“I’ve been thrown out some of the best churches in America.” Guess who said that? No, it was not Lecrae, Da’ Truth, Trip Lee or some other “rambunctious” rap artist. Actually, the man who uttered these words has also written monumental songs that can be found in those weird little red books called “Hymnals”. Need another hint? OK, he wrote a little song called “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”. Are you with me yet? That’s right, Thomas A. Dorsey; the so-called “creator” of gospel music as we know it. Former blues musician, gospel legend, and American treasure Thomas A. Dorsey was not always appreciated. He was hated, criticized, and ostracized for his seamless blending of “secular” chords, worldly rhythms, and demonic phrasing with sacred lyrics. Such critiques sound queer today. However, what was once held as the sinful product of culture eventually became a holy pillar in the Christian community.
The debates around the purity, usefulness, and integrity of Christian Hip Hop have been circulating since its conception. Interestingly, many of these public debates happen within the blogospheres of “white” evangelicalism. Still, tension over this genre remains amongst the Black Church as well. For some in this context, the aggressive style, sinful origin, and boastful presentation are reasons many offer to reject the upcoming genre. For others, the promotion of Calvinistic doctrines in the lyrics are more offensive than the beats.
I am not writing this post to argue for the validity of Hip-Hop. The discussions of creation, culture, and the supremacy of Christ in the arts are too vast to fit into a small blog post. I am writing this post because I think there is a lot of biblical ways this young genre can serve the Bride of Christ. Years down the road, perhaps this genre will be incorporated into the life of many churches that culturally connect with the Hip Hop generation. Here are ten ways I see Christian Hip-Hop serving the church now and possibly in the future.
1. Evangelism – The next Billy Graham(s) are here. No, they are not wearing suits and ties but rather Jordans and snapbacks. They fill clubs, churches, and public venues with believers and unbelievers alike. They do concerts that have the quality and production of an MTV award show. Then, they PREACH THE GOSPEL! Not a watered-down Gospel. A Gospel of creation, sin, substitution, redemption, and response all predicated on the work of Jesus. And I believe the genre lends itself to such evangelism. They include the Gospel in their lyrics, in between songs they explain the Gospel, and as a result the genre and art has grabbed the attention of the audience. This makes the soil for evangelism rich.
2. Discipleship – Christian Hip Hop CDs are great tools for discipleship. If you have a new believer you are discipling who has a Hip Hop background you have two dilemmas. One, many of the rappers he used to listen to are materialistic, misogynistic, and unhealthy for His Christian growth. Two, he needs to know basic Christian doctrine. With Christian Hip Hop, I can give him music he culturally and personally identifies with and educate him on basic doctrine. I can give him CDs that literally talk about the Attributes of God, the 13 Pauline epistles, and what it means to follow Jesus. Few genres, if any, can talk about heavy discussion like abortion, the sufficiency of scripture, or biblical parenting! Yet, the art form of rap lends itself to complex ideas being simplified in teachable portions put to rhythm. Rap not only matches the theological depth of past hymns but also surpasses them in its diversity of topics.
3. Congregational Singing – Stick with me here. Have you ever been to a rap concert where everyone knows the lyrics? Have you ever witnessed a Hip Hop concert where artist barely sing/rap their own songs and let the audience do the work? Dear friends, that exemplifies the best of congregational singing. When Christians are engulfed in the lyrics, experience the lyrics, participate, and encourage one another in the love of Christ we have reached the heights of true worship. The time may come when churches have rappers who write or perform these lyrics that have become so familiar with the congregation that they too will join in.
4. Multiethnic Unity – This generation is Hip Hop. This world is Hip Hop. Artist like Jay-Z and Drake sell out stadiums in other countries besides the US in case you didn’t know. Hip Hop is the predominate music of popular culture and growing rapidly in the Christian realm. Christian Hip Hop artist often surpass the sales of Contemporary Christian artist and Gospel artist as well. With all the recent attention given to multiracial, multiethnic, or multicultural churches we must be aware of one of the primary tools God has given us to unite other in the faith.
5. Masculinity – The feminization of church and worship have been the focal point in many articles. We wonder where all the men are yet we continue to decorate everything with flowers and ask them to sing soft worship songs. The general population of men are aggressive and are wired to be physically passionate. However, much of the church sees aggression as sinful. We not only see Christ as a lover, but we see Christ as a warrior. He is the BOSS. He is the KING. He is the Salvific Warrior that has saved us in battle and commissioned us for war! We want to live lives like Paul and Silas, who were not wimps by the way. We want to go into the world and get beat up for the name of Jesus and come to church and hear songs that urge us to continue in the race. Sometimes a Fred Hammond song and sometimes a Chris Tomlin selection. Then there are time we need to hear the beat drop and aggressive lyrics from a person who amps us up. Hip Hop is a genre that is inherently aggressive and lends itself to the formation of Biblical Manhood.