Reformed rap and fundamentalist preaching

08 Apr

In the most recently released podcast from Religious Affections, I introduced a comparison that I’ve been mulling over for some time now. Here is a (lightly edited) transcript of the relevant portion of my comments. The section below begins about the 16:00 minute mark of the podcast:

I had mentioned, I believe, in the previous podcast, the fact that hip hop and rap do seem to have a heavy dose of ego involved in them. The form itself is very much that way: “Listen to me.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that I don’t intend to be offensive, but I think is probably true. If we use hip hop for the cause of Christ, let’s compare it to preaching and preaching styles. There is a certain way of presenting the gospel (and fundamentalism in particular has been guilty of fostering this) using an approach in the pulpit that is full of ego.

The guys that support the use of hip hop are going to be very anti-Jack Hyles, and we’re going to be also…. You watch the videos and you listen to the audio (of that style of preaching) and it’s just appalling that it was about him. His preaching style was about him.

And I’m concerned, at least, that Christian hip hop has taken a form that is irreducibly egocentric, and is using it to present the gospel. But the approach to presenting the gospel is every bit as in-your-face and contentious as certain forms of preaching that we’re really trying to move away from.

Again, I say this cautiously, I throw it out there for consideration; but I think it’s worthy of consideration.

As some evidence for my proposal, I’d ask you to watch this and this. (The early going of the second video is especially useful for this comparison, when they’re having technical difficulties. This has the effect of isolating the rhetorical form of the rap.)

Note how both the preachers and the rappers employ rhetorical bombast; both seem to aim for the same kind of response from the gallery: “Oooo, that (guy, version, sin, whatever) just got burned” (or something similar). You can hear it in the crowd replies both videos at different points.

For the sake of this comparison, ignore the content of the message; I want to focus on form alone here.

If this parallel holds, both fundamentalists who oppose rap, and advocates of rap who loathe this style of preaching, need to give some consideration to the way in which their own arguments turn back against them.

There is some further discussion of this issue at the original post.


Posted by on April 8, 2010 in Fundamentalism, Music, Worship


3 responses to “Reformed rap and fundamentalist preaching

  1. will

    April 8, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hmm…interesting, but I think I disagree.

    It seems that you’re conflating a *form* with its history and its established tone. If history has taught us anything about art (esp in the 20th century) it’s that existing forms can be appropriated and reshaped in almost any direction.

    If we’re going to conflate form with typical usage, then we’d have to create stereotypical descriptions of other forms as well, such as the emotional shallowness that’s tended to accompany the ballad form used in much of modern hymnwriting.
    I’d love to see some discussion of how a particular form (hip-hop and rap are at least two different forms, if not more in their sub-types) can be redirected from its existing uses. I think both genres are currently enjoying a significant period of development — I doubt any music critics would have anticipated where they are today, from the perspective of just a decade ago.

    Thanks for starting the conversation!

    • Michael Riley

      April 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm


      Your first point is well taken. In this post, I did nothing to distinguish associative and natural meanings of forms. I am quick to admit that forms have a degree of flexibility, changing with time. What I am inclined to deny is that form is infinitely flexible; that is, I think there is such a thing as a natural meaning to some forms.

      I maintain that forms are employed for certain purposes because there is a (difficult to define) connection between the intended communication and the form chosen. Or perhaps that’s backwards: in some cases, the form of communication is chosen, and the content adapts to the form. This would be the Postmanian, “he medium is the metaphor” sort of thing.

      Would you argue that usage alone determines the meaning of a form? I want to make sure I understand your point.

      Also, just for clarity’s sake, when you speak of the emotional shallowness of “modern hymnwriting,” to what sort of songs are you referring? The gospel song tradition? SoundForth? Getty/Sovereign Grace?

