I thought long and hard about whether or not I would post this. Music, for whatever reason, is a very emotionally-charged issue. So much so that often people identify themselves with the music to which they listen. In other words, if you “attack” someone’s music, in essence you are attacking “them.” That makes this subject particularly difficult.
Additionally, I take on quite a bit of risk posting this. I am about as balanced as you can be on issues of Biblical holiness and separation. This often does not bode well for me. The problem with being right down the middle is that people WANT you to be on one “side” or the other. You can’t win. If you present a view that is considered “conservative,” people respond as if you are one of those ultra-conservative, no-tie-clips, white-shirt-only Pentecostal Rednecks who sees the devil in every shadow. If you present a view that is considered “liberal” or “progressive,” people respond as if you’re a tattooed yuppie who preaches sitting on a stool with a cup of Starbucks on Sunday morning.
So, there is danger. There’s danger that the following comments will get me branded as someone who is culturally insensitive and doesn’t believe in progress. Some will make assumptions about my character and ability as a Youth minister and preacher that will be incredibly unfair. If that happens, that’s truly unfortunate.
I’m not Verbal Bean, but I’m not Rob Bell. Hopefully you’ll take my word for it.
So why even bother posting this? Well, for all the reasons above, I had decided I wouldn’t. I decided I would let it go. Then I read a blog post by my friend, Matthew Smith, titled Christian Hip-Hop and Evil Beats. I encourage you to read that post as well and look at both sides of this issue. Really, follow his blog and read everything he posts; he’s brilliant. While I’m not on board with all of his points, he does bring out some interesting thoughts. What triggered me writing that I feel it’s time for the opposite opinion to his article to have its day in the sun.
Now, once again, Matt is a friend and I greatly respect him. And honestly, he has good reason to feel that there aren’t many valid arguments for opposition to Christian Hip-Hop. Do a simple google search for “Is Christian Rap Wrong?” and you’ll quickly see the ignorance of humanity. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a post to simply link to that I felt adequately and fairly presented the viewpoint that I espouse concerning this issue. This is NOT, however, a “counterpoint” or “reaction to” Matt’s post; as a matter of fact, several of his arguments I won’t even address. This is an attempt, rather, to present my viewpoint from a holistic standpoint, taking into account scriptural, cultural and historical angles on the genre.
If you’re still reading this after the longest introduction ever, there are probably one of two reasons:
1. You are a fan of Christian Hip-Hop, and you want to find a way to shoot holes in every point that I make. That’s unfortunate. I’ve encountered many people who will declare to me red-faced, veins popping out their necks, that rap music doesn’t breed aggression. Well…they have a funny way of showing it (I’m NOT saying EVERYONE who opposes my opinion is like this…but I AM saying I’ve encountered my share of “bullies” on the subject). If you’re simply looking for fuel for the fire, this article is sure to provide that. However, my purpose is not to incite you. Rather, it’s to present my viewpoint. I’m not calling you a sinner, and I’m not condemning you to Hell. Please keep that in mind.
2. You hate Christian Hip-Hop, and you’re looking for ammunition for your next debate on the subject. That’s equally unfortunate. We can hold our own personal views without attacking the viewpoint of others. There’s nothing wrong with defending what you believe. Looking for a fight is an entirely different issue.
Without further adieu, here we go.
First of all, let me clearly state my stance on the issue: I feel that Christian Hip-Hop (CHH), as a genre, is dangerous.
Notice, I DIDN’T say evil. I DIDN’T say demonic. I said DANGEROUS. There’s a big difference. There are many things in this world that are not evil, but are dangerous. Radio, television, video games, and sporting events are certainly not evil; however, no one would question that all of these things can be potentially dangerous, as the media presented through all of these venues can cause someone who is not a mature Christian using these mediums wisely to fall into serious temptation.
Similarly, I’m not saying that CHH is evil. It would be irresponsible to call any genre of music “evil.” However, I do feel that CHH presents dangers that most other genres simply do not.
