Multiculturalists All

The people lining up to defend and laud rap and hip-hop, some from the very demographic of middle-aged white men who recently started a kerfuffle by objecting to Reformed rap and hip-hop, is a curious and not entirely encouraging development. I am referring particularly to the efforts by Ligon Duncan (and now Al Mohler) to distance themselves from the panel of family-friendly Calvinistic speakers who were filmed saying what many have taken to be racist, elitist, and culturalist assertions about rap and hip-hop. I am not sure if this is a substitute for the sporty red convertible, or an attempt to show once and for all one’s integrationist bona fides. (The next time Anthony Bradley writes about racism in the white evangelical church, he should remember this incident.) But whatever the incident may say about middle-aged men with ties to a region of the country where race relations have not been good (though the rest of the country was no picnic of integration), it says lots of discouraging things about the health of our culture.

Maybe I am too old to get rap or hip-hop. Frankly, I like melody in a song. Is that Eurocentric or middle-aged? Maybe, but listening to poetry, no matter how good or vicious, with some kind of rhythm or progression of chords, has never struck me as all musically appealing. It strikes me as the “musical” equivalent of The Three Stooges’ comedy. I never was a fan of those three white guys and have never understood their appeal. But I wonder if the panelists who objected to rap would be receiving the same kind of rebukes had they said similar things about The Three Stooges — the culture out of which the humor emerges is questionable, the themes betray vicious parts of human nature, such creative expressions cannot be redeemed. For the record, “disobedient cowards” was not helpful. (Also, does it get me any street cred if I liked but didn’t love 8 Mile?)

Now, if they had said about The Simpsons what they said about rap, should I get on my high horse because I find that cartoon series to be about as accomplished as Rocky and Bullwinkle? I would hope not. Not to go all elitist on anyone, but I am convinced that as good as The Simpsons is, I don’t think it will endure. Sure, it will live on in syndication for as long as its fans have access to cable. But it is not a creative form that will stand the test of time like the one that says a book on Shakespeare has much more of a chance of gaining an acquisition editor’s attention than a book on Ricky Gervais’ original series, The Office. Yes, Shakespeare has the advantage over Gervais of being assigned in all sorts of schools, all over the world. But Shakespeare does speak to a wider and more profound range of themes than The Office, and so can reach audiences that are old and young, Asian and Canadian, boy and woman.

But I am not sure that defenders of Reformed or Christian rappers are capable of seeing the difference between The Three Stooges and Shakespeare when they analyze like this:

Culture is the milieu that emerges when lots of image bearers start playing and working with creation, and in a fallen world, it’s always a mixed bag of glory and tragedy. It’s glorious because humanity is glorious. We are shockingly imaginative, capable of great compassion and generosity. It’s tragic because we’re blind and broken, capable of hatefulness, selfishness, murder and exploitation.

Wisdom recognizes that all cultures are just such a mixed bag. This is just as true of Western European post-reformation culture as it is of medieval culture, contemporary middle Eastern culture, and contemporary Hip Hop Culture. Each has their idols. Each has their glimpses of glory. Each has a way of showing off the beauty of creation. And each one desperately needs the purifying power of the gospel. . . .

Make no mistake about it: this is a gospel issue, plain and simple. I want to say this very carefully. Christian rap is not a gospel issue because Christians need to do it, but because their freedom to do it – their freedom to let the gospel take root in the soil of their culture and bear fruit in their communities, with their voices, sounds, and heart language, is something worth dying for.

It’s a gospel issue because what they demand – abandoning and replacing their culture with something more “appropriate” – is another gospel altogether.

It’s the reason Paul wrote the book of Galatians. It’s the reason he rebuked the Judaisers. To condemn a whole culture, to demand cultural conformity is to add on to the free, culture-renewing grace of Jesus and say, “Jesus plus our cultural norms.”

I don’t know why it would be offensive to put rap and hip-hop in the same ephemeral category of The Three Stooges, The Simpsons, and Ricky Gervais. To do so is just as implicitly elitist and hierarchical as the white-guy panel was. One difference is race. But were these panelists really referring to race or to a sense that some forms of cultural expression are worse than others? Race may have played a part in their comments, though the rush to find the racist code in their language despite their explicit silence is hardly the best evidence of Christian charity. Still, the overwhelming urge to laud and defend rap as just one more valid and good cultural expression is not a good sign. It shows that the so-called conservatives in the culture wars are just as multicultural as the people who continue to promote race, class, and gender as significant categories for understanding culture.

115 thoughts on “Multiculturalists All

  1. Boy, would 2k help some of these confused types. The 2k concept which makes distinctions between the sacred and profane might helpfully explain that some types of music and forms of expression are appropriate for worship and the church and some are not, even though they be desirable or indifferent for entertainment purposes. 21st century evanjellycals are just not capable of erecting a fence around worship and the Lord’s Day, hence they think anything they enjoy or find expedient must be forcibly sanctified into worship/church sphere. Or maybe the Baylys are right and 2k is segregationist/racist by its very nature.


  2. Darryl, Maybe I’m missing the point on this, but wouldn’t you feel the need to defend people’s freedom to listen to rap even if it is qualitatively inferior to other forms of music? I can’t help but appreciate Mike Cosper’s point that these guys seem to be condemning the whole genre and attacking at Christian freedom, even though he is sounding the wrong notes about culture.


  3. Joel, the point I think is that I would not go out of my way to defend rap or the Stooges or the Simpsons. I am questioning why people would be so ready to defend it no matter how wrong headed the critics might be. It’s only pop culture. Big deal.


  4. I too don’t see DGH’s point, except that the person he quoted maybe isn’t an advocate of 2k. The panelists didn’t just say rap is low-brow, they said it’s sinful and Christians should transform it. If they said that about the Simpsons I’d be pretty upset.


