I’ve tried not to weigh in on the recent kerfuffle over reformed hip-hop. It’s dangerous because no matter where you come down you’re going to be misunderstood and excoriated. For the record, I’ve tried not to use the word kerfuffle either. But since a lot of others have used it concerning this – well – you know.
This whole issue came up when a panel of six at a recent NCFIC conference answered a question from the audience concerning the appropriateness of reformed rap. All six panelists said the genre itself is inappropriate regardless of the soundness of the words sung.
Obviously, the point in weighing in is to say something that hasn’t been said. Who cares if I simply say, “me too,” regardless of what I say “me too” to. I do however think it’s important to stake out my position on the way to the lagniappe I want to offer.
Scripture, not opinion, is our authority. Scripture tells us music of all kinds can glorify God. Without getting into the myriad of “what ifs” that could be raised, if one loves God, makes music for the purpose of glorifying Him, and uses words that do in fact glorify Him, God is pleased with it regardless of the musical genre: regardless of the actual notes played. While such a conclusion may be gleaned from the Old Testament alone, the New Testament affirms that we can glorify God with different types of songs. At the same time, the New Testament doesn’t specify what instruments or genres are appropriate. It would seem therefore that the liberty the New Covenant gives would drive us to this position, namely, that rap or hip-hop can glorify God.
At the same time, it is entirely inappropriate to accuse the panel of racism. Aside from some legitimate concerns that were raised, they didn’t use biblical arguments; they were ignorant of certain things; and calling reformed rap artists cowards, as one panelist did, is totally out of line. But to level the charge of racism is not only slanderous, but plays into the supercharged politically correct culture that militates against God and a well-ordered civil society in the New Covenant era. Further, it takes the debate off track, hinders profitable iron-sharpening dialogue, and tempts thinking people to marginalize those who level such charges the way they want to marginalize these panelists simply because they don’t agree with their position. In a biblical discussion on slavery, I don’t want to hear racists yelling from the cheap seats. Neither do I want to hear race-baiters doing the same here.
The reality is the arguments offered by the panelists are the same arguments that certain fundamental groups have offered for decades concerning CCM. Their beef has nothing to do with race but with style (electric guitars and drums) and cultural origin: rock & roll culture that is, not black culture. That’s why the charge of cultural racism (the notion that one’s culture is superior to another’s because of race), as distinct from outright racism, is also out of bounds. These men were not arguing that white culture is superior to black culture.
Though I’ve tread there already in some respects, now to the lagniappe beyond “me too.” Having put the issues of cultural origin and culture on the table, the NCFIC panelists have also been accused of cultural elitism. While they weren’t arguing for the superiority of white culture over black, they were arguing that rap culture is less than godly and in so arguing they were implying that rap culture (including reformed rap) is inferior to Christian culture as they understand it. Now two things need to be said here.
First, reformed rap may have come out of plain old rap culture, but reformed rap is now part of Christian culture in that the musical form is being used to glorify God. The musical form has been Christianized; it has been redeemed. (It should go without saying that the sinful trappings of rap culture would also have to be jettisoned for reformed rap, or anything for that matter, to be truly Christianized. Rap that visually communicates or glorifies swagger, anger, or rebellion, is no more Christianized than a school that has chapel services but teaches evolution in the classroom).
Second, and here’s the rub, some cultures are superior to others. Now don’t throw the tomatoes (or bricks) at my head yet. Hear me out. Christian culture is superior to pagan culture, not because Christians are inherently better than other people, they are not, but because Christ transforms. One may see the cultural results of biblical influence morally, legally, civilly, economically, etc., just as one may see the deleterious effects on a culture when a cohesive Christian worldview is eroded. Historically, it’s a Christian influence that precipitated hospitals, universities, social justice, civil liberty, economic prosperity, etc. If the gospel doesn’t change people, families, communities, structures, and cultures, what’s the point?
While it would be unfair to paint unredeemed rap culture with a broad brush, I think it’s fair to say it didn’t flow from a Christianizing influence. And I think that’s part of where the panelists were coming from in all fairness. Again, I disagree with their conclusion on reformed rap. They failed to see a distinction between unredeemed rap culture and Christians who are part of Christian culture redeeming an art form for the glory of God. So let’s not charge them with cultural elitism as if all cultures are equally valid. That’s what the philosophical pluralists want us to believe. Christian culture is superior to unredeemed rap culture. But Christian culture consists of a wide variety of art forms and subcultures that purposely glorify God. Failing to see that distinction and larger Christian culture was where the panelists whiffed the ball.
So let’s think clearly on this kerfuffle,
And not get our feathers in a ruffle,
And quit attempting to rudely muffle,
What could be a good and friendly scuffle,
Where iron sharpens iron and we reshuffle,
Or we might hear the Lord Jesus snuffle!
We must praise Him – the sweet tastin’ truffle,
When Voice and Shai Linne are not in the duffle,
But with Handel and Bach on your ipod shuffle.
