LOOK AT GOD!
God is something else! I would have never guessed that two years ago as I was desperately seeking God and surveying the culture for a topic to write my master’s thesis that I would have struck gold with the topic “The Theological Implications of Hip hop Culture.” One of my professors, Dr. Lawson, rightfully pointed out to me that I couldn’t force people to seriously consider hip hop, but if it could be determined that hip hop has theological implications, then every Christian would be confronted with having to choose a response to those implications. In light of the debates that have been raging in churches and on websites, God’s providence is obvious. We are not just debating about hip hop, WE ARE DEBATING THEOLOGY and its practical applications and lifestyle implications. The question that we are asking is, “who and what does God accept or reject?” Who are God’s people and what do they all look like, act like, talk like, dress like and listen to? This is the crux of the issue, yet it is obvious that the church’s problem with hip hop is deeper than its disdain for a people group and their culture.
WHY I STAY INVOLVED IN THIS DISCUSSION
Many people in the church suffer from either a misinformed and/or underdeveloped theology or no theology at all. As I listen to Craig Lewis and company—along with the people who urge that we stop all this targeting and educating about hip hop—it becomes evident that many people think that it is spiritual to ignore or disrespect a people group strictly because of its sinfulness. To treat the hip hop culture like it is somehow outside the scope of God’s grace and message of salvation is basically saying “to hell with you hip hoppers!” If that is too strong, perhaps it seems more palatable to say, “…to hell with all of the things about you hip hoppers except the things that are exactly like me.” Either way, this is exactly what is being forwarded due to the ignorance that prevails among us. Hip hop or not—I want to distance myself from this unbiblical sentiment, and that is the only reason why periodically I add a log on to the already raging fire of debate.
I can still hear my seminary counselor saying, “Duce, write something that will be helpful for you in ministry after you have left this school and gone into the mission field that God has prepared you for.” I had always approached hip hop as strictly an evangelist/emcee. Little did I know that as I approached hip hop from a social, theological, and scholarly level, I would actually unearth biblical credence for using Christian hip hop missionally, and biblical support for embracing the Christian who maintains non-sinful hip hop traits (don’t miss any of that—read every word carefully). After much prayer and thought what became obvious was that I could do a thesis that sought to expose the theological implications of a 30-year-old global movement that has the world under its sway. In complex urban settings (i.e. NYC, ATL, Philly, etc.) it is one of the most inescapable realities of the common people and the primary discipler of those born after 1968. I thought to myself, “Why not? The church could use the education, and Christians from the hip hop generation could use the biblical support for what they were already doing.” As an evangelist I had spent over a decade ministering as a Christian from the hip hop generation to more than just hip hoppers. I had developed a reputation for being faithful to the Christian faith as well as relevant to the “hip hop times.” After all of my recordings (The Thesis included), I didn’t even think I had to validate my total, complete and fervent commitment to the cross, the faith, and the people of God. I also thought that all talks about reaching hip hop would be evaluated in light of that prior faithfulness. But that proved to be idealistic thinking. Many, not all, of the naysayers do not know of my/our prior track record, so I must continue to set the record straight.
IT’S NOT ABOUT HIP HOP
No matter how hard we try to delineate between engaging a culture and embracing the sins of the culture we still find ourselves being accused of defending, promoting, or pledging allegiance to something other than Christ. Do the research; Cross Movement and all of its affiliated entities and artists have been elevating Christ over hip hop for more than a decade. We have become known for insisting that Christ and his cross be central in the Christian rapper’s music. However, because of our passion to see God save and use converts from the hip hop community, we cannot idlely standby while someone wrongfuly distorts the truth about the issue of hip hop and the Christian hip hopper. Hip hop is not a creation of the devil and the Christian hip hopper is not trying to Christianize a demonic invention. The devil is not a creator of anything. God is the sole source of all creation. Under God mankind was given a similar responsibility, the authority to cultivate. Mankind takes what God has created and cultivates it. In the Scriptures Satan never creates anything. He merely corrupts, deceives, and taints everything that God intends for good. The devil didn’t even create sin. He sins and he convinces us to sin, but he cannot create sin for us. Please don’t misread me, this holy hip hop feud is not personal. I’m not in the least bit concerned with how Craig Lewis’ slanderous remarks and bogus messages affect me personally, but I do care about the church fulfilling her mission. I also care about the image of the people of God in the eyes of “outsiders” (Romans 2:24). The church is already known for being slack in engaging and evangelizing emerging cultures. This is in part why hip hop does not see the church as its friend or its helper. In fact, they perceive the Nation of Islam as a friend, partly because the Nation affirms them and doesn’t only chastise them. I do not want the church’s marred image to be extended any further as the church finds an unscriptural reason to alienate one of the most influential people groups of our times.
IT’S NOT ABOUT CHRISTIAN HIP HOP
Understand this–to use the term “Christian hip hop” does not make a person guilty of exalting or “fondling hip hop.” If a white Christian used the same logic against the “black church” that I have been hearing from some of you, we would have a riot on our hands. To accuse the person who refers to “the black church” of wrongfully exalting and promoting his ethnicity or culture would be to start a war that everyone would regret. We all know that there is only one true church of Jesus Christ and it is neither black nor white. Yet we may refer to the “black church experience” or a “Korean church.” These terms are used to describe some of the distinguishing ethnic and cultural characteristics one would find among the church members—the adjective simply modifies the noun. Christian hip hoppers know that we are Christians and that “Christian hip hop” is not our identity. The terms are joined together in order to help others to describe the observable solidarity that is exhibited by Christians who come from a hip hop culture context. (I wish people would stop making us state the obvious.)
