Friday, December 28, 2007

Yo, Get Crunk, Part 2

Several weeks ago I posted a piece on the illegitimacy of certain forms of “Christian” music, such as rap and “hard core,” and included several Youtube examples of these forms of music to illustrate the points I made against them. The occasion that prompted the post was a discussion I had with a youth pastor who attempted to defend this music as legitimate forms of Christian expression. During my conversation with the youth pastor (a thoroughly Reformed young man, I might add), he raised certain arguments in an attempt to defend that style of music against my many objections—chief of which objections was the fact that that particular “Christian expression” is in conflict with the fruits of the Spirit outlined for us in Galatians 5:22-23. When “Christian expression” resembles rather the behavior of the world—namely, outbursts of anger, arrogance, rebelliousness, boastfulness, pride, sexual innuendo, violence, self glorification, and the like—then it is de facto no longer Christian. Below I address the arguments that were raised during that discussion:

Defense #1: The behavior is part of a “stage act,” and there is a difference between real life and a stage life. As an example of this, the nude sculpture of David can be considered a legitimate form of art even though public nudity in general may be inappropriate.

Response: While certain objects may be legitimate forms of art in a secular sense, the appropriateness or inappropriateness of them as an expression of Christian principles is never a given. Each case must be evaluated in its context. David’s dance before Israel while dressed in a linen epod (2 Sam 6:14), for instance, was in a context of great humility (vv. 21-22). David was certainly in a “disrobed” state (v. 20), but was not nude. Indeed, there is nothing inherently sinful about nudity; it is entirely context specific. Adam and Eve were nude before the fall and were not ashamed; and I assume everyone is nude when showering. By contrast, it is never appropriate to be arrogant, rebellious, self glorifying, prideful, boastful, violent, or engaged in sexual innuendo with regard to women in general (as the Youtube examples in my prior articles clearly depict).

But let’s make a better comparison. Does the fact that the behavior in question is merely a “stage act” exempt a Christian from culpability for that behavior? The same argument is often used by Hollywood actors who profess Christ but who choose to take roles that depict anti-Christian behavior. Is it acceptable for a Christian actor or actress to act out an erotic scene with a fellow actor/actress on screen? It’s not real sex, after all. Is it acceptable to appear in these scenes nude, or groping another actor/actress in a sexual way, or allowing themselves to be groped?

I suspect that the defenders of “Christian” rap and hard core would hesitate to say that “stage act” is okay (though, perhaps some may). The real question is not whether this kind of behavior is acceptable to men, but whether it is pleasing to God.

Defense #2: Outbursts of anger (such as is inherent in much of this music) can be appropriate depending on the context. After all, Jesus himself displayed outbursts of anger when he overturned the tables of the money changers and drove them out of the temple with a whip (John 2:14ff).

Response: I’m not sure there is much I can say to this one except that to equate the righteous indignation of our Lord against those who would turn the holiness of “God’s house” into trivial commercialism with the senseless screaming of someone on stage who then throws his body into a mosh pit borders on blasphemy. The screaming is part of this form of “music” (if that’s what it can be called), and not a display of righteous indignation. Indeed, the trivialization and mockery of the Christian message that occurs during these concerts is, ironically enough, of the same cloth as the offense that occasioned our Lord’s anger in that episode.

Defense #3: The behavior depicted by these “musicians” is simply a way to communicate to a culture who understands that genre of music. After all, Paul became all things to all men; so why shouldn’t we adopt those forms of music and the accompanying behavior to get the Christian message to the lost?

Response: When Paul “became a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles,” it is rather doubtful he adopted cultural expressions that were in conflict with principles he himself insisted elsewhere we follow as a course of life that is pleasing to God. Indeed, he specifically commands us not to adopt or continue in unbiblical practices of the pagans, who are in darkness (Eph 4:17-20), but to walk in a manner worthy of our high calling (Eph 4:1-2). When he commands us to “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” (Eph 4:29), he makes no exception for “cultural expression” or “contextualization.”

Defense #4: Many have been saved/blessed by this music.

Response: I confess, I’m at a loss to know why this would be viewed as a good argument by someone of the Reformed perspective. The chief end of man is not evangelism, or blessing, or edification—it is the glorification of God. As Samuel said to Saul, who thought he was doing a good thing by sparing the best of the plundered animals, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Sam 15:22-23). The ends never justify the means. We don’t get to decide that something is good just because it gets good results. There are many who say they have been blessed by sitting under the teaching of a female pastor—something completely at odds with New Testament teaching; but hey, someone was “blessed” by it, so it must be good, right? Such rationale comes from an Arminian perspective—one that views evangelism as the highest good; not a Reformed (nay, biblical) perspective—one that views God’s glory as the highest good.

Our job as Christian leaders—and that is what youth pastors who have been entrusted with the care and nurturing of our youth are supposed to be (such as the young man I spoke with) —is not to make “better punks” of our youth. It is rather to create an environment in which our youth can pass from childhood (and all its rebelliousness and worldliness) to responsible and God-honoring adulthood. That is arguably the primary reason this music fails to qualify as “Christian” music. It promotes a “punk” culture rather than one that is biblically grounded and Christ-centered.

In the next installment I want to focus on a particular “youth pastor” (not the one in the discussion above) who promotes this sort of culture and as a result has done much damage not only to the youth of the church where he is employed, but also to the theology of that church.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

There He Goes Again

Just days after Mike Huckabee was on the hot seat for having the unmitigated audacity to suggest that Mormons might believe Lucifer is the sibling of Jesus (which they most certainly do, by the way), he is back on it for having the audacity to wish people a Merry Christmas and to let people know he believes in Jesus Christ.

