A question for certain advocates of Reformed rap

04 Dec

I have largely stayed on the sidelines of the rap discussion, and intend to continue doing so. I’m facing a deadline for a large paper that needs to get finished, and that has occupied most of my time.

However, I saw a tweet this morning from someone whom (and whose work) I admire greatly that raised a question that I’d like to lay out in skeletal form. My terse style here should suggest nothing more than haste; I count the men to whom I address the question not only as brothers in Christ, but brothers who have made many of my road trips much more profitable. (Could we say that they have redeemed driving?)

I take the core of the tweet to be something like this: Christians, especially clergy, should refrain from presenting personal opinions on issues of adiaphora that strongly suggest that only one position is a validly biblical one. If I’m wrong in this summary, I suspect everything else that follows is moot.

I also want to throw in this disclaimer: the panel to which the tweet refers offers some positions and especially some accusations that are wholly unjustified. I am not, in this post, defending this particular panel.

So my question is this: if a panel like this is wrong to suggest that rap (which we’re assuming, only for the sake of argument, is adiaphora) is biblically problematic, why is it OK to post a podcast that essentially celebrates the same matter of adiaphora?

An analogy (in which you are certainly invited to poke holes): would it be acceptable for some in the Roman church to host a podcast called “The Stronger Brother,” in which they swap recipes for meat?

Does the public nature of a podcast discussion limit the kinds of things that ought to be celebrated? Especially since, as was noted above, several of the hosts are clergy? Why is one acceptable and the other not (again, in principle, not in terms of the specific things said in either discussion)?


Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Music


5 responses to “A question for certain advocates of Reformed rap

  1. Nate Shannon

    December 4, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Thanks, Mike. My response, in brief, is that art isn’t for everyone. As in, art, as art, isn’t for everyone. I may be stretching it to call rap art, but I think the same principle applies. If the weaker brother’s conscience is troubled, it is on him not to subject himself to it as much as it is on the mature brother not to subject him to it. So we can’t have our public theology deflated by a dictatorship of the simple or weaker brother. In this particular case, what I see is pastors talking about something they know nothing about. It looks to me like a kind of sloppy category mistake in which these guys carry the authority of the pulpit where ever their fancy leads them. It is both theologically problematic and personally offensive when pastors do this. I also am guessing that these gents enjoy a general consensus in their contexts that resonates with the views they express. If their pews were filled with rap-loving followers of Christ, they would rapidly reconsider, I’m willing to bet.

  2. Nate Shannon

    December 4, 2013 at 10:58 am

    p.s. I can’t stand rap. I am the weaker brother.

  3. Michael Riley

    December 4, 2013 at 12:02 pm


    Thanks for responding, and for grasping the spirit in which my question is asked. And thanks for the confession on your taste in music; it made me chuckle.

    I still feel that the core of my question is still lingering. The most on point comment that you made was this: “So we can’t have our public theology deflated by a dictatorship of the simple or weaker brother.” And I agree and feel the tension there: I’m certainly not suggesting the topics of controversy are off limits to public discussion, else there would be no public discussion.

    And again, I’m not by any means defending all of the specific statements of this panel.

    The question is whether a similar panel could have, in a more measured way, expressed their considered opinion that rap is a medium entirely unsuitable for the communication of the gospel, without incurring the firestorm that this panel touched off. While the viral nature of this particular video no doubt was aided by the more ill-advised statements that were made, I suspect that many of the “top men” (as Trueman calls) would still have called for recantations, etc.

    My concern is that if this is genuinely an issue of adiaphora, it seems one-sided to suggest that pieces of public discussion that actively promote one side are acceptable, while those that promote the other are not. I do understand that these are not perfectly parallel: those arguing against something are always coming close to arguing that it is not adiaphora, if they do not say this explicitly. Perhaps this is the central disanalogy.

    • Nate Shannon

      December 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Cool, yeah. I’m wondering how the weaker/stronger brother dynamic applies to the notion of adiaphora. Likely I’m not sufficiently clear on the categories. But maybe we can say with Paul that if something is adiaphora it is a matter of conscience, not that it is amoral and up to whoever. So that means in a way that the ethic of the thing is subjective, in a sense, but not categorically. And so Paul’s interest is in the proper ethic between the brothers who part ways on this or that. I think we agree that the panelists missed this entirely, among other things. But I guess I’d say to your point that yes, there ought to be equal recognition of the value of conscience for both the weaker and the stronger brother – but they are called the “weaker” and the “stronger.” Not “the one” and “the other.” Ex. Generally speaking, is portraying nudity in the visual arts categorically immoral in scripture’s view? No. And the weaker brother should recognize this, though he may add, “but it is not permissible for me, since it troubles my conscience.” That’s what they should have explained, I think. They could have given encouragement to those who pursue the stuff in good conscience, while also encouraging those who can’t bring themselves to endorse ‘Reformed rap’ to recognize the complexities of a biblical ethic and to inquire with more humility where scripture is not clear. What do you think?

  4. Michael Riley

    December 4, 2013 at 5:34 pm


    I think that’s a worthwhile analogy, for a couple of reasons.

    1) The Bible doesn’t explicitly discuss nudity in the context of art.
    2) A meaningful biblical case could be made, without having a single definitive proof text, that such nudity is out of bounds for the believer.

    The point would be that, in this discussion of nudity in art, one of the most difficult things to settle is whether the issue is a matter of adiaphora at all. And this is almost always the case in these deeply contested issues; those who have a negative view of the matter tend to argue that the thing under discussion doesn’t really belong in the category of adiaphora at all.

    It seems to me that that discussion always has to happen first, and has to be settled, before we begin applying Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10.

    Here’s the point that I’d concede: if rap truly is a matter of adiaphora, the railing condemnations made by these men wholly merit the railing condemnations that they have received.

    But it seems to me that, in many cases, the belief that musical style is adiaphora is assumed, not argued. My point in this post was to circumvent that discussion entirely and assume, for the sake of argument, that all musical style is a matter of adiaphora, and to compare the virtues of condemning or celebrating such things in public.

    The reality is that I’m not convinced that style is wholly a thing indifferent. I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s something about which there are proof texts; my case would be very akin to the one who says that he’s believes that it is unbiblical to contemplate nudity in art, not one who would merely claim it to be a matter of conscience for himself.

    These are two entirely different discussions to have. When both parties in a dispute agree that the matter is adiaphora, then you’re completely on target: the issue is the ” proper ethic between the brothers who part ways on this or that.” But if one brother denies that the issue is adiaphora, if a discussion is to be had, it has to be had on the level of exegesis and proper application.

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