After listening and reading material put out by other African American reformed Christians on the topic of reformed theology and Christian rap, it’s time for us to think clearly about rap music and its effect on African American culture.
When I first became a Christian I joined a suburban African American Baptist church. My first church experience was a good representation of what of a typical (dispensational) Baptist church was like. Rap music was never a medium that was completely embraced. Every once in a while you would hear a Christian rap artist, but it wasn’t a regular practice in the life of the church. Once I became reformed in my thinking, I was immediately surrounded by rap culture (specifically reformed rap). I myself was under the impression that this is what it meant to be reformed and black. Rap music is not just another genre of music, it’s a culture. Rap culture influences the way people talk, act, and dress and it has filtered down into the church.
What is concerning to me (and should be concerning to everyone else) is making reformed rap the standard for African American Christians to be reformed. The problem with this is that it creates a culture where reformed theology for African Americans automatically equals hip hop music. In other words if you embrace the one, you must embrace the other. This issue begs the question, “are all African Americans raging hip hoppers?” The simple answer is no and to assume so is a major stereotype.
We are not relating to African American culture as a whole if pastors (who are not rappers) continue to peddle rap music into every church they are called to serve. My wife asked me an excellent question not too long ago. She asked me why the majority of African American pastors who graduate from top reformed seminaries target almost exclusively urban communities? could it be because there is a new reformed movement known as Christian hip hoppers? I’m not ready to say I have it all figured out, but I will say the emphasis on rap music is very interesting. There are many African Americans who are not in to rap music at all. Many predominantly African American churches have no real ties or commitments to the movement except to get the young people more interested. In fact if you ask the average African American pastor what he thinks of Christian rap, he would probably tell you it’s a worldly genre.
I do believe that God can redeem what has been used for evil, but do we need more idols? Rap music has been a major idol in African American culture. Secular rap promotes violence, killing, sex, drugs, and other acts explicitly condemned by God in scripture. And it’s no surprise that many people who regularly listen to rap music embrace the lifestyles being promoted. Therefore we should be encouraging people to flee idolatry, not run towards it (1 Cor 10:14). It’s almost as if we’re communicating to the world that African Americans need more rap music, when in fact what they need is more of Christ. If people are attracted to our churches because they’re dope, or because the Pastor is slick, then we need to consider Psalm 119:59: “When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies.” The Apostle Paul didn’t come to the gentiles with some catchy hook or impressive word, but he came in the demonstration of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:4).
If you take away all of the lights and the rhyme schemes, will hypocrites and the unconverted remain in your church? I will let those in the reformed rap movement find out. If men and women are attracted to our churches because of rap music and not Christ and His word, then we have failed.
Am I saying that Christians can’t produce good sound hip hop music if that’s what they’re in to? No I’m not. But I do believe there needs to be some sort of separation when it comes to the church and rap music for the sake of all African Americans. I believe we would be doing ourselves a favor by not creating another fad as we have enough of those to avoid.
My desire is to see my fellow reformed African Americans think more clearly about this because we need to avoid creating a culture of being urban in order to feel welcomed in the church. There is always the temptation to try it another way or try another technique to get more people interested in the church or sound theology. But may God help us to be faithful to Him and to follow the example He has given us in His word.Tyrese Jackson Member of New Life Community Church in King .