This is Part 3 of God’s Servant’s series of columns on Christian hip hop and the glory of Christ. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Am I hater? Some readers may be wrestling with this question at this point (if not before). Is it jealousy that has me writing these posts? Is this a last-ditch effort to rescue my drowning career from the abyss? Is this all an elaborate plot to “make room,” as it were, for my own artistry?
No way, family. Friends, I appeal to you out of love — love preeminently for the glory of Christ in all things and thus in Christian hip hop; a love to see my brothers’ and sisters’ joy complete by spending and being spent for the fame of the Lord Jesus; a love for the culture that desires many people who have never heard of Christ to finally hear of Him. I am eager for many to hear of Him through the foolish means of hip hop (as is the testimony of many reading this).
Rap is unique in the arts. Its platform is built on having someone proclaim what they’re passionate about; because of this, it’s a perfect platform for Christ to lay hold of! In light of what our mission as Christians is now, and for those indigenous to the hip-hop culture, hip hop is a worldwide phenomenon that is fit to be made the perfect colt for Jesus to ride in on.
I see rap as very different than this “plumber” argument everyone keeps referring to. You know, “How can a plumber be Christian?” they quip “What do you expect them to do . . . write John 3:16 on his plunger?!” Then everyone laughs at how obviously silly that type of expectation would be for a plumber.
And I get the point, plumbers can’t just preach the gospel and talk about Jesus all the time — that’s not their job. Their job is to unclog toilets. That’s how they glorify God in their craft, by doing their job. And I agree that there have been many pipes unclogged to the glory of God!*
Many who identify as Christian hip-hop artists assert their music is like that. I wholeheartedly agree that we expect different things from different societal roles and occupations. However, where there is a vast oversight in this analogy in regards to what they can and cannot do.
See, Christian plumbers do their job and then come home and meet with their wife or some brothers from their church, possibly even a pastor, and then they lament how they lack opportunities to talk about Jesus.
They plead with their family in Christ like Paul, they say, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). They grieve at their silence and are elated should any small spiritual conversation commence. They pray for “open doors” and windows so that they can proclaim Christ! They wish they had the freedom and opportunity to proclaim Christ at every house and to every customer — but they can’t.
What makes this worlds apart different from rapping is that a rapper’s job is to preach! The rapper’s job is to take the stage and boast! The main difference is that Christian rappers are fighting for their “rights” to not proclaim Christ and to not take advantage of all the open doors and windows.
In many respects, Christian rappers have the dream job of many Christians; they can freely proclaim whatever they want. It seems a shame that Christians are fighting for their rights to express themselves, rather than to extol God.
It is from this erroneous orientation that all types of fumbles take place. Excellence is treated — and even sometimes referred to as “evangelism” — even without the evangel! Friends, while this is a well-intentioned pursuit of working “as unto the Lord,” it horribly defaces a crucial stewardship He has given us.
Excellence is not evangelism; evangelism is evangelism. And ironically, in God’s economy, He seems to actually prefer working through less impressive ways more: “Consider your calling brothers… 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” (1 Cor. 1:26–29).
It is not the jar that is impressive, but the treasure the jar hold. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassingpower belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).
Merely mentioning Ruth, Daniel and Joseph as sufficient biblical support for a methodology may sound biblical at first. However, after examination and peeking behind the curtain, just like the “wizard” was exposed as a fraud in Oz, we find these “examples” lack the authentic paradigmatic support some claim they have.
By not carefully extracting the principles from Scripture that people are championing, I believe some have created false biblical paradigms. These, with testing and prodding, show themselves to be only human thinking wrapped in Scripture-sounding language but lacking substantive biblical grounds.
As much as I hear the hearts of some for wanting to engage their contexts for Christ, I don’t hear careful responses to ensure that their efforts for Christ are well-rooted biblically. Furthermore, I hear some saying things that go against what the Bible holds out as faithful ‘contextual’ engagement.
We must never be so sympathetic to man that we presume our responses accurately reflect heaven’s methodology merely by virtue of our compassion. True sympathy will be expressed in careful obedience to what has been revealed in Scripture, not presumption about what hasn’t.
