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.