  5. John, really? Where do you go to church? Being told that what I do is sinful is part of the turf on which conservative Presbyterians graze — you know, like 2k being sinful. (Though Hillsdale is an oasis of spiritual tranquility — really.)


  6. Dunno, the whole thing reminds one of an argument over whether or not science fiction was literature, never mind great. The consensus was the good examples of the genre transcended it and were not considered scifi.

    But since racism is the smear du jour along with sexisthomophobeantisemite, perhaps we could put on our dunce thinking caps in a little ‘lectual exursize.

    As in punk rock. Its practioners were largely white peepul so no hurt feelings there.
    Were there great punk rockers? I guess. Just like crap music I pretty much never listened to it. It did seem to have an aesthetic that largely consisted of being anti-aesthetic and since that was off the paradigmatic radar for its aficionados, well, all was well as long as they were the only ones that had to listen to it.
    Of course, nobody one upped them either and told them Tuvan throat singers could bust the chops of any garage band alive or dead, but total depravity includes inconsistency.

    The trouble is, when it comes to worship, most “conservatives” have already compromised the RPW and the historic reformed position on musical instruments and uninspired song, so they are left with egg/racism/fuddy duddyism on their face when they object to CCWM/punk/crap music.


  7. Confusion all around.

    Look, if you are born in one area, you will be prone to like bluegrass. Another continent might have you swept away by bagpipes and another might get you attuned to percussion-based music. Shall we compile a list of all music worldwide and select what is spiritually permissible and what is not? So thumbs down to the arbiters.

    On the other side, like your culture’s music or not. Perform it or not. But you don’t have to woodenly use it as a vehicle for the gospel and doing so doesn’t make you an evangelist or a spiritual leader.

    And to the observer of the dispute: quite using “gospel” as an adjective. Use another word so both you and I know what you are talking about.


  8. Anybody who wants to inform themselves (for better or worse) about “Reformed Rap” should listen to Ep 300 of ReformedForum’s Christ the Center podcast.

    DGH, why didn’t Camden invite you to be a panelist for this one?

    Re: the Simpsons, that’s an interesting assertion (that it won’t endure), which strikes me as odd, as I was just the other day marveling that it’s still going strong after 25 years! I guess the proof of the pudding is how is it doing in reruns? I guess I can see that for many years almost all of it has been in a sense “ripped from the headlines”, and down the road won’t be relevant except as historical satirical commentary.


  9. Live and let live– just don’t make me listen to it on Sunday mornings (or evenings if my evangelical church ever gets around to Sunday pm services)! Strangle it before it becomes deeply rooted in evangelicum like CCM.


  10. Pat, this: All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians & Popular Culture by Ken Myers, one of the hosts for NPR’s All Things Considered.
    There is a difference between high and low/pop culture; or in our day a society that increasingly glories in an anti aesthetic aesthetic. Fine, but don’t bring it into worship/start baggin on those who don’t buy in.
    I always remember Bill Gothard and Chuck Colson’s remarks. They didn’t dress down in their ministry to street kids or prisoners. It ain’t gospel, but there is some wisdom there, even if I as reformed I wouldn’t t buy into their philosophy or theology of mission.


  11. DGH, maybe if you came to the defense of your rapping brethren they’d come to your defense on 2k. Anyway, I thought 2k was about Christian liberty so this whole thing confuses me. Why are we talking about high/low culture? Who is saying rap is like Shakespeare? (Though I’d say it’s closer to the Marx Brothers than Three Stooges, since a lot of it is subversive).


  12. JH, right. So I have freedom to kvetch about people lunging to defend rap, right? But the point of the post was the cultural egalitarianism by which evangelicals deem rap as good as Bach. From Al Mohler:

    And the people who would argue now about the unworthiness of rap music often think of Bach as the quintessential Christian musician. As I said already, I have made many of the same arguments myself. In my head. Thankfully not in public. Am I holding back?

    No, I allow myself those arguments in my head when I want to absolutize my preferences and satisfy myself in the righteousness and superiority of my own musical taste and theology. The problem for me is that my theology of music will not allow me to stay self-satisfied on the matter, and by God’s grace I have not made arguments out loud that would violate that theology.

    Rap music is not my music. I do not come from a culture in which rap music is the medium of communication and I do not have the ear for it that I have for other forms of music. But I do admire its virtuosity and the hold that is has on so many, for whom it is a first and dominant musical language. I want that language taken for the cause of the Gospel and I pray to see a generation of young Gospel-driven rappers take dominion of that music for the glory of God. I see that happening now, and I rejoice in it. I want to see them grow even more in influence, reaching people I cannot reach with music that will reach millions who desperately need the Gospel. The same way that folks who first heard Bach desperately needed to hear the Gospel.

    The good, the beautiful, and the true are to be combined to the greatest extent possible in every Christian endeavor, rap included. I have no idea how to evaluate any given rap musical expression, but rappers know. I do know how to evaluate the words, and when the words are saturated with the Gospel and biblical truth that is a wonderful thing. Our rapping Gospel friends will encourage one another to the greatest artistic expression. I want to encourage them in the Gospel. Let Bach’s maxim drive them all — to make (their) music the “handmaid of theology.”


  13. From jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis when he was asked what he thought about today’s r&b, hip-hop, rap another pop music forms during a 2002 interview:

    “… I have very little respect for most of those forms. I know they are popular, but I feel that the social content is very high (how you look or what happened to you in your life), but the musical content is very low. That means, can you actually play the instrument or sing? I find that the personality becomes more important than the music. One of the main objectives of education is, how does a young person successfully grow to adulthood? …”

    In other words, take the music education and band programs away from urban public schools and the only left for the kids is to descend, both socially and artistically. And people want to drag these same forms into the churches? Because why? Oh, I forgot, to maintain cultural relevance.