Imagine that. A Christian minister actually mentioning the "C" word, and that somehow becomes a controvery.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Mailbag

We get our share of hate mail at NTRMin, so it's always encouraging to get email like this one:

Dr. Svendsen, I have just one word concerning your book Evangelical Answers....BRILLIANT!!! Ok, two words... Absolutely Brilliant...! Being a fairly new guy in discussion and debate with Roman Catholics on primarily U-Tube, I have most certainly been asked these very questions multiple times, usually when the RC gets tripped up and must resort to a traditional interpetation of Scripture, they generally throw out a red herring, in the form of questions you have covered in your book. I would like to thank-you brother, for helping me do theology, so I dont hurt myself..! lol. May the Lord of Glory continue to bless your ministry, and keep you razor sharp in all discernment, In His Service, Bill. Thank-you again!!!

The follow-up to Evangelical Answers is Upon This Slippery Rock, which examines and debunks the epistemological underpinnings of the roman catholic "authority" argument.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Yo, Get Crunk and Reprasent!!!

Is There Really Such a Thing as Christian Rap?

Last week, through various circumstances, I found myself in conversation with someone who turns out to be a brother in the Lord and a youth pastor at an evangelical church. After he mentioned he would be playing in a Christian concert that evening the topic of conversation quickly turned to various styles of so-called Christian music on the scene today, most of which he enjoys listening to. I've always been skeptical of the contemporary Christian music industry because I have found the majority of it to be mindless drivel (embarrassingly "bubblegummy" drivel) that is theologically inept at best and blatantly heretical at worst. In the early 1980s, I remember having heard the lyrics of one song (can't even remember who sang it) that included the phrase "Jesus laid down his deity" (his interpretation of the kenosis in Philippians 2, no doubt).

More recently the introduction of new genres of "Christian music," notably hiphop/rap and "hardcore Christian rock" (which was described to me by the youth pastor as consisting mostly of screaming), have brought with them a certain amount of baggage from the world that I contend make them decidely anti-Christian in nature. Before I elaborate on that, however, it may give the reader a reference point to view the following videos. The first two are by "Christian rap artists" (the only word in that phrase that doesn't require a quotation mark is rap). The last two are from "Christian hardcore artists" (same comment applies to hardcore):

Now, my criticism of earlier forms of contemporary Christian music had to do with the questionable lyrics, and not so much the music per se. A different type of critique must apply to the videos above because, quite frankly, I can't make out what the lyrics are saying. Nor is knowing the lyrics even required in this critique. Each video above may be doing nothing more than quoting Scripture, and they would still be wrong. Why do I say this?

In my conversation with the youth pastor mentioned above, I initially asked him to convince me why I should accept the notion that these genres of music deserve the label of "Christian." When he asked for clarification I pointed out that the behavior these groups exhibit is antithetical to the fruits of the Spirit. They exhibit an "in your face" arrogance, haughtiness, rebellion, rage, anger, loudness, boisterousness, and a lack of self control. The Scriptures commend to us "peaceful and quiet lives" (1 Tim 2:2; 1 Thess 4:11), and warn us against haughtiness, pride, arrogance, anger, rage and the like: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (Eph 4:31). We are to be "self-controlled" (Titus 2:2; particularly relevant for "young men" according to 2:6, and the very quality conspicuosly absent in the "hardcore" videos), "dignified" and "worthy of respect" (obnoxiously demanding respect is not the same thing).

Now, I mentioned above that the lyrics don't really matter given the behavior is so bad. But just in case someone is under the impression that the lyrics themselves are innocuous, here is a sample from a
nother purported "Christian Rapper" named T-Bone. Apparently he is well loved by his many fans who swear they are "blessed" by his music. Here's a sample of this great blessing:

so in this next line Mayhem bout to get for real
half a y'all is wack, no lyrical talent, you pretenders
you're wrong about the Organized Rhyme representers
the other half approach if you wish to persist in my rage
you cease to exist when I enter the stage
I'm invincible, you invisible, break you down to pure minibles
now you miserable, destroy you with no intervals
in my mind I see a lyrical beam on your head
when its time to go to the battle zone all I see is red
cause you in danger, when I come through whos stoppin me ?
A kamikaze Mobb a Deep-er, than Havoc or Prodigy, uh
well it be my turn to bust, so watch out, you know the deal
I cut MCs like Zorro, leavin faces scarred up like Seal
really tho, so peep the voice, I be the B O N E
wit the crew who hold more championships than Wayne Gretzky
(cause we be) the Organized Rhyme bambinos
bustin more rhymes than tech 9s held by Al Pachino
so watch out, we comin full force with dope production
And these lyrics so phat, sometimes I need lyposuctions
huh, I'm in the house like a kitchen, flippin lyrics sweet like honey
And I got mo raps than the mummy
steady killin the demons everyday like Chunghatti
until the day God gone beam me up like Scotty
(oh yeah) did I forget to mention
that I be keepin MCs locked up like Shawshank Redemption
huh, its just a gift, now I be passin the microphone
back to my cousin who used to sling more keys than a lock smith, ahh

As best as I can make out, the above lyrics were apparently written in response to some fellow rappers who are rivals of "T-bone" and his "homies," the Organized Rhyme Crew (you remember them; they are the ones who "lay more chicks than Mother Goose"). Once again, a lot of bitterness, rage, anger, self glorification, vengeance, violence, pride, arrogance and haughtiness; but very little by way of the fruit of the Spirit.

Next installment, we'll examine the arguments of the defenders of this kind of "music," and take a look at specific examples of "youth pastors" who not only allow this in the church, but openly promote this garbage to our youth as an acceptable form of Christian worship.