DO WE REALLY LOVE THOSE “OTHER” PEOPLE?
I never imagined being ensnared in a theological and “missiological” debate about a culture (hip hop) that I have been countering for nearly 15 years. To listen to me in sermon or on CD, or my inner-circle of ministry partners, and suggest that we have an allegiance to godless hip hop or Christian hip hop culture is ABSURD! To listen to us and hear anything other than an appeal that the church embrace the saved and converted people of that culture is to hear what you want to hear. To hear anything other than a plea for the church to engage and evangelize the unconverted of the culture without dumping personal preferences on them is to hear what you want to hear. We are all under obligation to love God and man. Don’t tell me that you love me or you accept me, but yet you reject everything about me that distinguishes me from you and your preferred group. To accept a people means to allow them the freedom to be different (assuming those differences are not sinful.) Every one of us want to be accepted without having to become something or someone that we are not.
WE DO MISSIONS NOT LAUNCH CRUSADES
During the Crusades, conversions were forced by the sword of a man. Real mission work is conducted by the sword of the Spirit (the word of God). We are not supposed to be forcing people to become like us. We are supposed to be urging them to become like Christ—the robe and sandal-wearing, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek speaking, carpenter/rabbi who followed Jewish customs perfectly. We do not want them to wear what he wore, speak like he spoke, and observe any custom that does not transcend all cultures for all times. We want them to embrace this one Lord by grace through faith.
So for the record—Jesus is God in the flesh, second person of the triune Godhead. He is 100% God and 100% man and as such, He provides us the perfect example of true humanity. After living a perfect life—dying a substitutionary death for sinners, RESURRECTING, and sending the Holy Spirit to indwell believers—He commanded His people to go into all the world and make disciples. As a motivating promise, He said that He would be with all who fulfilled this great commission. Since that time, believers have been seeing this commandment as both a privilege and a responsibility. It’s a privilege to think that a perfect God would enlist such imperfect people to carry out His plans. It is a responsibility because He gave us a great commandment and not a great suggestion.
Since the missionary journeys of Paul and the like, so much has changed and so much has remained the same. Though Paul was a Jew culturally and religiously, it is worth noting that he did not add to his gospel message the cultural baggage of Judaism.
IT’S ABOUT SO MUCH MORE
We plead with you out there if you have spiritual eyes to see—and a heart for He preached Christ. Yet, due to the opposition from Jews who did not want Gentile culture “polluting” the church, Paul did have to preach reconciliation of the Jew, Gentile, barbarian, slave, and free. He actually preached about the Gentile’s freedom to participate in the kingdom of God, and argued with his friend Peter about confusing this issue of free access to Christ for the non-Jew (Gal 2:11-14). So he preached the Gospel, but also he preached freedom from Jewish culture. lost people groups of the earth—stop distorting and confusing the issue. This is about more than just rappin’ or wearing fitted caps and Timberlands. This is about more than just going to church. This is about more than “just being Christian.” This is about the church’s responsibility to be the sending agent into every people group until Christ comes back. This is about indigenous missions—people doing missions among those that they are socially native to.
All these arguments prove is that there will always be a group who acts like their cultural expression and their norms are right, and therefore superior to someone else’s. The hip hoppers, along with other emerging groups within our pluralistic and postmodern society, are minorities within today’s church circles. There will always be some who think that they have a right to force these emerging groups to culturally assimilate. I believe that we ought to proceed with the mission to reach out and engage all peoples both cross-culturally and indigenously.
DON’T BE A MISSIONARY IF…
I pray that you prayerfully reconsider your participation in urban missions:
- If your understanding of the devil’s involvement in the origins of hip hop is more aligned with Craig Lewis than reality
- If you are not able to perceive and appreciate the damage being inflicted by the misunderstanding Craig Lewis and those like him have of the hip hop missionary movement
- If you think God perceives your culture as the highest and best culture in the world
- If you think that culture is unimportant and only spirituality is
- If you think that God rejects non-sinful aspects of every culture except yours
In this state you are a hazard to the missionary enterprise. You will burden people with your preferences and forge God’s signature on your personal tastes and styles. You will unload your logic and your made-up laws, while simultaneously claiming that “God told you to do it.” You will be proud of yourself when people from other contexts look and act like you in every way, and you will give them spiritual a “thumbs up” for what is really only an external change of wardrobe and musical style. You will trick them into thinking that they are internally righteous because externally they have burned a couple of CDs and stripped off their hip hop gear.
I’m not being sarcastic or insensitive—I mean this as a sobering caution. God is glorified when the diversity that He intended is promoted and even celebrated. Paul argued in favor of the freedom of the Gentiles. He even opposed Peter when Peter started acting like it was a Christian crime to act like a Gentile (Gal 2:14). This is a theological problem and Cross Movement and others have been wise in trying to reason with the larger Christian community about this collective mission. The mission is the transmission of our faith, not the downloading of our culture.
Recommending cultural modifications is ok, but degrading non-sinful—yet different—ways of existing in Christ is a crime. God does not support this and even a glance at Scripture reveals this.
Please people; understand the issue and the Scriptures. I will NOT write a response to the responses to this. I will seek public venues to discuss this for the sake of those who have an ear to hear. I have resolved to continue joining with all who desire to bring the gospel and floss the life in Christ within the cities of America. This means I will certainly be in contact with the hip hop community—serving it, preaching to it and making disciples out of those who place faith in Jesus Christ by grace.