  14. This reminds me of the arguments in the past that there was such a thing as Christian Rock. It seemed like tail chasing to me then, just like the Reformed Rap does now. What I some of us who are more critical of these forms (including myself) fail to grasp is that criticism probably won’t change the fact that these forms will go on to persist, not just for cultural reasons, but for related economic ones, since culture of all forms has become packaged and sold as a commodity. We have gone from a handful of Christian Rock and Pop performers to an entire CCM industry – and if Reformed Rap can be commodified and sold like CCM, you better believe it will persist, because there will be enough people interested and willing to pay for it.

    On the flip side, defenders of Christian or Reformed Rock/Rap are often blind to how much they are allowing the culture to permeate their understanding of what it means to be Christian or Reformed. Are pop cultural forms appropriate to communicate the enduring truths of our faith? And while many defenders will certainly answer in the affirmative, I am not sure they could honestly answer if the medium or the message is what the audience is more drawn to and influenced by. I don’t have much of a problem with Pop culture, it certainly has its down-sides and ridiculous excesses, but I do enjoy much of it, including some Rap. But, start using Christian, Reformed, or Gospel as a sub-genre of a pop cultural form, and I start to get a little squirmy.


  15. The problem with Christian rap is aesthetic, not theological, and is the same problem as exists with Christian rock. You can’t separate the art form from the context in which it is created. For rock that context is rebellion, sex, and drugs. For rap the context is the hood. To try to import either art form into the church is ridiculous. This isn’t to say that a Christian can’t enjoy rock or rap, although it should always be done with an awareness of what it is.

    Man up and either embrace these things for what they are or don’t. Don’t try to Christianize them and thus bastardize them.

    Pat Boone should never be in a metal mood.


  16. Darryl, were a pastor telling folks to stop watching the Simpsons or TV, I’d absolutely defend them against it. I’m around Bill Gothard type folks enough, and I can’t stand their oppression of Christian liberty. I get a holy pleasure ticking off legalists. That doesn’t say anything about what I think about pop culture, it’s what I think about liberty.
    Anyway, I get that some are just wanting to do analysis of the quality of whatever musical form, and that’s great. It just seems to quickly go from that to a wink about how good Christians would abandon it entirely.
    Had to throw this one in… is it time to discipline this RPCNA pastor?


  17. But Erik, I saw Switchfoot in concert before Switchfoot was Switchfoot, and must I give up the Achtung Baby that resides now in my car stereo, simply because Bono is Catholic (to say nothing od his complex..)

    Anyway,of course your point stands. I’m bot mentioning here the other bands in my list (emoticon here).


  18. Thanks for the article. It certainly presents a more balanced explanation than I did in my own response ( about the cultural and artistic benefits of Christian rap.

    I would like to respond as a fellow brother who does not appreciate rap in any form and say that I think there is a greater stake in this issue about liberty and the gospel. I defend Christian rap, not because it is significantly beneficial but because it is freedom under the auspices of grace.


  19. Haha… Bono. Didn’t those guys have “home church”?

    I don’t care for rap, except for some Australian group and A Tribe Called Quest (because its early 90s and hilarious, and my husband gave me an album of theirs when we were dating–in hindsight, probably not appropriate). However, I’m pretty sure the “subversive” characteristic in rap varies considerably from group to group. There is rap so bad it’s like the Full House or Family Matters or Saved by The Bell of rap. (And I consider the TS better than all if those, combined). I think the newest thing on the west coast is white lesbian rap.

    We could just treat ” Christian” rap like the 80s equivalent (Slayer?). I get a kick out of DC Talk now


  20. Adam, what if you can say something is harmful? Freedom exists to say that. But it could also be the case that the things Christians are free to do are harmful. (1 Cor 10:23) So don’t we avoid them?

    I would if pressed make a case that rap is not edifying as a cultural form. But I’d have to say the same about the Simpsons.

    The question is why folks are unwilling to use the language of what is harmful or what is unedifying. It seems relativistic to me.


  21. I enjoy Christian rap as much as I enjoy Christian rock, which is not saying much.

    I really don’t care if Christians record it or not; it doesn’t matter to me.

    The more relevant question for Reformed churches relates to race and worship.

    For example, I am currently in a RPCNA, which means acapella psalm singing. I believe that this is the most consistently biblical form of worship. The tunes for the psalms are not scripturally mandated, yet all of the tunes come from Anglo, and predominantly Scotch-Irish or English, backgrounds.

    My experience with the Trinity hymnal in the OPC has also been similar.

    According to one black Reformed minister, worship and music are huge barriers for black Christians joining Reformed churches. I don’t mind barriers created by the RPW or by the gospel, but is musical style such a barrier?

    How can (or even should?) the church make its worship music less exclusively “middle aged white men” while also avoiding the silliness of rapping psalms?


  22. “From jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis when he was asked what he thought about today’s r&b, hip-hop, rap another pop music forms during a 2002 interview:”

    Marsalis is fundamentally someone who is stuck trying to recreate the past badly – he’d say the same (and has done) about more modern forms of jazz and classical music than the ones he tries to recreate. It just so happens that in the segment you quote, his chronological judgements align with your aesthetic ones.

    “You can’t separate the art form from the context in which it is created.”

    I don’t think OT music sprung into existence ex-nihilo.


  23. The pulpit is for the ordained man in charge of the service.

    With the exception of an elder reading an announcement of excommunication of those who don’t want to show up any more, and the defrocking of a pastor or two each year.

    I go to church to get at least one hour of respectful contemplation in worship. I don’t need some jumping jackass flash show by an untalented fool or a reading where someone didn’t bothering looking at the text until they got up there.


  24. Is there anything more annoying than WM taking 6 seconds to start reacting to the question, pursing his lips and thinking for another 20 seconds, and then stating something that even Captain Obvious would be embarrassed to utter?


  25. The best sports are polo and fencing. The best music comes from orchestra pits. Urban whites with college degrees get to make the rules. Pass the brie.


  26. The National Center of Family Integrated Churches – decrying rap while affirming the right to spank your 25-year-old daughter who still lives at home.