It would seem obvious that intrinsic to trying to spread the fame of Christ is the obligation to, well, spread the fame of Christ. However, in our day, it is not so obvious.
People are actually suggesting, and many believing, that a better way to spread Christ’s fame is through disguise. The conclusion of some is that we can win more to Christ if we can win more to us.
Not only is this completely not true, it is incredibly dangerous. While it may seem like there are many different philosophies tugging for our attention to carry out God’s mission, the Christian need only recognize two categories.
There is the Word of God and the word of others. I believe we are at a pivotal point as a community where we must decide a way to go; I beg you, choose the words of life.
In closing, I leave you with three appeals that I believe apply to every rapping Christian:
1. Why Not?
My first question to artists looking to flee from the chains of explicitly talking about Christ in their music is, “why?” If your main purpose in life is to make as much of Jesus as you can — proclaiming Him and His gospel — why not do so in your music? What a wonderful avenue to do it in!
To say that art cannot be done with an explicit aim to proclaim Christ without being corny or boring or unoriginal is more revealing of your own heart about Jesus than your aesthetic ability to express yourself.
The world doesn’t hate God because our art is bad. They hate God because their heart is bad and they are dead in their sin. They need to be revived by the word of truth, not “amazed” by your gifted expression.
So yeah, if your art is about the Beautiful One and they are blind to true beauty — of course they will dislike your art.
Here’s a question I think is more important than what the world feels about our art: “What does your Lord think of it”? Is not His pleasure in your praise of His greatness more satisfying than a million applauds from the world?
Surely there is nothing wrong with being formally appreciated for our work, but this is not our agenda. We live for the formal appreciation of God on the last day. There is not a higher commendation in the universe for us other than to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).
The reason we have art is to make much of Christ, not to make much of ourselves.
If you are a Christian artist, art is not your agenda; proclaiming Christ is! So who cares if no one EVER appreciates your art but yet someone learns to be saved from the wrath to come?! Is this not the truest use of freedom? The most godly methodology is the one that seeks jealously for more glory to go to God and less glory to come to us.
2. Without explicitly talking about the person and work of Jesus — it’s not ministry.
Friends, ministry is not giving people some culturally accepted, vague idea about “hope.” It must be explicitly Christ.
We are not here to just give people hope. We are here to tell the world that they can firmly hope in Christ, but if they refuse to, then there is no hope for them at all (Eph. 2:12).“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”(Rom. 10:14)
The current climate in Christian hip hop would try to answer these questions in Romans with, “make better art.” But the Bible says to preach! And not just preach whatever you want, but preach Christ — preach the word of Christ! “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 14:17).
Faith does NOT come through hearing dope music, dope punch-lines or being relevant with the latest musical trends. While these things can assist the experience of interacting with the gospel, and even adorn the gospel, please take care where you ascribe the efficacy.
It is Christ’s word through which faith comes. If you are not proclaiming Him explicitly, then you are not doing “ministry.”
There are only two types of feet — regular feet and beautiful feet. There is nothing wrong with regular feet (praise God for feet, amen?). There is absolutely nothing wrong with just feet; at the same time though, there simply is nothing special about them either. On the other hand, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 14:15b)
Why settle for regular feet when they can be beautiful? Use your platform to tell men how they can be saved from hell and be brought into an intimate relationship with Jesus; to have full joy and pleasure forevermore with Christ! Be awkward and be evangelistic! You will never regret it in a thousand years — literally.
3. Remember that judgment is coming.
Friends, judgment is coming.
I don’t mean to get all apocalyptic on you, but I am being serious. One way this encouraged Paul was to make him more attentive to persuasively appeal to men’s souls. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:10–11a).
One day we are going to have to give an account for how we used our opportunities to make much of Jesus. For the Christian artist (specifically those able to speak freely) this has massive implications. The more followers and ‘fans’ we have, the more weight and accountability at judgment. I think Paul is onto something, and his conclusion should be ours. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”
Why on earth would you make music that does not proclaim Christ and call men and women to repent and believe in Him when you are entirely free to? Why would you not proclaim His excellencies and explain His character? Why would you not use your platforms to preach more Christ? To declare the path to life that He has made known to you? . . . That is truly a mystery of the most earthly kind.
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)