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Auburn knocked off top-ranked Alabama on the last play of the 2013 Iron Bowl in a most unlikely fashion – and it was kind of a repeat. In their previous game Auburn had beaten Georgia with a Hail Mary touchdown pass on fourth and eighteen with seconds to go in the game. Auburn commentator Rod Bramblett shouted “A miracle in Jordan-Hare! A miracle in Jordan-Hare!” The play would later be dubbed “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare.”
That victory snatched from the jaws of defeat set up the Iron Bowl with the winner landing a spot in the SEC Championship game. As the last play unfolded with Chris Davis returning a Bama missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown, the call by Rod Bramblett was as exciting as the play. Once again in his own inimitable way he yelled with jubilant disbelief “Auburn is gonna win the football game! Auburn is gonna win the football game.” Like the Tiger fans storming the field, his enthusiasm couldn’t be contained.
Now at the risk of reading too much into a couple of Bramblett’s exclamations, (and I suffer no delusion that his focus in that instant was on God, though I have no way of truly knowing), the most poignant thing he could come up with in a moment like that was in fact, “Oh my God.” And then, “And we thought A Miracle in Jordan-Hare was amazing! Oh my Lord in Heaven!”
These comments are instructive; while he simply could have been taking the Lord’s name in vain, we can at least say his worldview has been influenced in some way by Scripture. In two games he refers to miracles. In the second, he appeals to “[his] Lord in Heaven.” Whether knowingly or not in his case, for those who do know, can there be any response in the most exciting moments of life other than to give glory to God? For some, God is a throwaway, an afterthought, a common expletive, etc. But for those who truly know Him, we can’t but bubble over with Him in all of life. He’s our focus. And while Bramblett was no doubt focused on Auburn, his only explanation for their victories over Georgia and Alabama was – well – God. In his mind they were miracles – God’s intervening to suspend what naturally should have happened.
No Christian wants to hear the Lord’s name in vain; it’s offensive. And admittedly while my sentimentality could be getting in the way, I was not offended by Bramblett’s words (on the surface). It’s not that I’m an Auburn fan (I’m not). It’s not that I know where Bramblett stands with Christ (I don’t). But it’s that the words were only fitting – true miracle or not – (actually just providence). But indeed providence. God was in it whether most understand that or not and we ought to acknowledge that. As my friend Jay Younts is prone to say, the news and weather casters don’t tell the truth. They talk about political maneuvers and natural disasters; dictators and weather systems; but they don’t talk about God. No matter what the news or weather – God is doing something. We used to acknowledge that but no longer. But we should. Whether Bramblett meant it or not, he spoke truth.
And that’s why tears well up in my eyes every time I hear Bramblett’s call at the end of the Iron Bowl. Though I’m not an Auburn fan, I rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15), but I rejoice even more when Christ is exalted (Phil. 1:18). And it’s true: Oh my Lord in Heaven – oh how He reigns!
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We’ve all heard the story of the young wife who cut off both ends of the ham before cooking it. When her husband asked her why – she didn’t know; that’s the way her mom always did it. Sensing she was missing some valuable information she went to her mom with the question. Answer: “I only had one pan and it was too small for the ham.” Well that leaves one a little hungry in more ways than one.
You have to know why you pray. Question: why do you pray for God to save people if God doesn’t overcome a person’s will and that person’s natural bent against Him? If you believe that people choose God, why do you pray? Or, how about this question: if God is sovereign and will unfailingly save His elect, why do you pray? If what will be will be, why pray? It seems we have two ends of a ham here.
Paul says something interesting to the Thessalonian believers; he knows they are God’s elect: that they’ve been chosen by God. He knows God chose them because he sees the evidence of God at work in their lives (1 Thess. 1:2-10). He says the reason they were saved is because the gospel they heard was accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s power. They did not believe the gospel on their own; they were enabled by the Holy Spirit and that’s why Paul thanked God for them. He didn’t thank them for coming to Christ or for being good Christians; again, he thanked God for changing them.
So the answer to our first question seems simple enough. We pray because God does overcome a person’s will and natural bent against God. We pray for God to change people’s hearts. Whether we fully embrace intellectually God’s sovereignty in salvation, we all embrace it practically when we pray. Those who argue God won’t violate a person’s will actually pray that He does just that (if they pray for God to save people). Let’s leave that end of the ham on.
So far so good; but what about the second question? If divine election is true and God will save His elect, why pray for their salvation? The answer here is simple enough as well. Paul knows God is sovereign in salvation and that is exactly why he prays. Belief in God’s sovereignty over all things is not fatalistic; the bible doesn’t teach us to have a que sera sera attitude toward life. Yes, God has a plan and it will come to pass. But, God accomplishes His plan through means like prayer and witness. The very reason Paul prays is God’s power and control over all things. Let’s leave that end of the ham on too then.
