I hate it when people whose opinions I really respect disagree on an issue.
So this whole “Are you a Christian rapper or not?” debate has been a little stressful and saddening for me. I’m watching artists who have played a role in my own growth and sanctification land at different places on this topic.
In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”
Instead of writing a piece that argues for one view or another, I wanted to share some of the questions I’ve asked myself as I have tried to think through the “Christian rapper” label issue biblically.
1. Am I willing to die on either hill?
For me, that’s a simple one. No. As we grow in our faith, we realize that there are open-fisted and close-fisted issues. The miraculous conception and the physical resurrection of Jesus, for example, are close-fisted issues. Denying those means denying biblical, historical Christianity.
Other topics - like whether the late Charles Spurgeon was right or wrong to smoke cigars - are often debated among Christians. While debates happen regularly about cigars and the resurrection, one is essential to biblical Christianity while the other clearly is not.
While I do think the implications of the “Christian rapper” title debate has importance, I doubt the Council of Nicaea will meet again to deliver a verdict. The fact is that sometimes true Christians will disagree about open-fisted issues. And that’s OK. How we respond to each other when those open-fisted matters don’t line up says a lot about our own maturity.
2. Could there be danger in removing the “Christian” label?
Absolutely. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that there has to be danger, but I would agree with some of the points DJ Wade-O made in his blog. On one hand, it could come off as ashamed rather than unashamed. Another danger is that in many instances it could open the door to compromise.
Of course, these temptations could happen subtly. The one temptation could become that over time the music gets bigger than the mission. Please hear me say that this doesn’t have to be the case, but it could happen. And putting the term “Christian” in front of it doesn’t completely protect a rapper from that problem.
While some would even argue that the term “Christian” should never be an adjective anyways, identifying your style of Hip-Hop as exclusively Christ-centered serves as a safeguard of sorts.
It would take a really mature Christ-follower to be able to remove that safeguard for the sake of ministry and to still not fall down the slippery slope of self-promotion, fame addiction and the love of money. Yet, having said that, I believe it could be done.
3. Are there scenarios where removing the “Christian” tag could actually help further the spread of the gospel?
I have a friend who is going to foreign country to teach English as a second language through a well-known ministry. Because this country is considered closed to the gospel, he will shed the label of the ministry in order to do the work of that ministry.
Our Lord Himself told us “to be wise as serpents but as harmless as doves.”
You may not feel that comparison is apples and oranges. However, in his class on apologetics and outreach, Covenant Seminary professor Jerram Barrs lists several examples of Christian workers who didn’t immediately announce they were pastors because in their countries the clergy had a bad reputation.
In these cases, it wasn’t physical persecution. These pastors did it because of the social climate. These people had dedicated their lives to the Lord’s service. They were “unashamed” of the gospel, but they wanted to let their lives speak before they proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ask yourself this question. If I was a rapper (which trust me, I am not), and I had an opportunity to have a greater influence for Christ by removing the “Christian rapper” label, what would the Lord want me to do?
4. Is a rose by any other name still a rose?
I marvel at how Christ saved me. Salvation is an amazing thing. I love when I hear music that brings out the wonder of the gospel. If a song makes me love Christ more, love the Bible more, hate sin more, etc., then I will listen to it gladly.
I can clearly see where being part of the Christian Hip-Hop community for some things but not for others could get really confusing. From the standpoint of a music fan, however, music is either communicated from a Biblical worldview or it’s not. And while the use of the word Christian as an adjective is up for debate, the communication of the Christian worldview isn’t and shouldn’t be.
5. How should I respond to this debate?
Pray! I know it’s the cliché answer, but let’s just pray for the whole movement to be less people exalting, more Christ exalting, to have more gospel-centered ambition and less selfish ambition. Let’s celebrate the essentials of the Christian faith we agree on and have charity for our brothers and sisters on issues where we don’t agree.
Love! A guy at my church shared a story about an intense debate he was having with another guy at church. The men took their discussion to an elder. In wisdom, the elder simply asked, “Is this debate going to help you love Christ better?” As you can imagine, the argument soon ended.
I have been so blessed and encouraged by so many in the Christian Hip-Hop community. Let’s pray much, argue little, aim for gospel-centered conflict resolution, and let’s be accurate reflections of Christ to a dying, unredeemed Hip-Hop culture and beyond.