    I would send my 17-year-old on a date with Eminem before I would let her hang out with these guys.


  27. My pastor has found the sweet-spot on church music. We sing about 10-15 different songs from The Psalter and the Trinity Hymnal. No fuss, no controversy, very nice.


  28. Mad Magyar, one way to de-culturate church music is to find something everyone hates or is unfamiliar with — just kidding, mostly. Singing psalms without accompaniment is a good first step. Chanting may also be an option but it has unfortunate Roman, Anglican, and FV overtones, no pun intended. Better to say that tunes don’t matter as long as they are simple, singable, appropriate (by some standard) to the text, and free if possible of distracting or unedifying associations — as in AC/DC or Frankie Goes to Hollywood, or David Allan Coe and all that those “tunes” might conjure up for many.


  29. D.G.

    I think on the scale of conclusiveness, it is a bit relative. I ascribe to a regulative principle but I can’t say that the Bible condemns meter, rhyme, or instruments.

    Is it harmful? That’s certainly worthy of debate. I think debate is profitable in these matters. But debate has to allow a counter point, not preach to the choir. Debate should also hold to certain ethics of decency.

    These guys on the panel were not simply talking about the form of rap. Their logic is bad and their temper is an offense to the gospel. Even if I agree with the statement I want to demonstrate a higher ethic of grace and defend our Christian liberties.

    I think the Romans 14 principle is critical. People should become fully convinced in their own minds, they shouldn’t judge another man’s servant, and the ultimate conclusion should be to walk in love.


  30. I think the Romans 14 principle is critical. People should become fully convinced in their own minds, they shouldn’t judge another man’s servant, and the ultimate conclusion should be to walk in love.

    The “principle” for the Reformed is that they are compelled to be at all called services, and you can’t cause them to render their conscience due to nonsense during a service.


  31. Chortles,

    I’m not sure one can de-culture music. Much of the music in the Trinity hymnbook and in various psalters are traditional English, Scottish, or Irish tunes.

    But you are not going to find too many tunes that are traditionally French, German, or Italian, let alone African-American, hispanic, etc.


  32. Chortles,

    I agree with you — I don’t really care about the tune as long as it is not too distracting or too difficult.

    But I know that the tune can be very important for others. On the one hand, I’m tempted to say “just get over it”; but on the other hand, since I don’t really care, I wouldn’t mind deferring to their preference if that makes them feel more a part of the church.


  33. Sure, kvetch all you want, I didn’t accuse you of sin just incoherence. You ask why whities are defending rappers. Maybe because wingnuts are attacking Christian liberty and making Reformed folk look bad. Now we’re arguing over whether Bach is “better than” rap, which is completely beside the point. I don’t really see where Mohler is arguing about that, just that he likes Bach but can’t use it as a standard of what’s acceptable for Christians. He could have as easily used Michael W. Smith.


  34. Adam, “their” temper is an offense to the gospel? So we can shrug over the form of rap (which does not have the purist of cultural origins and many rappers who are hardly using the form for the betterment of women). But we know an offensive temper when we see one?

    I admit that one of the guys went all Bill Gothard. But I’d also say only about a minute of that tape was cringe worthy. The rest may have been disagreeable. But that’s hardly offensive to the gospel. I disagree with our president on lots of matters.


  35. If Christian liberty allows Christian rap, then doesn’t Christian liberty also allow me to criticize Christian rap?


  36. “But you are not going to find too many tunes that are traditionally French, German, or Italian, let alone African-American, hispanic, etc.”

    Our hymnal has a lot of German tunes and translations, and it took a few years to adjust. English tunes are still easier for me. I have trouble with translated hymns. Latin —> other languages seems to work better than German —-> English. I always feel I’m missing some great poetry for a clunker of a translation. On the other hand, we have no Fanny Crosby….

    On the other hand, South American and African churches seem to have no problem adopting our hymns, adjusting for native instruments (or no instruments at all). I assume Presbyterian mission churches experience the same welcoming of Trinity hymnal translations into the native tongue.


  37. Katy don’t worry about Erik. You should be perfectly safe as long as you keep your last name and state confidential.


  38. JH,

    Let’s just leave arguments in favor or against Christian Rap/Rock/Polka behind for a second and ask what does the medium function for? Worship? Entertainment? Something in-between? I think it is a valid question worth asking when we start using pop-culture forms to communicate Christian truth.

    The fact of the matter is much, if not most of pop-culture exists simply for entertainment. Much of it is banal or worse, a lot of it is trivial, and I suppose some of it could be argued as edifying. If I am listening to Dylan, Hendrix, the Smiths, or Tupac, I am doing so as a consumer of pop-culture, for leisure and entertainment – which their respective musical forms are efficient to accomplish. When I am seeking spiritual edification either in formal worship on the Lord’s Day, or throughout the week, the content should (theoretically) not be hindered by the form or the medium delivered. Which is why many of us seek edification through the written Word, either in Scripture, or by Christian thinkers and authors.

    The problem comes in when the forms get jumbled – like with rap (but I’d include more “white” forms as well, such as pop or rock), which were developed for leisure and entertainment, but then are used as forms for spiritual edification. Are we free to use these forms? Outside worship, I’d say yes. But, in the end are we merely using the forms because we need to entertain ourselves even in devotional activity to glean some form of spiritual nourishment? I think the question of the appropriateness of the form is more valid than supporters of Christian pop-cultural apologists will allow.

    There’s nothing wrong with rap as a pop-cultural form. So, what keeps the Christian from just using the form for what it is: a possible means for healthy leisure. Why is there a need to make it sacred, or to “redeem Rap”, as if it is something that is an object of God’s redemptive work. I wouldn’t say I am against Christianized versions of pop-culture, I am just more ambivalent – what’s the point?


