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.
I am currently in a season in my life where I long to see the power of the Christian hip hop community manifest itself in something other than a CD or mix tape. I wonder if the Holy Spirit is really at work in us or are we just lyrically and musically talented? I keep thinking to myself, if the power of the Spirit has given us victory on the mic, then shouldn’t we see that same power off the mic as well? We are not in the Old Testament times where God the Spirit came on people for a quick task and then jetted; these are New Testament times where the Spirit permanently indwells his people to be a continual recourse for empowered service. We are told to keep being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) so we know that our spiritual energies can be depleted, but the idea is that we do not have to wait for God to zap us again, we just have to refuel.
I have always thought to myself that a true healer or miracle worker does not only heal in some big arena when it’s show time, but a true healer and miracle worker demonstrates this power from God off camera, and in the real world. He could go into a hospital and clear it out, and walk on the street and touch the vast number of sick people. Something is fishy when the only time their “powers” are at work is when they are putting on some well-televised, well-planned event. Well, as Christian rappers, we can become just as lopsided; just as staged. We can become showman, who minister with passion and fire at a show, but, have either no motivation or no energy to labor just as passionately off stage.
A vision that I have always had for Cross Movement was that we would hit the road hard to awaken our nation’s Christian hip-hop reserves to the idea of boldly representing Jesus Christ as a full-time mission. By God’s grace, to some degree we have done that and we have loved all of the perks that have come with that aspect. The challenge for us has been, when we are not on the road—continuing to minister? We formed a nonprofit organization so that we could facilitate other ministry efforts that were not necessarily “mic-oriented.” However, the drive and ability to do the “other things” has been greatly challenged by a number of internal and personal things as well as some external things. Admittedly, we have not been the force off the stage that I had hoped we’d be. For many reasons our onstage performance has far outweighed our offstage service. Some of you are probably gloating right now, saying, “I knew it, they’re not on the streets like me and my friends.” Well, you probably are on the streets because you have no choice. You don’t have to balance the limelight or being on the road with offstage ministry, because you have little or no limelight and you have a very limited traveling schedule. However, I still think we have not done a good job balancing these two and so I was moved to encourage us to get back on point. Internally we have to see this as necessary, especially as leaders in the Christian hip-hop community, and we have to want to lead by example.
There are other things that frustrate the desire to get something crackin’ offstage, and that is the appetites of the church. First, we can’t seem to move beyond “the concert.” Speaking for the African American slice of the hip-hop generation, I find that it’s getting to the point where rappers and preachers are the only two ministry platforms that can draw a crowd. Prayer meetings can’t draw a crowd, evangelism can’t draw a crowd, and mentoring opportunities don’t draw a crowd. We either flock to the mic or flock to hear those who’ve got the mic. Not many Christians of the hip-hop persuasion make it beyond the concert. For those of us who make a token appearance every now-and-then, we don’t bring our A-game. The best of our energies show up when we are on the mic, in the studio, or in a concert-crowd, while our left-overs show up sporadically in a church service, at a prayer meeting, or at some obscure service project. Peep it and weep–at the concert—thousands; in the classroom—hundreds; on the corner—tens. This goes for the Christian hip hop leaders as well, because we get to the point where we just don’t have enough of ourselves left to hit the classroom or the corner.
If we are not careful, we will allow our popularity and our prominence to replace our responsibility to do the small/hidden necessities of every Christian. We will preach but not study. We will rap but not evangelize. We will move the crowd, but not rally with the community of faith. We will be served, but not serve. It’s real subtle—we will unknowingly and unwillingly become a shell of what we seem to be during that hour on stage. We will have the right spill, but not be an incarnate example of the things that we are passionately communicating. And we will not intentionally be a fraud, but in hindsight we will look back and have to admit that we are almost none of the stuff that we say that a disciple should be.
We would tell a disciple that they should be sharing their faith as a way of life—but we either can’t or don’t. We would tell a disciple that he/she should regularly gather with a mature community of believers—but we either can’t or don’t. We would tell a disciple that he/she should be involved in laboring along side of a group of God’s people—but we either can’t or don’t. We would tell a disciple that he/she should be individually and corporately faithful, prayerful, studious—but we either can’t or don’t. Sooner or later, we have to lead our generation by example, and I believe that our Christian hip-hop leaders must model the other aspects of Christianity for those who have become fans/disciples.
I keep thinking and wondering what it would look like to see the same power that is at work in us on stage, flexing in full effect off the stage. The only dilemma is, “who wants to get off the stage?” After all, that is where both our spiritual gifts and natural motivations converge. We can become so intoxicated with this one aspect of service that we do not want to venture into arenas that are more sobering, challenging, and less likely to produce immediate personal payoff. I KNOW THIS FROM EXPERIENCE.
Some people are doing all they can, and others are doing all they like to do. I believe that the Christian hip-hop community which includes more than Christian hip-hop artists can be a community that becomes known for broadcasting an array of expressions of Holy Ghost power. We need more that rap and rappers. We need more than simply the four elements of hip-hop. It pains me to see Christian hip-hop artists who seem to have a passion and commitment for rap that does not exist for basic Christian fundamentals. They record until the wee-hours of the morning, fly great distances, sign hundreds of autographs, make crowds say, “hooo!” but rarely if ever spend serious time in a theological learning context, attend a prayer meeting, go on a missions trip, join an evangelistic blitz, attend a bible study, or anything for the body of Christ besides take the stage or pulpit.
