Over the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic shift in the philosophy of how to minister to this generation through the medium of Christian Hip Hop (CHH). The “shift” involves removing the label “Christian” as the adjective that describes your music, in favor of the more general description of being a rapper.
As a rapper unleashed from the subgenre of CHH, the door to being more relatable to those in the hip hop culture swings open with greater opportunities for a broader mission field and artistic growth. Admittedly, just removing the adjective (Christian), doesn’t “auto-magically” translate into open doors; one has to have the requisite talent to standout.
Our brother Lecrae has proven to have the talent and providential favor from God to make that leap into crossover success. He has won Dove, Stellar, and Grammy awards. And by the grace of our Lord, Lecrae continues to blaze new trails in the genre as a leading supporter of this shift.
At the same time, this shift does raise a concern that we attempted to communicate through the Hey Mr. Gravity song. With this statement, we hope to bring a greater measure of clarity to the reason for the Hey Mr. Gravity song and address some of the questions being raised as a result of it.
New Alliances and Old Concerns
One concern involves collaborating with artists that have questionable material and introducing listeners who may never have heard of these artists to them through their music. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with collaborating with non-Christian artists, care has to be taken. It presents mixed signals for both sides to wrestle with. For those who are Christian, they are exposed to artists who express content that reflects a sinful mindset.
It can almost give a sense of validating that artist because collaborations are taking place which implies some sort of agreeing between the two, while their world views couldn't be further apart. For the non-Christian, it can bring confusion in a way that implies "Maybe I'm not so bad after all, I ‘collabo’ed’ with a Christian artist." Or perhaps even the listener arrives at that conclusion for themselves.
I know there have been several mentions of the analogy of rapping as being the occupation of these artists and thus, comparisons to other occupations such as plumbing. The argument is something like "we don't exclusively work with Christians when we need a specific service done. We wouldn't call a plumber and say it has to be a Christian plumber.
Well rapping is the same thing." No, it is not. The analogy falls apart when the work is compared between the two. Rapping is a form of communication that carries a heavy amount of influence with the listener. Just looking over the years at the evolution of hip-hop proves this point. It went from partying, to positive, to gangster, to bling, to making it rain, to swag.
With each turn, young listeners morphed into what penetrated their ears through the music. It became popular thought, conversation, and ideology. Even if it was a fantasy, people still talked like it and aspired to be it. That is the powerful influence of popular culture. Popular culture or “pop culture” is the larger heading under which this music (hip-hop) we love falls. Ken Myers says the following about the influence of pop culture:
“…popular culture’s greatest influence is in the way it shapes how we think and feel (more than what we think and feel) and how we think and feel about thinking and feeling.”
Now the issue of doing songs with people outside the household of God is a matter of Christian Liberty. Christian Liberty has direct reference to God; He alone is the Lord of the conscience.
Romans 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Through the penal substitionary sacrificial death of God the Son, the Lord has ushered His people into His household as adopted sons, so we are not under the bondage to any man or institution. Christ has freed us to live to God (no longer to ourselves).
Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The other aspect of our Christian Liberty, the one we tend to falter on, is the exercise of our Christian Liberty. The exercise of our Christian Liberty has to do with conduct and has direct reference to man. In other words, it has to do with how we live out our Christian Liberty among other people. This calls us to lovingly consider those believers (weaker brother) who would find our liberty a stumbling-block.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
As our brother exercises his Christian Liberty, we hope that he would ask himself the following:
· What influence do I think this will have on my hearers?
· What influence do I want this to have on my hearers?
Since pop culture has a tremendous potential for influence, the question of approach or methodology has to take into consideration the effect certain shifts can have on people who have enjoyed the music. With the move toward crossing over, our brother also has to be careful to avoid the very appearance of endorsing the lyrical ideology of his unsaved counterparts.
He is also under a powerful microscope to give clear answers to biblical questions behind closed doors and before the watching world. Francis Schaeffer calls this standing in the arena of antithesis. It is not only stating what is true, but also clearly stating that the opposite is not true. To quote Schaeffer:
“Our credibility is already minus 5 if we do not say what is false and wrong in contrast to what is true and right. It is minus 405 if we are not willing to stand practically in the arena of antithesis.
We would like to encourage our brother to exercise more caution and wisdom as he moves in this new and challenging direction. In addition to this cautious encouragement, we also like to say while new methods can be very useful and wise; the reality is that new methods do not bring people to Christ. Instead, the real agent of change is the Holy Spirit working in and through the Word of God bringing people to Christ.
· Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."
· 1Corinthians 2:10-14 "these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
We have assumed the intent of this new methodology is to intentionally invade hip hop culture with the Gospel, but is that the aim? Again, we assume that it is because that has been the approach and trajectory of the 116 clique, to be blatantly and explicitly evangelistic in their approach.
This shift could be a movement toward using the art to the glory of God without explicitly presenting it as a gospel tract. In the later approach, it would be a movement toward making good music and seizing behind the scenes opportunities to build with people in the industry. Francis Schaeffer says it this way, “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.” We believe the answer to this question is worth knowing.
Controversy and Judging Motives
The Hey Mr. Gravity was not written to be controversial in the sense of me making it a personal attack against brother in the faith, rather to bring things to light that are a cause for concern. I truly believe the Lord is using Lecrae and he is ministering in a way that many of us cannot or are not able to do at this time. Still the element of the mixed signals gives me great concern and felt another perspective needed to be shared as a matter of caution to a brother.
I am not judging his motives, nor do I want to imply that I know what is going on in his heart. However, the mixed signals cast a lot of suspicion on this new approach. He is getting opportunities to speak on behalf of the church to the world through various mediums and sometimes more mixed signals occur. Honestly, I do not envy the brother and know great challenges await him as he paves this new path.
He has my prayers along with my concerns. Many have asked whether there was one on one discussion. Christcentric, of which I am a part of, as well as other brothers have attempted to interact with him through social media and he has not been open for dialogue. However, in recent weeks we have had the opportunity to reach one of the brothers in Reach Life Ministries to discuss the issues and clear the air.
At the Heart of the Response
The Rebel vs. Gravity song showed a more emboldened stance in this approach. I thought "what about the numerous brothers and sisters in Christ, and fans? Do they know how challenging and confusing this is?" Mixed signals can lead to misconceptions and be detrimental to the listeners.
· Mark 9:42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be
better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."
I love Lecrae as a brother in Christ. My kids are fans, and I had them in mind when I wrote this. His collaborations have given me pause on playing his newer stuff because I do not want them exposed to some artists and thoughts expressed. I do not deny that Lecrae still proclaims Christ in his music, but it is a different approach now. It is an approach that is free for him to exercise based on Christian liberty.
In my passion and zeal out of concern for the "little ones" and their exposure to mixed signals, the song was presented in a firm tone. I am even shocked at myself when I hear it, but it is genuine passion from a concerned brother/father. I have always had a concern for the Body, which is why my body of work reflects that. This is unchartered territory for me, so I ask for your prayers on this matter. May the Lord's will be done.