Let’s first begin by examining the history of hip-hop. This is absolutely relevant. Some feel that the history of something doesn’t matter, that it’s origins are irrelevant if it can be reformatted for a Christian context. I strongly disagree. The reason for that is context is largely shaped by history. If not for history, a swastika is just another logo. What is evil about the swastika itself? Nothing. It’s just a picture. It’s a drawing. Essentially, it’s artwork. However, it served a very unholy purpose, so much so that no one can look at the image without connecting it with Nazism and the related atrocities. Please don’t read into this that I’m comparing hip-hop to Nazism; I’m simply stating historical context matters.
Hip-Hop originated from pagan tribal rituals in Africa. Stories were set to music in worship to pagan gods. That music was brought over to the United States and made popular by islanders in the 70s, when disco was popular. It was originally a technique used by DJs to keep a party going. Over time, it developed into its own genre. Very few would deny this (even those who advocate for CHH).
Does this matter? Absolutely! I won’t deny that pagan customs do permeate our culture. The days of the week and the names of our months come from pagan gods. Many of our holiday customs have roots in pagan worship. Are we to stop using calendars or celebrating holidays? Only the most extreme would advocate that. Certainly I don’t. So why is that okay, but music coming from pagan roots is dangerous?
First of all, we do not use the days of the week, names of months, and holiday celebrations to worship our God. CHH is, however, offered in worship to God. That’s the distinction, and that’s where I feel the problem lies.
In defense of CHH, people often offer the following passage:
1 Corinthians 8:4-9
4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. 5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. 7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
Certainly Christians were not forbidden to eat meat offered to idols. As a matter of fact, I’ve eaten desserts that were offered in Hindu worship to the god of Ganesha. Ganesha means nothing to me, so the dessert was nothing more than a tasty treat (if you’ve never tried Indian sweets, you’re missing out). However, I did not eat those treats in worship to God! What we eat, as demonstrated in this passage, is not part of worship to God. Pronouncing the days of the week and the names of months are not part of our worship to God. However, when we offer in worship to God something that was intended for idols, the context completely changes. I feel the following passages pertain in that instance:
2 Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: 3 And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. 4 Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. 5 But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come:
God was saying “Tear down everything that was used in worship to other Gods. Don’t use them to worship me. I’ll pick a different place all together for you to put my name.”
This is, in my opinion, the strongest Biblical support against CHH. If hip-hop has pagan roots (which is a historical fact), and those stylistic elements were used to worship false gods, how can we then try to use those same stylistic elements to worship the one true God? I personally don’t feel God would be pleased with that.
1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not. 2 And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.
What was “strange fire?” The priests were given specific instructions as to how they were to worship before the Lord. For some reason, Nadab and Abihu decided to violate these principles. This resulted in the Lord refusing to accept their worship. I’ve heard proponents of CHH say, “Well, that was more about their attitude of rebellion than how they worshiped.” Is it? There’s no Biblical context for that argument. The Bible never tells us their motives. The Bible had no issue pointing out the fact that Korah, who committed a similar sin, was punished specifically because of his rebellion. How do we know that Nadab and Abihu had rebellious intentions? There’s no way of knowing. What we DO know, without reading anything into the passage that isn’t there or making any assumptions, is that it is possible to attempt to worship God in a manner that He disapproves of and is unwilling to accept.
You may say, “I pray and worship to CHH and I feel God moving.” I don’t doubt that. God has spoken to me through all kinds of things. While reading a youth ministry article, I stumbled across a Katy Perry song that actually encouraged me when I was going through a trial. That doesn’t mean I consider the song to be something with which God would be pleased. The hungry soul will find God regardless. When I worked at a toy store in High School, I used to pray while stocking shelves. Britney Spears and NSYNC played in the background. I still felt God’s presence. Jesus simply said, “Seek and ye shall find.” He didn’t say, “Seek, and if you do everything my way, ye shall find.” He’s as close as the mention of His name, regardless of our surroundings.
