I ask is for the opportunity to get started!
I have spent the past ten months in concentrated prayer, counseling, reading, studying, and fellowshipping with saints, and I am committed to diligently continuing on this course. Unfortunately, the sin has taken a toll and has created some unpleasant consequences. Among many, the one that particularly grieves me is the separation from my church. With regard to the Epiphany Fellowship, I will not be permitted by the leadership to continue in covenant fellowship. This decision brings me much grief. However I trust the Lord Jesus Christ to heal my heart and that of my family and the covenant community.
After all this I have so much more tenderness toward the “fallen,” and an appreciation for the glory of a gospel that is so easily preached but not as easily applied. Lord permitting, I plan to proclaim the gospel with even greater passion than ever before and herald its liberating truth wherever the Lord will allow. The plan is also to musically represent the Lord Jesus so that the “fall of Ambassador” will not end with a period, but rather, with a comma. As you may or may not know Cross Movement the group had retired but as a soloist I was planning to continue as long as the Lord Jesus would provide grace. The release of my third solo album The Chop Chop actually fulfilled my contractual obligation with Cross Movement Records, so now as The Ambassador I’m trusting the Lord for new direction and for what lies ahead.
My experiences during this time of seclusion and obscurity have indeed been very challenging. And, I’m still not clear on all the things that the Lord has been doing. But I plan to leverage every lesson learned and every insight gleaned for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
Since the very beginning, I have been under the care of a restoration team led by Pastors Byron Craig of Macedonia Baptist Church (Norristown, PA) and Zach Ritvalski of Sweet Union Baptist Church (Philadelphia, PA). They have given me the “green light” to move forward in serving the Lord Jesus Christ publically. My wife has also given her blessings and support to this decision. Therefore The UpLift! Group and I are actively seeking God’s direction for new opportunities to honor the name of Jesus Christ.
The nature of my call to be an aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15), a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), and his ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), compels me to reengage my generation and “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you (me) out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This experience has taught me many things but one that will always stand out and I hope to become the embodiment of is God’s grace and mercy is more than sufficient.
William “The Ambassador” Branch
Whether we claim to be a “Christian rapper,” a “Christian hip hopper,” or just a “plain Christian,” the question should be asked of us, “just how Christian are we?” The best Christian rappers are not just good rappers but, good Christians. The best Christian hip hoppers are not just cool hip hoppers but, good Christians. The best “plain Christians” are not those who have perfect church attendance, but those who live all of their life submitted and obedient to Jesus Christ. This is my burden and focus in 2007—the amping up of real Christians who are potent in their Christianity! Will the real Christians please stand up and stand out? Christian crowds are now easier than ever to amass. We’ve got our own celebrities, our own festivals, our own award shows, etc. Through the right marketing and promotions we can “do it big” these days, but in the midst of all of this I’m still plagued with the question, “just how Christian are we?”
This almost sounds like a trick question because it seems impossible to judge something like this. How do you judge how Christian someone is, or how Christian you are? I’m not sure that a “right answer” will be agreed on, but certainly we should be able to answer how much of the essentials of Christ’s character and concerns are easily detected in us? Out of the darkness of secular culture God has clearly snatched for himself individuals and placed them into a union with His Son Jesus Christ. After this transfer, a lifestyle change is supposed to visibly and tangibly demonstrate the difference being in Christ makes. Christ is supposed to take over a person and live his life out through them. Therefore, I look to my generation and ask “just how Christian are you?”
I labor missionally in the hip hop-saturated urban sphere on behalf of Jesus Christ. In the last decade I have personally been apart of, and a witness to the continued improvement of artistic skill among this group. The improvement of skill is just as difficult to “judge” but most people who have followed the journey of Christian hip hop would probably agree with me. But while I have to admit that there has been an improvement of skill on the mic and the drum machine, I have not seen an equally impressive improvement of Christian character and kingdom concern. We are excelling in ministry giftedness, but not necessarily as much in spiritual weightiness. Due to the stereotypical image of hip hoppers (saved and unsaved), it has been my personal aspiration to display weighty Christianity, and not simply hip hop skill. The necessity of this was never more illustrated than during the rise of Craig Lewis and similar critics. Since his attacks against Christian hip hop and the Christian hip hop community, it becomes even more apparent that Christians must display robust Christian-ness whether they are hip hop or not. Let’s look at some things that should be true of us as Christians living in an age of religious compromise.
