Christians longing for a Savior
I do believe that many well-meaning Christians are simply hoping the best — desiring for Chance to be saved and know the Lord. I join my brothers and sisters in this desire. However, I do wonder if there isn’t something else at work here.
Earlier, I referenced a quote from a Christian blogger, who said that, “in Coloring Book and Chance the Rapper, (Christians have) the ‘saviour’ they have been waiting for.”
I think this strikes at the heart of the issue. There has long been a desire among Christians to have a “Pop-Culture Savior,” that is, someone who will validate us in the eyes of the world. Someone that we can point to and say, “See! That person is a Christian and they’re really good at what they do! And the world loves them! He or she is on our team! It’s cool to be a Christian!”
It’s almost like an inferiority complex. It reminds me of high school and the desire to be in the “in-crowd.” It also reminds me of Israel’s desire for a king back in the day before they had one. The prophet Samuel had warned them about the dangers of having an earthly king when they already had God Himself as their King. Here’s how the people responded to Samuel:
“But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)
When the surrounding nations laughed at Israel for not having a king, Israel wanted to have a better reply than “God is our king.” Israel just couldn’t be content with living by faith and not by sight. As a result, Saul was chosen to be king. And if you remember the story, it made perfect sense from a human standpoint to choose Saul as king:
“Saul (was) a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:2)
But God had already made it clear that in choosing Saul, they were actually rejecting God (1 Samuel 8:7). This longing for a Saul — a tall and handsome king to make us look good to the nations — is still found in God’s people today. If we could only have a movie star, a celebrity, a famous athlete, or a great artist who identifies as a Christian, then we could identify with that person and the world would like us more, the mindset goes. But of course, Jesus told us to expect a much different experience:
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)
God has always chosen the things that look the least impressive in the eyes of the world, that He might get the most glory. This is the way of the cross that Christians are called to. In every generation, Christians need to be reminded:
“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
Chance’s challenge to Christian hip-hop
With all that said, I think Chance presents a challenge to Christian hip-hop. And it’s not the artistic challenge that many tend to bring up when a project like Coloring Book drops.
It seems that whenever a quality secular album that has some positive mentions of God does well, there’s a predictable chorus of Christians saying things like, “See! This is what I’m talking about. Christian hip-hop needs to be more like this. If our music sounded more like this (in quality and emphasis), then the genre would grow and more non-Christians would listen (and presumably be reached)!”
In my opinion, this is just a variation of the “Pop-Culture Savior” argument. Of course we should strive for excellence in our art. But not only does this argument ignore the many quality artists who explicitly proclaim the gospel in their music, but it also reveals a philosophy of ministry unanchored by biblical theology and rooted in worldly wisdom.
Worldly wisdom says, “Make great art that the world can relate to and then people will be saved,” as though “cool” Christians making great art will lead to mass conversions. The Bible is clear, however, that this is not how God has chosen to work. Regarding salvation, God has not promised to co-sign our genius methods, but His gospel message:
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)
According to this passage, God has made it impossible to know Him though worldly wisdom, as much as it might make sense from a human perspective. Instead, God has attached His salvation to the “folly” of the gospel message.
Once again, our elders had it right. It’s still about the “old rugged cross” because “the blood will never lose its power.” This is why efforts that claim to be evangelistic (or “reaching” people) that don’t have the gospel as a central part of it will never produce lasting spiritual fruit (John 15:16).
As Christian hip-hop artist Braille rightly noted, changed hearts occur as the message of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the grave is applied by the Holy Spirit to the souls of those who believe (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Romans 1:16 still stands, not merely as a “crew,” “clique” or “brand,” but as biblical truth. The gospel (alone) is still the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
As great as Chance may be as an artist, the challenge he presents to Christian hip-hop is not primarily artistic, but philosophical. His success challenges the philosophy of ministry employed by many Christian hip-hop artists today.
One thing that I found really encouraging is that Chance has used his biggest platforms (“The Tonight Show”, The Grammys) to explicitly give praise to God. If nothing else, his performances were marked by passion and boldness. It’s not a small thing for a rapper to go on the Grammys and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the “Name above all names/ worthy of all praise.”
As I watched him, I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony of Chance the Rapper praising God on national television while some popular Christian hip-hop artists have used their platforms to a) distance themselves from Christian hip-hop altogether, b) try to relate to the world so much that they lose what distinguishes them as Christian or c) do music with generic positive content that loses its prophetic potency.
It made me wonder if the Christian hip-hop artists who so often look to what secular artists are doing to guide them in their philosophy of cultural engagement will now begin to incorporate more explicit Christian content in their music, since it seems to be “working” for Chance. It’s kind of backwards, but if Jesus Christ will be proclaimed again, we should rejoice (Phil. 1:17-18).
On the flip side, I also wonder if it means that they will begin incorporating godless content and profanity in order to “relate” more to the world. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
As for Chance the Rapper, while I appreciate the artistry and some of the content of Coloring Book, because of what I mentioned earlier, it’s not something that I would recommend Christians listen to.
As I also said earlier, I don’t know where Chance stands with the Lord. If Chance is a new Christian, praise God! My prayer for him is that he would find a solid local church and that the Lord would place godly people around him who are more concerned about his soul than his celebrity status.
I am hopeful for him, though. I could envision a scenario where he got saved before putting Coloring Book out and just ended up keeping the older songs he had already done on the album. I hope that’s the case. If so, I look forward to seeing how the fruits of repentance and saving faith manifest themselves in his life and music.
Along with many others, I’ll be watching (and praying).