Furthermore, there are spirits connected with music. Not just the lyrics, but the music itself. Science tells us this. Ignoring studies of rock and rap supposedly having negative effects on plants and animals (though enough of the studies have been done by reputable scientists that I believe there is some validity to it), it is also commonly understood by the scientific community that music (even absent of lyrics) can be done to encourage people toward certain behaviors. For years, retail stores have used music to either encourage people to stay and shop longer or hurry up and leave because it’s closing time. Music was used by Nebuchadnezzar to inspire idolatry. Music was used by David to sooth Saul. Similarly, there are studies that demonstrate that music can aide or hinder digestion. Once again, many of these are done by legitimate scientists, done in controlled settings.
There are certain types of music that promote aggression and rebellion. Not simply the lyrics…the music itself. Science shows that rock and rap music can have that influence on people.
I know some will argue that I’m off base, that they’ve never felt aggression after listening to heavy rock or rap. I’m sure that’s true, just as some people are more susceptible to the cold, some people get sick more easily than others, some people get drunk with less alcohol than others, etc. Just because it’s never affected you that way does not make the science incorrect. Science is science….whether it fits our worldview or not. I still haven’t gotten over the idea that Pluto isn’t a planet…but scientifically speaking, it’s not. The fact that I’ll always consider it a planet does not change that.
Let’s also consider cultural implications. Let me begin this part by saying that, professionally, I have served as the chair of an Employee Resource Group for my previous company. I’ve worked directly for and with my former employer’s diversity department on a number of issues. Although we focused on healthcare disparity, as an Employee Resource Group, we also worked very closely on issues of employee discrimination and cultural expression. Please take my word for it…I’m quite culturally competent.
Now, that’s not to say I’m a diversity expert. No matter how much I study Black culture, for instance (and I have), I’m not black. I’ll never know what it’s like to be black, first hand. There are things about that culture I simply cannot and will not ever understand, not for a lack of desire, but for a lack of context.
Having said all of that, the cultural impacts of CHH are important. There is a particular culture associated with hip-hop. It’s rampant in students of all racial backgrounds, but it’s foothold is strongest in the black community. The hip-hop culture is largely associated with aggressive violence, illicit drug use, thug life, and rampant sex. The lyrics of the songs promote those things, the artists live them out, and teenagers eat them up.
In a desire to reach urban youth, some Christian artists have reached into the genre of music to make a connection. I do not doubt the sincerity of some of these artists. Although certainly some of these artists are “Christian” artists because they can’t cut it secularly, the same could be said of almost every Christian genre of music. Additionally, I do believe there are some CHH artists that are absolutely in it for the right reason and feel that it is a conduit to reach unchurched masses through stylistic elements that already resonate with them.
Again, having never been a part of that culture, there may be some validity to the approach. I’m not here to debate that.
I do believe the genre can be very dangerous for churched students.
First of all, the motives of the artists doesn’t in and of itself validate the method. I don’t question Joel Olsteen and Rob Bell’s motives; however, I don’t ascribe to many of the doctrines they propagate. I would never encourage my students to read their books. It could lead to confusion.
Although CHH artists at times present a strongly Christian message, the method is concerning. They maintain the same aggressive, in-your-face stylistic elements as their secular counterparts. Their appearance and mannerisms closely mirror them, as well. As a matter of fact, if you didn’t know better, you would have a difficult time determining their Christianity by looking at them. In one particular CHH video I viewed, the artists were driving expensive cars, flashing “Christian” tattoos, and dancing similarly to worldly artists. Certainly, they are free of the lewd, trashy filth that permeates every secular hip-hop video out there (and I ABSOLUTELY commend them for that), but is eliminating the obvious filth while leaving the appearance of that lifestyle wise?
2 Corinthians 6:15-18
15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
We are commanded to come out from the world and be separate. Are these artists living lifestyles that are distinctly separate? Or is their lifestyle like the cross tattoo on their forearms…an attempt to live in two different worlds?
You may say, “Hey, wait a minute; there are CCM artists and even gospel artists that are just as bad.” Absolutely! I don’t advocate for them at all. I’ve found myself rejecting many artists that I formerly enjoyed listening to because their lifestyles were too worldly for me to endorse. I’m not saying they have to be “Apostolic.” I’m just saying that, upon meeting them, it ought to be obvious they are Christian.
