Response: Is Rap Inherently Evil?

I have to respond to an article I read today in a blog called the “Christian Research Net” called Reformed Rap: My Thoughts. This article challenges the idea that rap (or metal or punk etc) music can glorify the Lord.  Even if the words are about the gospel, contain sound doctrine and lead people to Christ, Sam Guzman argues that all such music is ungodly.  He writes:

The first problem I see with Christian rap is that rap as a genre has a lot of baggage. I don’t think anyone would deny that. Secular rap celebrates and glorifies things that are antithetical to the gospel; things like drugs, crime, promiscuous sex, hate, rebellion, and violence. In addition to these more obvious things, rap, and the culture that surrounds it, celebrates pride and arrogance.

I would like to answer him because I think his view is relatively common amongst older Christians and Christians who just don’t like these genres of music. I am ashamed to admit that when I was younger I thought the same about metal music. “How can music that sounds like chaotic screaming, glorify the Lord?” I thought.

First, the Bible teaches that every human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9), and that “none is righteous, no, not one; no one seeks for God, all have turned aside, together they have become worthless, no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11, 12). I would then argue that not only rap, but ALL of human culture is utterly depraved– all music, all clothes, all art, all movies, all literature, all science–everything! Everything has baggage, everything is tainted.

Secondly, I want to respond to this quote, “it is clearly unscriptural to view music as a tool for evangelism. Scripture unequivocally states that God has chosen the foolishness of preaching to save those that believe for the very reason that it shouldn’t work (1 Cor. 1:21). When it does, God gets the glory and not man.” Guzman is confusing two separate issues here. I agree with him that the Lord chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and that when God uses us, his servants, to accomplish something for his glory, it glorifies him all the more since we are so foolish. BUT, the passage from 1 Corinthians he alludes to in his quote does not say that preaching is the ONLY ordained way to evangelize. The passage is emphasizing the foolishness of man and of different cultures and human wisdom, and how Christ defies them all by being totally crazily foolish. Paul even says earlier in the passage that God did not send him to baptize but to preach. Does that mean that we should not baptize? May it never be! He was talking about himself and his specific ministry call. I also somehow can’t see Guzman make this same statement about the evangelism of such CCM artists as Steven Curtis Chapman, Sandy Pattie, or Carmon. It seems like a bit of a double standard to me.

Third, I want to point out the creativity and diversity of the Lord’s creation and of humanity’s acceptable worship to him. One must look no further than the Nature channel to see all the wonderful and terrible animals and plants he has created. God himself points out that he created the terrible sea-monster, Leviathan, for his own pleasure (Job 41). Also, in Exodus, the Lord commissions artists and craftsmen of all kinds to build the Tabernacle. This diverse work of theirs glorifies him. David himself shamelessly dances before the Lord in 2 Samual 6 to celebrate the return of the Ark. When his wife Michal, confronts him he responds with “I will make merry before the Lord. I will make make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes.” Prophets of the Old Testament often were commanded by God to minister in unorthodox and shocking ways such as walking around naked and barefoot or marrying a harlot.

The answer to my first point for the Christian, is not to run, hide and isolate himself from the world in an effort to stay pure from sin. Indeed, our own hearts are the source of sin, not the world. We should not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as the saying goes. Just because the words of a rap song or the message of rap culture is bad does not mean that we should throw all of it away. Christ has called us to go into the world and tell it about him. The answer is to act within culture to try to redeem it for his glory and point humanity to himself. God created non-Christian rappers and gave them their talent. They do not use it as they should, to point to the the Lord, but their talent is not evil–their heart is (and so is mine btw). Rap itself is not evil. Indeed much of it is energetic and passionate and captures the mind and spirit of listeners in a way no other media can. When a rap artist uses the talent and passion that God gave him and performs with sound doctrine to point to Jesus and share the gospel then it does glorify the Lord. One might compare the Leviathan with rap music and wonder how something so crazy, (or ugly as some might say) can glorify the Lord. Yet he made them both for his good pleasure.

Fourth, I believe the article in question was written out of spirit of fear. Guzman says:

God saved me out of the punk rock culture. Punk rock glorifies rebellion and anarchy. The music– again, not just the lyrics — is in your face, aggressive, and loud. Is it really possible to communicate the glorious truths of the Gospel through a medium that reflects anger, rebellion, and even hatred? Coming from that background, I would say no. I can’t fathom God receiving glory from music that sounds like it was born in hell.

He is confusing his own sin and experience with that of all people. Young people are naturally living in a time of life when they are questioning who they are, and want to be. They are living in a state of confusion and are often very emotional. I would argue that ALL young people feel this way regardless if they are rebellious or hating. It is a chemical thing. Thus, these sounds of angst, while in the non-Christian world are associated with the things Guzman listed, resonate with all youth and can be expressed in a godly manner. When anyone, young or old, turns to the Lord in their confusion or pain or passion and lets him direct their paths, I would argue that God is glorified.