  39. Mad One, the tunes in the Trinity are actually quite diverse. I tend to like the Welsh, French, and German tunes best and there are plenty of each. “Leoni”, a Jewish tune, is actually one of my absolute faves.Nothing screams “culture’ like a pipe organ on one hand, or hipsters with hand drums and banjos on the other. In both cases instrumentation and a certain cultural idiom tend to take over. Modest tunes un- or simply accompanied are the safest and best course. Vain repetition and opportunity for excessive self expression are also to be avoided.


  40. According to one black Reformed minister, worship and music are huge barriers for black Christians joining Reformed churches

    Uh yeah, join the club. From my experience what passes for reformed worship is a huge barrier for most Christians joining reformed churches, never mind the RPCNA.


  41. And should I EVER have to watch girls or pudgy balding guys in the band/praise team sway and bounce as they sing AT me? I have been to presbytery meeting at redeemerish/hipster/contempo churches were that very thing was to be endured.


  42. D.G.

    I am not shrugging off the temper of secular artists. That’s another point all together. I do not, however, condemn a form because it is used in evil ways. That logic was used a hundred years ago to condemn the piano.

    I think the problem with this panel discussion and the thing I am reacting to primarily is the way in which they are speaking to the choir and not in a way to lay out a persuasive argument for why their praxis is better than someone else’s. Apart from the blatant statements that you and I would both disagree with, the lack of clarity and nuance presents an unhealthy response for those who already have strong prejudices and will inevitably create an argument built on an illusion to explanatory depth.

    I think we can all agree that we are, by nature, idol worshipers. We gravitate to these arguments because they reinforce our prejudices or they give us a reason to lash out at those who disagree with us. As Shepherds, we are called to guard our flock, even from our own right opinions without right tempers (as Tozer would say).

    I am appreciative of the apology of Scott Brown. I think he said everything I was looking for.


  43. cw: And should I EVER have to watch girls or pudgy balding guys in the band/praise team sway and bounce as they sing AT me?

    Oh thanks, now I’m having flashbacks that I can’t unsee for another 24 hours… and don’t forget the pudgy girls


  44. @Bob S,

    Yeah, that is my impression as well. I’m just not sure if / how to address some of these concerns while still remaining faithful to the RPW.

    The RPCNA I attend attracts a number of grad students from the IU music school because they like the 4 part harmony. I’m usually adding a 5th part as quietly as possible.


  45. Erik,

    I think you are really slipping if you have not come across this real winner having to do with rap & Christianity. When I first heard I was actually concerned that it was legitimate…


  46. Kent, your welcome! In “reformed” church praise teams the men are usually ugly and the women are okay. In baptist and evangelical churches the female wailers must look like southern pageant queens or weigh a minimum of 250, in my experience.


  47. Katy, I don’t know about doing “home church,” but Clayton almost left in the early days when it looked like they might be going Christian punk (the other three had guilt from their eeeevangelical pasts, thankfully overcome).

    But Reformed churches promoting rap seems like those Episcopalian churches promoting U2charists, neither of which seem to grasp 1) the distinctions between the sacred and the secular or 2) the gradations between the trivial and the substantive of the secular order. It’s not that the trivial is evil and the substantive is righteous–they’re both simply provisional. If the trivial was evil then believers couldn’t be U2 fans, which clearly would be stupid. But just as stupid would be to think U2 could carry eternity in its wings. Sure, they’ve uniquely endured for over thirty years with the original band members and are the greatest rock band ever, but what hath that to do with the heavenly Jerusalem? Same question for those who pine rhapsodical.


  48. Jed, I’m not a fan of the mixing of pop-culture and religious expression, but I certainly think it’s an adiaphora issue. I don’t believe Lig and Mohler are arguing for hip hop in public worship. I don’t really care if a lot of Evanjelicals are listening to “holy hip hop” in the car and consider it “edifying”. Telling people some musical form is sinful, on the other hand, seems like a big deal, and I’m glad folks are complaining.


  49. Yo Chort, if there’s anything worse than profiling, it’s a reformed profiler.
    For your repentance you have to listen to the RPW rap linked to earlier. (Ouch, I couldn’t.) You can write a report afterwards so that we know you didn’t hit the mute button.

    Mad Hun, I’m fine with RPCNA worship, it was the lack of preaching that bothered me when I had a chance to attend one ages ago. As far as presbyterians go, the RPCNA excommunicated slaveholders and pretty much got run out of the South because of it best I know. The only congregation south of the Mason Dixon line was a black congregation back then. Couldn’t tell you if things have changed.


  50. I heard they withhold baptism from their babies and rebaptize, too. Dangerous schismatics if you ask me.

    Point taken though.


  51. When I attended a EV Free church while in college a white girl who clearly grew up in the suburbs wrote raps and would rap them during the worship service. The church had a notable Christian rapper come and do some rap in the service as well. Mind you, this was a predominately white, suburban church. So I’m not so sure JH fully understands the influence “Christian” rap is having on worship. It’s all the same. Rock bands for worship bands, hip hop artists for preachers. People confusing common and sacred like it’s going out of style, yo’!


  52. JH,

    I’m not a fan of the mixing of pop-culture and religious expression, but I certainly think it’s an adiaphora issue.

    I picked that up from your argument. And, I agree. I wouldn’t call Christian Rap or any other “Christian _________(pop-culture form) sinful per se. But, where I do think pointed questions and criticism is warranted is along the lines I was pointing to, basically – yes, we are free to use these forms (outside worship), but is it beneficial to do so? I can see where those in favor of these forms bristling at the notion that is sinful, and I think that those who take such a stance are going too far.