Some may say, “How do you expect to reach people in the hip-hop culture without CHH? That’s the music they’re into. They aren’t going to abandon their music.” So…what about extremely heavy metal? Where they’re thrashing around and screaming and you can’t even understand them? Do we need a Christianized version of THAT to reach people into that music? IS there even a Christian version of that? In High School, I asked several of my friends who weren’t in church their thoughts on “Screamo” Christian and CHH their thoughts. Almost unilaterally, their response was “If I wanted to listen to Jesus music, I’d listen to Jesus music. I’m not interested in listening to bad screamo/rap music.” Clearly, this was an unscientific poll. I’m sure there are some who have been touched and helped by these approaches. However, do these styles, long-term, lead to a life of separation? They may for some. But I can see clear danger in it.
The power of the Holy Ghost is a great equalizer. I’ve had students come out of the hip-hop culture. I watched as the first few services they laughed at the music and the lyrics. They especially found hymns amusing. However, as the services progressed, they felt something. The preaching touched them. They went to the altars and prayed. These same students actively participate in worship services now. They’ve learned how to respond to the Spirit when it moves. They’ll cry and weep in the altar to the same songs they used to mock. These songs may not be their style…but they’ve fallen in love with Jesus. We reached them without hip-hop.
Even mainstream Christianity isn’t sure about CHH. Just as is the case with Christian screamo/heavy metal, it’s difficult to find CHH on Christian airwaves. CCM stations won’t play it because it’s offensive to many Christians. They have to have their own stations. While the popularity of these stations is rising, it’s a slow ascent. If mainstream Christianity has its reservations, it would be wise for Apostolics to carefully consider whether it is Spiritually healthy for our students or not.
Finally, there is evidence of strong Satanic influence in Christian metal and CHH. PLEASE understand…I’m NOT saying ALL CHH artists. I’m simply saying the evidence is there in the genre. First, there is Satanic symbolism that at times appear in artwork used by some of these artists. Additionally, SOME CHH music actually does not meet the literal definition of music. Music, by definition, contains melody, rhythm, and harmony. Many CHH songs do not contain any sense of melody or harmony (again, not all); the only element present is rhythm. Just as a word is not a sentence (rather a component of a sentence), a rhythm is not a song (rather a component of a song). No one would play a “C” chord and call that music. It’s not music; it’s just a chord. Together with other chords it becomes music. By textbook definition, then, many rap songs are not music, but rather rhythmic entertainment. In pagan worship, it is common practice to have short, repetitive themes in the “music,” which is intended to drive the “worshiper” into a trance-like state. Many of these elements remain in several CHH songs.
I know that’s a lot to read. You may be feeling a myriad of different emotions at this point. Let me close by reminding you of a few things:
1. I’m NOT saying CHH is evil; only that it is dangerous. This is why I would never encourage my students to listen to it, and why I don’t listen to it myself.
2. These are simply MY opinions. It’s MY viewpoint. I understand that you may not agree with some of the points I’ve made. You may feel I’ve used some of these scriptures out of context, or that I’m making the wrong applications. You are welcome to believe that, and you may be equally correct in your assessment. I’m NOT stating my opinions in these areas are infallible.
3. My point in writing this was NOT to sway you to my way of thinking; it was simply to point out that, whether you agree with me or not, there are well-reasoned, logical arguments that can be made from a scriptural, historical, scientific, and cultural vantage point that support opposition to CHH. If you want to throw up your hands and call me names, deciding that my arguments are stupid and I’m simply some backwoods hillbilly with no cultural sensitivity, so be it. We probably wouldn’t agree on much of anything in life if you can only see me that way.
4. I believe CHH is a matter of Christian Liberty. Again, I feel it’s dangerous, not evil. We are in the last days of the church era. We are at war. The clock is ticking, and our commission is to win as many people to Christ as possible before the trumpet blows. Sometimes, in war, desperate times call for desperate tactics. If you feel, prayerfully, that CHH is the best weapon you have against what Satan is trying to do in the lives of your students, by all means use it. That’s between you and God. I only ask that you not judge me for having my own concerns.
Thanks for taking the time to read. May God richly bless you as you endeavor to reach a dying generation with the message of Christ.