Now, why wouldn’t you pray for a lost friend or lost family member’s salvation? There are only three reasons why you wouldn’t. One, you don’t believe God can answer your prayer because He won’t change a person’s heart. Two, you misunderstand the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation (predestination) and prayer is not part of the equation and makes no difference. Or three, you just don’t care. Now that one takes the ham – or the cake – or something like that.
So let me ask this question again: why do you pray for your lost friend or lost family member? Answer: because you know God is in control of his/her salvation and you want Him to bring it about. Now that’s something we can feast on.
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I’ve called our church to keep visiting orphans and widows, adopting children, and ministering in the prisons. I’ve encouraged them to keep doing mercy ministry and working for social justice. Of course, I don’t want the church as the church to set up a program of feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. What? Let me explain.
Is social justice essential to the mission of the church? Al Mohler and Jim Wallis debated this question. While both agree Christians must be involved in undertaking for the vulnerable and pastors must speak to their congregations in that regard, Mohler answers “No.” Making a distinction between the church as the church and individual Christians, the church as the church’s mission is the gospel: the message of salvation. Those who’ve become followers of Christ then engage in social justice.
Wallis’ chief concern is a truncated gospel that focuses on personal faith and excludes social justice and what that gospel has produced in the wealth-saturated church of American culture: privatized religion. Mohler counters saying the gospel has implications for social justice because God is the only one who is just and the church’s mission is not to make mere converts but to make disciples who then in turn work for social justice. Salvation is personal but not private.
Wallis would shift the definition of the gospel to include not only salvation in Christ but social justice as defined by bringing jobs to the unemployed for example. Mohler asserts we can’t change the definition of the gospel or the marching orders Christ has given us in the Great Commission. Yes we must work for the kind of social justice Wallis is talking about but that is an implication of the gospel and not the gospel itself. Mohler’s chief concern is that in changing the definition of the gospel and shifting the mission of the church away from what the church alone can do (advance the gospel) the gospel will be lost.
Mohler’s right. And that got me thinking.
Thought one: Wallis made the point that he found Christ in the black churches that were engaging politically. Well enough (and praise God). But he also acknowledges a lack of emphasis on salvation in Christ in many social justice ministries.
Thought Two: Thabiti Anyabwile has written a book entitled The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity. He notes the further one goes back, say about two-hundred years, the more theologically orthodox the black churches were. Despite being enslaved many had a robust commitment to the sovereignty of God in salvation and a sustaining hope in the resurrection. Fast forward and the churches become less orthodox. The focus in and on the black church now is how they dealt with things like abolitionism, civil rights, and political issues (a la Jim Wallis). Anyabwile avers with the influx of liberation theologians, prosperity preachers, and outright heretics, the gospel has been lost to a great degree in many quarters of the black church.
So, Mohler sees a danger in losing the gospel with a shift in gospel definition and church mission. The church is not to develop a large scale program of ministering to orphans for example. Individual Christians must care for orphans but the church can’t shift the focus in terms of making disciples (mission). If the church takes a programmatic approach to the evils in society the gospel itself by necessity becomes secondary and eventually will be eclipsed altogether. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the mainline denominations I might add. In the early twentieth century they were doing evangelism and saw the need for a more holistic gospel. They shifted their focus; meeting social need became programmatic; it became the mission of the church and liberalism was the result. The gospel was lost.
And now Anyabwile chronicles a very similar dynamic in the black church. Okay.
Thought Three: With the programmatic method of most conservative churches today are we not walking down the same path of gospel loss? It’s no exaggeration to say that for most Christians in America today church is about doing one’s religious duty on Sunday morning, getting the kids involved with some fun activities, and having men’s or women’s fellowships of one kind or another with other church members. Hasn’t church become the next pot-luck supper, the next women’s craft-get-together, or the next Easter or Christmas choir program? Isn’t it about the next bible study, youth trip, children’s outing, senior trip, or singles’ social? Isn’t it about the latest program that our kids will love? It’s like I’m a kid again at the circus that came to town every year; I can hear the man yelling in his best sing-song voice, “Program! Get your programs here. Program!”
This programmed approach is a subtle shift in mission emphasis. It’s no longer gathering to worship God and spur one another on to love and good works in the culture that we might make new disciples. The emphasis now is on offering the most activities that will keep the most people interested in coming to the massive activity complex we’ve built. Have we not traded mission for activity to satisfy our religious consumer appetite? And in so doing are we not losing the gospel? It’s telling when a young couple leaves our church simply because we don’t have enough activities for their children. And that particular is universal – else thousands of churches wouldn’t be competing for families by offering those activities. Isn’t it a sure warning sign we’re losing the gospel when our focus has shifted from reaching the lost to competing for Christian families: in other words, competing for market share?
Well, it’s like my dad used to say at the circus: “We can’t afford a program.” He was right – because we can’t afford to lose the gospel.
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