    But, the criticism I see DGH making is not in calling the medium of Rap as overtly sinful, which would be out of character with the Dude and his love for quality on the silver screen. I see him raising the question of whether or not Christians are unwittingly inculcating a multiculturalism or a pop-culture sensibility that might actually be undermining the Christian message in some critical ways. For me, one of the great dangers in using pop-cultural forms, whatever they may be, springs fundamentally from the fact that pop-culture is a commodity to be produced, packaged, and sold often for the purpose of quick easy entertainment, in the marketplace – and when we use them we run the risk of reducing Christianity to a commodity. I am sure those who use such forms have no such intention, but you can guarantee that producers in Nashville or LA, or publishers in San Francisco or NYC are quick to pursue such an angle. Heck, we even see this danger in Christian publishing and the Reformed conference circuit, where the right book by the right author can bring in a good deal of profits. This is not a knock on art, music, or literature, but an insistence that media and forms are important, and say a great deal about what we are trying to communicate, and at the bottom line from a dollars and cents perspective, what is important about that message.

    So, I guess I am saying that pop-culture, like any cultural – or religious form is touched at every point by human depravity, often in ways that aren’t immediately obvious, but in ways that affect us deeply, even subconsciously. So, let the user (and producer) beware.


  53. Zrim,

    I used to be a U2 honk myself, but my biggest problem with the band is not their (or their fans) inability to demarcate sacred and secular, but Bono’s seemingly endless proclivity to sermonic sanctimony. Sheesh, it worked up to Auchtung Baby, but after a while his ardency starts to get old. Can’t rock’n’roll just be rock’n’roll? At some point popping in Weezer’s blue album is the antidote to the search for meaning in rock, since they let it just be fun… Don’t get me started on Nirvana – they single-handedly sucked the fun right out of rock with all of their establishment, anti-establishment angst – sheesh.

    John Cusack’s character asks the interesting question at the beginning of Hi-Fidelity along these lines, “Am I miserable because I listen to pop-music, or do I listen to pop-music because I am miserable?” I simply ask, “What good is it if you can’t enjoy it?”


  54. Jed, “Am I buggin’ you? Don’t mean to bug ya.” But while you’re singing my tune, I can give more rope in their case because they’re them, and because they sing my tune from time to time: “I don’t believe that rock and roll can really change the world, it just spins in revolutions, spirals and turns. I don’t believe in the 60s, the golden age of pop, you glorify the past while the future dries up…”


  55. Jed,

    If it’s fun you are into (or try here), there’s always five iron frenzy, whom I read in chat rooms people think are reformed, yadda yadda yadda. Of course, didn’t know this as I hung out in music studios with these studs, in the late 90’s (can yo spell groupy?):

    bands like Undercover and Five Iron Frenzy have been open about the current atheism of some of their members

    Anyway, that article in Christianity Today ends thoughtfully, to me, at least:

    Those are good things. But going to a rock show when you’re 18 and when you’re 35 are very different experiences. Have you noticed, for example, that when you go to see a band like Weezer or Jimmy Eat World, the fans are still mostly the age you were when you started listening to them? Have you noticed that you think less about buying their new records, and more about who you used to be and how you felt when you first bought their records?

    Then, there is the leader of this band who is now doing work to stop human slavery (see here).

    Anyway, interesting stuff for me as I scour the internet, seeing what became of my teenage favorites, which is the mere point of this post, is all. Concord, CA was ground zero for a lot of these bands, I got to see them come through, which was kinda cool as a kid (still is, maybe, a little..).

    Lates for now.


  56. Not making this multifarious mess up…from an actual PCA church tweet in Easter season (they do ashes on the forehead and retreat at a Trappist monastery, too):

    String quartet, marimba, piano, and (of course) banjo with an 18 voice choir. Good Friday service…


  57. At my pastor’s ordination service several years ago Rev. Patrick Edouard preached and did a nice job. The biggest point that I remember is his exhortation to resist doing things that appear to be new or novel.

    We need pastors and elders who do not think they are God’s gift to Presbyterian & Reformed Churches because they have come up with some neat, trendy way to do worship & ministry. These clowns need to either find a different line of work or be voted out of office.

    That being said, there is an opposite extreme we need to be wary of. Because we are “traditional” we will also attract kooks from the right who dig our worship but want to tweek other things, like how our women dress and how we shouldn’t segregate parents and children in Sunday School. We are always walking a tightrope as P&R people between clowns to the left and jokers to the right.

    The ideal is to locate a solid pastor and 3-4 solid elders. If you have elders for terms, rotate one off and then renominate him and don’t take a chance on someone who is unproven. This is where our church is at and it’s pretty nice sitting in the pews. I don’t have to worry from Sunday to Sunday about what nonsense I might be encountering.


  58. I don’t know if this has already been addressed but it seems to me that there are a multitude of questions with “Christian hip hop” or “Christian rap” that have not been answered. These questions are primarily in regards to the church and worship.

    I have heard folks say, “Christian hip hop” is acceptable but should not be used in worship and others have said it should be used in worship. It seems to me that a form of music that would be indiscernible to many (dare I say most?) in worship would be unedifying and arguably contrary to Scripture. It is not a form that generally speaking could be used corporately in worship for churches that follow the regulative dialectic principal. Can a session erase a member from the rolls who refuses to come to church because of the severe headaches he/she receives from the mind-numbing “music”?

    If one is against “Christian hip hop” in worship but for its use in general as an evangelistic tool, a question needs to be addressed. What happens when the hip hop artist’s “disciples” go to a local church as the “Reformed hip hop” artist desires? They get to church and find out: 1) the music is relatively calm; 2) the music is designed to be sung corporately; 3) the music is designed for the congregation to participate; 4) the music does not revolve around an artist; and 5) folks don’t cheer and yell during the music.

    If you were evangelized with a hip hop/rap form of evangelism and then found out that rap and hip hop do not have a place in worship, you might very well feel tricked or disenfranchised by the church and the artist.


  59. My biggest issue of “Christian” music is it tries to divorce the form from the content. Consider the rebellion (for good or bad) in music. Slave music was sung in a effort to rebel against their white owners, rap music was to rebel against the oppressive inner-city world, rock music was to rebel against the fundie-suburban world. They all seek to evoke an emotion based on their environment. Folk music is tied to the earth-bound structures.