Fifth, Guzman is reponding to the video below. He says:

The following video bothered me. It has a very fleshly spirit about it, from the dancing girls in tight shirts, to the practically moshing audience. The performers, as well as the music and the way the lyrics are sung, exude a spirit of pride, arrogance, and look-at-me-ness. I can’t imagine Jesus Christ being at the event and being pleased– and no, I don’t say that just because I’m white. Ignore the lyrics entirely, and I believe you will see little difference from any other secular rapper. Watch the video and come to your own conclusions.

uh…I would absolutely disagree with Guzman here. I have watched other videos that contain club scenes. The sexual grinding and the half naked outfits are absent here. What I see instead are people dancing (like David?) with their hands raised, even pointing, to the Lord. The performers appear to be worshiping the Lord as they perform. I would argue moshing is not inherently evil, what is evil is the drug filled and lustful spirit that often accompanies it. I would also like to point out the difference between a concert, which is what seems to be going on in this video, and a church service. A concert is where people go to listen to and dance to music. The musicians are performing and expressing themselves in often exaggerated forms. During a church service, the musicians are hopefully not making a performance, but instead should be more muted (imho). Church services are not mosh pits and rightly so. Also, I must defend the young ladies in this video. They are wearing totally appropriate outfits. They are not super loose styles (should they wear mumus?), but these ladies are young and modest. The tightness of the clothes is a far cry from what is worn at your average dance club. I’m a pretty modest girl and I could wear these clothes myself (see 1:24).

Praise God for these musicians who are using their talents to glorify the Lord and evangelize for His purpose.

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9 Responses

  1. I enjoyed this post. I also occasionally do my part to speak up for rap in my Christian community. Reading some of your newer posts I also really enjoyed your article about Kanye West’s new album. I’ve always liked him, and his newest album brought out his good side much more than others.

    Like any genre rap has its good and bad. Unfortunately much of it is prideful and deragoratory. I really enjoy medium’s like def poetry which showcase some of the powerful aspects of rap while freeing it of some of its baggage. When I see people like Lauren Hill (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1TZO_sOsVo) and Talib Kweli (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGvZ9aXg5Xs) deliver powerful meditations on faith and culture that speak to an audience that is certainly not reached by normal Christian music I feel the desire to praise God for the diversity in the world.

  2. Thanks for the reply and the links Alex. I am often amazed at the diversity of the God’s creation.

  3. Music of despair glorifies God when we offer it to Him in our despair. But it is nonsense to offer God music of despair when we are worshipful.

    Rap and Rock music are designed to convey their respective worldviews. The music, apart from the words, glorify and celebrate hopelessness, despair, ignorance, violence, hatred, etc, etc. You can’t just glue gospel words on top of those musics and come up with something worshipful or evangelistic. Furthermore, those musics are designed to numb, to shut down, to inspire hedonism. If you’re trying to deliver the gospel message, you want a vehicle that opens people up, lets them feel, lifts them out of hedonism.

    When Rap and the Gospel are mixed, the worship message becomes, “Glory be to God and Glory be to Despair”. The evangelical message becomes, “You can hold on to your old life of hatred and despair if you just glue gospel words on top of it”.

    • I do not agree at all with Rap and Rock being music of dispair. Not anymore than Amazing Grace would label all gospel as dispair. I listen to upbeat, joyful rap and rock, I have not a single song in my entire rap and rock section that sounds sad. I only listen to postive motivating music, and to be honest, most of it is rock and rap.

      So maybe you have a bad experience, or maybe you haven’t explored it enough, but i think every genre, even gospel music, has its range of sadness to happy. Even plasms has that range.

  4. The Def Poetry examples given are beautifully worshipful, but they are not attempts to merge Rap with the Gospel. The only thing they have in common with Rap is the meter. The meter by itself is not negative. It is the numbing beat, and the physical and vocal attitudes of the performer which deliver the negativity of Rap.

  5. Heres a thought. Pray about it and see what you think God says. In my view rap music has at it’s core a rebellious spirit and is therefore best avoided. Why is this? The very nature of rap music is rebelling, in that the performers decided to rebel against conventional music forms (melody, harmony etc, which i believe God has authored). It’s not surprising that the rap style is often used to propagate all kinds of stuff we’d do best to have nothing to do with.

    • “conventional music forms (melody, harmony etc, which i believe God has authored). It’s not surprising that the rap style is often used to propagate” -Ryan

      On the opposite side is hard rock, punk, metal, etc types of music that take extreme versions of “conventional” music with melody’s harmony’s etc and use them for similar rebellious and frankly evil ends. There are also Christian punk bands.

      Music is just a tool. A hammer can be used to build houses for homeless people and can be used to bash someone’s head. It’s not the tool that’s evil it’s the person behind it that’s evil or faithful. I’d lump rap in with any type of music in that regard.

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