In ministry there seems to be at least two main types of ministers—those who primarily minister in the limelight, and those who minister in the recesses of virtual obscurity. There are those who minister to what becomes a fan base, and those who minister to the “market place.” One group ministers to people who idolize them, buy their products, and cheer them on; the others minister without many perks. They are forced to look forward to the payoff of souls and an eternal reward. If we stray from being the latter, we must beware. This is a wake up call to my people—those who do hip-hop art and those who consume it. We must move beyond CDs and concerts, to classes and corners.
The reason for this is the need. There was a time when the world was not ready to follow us into a class or to a corner. Neither the world, nor the church was paying us any mind. We were like David, in the back with the sheep while everybody else was around the dinner table. Society needed a ram’s horn strategy. In the past, to get the attention of a town or a community, a horn or trumpet was blown. Well, the horn has been blown. We have awakened a large contingent of people up to the fact that Christ is Lord of hip-hop and Lord of all. We have their attention, and many of them like us enough to come to our concerts, visit our websites, and buy our product. Don’t we have more to offer them? The current times call for us to become teachers and the students who hit the classroom where the mind can be renewed (Rm 12:2).
Who will teach? In addition to the pastors and teachers of the former generation who we desperately need, we need teachers from the Christian hip-hop population as well. Like the writer of Hebrews said of some of the Christians “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Heb 5:11). I know too many of us who have Bible degrees, or we’ve sat in churches for over a decade, our parents are pastors and ministers, we’ve been to conferences galore—yet we are not becoming the teachers. Spirit empowered rappers and non-rappers—we just need hip-hop missionaries who know Christ and the culture enough to educate the hip-hop oriented society we live in. As for those that do rap, some of us who teach in our rap need to also teach without our rap. One reason for this is simply that there is more in us than just rap. Secondly, the world needs to see the same cats they idolize, pouring deep truths into them. Because of the times we are in, we have to supplement the rap with basic teaching because rap can’t do it all. In fact, sometimes rap is a hindrance because it keeps people in a “concert” state of mind. We run the risk of stunting their growth so that they never advance from a fan to a follower.
After the classroom, where our zeal is aligned with accurate biblical knowledge, we can be entrusted and spirit empowered to bum-rush the corners. Drug-dealers shouldn’t be the only ones who make the corner their headquarters. Street theologians and evangelists should also make the corners their mission field. We were designed for this. Paul spent much time in both the synagogue and the market place (the corner of his day). Can you imagine the impact that the Christian hip-hop community of missionary minded people would make on this world as we demonstrate affection for God’s classroom and the world’s corners? Even the secular world would appreciate our example. By God’s grace we would be more effective teachers, better students, peacemakers, role models, anti-drug and anti-violence advocates—all while still maintaining the hip-hop elements that don’t clash with our identity in Christ.
Our society needs role models – those who model a commitment to learning, leading, and serving. Life is bigger than us and our personal fetishes. Our CDs and concerts are appetizers. May we roll up our sleeves and lead people to the main course. Let’s take them from the concert to the classroom, to the corner.
He brought a scrutiny and a critical eye to a sinfully secular hip hop culture, and a very loose and unaccountable Christian hip hop genre.
He fueled a pre-existing skepticism and antagonism towards hip hop and it’s infiltration in the church.
Those of us who desired to teach the church about the Truth about Hip Hop were indigenous to the culture, so we looked too much like the culprits for them to trust our ability to view and report on hip hop biblically.
Craig Lewis and Ex Ministries simplify the remedy to the hip hop dilemma by getting rid of it, rather than skillfully, prayerfully, biblically, and missionally going to work to evangelize hip hop.
Rather than trusting indigenous Christian hip hop missionaries to work among the hip hop community, the new fad is to buy Craig Lewis’ DVD and then declare hip hop culture to be off of God’s redemption list. Sad, but true.
Craig Lewis’ powerful stories about casting out demons and people surrendering weapons and burning CDs is far more appealing than the sometimes more hidden miracle of conversion.
Hip hop apart from Jesus Christ is so wicked that it is easy to believe that it is an invention of Satan, and Christian hip hop is so similar to the culture that it’s easy to dismiss it along with the secular version.
When Christian hip hop values and practices the same sins as the unredeemed culture, we then become a target for those who already despise our differences. My advice to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have detectable hip hop cultural distinctive is that we reduce the chance of people despising us by displaying beefy Christianity. Like Paul says, “…in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1Tim 4:12).
Craig Lewis brought the churches focus to one of the most necessary subjects of our times—hip hop.
To the pre-hip hop generation (pastors, parents, Christian gatekeepers, etc.) and the current hip hop community:
Meet a Missionary
Meet My Mission Field
The Motivation for the Music
- I used the platform of a CD for multiple purposes and to reach a couple of audiences.
- I wanted to display a biblically sifted hip hop understanding so that the church would become open to my counsel and the culture would become open to my message.
- I wanted to explain the origins and essence of Hip Hop so that people would be able to distinguish between what Hip Hop is and what Hip Hop is used to promote. There is a vast difference between what it was and what it has come to represent.
- I wanted to admonish the people of the hip hop community since so much godlessness does exist in it. I wanted to champion Christ’s rule in Christian Hip Hop and proclaim this as both an antidote and an alternative to what is provided in most secular Hip Hop.
- I sought to elevate the personal worth of Jesus Christ in the eye of the hip hop community.