    Christians come in and think they can just slap Jesus on the music and don’t realize why that music came about and it’s purpose. Just like in preaching you cannot divorce the form of delivery from the content being delivered, so in music you can’t do the same. Let Tu Pac be Tu Pac.


  60. Nate, bingo. Then you get the issue of these Christians wishing to express themselves through music, which, to me, in and of itself, ain’t wrong. It may be immature, they simply are singing about soemthing that someday, they should be able to find in a bible believing church. We’re all pilgriming and are at different stages, is maybe what I mean..


  61. Nate, rap music is a rebellion against white middle-class standards and a celebration of the inner-city world. That’s why kids in the suburbs love it so much; they can irritate their parents and be politically correct at the same time.

    Those NCFIC fundies — and they ARE fundies — love rap music, oppose the old BJU fundamentalism and want to show how multicultural they are. They are Leftist in thinking they are part of a new global community that breaks down categories of race and ethnicity. I can’t imagine Tim Keller rapping, but he’s got the same mindset.


  62. “Consider the rebellion (for good or bad) in music. Slave music was sung in a effort to rebel against their white owners, rap music was to rebel against the oppressive inner-city world, rock music was to rebel against the fundie-suburban world. They all seek to evoke an emotion based on their environment.”

    Which slave music? Some of it was to assist manual labor by providing a certain rhythm and reduce tedium.

    Jed, Nirvana sent some volts pulsating through a genre that needed energy. They say rock and roll will never die (hey hey, my my), but isn’t that what it’s doing now?

    But I’m going to be a voice of dissent on the idea that the perceived rebellious beginnings of a genre of music forever defines that music. Music that was potent and bold in the 80’s becomes a clappy song in a baseball stadium in 2010. Music begun in a pub becomes the tune for a hymn. Music once narrowly associated with rebellion and drugs becomes an apt vehicle for songs about justice, redemption (broadly speaking), etc.


  63. MM,

    But I’m going to be a voice of dissent on the idea that the perceived rebellious beginnings of a genre of music forever defines that music. Music that was potent and bold in the 80′s becomes a clappy song in a baseball stadium in 2010. Music begun in a pub becomes the tune for a hymn. Music once narrowly associated with rebellion and drugs becomes an apt vehicle for songs about justice, redemption (broadly speaking), etc.

    Ditto. How many people know the origins of music genres anyway? To argue that it is inappropriate now when no one remembers the original context is a bit of a stretch. I’m sure somebody thought Bach was the “Devil’s music” at one point.


  64. Chorts, the blues make me drink whiskey straight up and smoke cigars. Some call it vice but I call it therapy. Mikelmann is clueless but we already knew that.


  65. MM,

    But understanding the musical history helps understand why the music sounds the way it does. The sound helps convey the message. Heavy metal helps convey a specific kind of message. Form and content go together. That’s one of my beefs with our postmodern ethic which divorces form from content – we don’t sing laments. A song like stricken smitten and afflicted gets an upbeat tune and churches sing it like its a Celine Dion song.

    Just because society changes and approves what it once disapproved doesn’t change the nature of that music. I’m not saying you can’t, art is always borrowing from someone else, but the medium you use needs to fit the content. Trying to co-opt rap to be “Christian” isn’t wrong (contra NCFIC), it’s just a bad musical decision.


  66. WS-“Those NCFIC fundies — and they ARE fundies — love rap music, oppose the old BJU fundamentalism and want to show how multicultural they are. They are Leftist in thinking they are part of a new global community that breaks down categories of race and ethnicity. I can’t imagine Tim Keller rapping, but he’s got the same mindset.”

    Actually the NCFIC fundies hate rap music, according to the panel discussion. It was Duncan and Mohler who defended reformed rap.


  67. Admittedly I’m walking a tight-rope here, Nate. I tend to abhor any form of “Christian” music (excepting hymns and psalms) because it is typically wooden pop music by folks with sub-average musical skills. But my heels are still dug in and I’ll tell you why.

    Let’s go back to rock. At one time it was thought to only be capable of conveying rebellion and debauchery. But, since they seem to be a common point of reference, consider U2 and their War album. Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Years Day and Surrender all convey themes in the vein of justice, redemption, and spriituality, and they are effective in doing so. The Cranberries did a song called Zombie that IMO effectively portrays the psychological trauma of war. Etc. Rock can’t use the same words as hymns but, with suitable hymns for the genre, can express way more than its initial associations.

    Now just take rap and think about it the same way. I’m guessing there are some who woodenly Christianize it, but I believe there is a way, consistent with the genre, to present a fair variety of themes. To think it can only express violence and rebellion is akin to thinking all rock could ever express is rebellion and debauchery.

    BTW, I am talking about music outside the church.


  68. MM,

    Thank you for the clarification on church. It seems to me that the “Christian/Reformed hip-hop” discussion should be focused first in the context of worship and the church and than secondly in the context of personal life.

    For several reasons previously touched on, the church/worship context seems to me to be out of the question for “hip hop” though it is widely used in the emergent / post-emergent movements (but what isn’t?).

    I haven’t read all of the comments but is anyone arguing for “hip-hop” in worship?

    p.s. – Has anyone seen the youtube video from “The Basement” where the “pastor” performs some hip hop (song?) called “Fired Up”?


  69. *buzzerrrrrrrrrrr*
    Wrong answer, WS. The correct answer is that Norman actually has a pretty good blues voice, Jon Linn gets off some scorching guitar licks, and the lyrics are whimsically humorous. While not a song for the ages, the song works and it deserves its place on mikelmann’s ipod under playlist: cycling.


