The Kerfuffle Shuffle: Thoughts on Reformed Hip Hop

Paul Dean
Paul Dean
2013 12 Dec

I’ve tried not to weigh in on the recent kerfuffle over reformed hip-hop. It’s dangerous because no matter where you come down you’re going to be misunderstood and excoriated. For the record, I’ve tried not to use the word kerfuffle either. But since a lot of others have used it concerning this – well – you know.

This whole issue came up when a panel of six at a recent NCFIC conference answered a question from the audience concerning the appropriateness of reformed rap. All six panelists said the genre itself is inappropriate regardless of the soundness of the words sung.

Obviously, the point in weighing in is to say something that hasn’t been said. Who cares if I simply say, “me too,” regardless of what I say “me too” to. I do however think it’s important to stake out my position on the way to the lagniappe I want to offer.

Scripture, not opinion, is our authority. Scripture tells us music of all kinds can glorify God. Without getting into the myriad of “what ifs” that could be raised, if one loves God, makes music for the purpose of glorifying Him, and uses words that do in fact glorify Him, God is pleased with it regardless of the musical genre: regardless of the actual notes played. While such a conclusion may be gleaned from the Old Testament alone, the New Testament affirms that we can glorify God with different types of songs. At the same time, the New Testament doesn’t specify what instruments or genres are appropriate. It would seem therefore that the liberty the New Covenant gives would drive us to this position, namely, that rap or hip-hop can glorify God.

At the same time, it is entirely inappropriate to accuse the panel of racism. Aside from some legitimate concerns that were raised, they didn’t use biblical arguments; they were ignorant of certain things; and calling reformed rap artists cowards, as one panelist did, is totally out of line. But to level the charge of racism is not only slanderous, but plays into the supercharged politically correct culture that militates against God and a well-ordered civil society in the New Covenant era. Further, it takes the debate off track, hinders profitable iron-sharpening dialogue, and tempts thinking people to marginalize those who level such charges the way they want to marginalize these panelists simply because they don’t agree with their position. In a biblical discussion on slavery, I don’t want to hear racists yelling from the cheap seats. Neither do I want to hear race-baiters doing the same here.

The reality is the arguments offered by the panelists are the same arguments that certain fundamental groups have offered for decades concerning CCM. Their beef has nothing to do with race but with style (electric guitars and drums) and cultural origin: rock & roll culture that is, not black culture. That’s why the charge of cultural racism (the notion that one’s culture is superior to another’s because of race), as distinct from outright racism, is also out of bounds. These men were not arguing that white culture is superior to black culture.

Though I’ve tread there already in some respects, now to the lagniappe beyond “me too.” Having put the issues of cultural origin and culture on the table, the NCFIC panelists have also been accused of cultural elitism. While they weren’t arguing for the superiority of white culture over black, they were arguing that rap culture is less than godly and in so arguing they were implying that rap culture (including reformed rap) is inferior to Christian culture as they understand it. Now two things need to be said here.

First, reformed rap may have come out of plain old rap culture, but reformed rap is now part of Christian culture in that the musical form is being used to glorify God. The musical form has been Christianized; it has been redeemed. (It should go without saying that the sinful trappings of rap culture would also have to be jettisoned for reformed rap, or anything for that matter, to be truly Christianized. Rap that visually communicates or glorifies swagger, anger, or rebellion, is no more Christianized than a school that has chapel services but teaches evolution in the classroom).

Second, and here’s the rub, some cultures are superior to others. Now don’t throw the tomatoes (or bricks) at my head yet. Hear me out. Christian culture is superior to pagan culture, not because Christians are inherently better than other people, they are not, but because Christ transforms. One may see the cultural results of biblical influence morally, legally, civilly, economically, etc., just as one may see the deleterious effects on a culture when a cohesive Christian worldview is eroded. Historically, it’s a Christian influence that precipitated hospitals, universities, social justice, civil liberty, economic prosperity, etc. If the gospel doesn’t change people, families, communities, structures, and cultures, what’s the point?

While it would be unfair to paint unredeemed rap culture with a broad brush, I think it’s fair to say it didn’t flow from a Christianizing influence. And I think that’s part of where the panelists were coming from in all fairness. Again, I disagree with their conclusion on reformed rap. They failed to see a distinction between unredeemed rap culture and Christians who are part of Christian culture redeeming an art form for the glory of God. So let’s not charge them with cultural elitism as if all cultures are equally valid. That’s what the philosophical pluralists want us to believe. Christian culture is superior to unredeemed rap culture. But Christian culture consists of a wide variety of art forms and subcultures that purposely glorify God. Failing to see that distinction and larger Christian culture was where the panelists whiffed the ball.

So let’s think clearly on this kerfuffle,

And not get our feathers in a ruffle,

And quit attempting to rudely muffle,

What could be a good and friendly scuffle,

Where iron sharpens iron and we reshuffle,

Or we might hear the Lord Jesus snuffle!

We must praise Him – the sweet tastin’ truffle,

When Voice and Shai Linne are not in the duffle,

But with Handel and Bach on your ipod shuffle.

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