Thursday, February 23, 2012

Can Rap be Reformed Enough?

I had no idea rap music had gone Reformed.

Apparently, however, it's the latest craze in North America's Piper/Challies Reformation crowd.  Preacher John Piper and blogger Tim Challies, that is.

As I read Challies' February 20th blog entry on Christian rap music, I couldn't help but be amazed at how, even as many evangelicals are reaching back for a centuries-old dose of Calvinist predestination, so many of us seem to be co-opting the newest music offerings from the urban ghetto.

And when it comes to rap, I use the term "music" loosely.

Admittedly, I've never liked rap.  At least not the "music" aspect of it.  Some of rap's lyrics can be quite poetic and clever, but the aural sounds that generally accompany even good rap lyrics are nothing more than clangings, whumps, scratches, and various other distorted noises.  Most rap noise basically sounds like bits and pieces of a soundtrack recorded when people were moving furniture around a warehouse.

Not exactly uplifting, edifying, joyful, or anything close to beautiful.

Rappers themselves also tend to recite their poetry - even when it's good poetry - in tuneless yells, electronic stutterings, jaded diatribes, and other noises that, in any other context, even rap enthusiasts themselves would consider unpleasant.

For his part, Challies gushes that some of the new Christian rap makes for good music.  Which must mean he uses the term "music" loosely, too.  Unless there's a good way of harmonizing the sound of moving furniture around a warehouse I don't know about.

Perhaps this sudden interest in rap music folks like Piper and Challies are encouraging among Reformed evangelicals is a veiled attempt at de-coloring Christianity.  After all, to be evangelical in North America generally means to be white, and to be a Reformed evangelical almost certainly means to be white.  If America's leaders in our new Reformation have found some black rappers who are Reformed believers, maybe they figure this is a good way to introduce multiculturalism in our congregations.

And although I'm not an ends-justify-the-means guy, multicultural congregations in North America sure would be a good thing.

But, dudes - using rap?

Sorry, I ain't gettin' jiggy wit it.

What's troublesome about the Piper/Challies enthusiasm for rap runs deeper than whether people like me enjoy this form of "music," or even the lyrics to these, um, "songs."  Sometimes, there's no accounting for taste.  No, what's troublesome is the very fact that evangelical Christians still need to validate evangelical Christianity with the trappings of pop culture.  A pop culture that hasn't exactly been known for its enduring quality.

One of the people who commented on Challies' blog post, identifying themself as "J. Tucker," describes this passion for cultural relevance as "cultural gluttony," and that's a good term for it.  Rather than letting the Gospel define its own relevance, too many evangelicals seek out relics from our hedonistic culture to dress up and trot onto our seeker-friendly runways as redeemed worship formats.

Maybe that works for some unchurched people who have nothing better with which to relate.  Particularly if they're people who, if they fit the stereotype of rap fans, have been alienated from America's conventional, suburban, "white" church.  Such a scenario fits with the Lord's promise regarding the distribution of His Gospel:  that His Word, even if it's not preached well, will still not return void.

Not exactly a resounding endorsement for bad evangelism methods, but not a blanket condemnation of them, either.

Yet, speaking of stereotypes, bashing them seems to be more what juices Piper and Challies than focusing on the worship of God.  Supposedly having middle-aged white preachers getting hooked on rap music is a good thing because it makes them cool.  Kinda edgy and counter-cultural.  And since only prudes like me question such a trend, this new cred of theirs gets even more firmly validated.

I don't suppose that Christian rap given to God in worship is any more or less pleasing to Him than a Bach oratorio, since God looks at the heart of the worshipper more than the medium of worship.  But does God care if the worship is popular here in His creation?  Does He care if our music, such as it is, isn't also running a sideline intentionality of making the Gospel more appealing to the world?

Shouldn't we be more judicious in the ways we worship our holy, high God?

Authentic rap, like rock music, comes from carnal and hedonistic origins designed for narcissistic pleasures.  Rap has been heralded as a balm for the blight of the urban soul, with all of its gritty vicissitudes.  But what of that balm is eternally significant, since it still relies on the graffiti-esque interpretation of darkness and materialistic sensuality for its self-determination?  In this regard, both rap and rock have far more strikes against them than classical music does when it comes to appropriateness for worship.

I'm fully aware this is not an idea many Christ-followers accept.  Virtually all of evangelical Christianity has already shunned earlier warnings of rock music's questionable attractiveness, a precursor for marginalizing the gangsta credo of rap's roots.  But just because such warnings are unpopular, are they invalid?  Should we be trying to fit into the world around us if, as Christ has already warned us, His Word is offensive to the world?

I'm not saying that new trends are inherently wrong.  For example, Challies has made a name for himself as a popular Christian blogger by being an early-adopter of Internet technology.  Actually, on most topics unrelated to music, Challies can be pretty discerning when it comes to ways in which Christians try to squeeze as much carnality into modern Christ-likeness.

But, like me, he's not always right.

If, as Challies suggests, I'm supposed to adjust my musical tastes to accommodate Christian rap, maybe people who enjoy Christian rap should consider adjusting their assessment of this supposed art form as a valid expression of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and self-control.

The Fruit of the Spirit:  the original balm for spiritual blight.  From the Original Counter-Culturalist.

Who didn't care if other people considered Him trendy or not.

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