Our Christian-ness Should Be a Public Affair
Christians are “cities on a hill which can’t be hid” not under-cover agents (Matt 5:14). According to Jesus Christ in Matt 5:13-14 Christians are considered “light” and “salt” partly because both their presence and the absence are readily detectible and significantly impacting. If it is not obvious that you are a Christian, then you are probably not, or you have a Christianity that is weak in its Christ-aroma. Many Christians, especially in the pop-world have learned how to keep their Christian-ness so undercover that nobody either knows that they are a Christian or no one cares. One of the most harmful and deceptive beliefs that exists among believers, especially those who want worldly acceptance, is the idea that Jesus can be buried deep in our heart and only peek His head out if someone expresses interest in our personal religious beliefs. This is the sentiments of many Christian artists who have very little public boast in Christ, very little mention of Christ, very little public dealings with Christ, but declare that backstage or “on-the-side” they are slipping Christ into the picture. Jesus Christ did not redeem a people so that they could sneak Him into the party. He is not meant to be slid through the cracks, but rather to be broadcasted loud and clearly by those of us that he has redeemed (delivered). Our faith is not a private matter, but a public affair. The Lord Jesus is to be our boast and our life, and we are to be his proud and public representatives—on and off the stage. In 07 let us not have a Christianity that is so private and personal that it never affects the public or the corporate surrounding. As Christian artists, as well as those of you who may be Christian celebrities, let us not just be known only for “backstage exploits”, but let us have “onstage exploits.”
Spiritual Affections Should Dominate our Passions
The struggle to live as though dead is a universal struggle for all of God’s people. Regularly we see our natural affections being nurtured and displayed more than spiritual ones. Our natural appetites are fed more than our spiritual ones. Zeal for earthly passions eclipse zeal for heavenly realities, and knowledge of earthly topics far exceed knowledge of theological topics. Too often Christians are diesel in their craft, but frail in their faith. They are the geniuses and “Einstein’s” of their vocations, but remedial in their grasp of the biblical realm. Church youth groups run the risk of falling into this category because today’s youth programs are entertainment heavy, but doctrinally skimpy.
I pray that 2007 we will depend on the Spirit to boost our godly affections and decrease our longings for “worldly” delicacies. Let us spend more time in the Scriptures than TV, and spend more time in cyphas around God’s word than cyphas around other things. As diligently as we study for a degree, let us diligently show ourselves to be approved workers who do not have to be ashamed. As the world marvels at our skills and abilities, may heaven rejoice to see our faith and devotion to Him who sits on the throne.
Christ’s Followers Don’t Fade, They Keep Following.
Are we marching to a different beat today? In regard to this world, I hope so, in regard to the faith, I hope and pray not. Christianity is a relay race—a faith that is passed down and passed on. We will never outgrow the need and the command to join the saints through the ages whose lives were built on personal and corporate prayer, worship, assembling with the saints, evangelizing and discipling, grappling with the Scriptures, and engaging in acts of kindness (Acts 2:42-47). We’d better not start replacing these Christian basics with beats, rhymes, hobbies, and business-moves that are supposedly for Christ’s benefit. It is real easy to hide out in the ministry today, because ministry can be big business today. For some, they never had it so good until they started “doing ministry.” The sad thing is that I meet so many people that see themselves in ministry that neglect the fundamentals like corporate prayer, studying the Scriptures in community, and faithfully assembling with the saints. I did not learn Christ this way.
Lately I have been more keenly aware of the new generations of believers who are learning what it means to be a Christian from those of us that have been screaming about Jesus Christ over the microphone. Just when we were ready to kick our feet up and enjoy the work of other committed Christians, the call for us to join the work came from on high. That is why I pray that our lives will demonstrate what our lips say. If we tell people that they should pray may they be able to see us in intense prayer. If we tell them that they should be a solid participant in a particular community of God’s people, I hope that we are such participants. If we tell them to rally with other believers and form solid community with them, we should be doing the same. In regards to the Christian basics, there is no need to march to a different beat. We are the leaders of today and tomorrow, so we must begin leading today. For those who have been sucked up into the grind of Christian hip hop, or just “civilian affairs” we must not allow the daily grind to hinder our spiritual grind. Selah—pause and think about that.