  2. Mike

    June 3, 2010 at 1:12 am

    The idea that rap is a rigid form of expression that only allows for an egocentric tone, I believe, falls flat when actually listening to those who are doing it for the right reasons. Take these lyrics, for example:

    written by s. linne

    Verse 1

    Let me make this plain kids- God is the greatest

    He never changes- His ways are blameless

    For His own glory and at different stages

    He raises up servants to make His name famous

    I’ll highlight one particular servant for

    The purpose of encouraging your worship to the Lord

    Furthermore, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born

    On the outskirts of London- 1834

    His dad and his grandpa were both in the ministry

    His mother was praying for his soul since his infancy

    Naturally intelligent, rapidly developing

    But lacking Jesus’ fellowship, that would be irrelevant

    The God of his mother unknown

    Though Christ was up in his home, the faith just wasn’t his own

    The Lord answered prayer when at the age of 10

    Young Charles became convinced of the wages of sin

    For the next five years, the Spirit brought conviction

    Terrors and affliction, aware of his condition

    One Sunday morning though- the stormiest snow

    Kept Charles from going in the church he’d normally go

    Randomly stepped into a church

    Heard the words “Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth”

    And though only heaven knows the name of the preacher
    That’s the day that Spurgeon became a believer

    Verse 2

    The Lord is so merciful, always so purposeful

    Those whom He draws find His call irreversible

    Immediately after Spurgeon’s conversion

    Obediently, he was earnest to serve Him

    The Lord poured His Spirit on Spurgeon abundantly

    Anyone could see that he spoke with profundity

    Extraordinary giftedness seen

    Proclaiming God’s mysteries at the age of fifteen

    In a place called Waterbeach graced with the sort of speech

    That even made the old folks say, “This boy can preach!”

    In fact he was so crafted after the Master

    A Baptist church snatched him and asked him to pastor

    At the time, He was seventeen years old

    On fire for the King who redeemed his soul

    People flocked from everywhere- it was quite a scene

    Called to a church in London at the age of nineteen

    He was more than ready- to his Lord he was dedicated

    Even though he was never formally educated

    If you would have scratched him, he would bleed Bible

    A rich prayer life was his means of survival

    Amount that he read was truly mind-blowing

    Steeped in the writings of dudes like John Owen

    And by God’s grace He fed the sheep new manna
    In London met his wife, her name was Susannah

    Verse 3

    Behold the grace of God- stand to the side

    The Spirit exalting the Lamb who has died

    It can’t be denied- this man we describe

    Was simply a tool in the hand of his God

    To observe this servant’s extremely instructive

    One word about Spurgeon is he was productive

    Preached Jesus- no speakers- loudly he’d shout it

    Each week packed houses of crowds in the thousands

    His sermons were published- sixty-two volumes

    He worked almost like he just knew he would die soon

    Made mad disciples, passed on his knowledge

    Established a school to train pastors in college

    Sold out to the Lord Jehovah, his portion

    Also he built two homes for the orphans

    A monthly magazine, plus he wasn’t too busy

    to write books- about a hundred and fifty

    God’s grace in Spurgeon was manifest

    But remember, the best man is a man at best

    Yes, he struggled with depression- consistently sick, kid

    Both he and Susannah physically afflicted

    He experienced as a servant of Jesus

    The power of God made perfect in weakness

    Later on comes complications

    His stands for orthodoxy got him shunned by his denomination

    But through all the hardship and all the controversy

    He never stopped relying on the sovereign God of mercy

    And when he had finished pressing towards the goal

    He entered into heaven at the age of fifty-seven

    His life is a case of God’s grace effectively

    At work in sinners to leave a great legacy

    The proof is many years later in your speakers

    We’re praising Jesus for raising up the “prince of preachers”

    You’ll notice that the first line makes the disclaimer that, although the artist is rapping about Charles Spurgeon, God is the greatest and the ultimate object of praise. This hardly sounds like an attitude of “look at ME!” And you’ll notice in Shai Linne’s other songs (lyrics may be found here: the fact that his priorities seem to be in order. And I would also add that though the others in his group may have a strong presence (which I believe is the most likely reason for your misconception) they have their focus on the correct object of praise. For example, check out this song by Json and Lecrae:

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