Is Hip-Hop a Music Option for Christians?
Christian Hip-Hop Poll
Is Christian hip-hop an appropriate musical genera for Christians to listen to?See results without voting
Christian hip-hop? Really? In recent years there has been debate as to whether or not a Christian artist can successfully utilize rap as an appropriate vehicle for the Christian message. As the argument goes, “God could never use something that man has so perverted.”
Unfortunately, the debate rages, many times, without any kind of confirmation of facts. It is true, anyone is allowed to hold an opinion. But considering the sizzling nature of this debate, supporting any argument with facts is even more important.
So what is the answer to this hot-button issue? Where do we find closure?
A couple years ago I had the opportunity to attend a conference that featured a Christian hip-hop artist. For a few moments after the conference, I grilled him on what his call on Christian rap was. His bio had stated that he didn't even like hip-hop, yet he felt compelled to minister through that genre.
I don't remember his exact words, but I do remember the gist of what he told me: I like any music that brings glory to God. I was intrigued, and it sent me on a journey to discover the truth about Christian hip-hop.
I gathered one other thought from that conference. When asked if God could use hip-hop to His glory, this hip-hop artist argued that God can use anything to bring glory to Himself. God is a redeeming God. If He can redeem man, along with the rest of creation, He certainly can redeem hip-hop for Himself.
His answers weren't original. They weren't profound. They were simple and elegant, birthed from a theology that embraces God as supreme.
The Real Issue About Hip-Hop
This is the crux of the matter. Determining what will glorify God is the full-time occupation of any true Christian. Music is no different. If it doesn't bring glory to God, it isn't worth bringing.
If hip-hop does, indeed, glorify God, then it most certainly should exist as an acceptable genre in the Christian repertoire. If the reverse is true, that hip-hop is not God-honoring, then no Christian artist should touch it. The question then becomes, “Can hip-hop bring glory to God?”
To bring all this into focus, we need to embrace a reputable authority to make a determination on what is appropriate for a Christian to use and what isn't. For the Christian that authority is the Bible.
The Authoritative Source
A commonality among most Christian groups throughout the ages has been a dependency on the Bible for revealed truth. It then follows that Christians would begin their search here for the skinny on whether or not Christian hip-hop is an acceptable genre of music.
Alas, this isn't always the case, and it historically hasn't played out this way as far as music is concerned. The fact is, there have been few issues more divisive in the church than the debate about music. Throw in the fact that hip-hop already has a bad reputation, and we have ourselves a regular “quarter-note controversy” on our hands.
That's why gravitating toward the revealed truth of Scripture is so important. When we step outside that revealed truth, we create a monster theological migraine. Why Christendom tends to skirt the source of truth on hot-button issues is beyond comprehension. Unfortunately, this has been the rule rather than the exception concerning many cultural issues.
So what does the Bible say about Christian hip-hop?
The Subject Broached
If you flip through a good concordance or do a search with a good Bible program on the phrase “hip-hop,” you find (get ready to be shocked) – nothing. That's right. Not one verse speaks on the subject of hip-hop.
Okay, so maybe this wasn't such a shock, but the fact remains, the Bible is explicitly silent. Since hip-hop wasn't even invented for another 1900 years after the closing of the biblical canon, this shouldn't exactly come as a surprise.
The Bible, however, has a lot to say about music in general. Perhaps we'll find the answer there.
Music and the Bible
In the Bible music is used as a vehicle of praise to God. Music is the believer's way of expressing his most heartfelt gratitude to the One who has delivered on every promise He ever made. The psalms often employ such a musical motif.
We also find that music shows worship of the Almighty. Second Chronicles 29:30 gives an example of how the Scriptures connect singing with worship. The psalms also often employ this use of singing.
The Bible names categories of songs in Ephesians 5:19 and again in Colossians 3:16. In those passages Paul encourages the believers to teach each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The last category is very broad and could fit any spiritually motivated melody and lyrical combination. Keep in mind these are categories Paul is naming not styles.
The fact is there is never a specific style named anywhere in the Bible. Once again we find no reason to discount any style of music as worship to God nor do we discover whether or not the Bible considers any kind of arrangement of notes as either good or bad.
Keep in mind this is simply a discussion on music not the verbal messages in music. The Bible has much to say about putting the right things into our minds. The words of any song are also important. In this discussion we're assuming the lyrics already glorify God. Any kind of music that uses corrupted speech doesn't qualify biblically or otherwise as praise or worship to God.
