The Bigger Issue In The Christian Hip-Hop Debate: The Content of Christian Art
For almost 10 years I’ve been deeply involved, as an artist/producer/designer, in an amazing movement of Christians who have been making Hip-Hop and Rap music. Due to recent success many within the movement have feared that some are shrinking back from the original mission. But I see a bigger issue at hand. Those who have been instrumental in shaping the foundation of Christians who create/produce rap music, have not been helpful from the beginning of the movement in laying a proper whole life theology of art for those in it. Out of our zeal we have only given merit and value to things that are evangelistic or seeking to communicate Christian doctrine. Only then have we labeled it to be “Christian” when in reality Christianity is “not just involved with ‘salvation’ but with the total man in the total world,” as Francis Schaeffer would say. In writing this I seek to help fellow Christian’s think biblically, balanced and clearly about this issue.
God is a creator-God, so as image bearers of God, we create. From the beginning of time we see that not all of God’s creations were “religious” in nature. Genesis 2:9 tells us, “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” God made trees not just for utilitarian purposes but also for the purpose of pleasure and joy. God did not feel the need to justify his creation by making it into the shape of a cross. Trees have the function of providing food and also providing beauty. The first poem we read in Scripture is found in Genesis 2:23, when the first man, Adam says to Eve, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Adam shared this prior to the fall, when sin had not entered into the world, and it’s content is God-honoring just as is without even speaking about God. Song of Solomon, is romantic poetry and sexual in nature written to express love within a covenant relationship. Although many will see this book as an allegory it still reads the way it reads. “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle” (7:3). This poem is very Christian even without explicitly pointing to redemptive history and the Messiah. In our present framework this would not be considered a Christian art, but in reality this is very Christian. If a Christian were to make an entire album in the same vein as the Song of Solomon, we should be able to enjoy and glorify God with our wives for it.
An issue I have seen is the equating of rap to a pastor’s preaching ministry or a Christians task of evangelizing. I recently spoke to Sho Baraka on the issue and he shared, “The problem is that we have created a theological truth from cultural and systematic preferences. So now hip hop is an office in the church and not a job or art. We first must start here before we can move forward. Its something weve all been guilty of implying in one way or another.” Seeing rap as the office of preaching and evangelism is inconsistent and creates unfortunate problems when a Christian desires to make music that’s less revealing.
In a recent video made by Flame, in which he speaks on the issue at hand, he uses Acts 17 to make an application for the content of Christian rap. He encourages Christian rappers to keep preaching the gospel in their music and not to change up the message. The issue we find with this is that Acts 17 is not a passage we can use to build an approach on what the proper content of a Christian’s music should be. Paul was preaching a sermon not making a rap album. What Acts 17 does show us is Paul’s awareness of present culture and his familiarity with Greek philosophers. Doing so he is able to engage his audience and preach of the redemptive work of Christ in a conversational or proclamatory manner. So it should push us to be aware and understand the thoughts in the public forum. Again, this does not establish a theology on the content of ones art or subject matter of Christian art.
In his book Art and The Bible Francis Schaeffer shares, “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself…The Christian message begins with the existence of God forever, and then with creation. It does not begin with salvation. We must be thankful for salvation, but the Christian message is more than that. Man has a value because he is made in the image of God.” One thing we do not want to do in this conversation is pass personal preferences and methods as Biblical demands. There is a wide spectrum as to how a Christian is to approach the arts. My desire in this is to provide a balanced and what I see to be a more Biblical perspective of a Christian’s approach to the arts that does not lay a law or burden on fellow brothers because their music is not evangelistic. Art can still be Christian and it not be evangelistic.
When we only recognize art as being distinctly Christian when it is preaching the gospel a Christian who is not looking for selfish-gain and desires to make music that is less explicit is seen as shrinking back from their faith. A Christian who desires to make an entire album about nature and it’s beauty is not being unfaithful to the Gospel of Christ. They need no justification to create art. They are free to create art about everything that belongs to their God, everything.
In saying all of this, I am not saying that Gospel intentionality in your music is not valuable or the old way of approaching rap. What I am saying is that not only music that explicitly shares the gospel is Christian. For those who’s desire to do music to teach Biblical doctrine and share how man is to be saved, continue to do so! The goal is mutual appreciation for distinct approaches and philosophies. We need Christians rapping about special revelation and general revelation. Songs about the misfortunes of life, or about the genocides in Africa, or of human emotions can all be helpful in pricking the conscious of the listener and making them ask greater questions. Also, simply the enjoyment of humanity at large. Creating honest work, truthful work, beautiful work is not anti-Gospel but springs from the Gospel message of Christ reconciling the world back to himself through his life, death, and resurrection.
To close, the scriptures do not lay a demand on what art you are to make but they do on the content of your life and heart, which is an even greater demand. So anything done for selfish gain or sinful motive, whether that is speaking ill of someone in order to get a promotion, or changing your music solely for the acceptance of people and accolades that is not living out of a new regenerated heart. Ultimately, the Christian’s life is tethered by love (Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:14) , one cannot sin against God, neighbor or conscious. A Christian should also be plugged into a local body of believers and seeking to make disciples as Christ has commanded but has freedom under the leading of the Holy Spirit and God’s word to create as they may see fit. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).”