Christ’s Followers Refuse to Be Sons of Pharaoh
Since They are Sons/Daughters of God?
Christians reject worldly exaltation in order to heighten their chance of remaining faithful to God, and keep a connection with the people of God. (Heb 11:24-25). Their motivation is like Moses’ in Hebrews 11:26, “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt….” In this age of “Christian celebrity-ism” it is hard to imagine this being many people’s desire. From celebrity pastors to singers and actors—so few Christian celebrities deflect human exaltation that if someone does it, they are looked at as “over-doing it,” or being needlessly offensive. This idea of tempering one’s personal exaltation is not radical however, but it is actually rather Christ-like or Christian. Moses rejected pharaoh’s throne so that he could please God and lead His people. John the Baptizer rejected an opportunity to ride the wave of his own popularity which he was gaining as Messiah’s forerunner (Jn 1:19-21). Jesus would not let the crowd make him their kind of king, but chose to remain faithful to the mission of the cross (Jn 6:15). Warning! The world has plenty of money, power, and respect to offer us, but it comes with a hidden cost. We must not be afraid to let their exaltation go, so that we will receive God’s exaltation in due season (1 Pt 5:6). When God grants us legitimate exaltation among the people of this world we must use it for godly purposes. I know—this is easier said than done.
As believer in Jesus Christ we will often be offered opportunities to improve our earthly situations by gaining favor with the world. It’s no secret that when the world likes you, they will support and even exalt you (Jn 15:19). However, Jesus said that the world didn’t like him but, rather hated him (Jn 15:18). So the only way for the world to hate Jesus, but like those of us who belong to Jesus, is by us making some sort of compromise. By luring us away from Jesus and his despised people (true believers), the world begins to tolerate us because the smell of Christ that was once on us begins to fade. Once the world makes a once despised Christian a “star”, it becomes more difficult for that Christian to live out basic Christianity. The pressures of staying liked, and doing well will take its toll.
The world is known for digging into God’s pot of believers and luring them out from the community of faith into the “den of snakes”. The world recruits from God’s stash and then employs them for the devil’s work. Before long, the Christian celebrity is forced to primarily exist among the other worldly celebrities that are apart of the same godless “world.” Over time the Christian develops tighter relationships, and greater solidarity with the godless “stars” of show biz, than they have with the “regular” Christians of the world. I see this frequently, and may never get too many “amens,” but this is a trustworthy statement. “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” (1 Cor 2:26-28). Let us be careful to stay grounded in the community of faith, and monitor how much human exaltation we accept. Too much is spiritual toxic.
Christ’s Followers Make God’s Priorities Their Priorities.
Christians prioritize God’s passions over their own, and therefore alter their personal pursuits in light of His revealed plans. God has passions and we have passions. God has plans and we have plans. The question on the floor is, “when our plans and passions clash, who’s gonna win?” I know we would quickly respond by saying “God of course,” but this is no usually the real. I find that it is rare for those of us with “American appetites” to yield our passions in order for God’s to prevail. God has provided examples of people whose personal priorities were not separate, but one with His priorities.</P>
- What made Nehemiah take a leave of absence from his lofty job in the king’s palace and journey to the ruins of Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall?
- What made the postexilic community of Israel leave the prosperity of the Persian Empire and return to the rubbles of Jerusalem?
- Why did God send the prophet Haggai to rebuke His people about their failure to rebuild His temple?
These people’s passions had become one with God’s. God had revealed a dominant passion for both the city of Jerusalem, and the temple in Jerusalem. While God loves cities in general, He has revealed a special love for Jerusalem. While God empowers all mankind to do many great things, He provided special empowering grace for the building of the temple. He has always given a greater measure of grace for the accomplishing of His priorities, however, sometimes God’s people ceased to make God’s passion their passion.
Today God has a special passion for His glory, His church, Hs mission, and His gospel. Of course many other things are good in God’s sight, but not many things rival these passions of God’s. These priorities should become the individual and corporate priorities of every believer. There is so much to say about these, I’ll stop and save it for another time.
May this year be a year of dedication to God’s passions and not just our dreams. This is what Christians do—they do the will of the Father. How Christian are you? Answer this question this year by the choices you make, and the passions you pursue. Can we get back to the fundamentals of our faith? Being cool is cool, but being Christian is essential. In 2007 let’s go to war together, contending for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3).