The Next Step
As noted earlier we must glean our theology from Scripture. Anything else is simply adding men's traditions to God's revealed truth. This should cause us to propose a very important question about music:
If the Bible doesn't explicitly state something is unclean, should we deem it unclean?
This isn't an easy question to answer because it encroaches on the sphere of opinion which, in turn, raises the internal body temperature of many a Christian. Culture ultimately creeps into the discussion along with musical preference and sometimes even (gasp!) racial bias.
To solve this riddle let's look at one last biblical illustration to clarify things a bit.
Clean or Unclean, That Is the Question
Peter was the most outspoken of all the disciples, so it stands to reason that God would reveal extremely important issues to him first. This trend continued through the first half of the book of Acts until Paul supplanted him as the most important source of revealed truth. Acts 10 recounts just such an encounter.
One day, as Peter prayed on the roof of a seaside home, God struck him with an incredible tidbit of truth. In a vision Peter saw a large cloth drop from heaven, being lowered by its four corners to the earth. In this divine sheet were some animals Jews were allowed to eat and some that Jews were forbidden to eat.
God's voice echoed from heaven, commanding Peter to kill and eat. Peter refused, citing the fact that he had never eaten anything common or unclean. The voice declared that Peter was never to deem something unclean that God had declared clean. After three similar exchanges the sheet was pulled back into heaven, and Peter awoke.
What was God trying to teach Peter? God's truths are not always the same as man's. Peter thought he understood the difference between what was acceptable and what wasn't. God made His point, and, because of that, the gospel was preached to those who before had been considered unclean, namely, the Gentiles. God's plan for the gospel didn't include man's preference or racial bias. He made that clear to Peter.
A Principle for Music and Life
There's an important lesson for us as well. Our methods, tastes and preferences aren't always exactly inline with God's. That's why it's so important to cling to His word, the Bible. We can only live our lives properly if we know what God expects.
Music is certainly an extension of life. If God hasn't declared hip-hop unclean, can we honestly declare it an untouchable music genre? Who's to say whether hip-hop is clean or unclean if the Scriptures don't specifically articulate a principle regarding it? If these questions can't be discussed biblically, the answer is clear for those who follow Christ.
One Last Discussion
There is one other biblical discussion that may help here. In I Corinthians 10 Paul discusses food offered to idols. Apparently, the people of Corinth fell into one of two extremes. Either they refused to have anything to do with idolatry, even refusing to eat food offered to an idol, or they readily took part in the festivals in honor of the idols, accepting everything as “lawful” (verses 14-23).
Paul deemed both unacceptable. He explained that a believer wasn't to take part in the sacrifices of the false gods of Corinth. Yet a believer was also to understand that the food offered to idols still belonged to God because He created it. Everything belongs to God, so it follows that even food offered to idols was acceptable for a believer to eat as long as they didn't take part in the worship of false gods. Those gods were nothing more than stupid statues, and sacrifices offered to them were in no way changed by them since idols have no power.
The important fact here is that our God is a redeeming God. Paul makes this clear in Colossians 1:19 when he says Christ reconciled everything to himself through the cross. That's more than just people. That's the whole creation. In Romans 8:18-22 Paul makes an even more pointed statement that the creation, not just people, is also included in the redemptive plan of God which will come to its fullness at the coming of Christ.
So what does this mean for hip-hop music?
Just because hip-hop has been used to deliver a message that is irreconcilable to the message of the gospel doesn't mean music itself can't be used as a means to bring the gospel to those who otherwise wouldn't give a preacher the time of day. To assume this is to rewrite what the Bible actually says.
Hip-hop is truly “food offered to idols.” It has been misused by many, but so have magazines, books, the internet and many other media. Just because someone can abuse something doesn't mean it is inherently evil. Hip-hop is a medium like all others, no more and no less.
If we Christians would simply get past these minor differences and focus on preaching Christ, the cross and the gospel, we would make a much greater impact on the world. However, we're so busy squabbling over this business that we have made ourselves irrelevant.
We're not speaking doctrine. We're speaking preference. If we keep preference where it belongs, we will find the success the Christians of the early church found. Let's focus on what's important, the message of God's word, and leave hip-hop to those who can truly use it as a method to bring the gospel to the lost.
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