New Hot 97.9 FM in Philadelphia lived up to its namesake recently, as the radio station’s Q-Deezy Show played host to a heated debate between rap star Meek Mill and Philadelphia Pastor Jomo K. Johnson.
The controversy surrounded Mill’s song, “Amen,” off his recent Dreamchasers 2 mixtape, with Johnson calling for a boycott of Mill’s music.
If you haven’t heard the song, we don’t encourage you to seek it out however we want to provide context and background for this article and will quote the hook on the song:
“Now there’s a lot of bad b****** in the building (Amen)
A couple real n**gas in the building (Amen)
I’m finna kill n**gas in the building (Amen)
I tell the waiter fifty bottles and she tell me say when
And I say church (Preach)
We make it light up like a church (Preach)
She wanna f*** and I say church (Preach)
Do Liv on Sunday like a church (Preach)”
I have my own personal thoughts about what was good and what was unfortunate about the debate, but the big takeaway for me is that the rapper-pastor discussion points to an even bigger question. What would I have said if I was discussing God on live radio with Meek Mill? What would you have said?
The reality is that you and I are not likely to have an on-air theological debate with Meek Mill. It is entirely possible, however, that we will have a lifetime of conversations with Mill’s fans.
That’s why it’s critical that we think through how we share the gospel with people outside of the Christian faith, in this case our friends in hip-hop culture. Here are four points that prayerfully will help think through this important topic.
1. Read Paul’s Holy Spirit-inspired advice on engaging nonbelievers. Paul concludes his letter to the church in Colossae with instructions on how to engage people outside of the Christian faith. Paul’s instruction, found in Colossians 4:2-6, includes:
Praying for opportunities
Making the most of every opportunity
Walking wisely toward outsiders
Being full of grace
Being seasoned with salt
Here’s a simple test. Put yourself in the shoes of a person outside the Christian faith. How would you want someone to approach you about Christianity? Loud, obnoxious and arrogant? Or humble, in a wise manner and full of grace?
2. Win people not arguments. The apostle Peter explains to us that our “how” is as important as our “what.” In I Peter 3:15, a key text on defending the Christian faith, Peter tells us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Then the apostle adds two words that should always accompany our defense of the Christian faith. “But do this with gentleness and respect.”
The gospel is an offense. There’s really no easy to tell a person that “their righteousness is like filthy rags.” But we shouldn’t go out of our way to be offensive. The opposite should be true.
3. Don’t take the wrath of God out of its proper context.
The 18th century pastor George Whitfield described Hell like this:
“the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which souls will realize that they are no closer to the end than when they first begun, and they will never, ever be delivered from that place.”
As bad at that reality seems and as motivational as this should be for believers, scripture makes it clear that we can not scare the hell out of people. I’ve seen many too many cases where the wrath of God is separated from all of God’s other attributes. People tell non-Christians of their impending doom apart from the rest of the gospel.
That doesn’t work because:
It’s not even close to the entire gospel message.
Romans 2 tells us that it’s the goodness of God that brings men toward repentance.
To single out only one of God’s attributes is an incomplete picture of Him.
Leaning too far the other way – focusing only on God’s love – is also an error to also be avoided.
4. Think missionally.
The 20th century Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer left us some great blueprints on how to engage culture. As a college student in Virginia, Schaeffer would help the drunk students get to their dorms safely on Saturday night. They would in turn discuss theology with the Schaeffers on Sundays.
Later, Schaeffer and his wife Edith opened their home in Switzerland (L’Abri Fellowship) as a place where people could come have their spiritual questions answered while having a front row seat to the Schaeffers living out the Christian life.
In both cases, Schaeffer found ways to make the Christian life attractive before sharing the gospel. I’ve heard it said that “evangelism is sharing Jesus with people and mission is knowing the people to whom you are sharing Jesus.” Is that statement 100 percent airtight theologically? Maybe not.
The point is that while good works can’t replace the gospel message, they certainly can adorn it in a beautiful way. And hip-hop could use some modern day Francis Schaeffers engaging the culture for the gospel’s sake.