  70. B, I have an ideal scenario and my real-life scenario. In the ideal scenario, the music to carry hymns and psalms should be universal so that, whatever your cultural origin you can participate in church singing without being put off by the musical vessel that carries the hymns/psalms. The kinds of tunes in traditional hymnals are thus fine by me but I can understand the argument that, well, those are white European tunes. So maybe I end up being an advocate of acapella singing.

    In my real life scenario I hope for (and currently have) traditional hymns and psalms simply and unobtrusively carried along by a piano.

    I make no claim to have any expertise in this area.


  71. In the ideal world, yes. In this world a denomination of chanters would make the OPCers look like megachurchers.


  72. MM,

    I think you are right in saying that the criticism of our practice even in faithful RPW churches might lean toward being white/Euro-centric in terms of the music. But, for those who might level the charge of this being racially conditioned, I would say, even with my most vague experience with classic Black Spirituals/Gospel, I would say that while it definitely reflects and Afro-centric musicality, their music and worship is much closer to the RPW than what occurs in many self-proclaimed confessionally Reformed churches. The lyrics, while quite simple at times is far more faithful to the language and existential ethos of Scripture, especially the Lament Psalms, and the fact that in its most basic practice it is unaccompanied by any instrumentation. Even to this whitey, I find much of it to be incredibly moving. I am not so sure a early 20th century black pastor would be very persuaded over the value of rap as a medium for communicating Christian truth – even after bridging the gap of understanding the development of culture over time.

    Suffice to say, I would be more comfortable worshiping in a traditional Black gospel service, especially some of the older Anglican services, than I would be in any contemporary P&W service. That is not to say I am seeking out the nearest Church of God in Christ, but it is to say that faithful worship needn’t be constrained to more or less white or European forms. This is only conjecture, but I wouldn’t be shocked if many black congregations found it easier to reform their worship, than we do in our predominantly white Reformed denominations.


  73. Jed, you’re romanticizing and idealizing a bit here. In my former life as a journalist I visited nearly every type of black church, including the International Holy Conclave of one of the COGICs. They had a Moog synthesizer playing funk riffs and the lyrics were repetitive and shallow. Music in black churches and many southern white churches is right were it was in Wales (per MLJ) — the main reason many attend (cultural/sentimental/entertainment) and as much an impediment as a a help to biblical worship. On the other hand there are or were some exclusive psalmody black congregations in Alabama.


  74. Chortles,

    I am well aware of the COGIC culture and worship. My old roomate was a bass player at a COGIC congregation for years. So I certainly wasn’t speaking to black churches in general. They are as prone to excess as any of us. But there are still a good deal of traditional black churches that worship using old hymns and spirituals, often unaccompanied. There may be less than there once was, but they’re definitely still out there. On of the advantages of my MBI days was going to a lot of different churches. I found some of the predominantly black congregations to be quite traditional.


  75. MM,

    I tend to abhor any form of “Christian” music (excepting hymns and psalms) because it is typically wooden pop music by folks with sub-average musical skills.


    And I would agree with this:

    I believe there is a way, consistent with the genre, to present a fair variety of themes. To think it can only express violence and rebellion is akin to thinking all rock could ever express is rebellion and debauchery.

    with one caveat: I’m not trying to say we can’t use different themes in a style of music (the U2 or Cranberries examples). I’m saying that we can’t think that the form of our music doesn’t communicate something or evoke something by virtue of it’s inherent style which is rooted in where it came out of. That is to say, rapping Christian theology maybe edifying to some, but the form of music dictates certain responses – hence the musical forms. Hopefully I’m not shifting goalposts midstream on this one.

    Maybe I’m softening up a bit here – I can see that someone who has grown up on rap (or Rock music like myself) has an easier time finding edification in a particular musical form that to others might be grating or even offensive (because of cultural/social associations). But, it’s not like Christians are trying to “redeem” a Marvin Gaye style of music because that style evokes a certain emotional (and physical? yikes!) response.

    I wouldn’t say Christians can’t listen to certain styles, but I think it’s important to understand how those styles shape us. I mean, a guy I grew up with is in a metal-core band but is probably one of the nicest guys you would ever meet, so how much a particular genre shapes us may not be as harsh as I’d like it to be.


  76. Nate and MM, I agree mostly with Marshall McLuhan (another papist – rats!) — the medium is the message. Which is why swaying pudgy white people playing banjos and hand drums in church make me want to puke.


  77. Jed, you’re starting to sound like one of Francis’s interpreters. DGH’s post was about people who are lining up to defend rappers against the panel. He impugns such individuals with trying to show they’re in the multicultural in-crowd, and seems to think that’s somehow charitable while calling the panelists racists isn’t. I don’t see anything about worship or mixing pop-culture with religion. Aren’t we mixing religion and a (particularly cheap and degrading) form of pop-culture right now?


  78. JH,

    What is your point? Because, I am not seeing it. Part of the pro-rap argument was that the anti-rappers were Euro centric. Well, maybe, but that wouldn’t preclude appropriate worship forms or forms for Christian music in general that aren’t euro-centric, but these are found in the more traditional folk music forms of any given culture – mainly because folk forms will exist with or without commercialization. These conversations go many different ways, are you seeking to police that?


  79. In this week’s issue, Jon Ward profiles Lecrae Moore, a fascinating artist straddling the Christian and hip hop worlds. Moore, whose music comes with a distinctly Christian message, has long been a poster child for evangelical Christians spreading their gospel at festivals and events. Over the past two years, however, Moore has started breaking into more mainstream hip hop circles, trying to reach a broader audience.

    “Lecrae is one of many modern evangelicals who have rejected the path set by the combative ‘Moral Majority’ culture warriors of the 1980s, and instead embraced an assimilation into the mainstream and its formative institutions, hoping to shape it from within,” Jon writes.

    At times, this places him awkwardly between two worlds: the Christians who think he’s sold out, and the hip hop listeners who don’t want music with a moral lesson of any kind. But for the most part, his message is subtle enough to appeal to both camps.

    continue reading.


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