Worship Through Singing and Rap (Hip Hop) Music

Greg Strand – December 3, 2013 5 Comments

The Scriptures are replete with exhortations, illustrations and examples of the importance of singing.

Think of the Psalms.

Think of Paul’s exhortation to engage in worship of our great God through our Lord Jesus Christ by/in the Holy Spirit to the believers in Ephesus: “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:18b-20). And think of his exhortation repeated to those in Colossae: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).

One could summarize that redeemed people sing.

But there are a number of appropriate questions that arise from this foundational truth. Questions like:

  • What are we to sing?
  • Are we to sing only Scripture?
  • How do we determine what to sing?
  • How do we distinguish between what is fitting and appropriate to sing and be edified, and to edify others, for the Christian, or for a Christian concert, and what is fitting and appropriate to sing for the church, the gathered people of God?
  • Since singing consists of lyrics and melody, how do we discern what is biblical, what is God-honoring, what is people-edifying?
  • How does one discern between one’s own preferences and a biblically faithful theology expressed in music, and, as importantly, how does one respond?

These are all important questions to consider as we think about music and singing in our own lives as Christians, the place of music in our own spiritual lives and the singing of music corporately as the people of God.

Recently The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) sponsored a conference on “The Worship of God.” During a panel Q & A a question was asked about Reformed rap artists, the questioner pointing out that though the style may be offensive to some, the doctrine contained in the lyrics of the songs is sound.

This form of music was condemned by all of the panelists. The conclusion was that these artists are “disobedient cowards,” they are “serving their flesh,” and through this means of artistic expression “follow the world” and manifest “a picture of weakness and surrender.” In many ways, these panelists reveal how not to think through such matters.

If you were asked this question, how would you respond? Why? How would you support your response biblically?

Here are a number of responses from those who defend this form of music and musical expression. Though this sort of music and musical expression is not my preference, though it is my son’s, and though it is a form that is not particularly conducive for corporate singing, it is a form that abides by Paul’s exhortations above. This is also affirmed by the statements made by these respondents below.

Mike Cosper, “Creation, Culture, Redemption, and Hip Hop: A Response to the NCFIC Panel

Ligon Duncan, “The Holy Hip Hop Hullabaloo

Carl and Karen Ellis, “A Letter to Our Young Brothers and Sisters

Al Mohler, “Thinking about Thinking about Rap – Unexpected Thoughts over Thanksgiving

Owen Strachan, “Did a NCFIC Panel Really Say That Reformed Rappers Are ‘Disobedient Cowards’?

Douglas Wilson, “Rap Tide

Here are two posts that attempt to summarize some of the major rejoinders to the panel’s response, both defending and affirming Christian rap.

Thabiti Anyabwile, “A Round-Up of the Holy Hip Hop Squabble

Joe Carter, “Debatable: Is Christian Hip Hop Ungodly?

I appreciate Mohler’s explanation of how he processes this followed by his summary:

No, I allow myself those arguments in my head when I want to absolutize my preferences and satisfy myself in the righteousness and superiority of my own musical taste and theology. The problem for me is that my theology of music will not allow me to stay self-satisfied on the matter, and by God’s grace I have not made arguments out loud that would violate that theology.

Rap music is not my music. I do not come from a culture in which rap music is the medium of communication and I do not have the ear for it that I have for other forms of music. But I do admire its virtuosity and the hold that is has on so many, for whom it is a first and dominant musical language. I want that language taken for the cause of the Gospel and I pray to see a generation of young Gospel-driven rappers take dominion of that music for the glory of God. I see that happening now, and I rejoice in it. I want to see them grow even more in influence, reaching people I cannot reach with music that will reach millions who desperately need the Gospel. The same way that folks who first heard Bach desperately needed to hear the Gospel.

The good, the beautiful, and the true are to be combined to the greatest extent possible in every Christian endeavor, rap included. I have no idea how to evaluate any given rap musical expression, but rappers know. I do know how to evaluate the words, and when the words are saturated with the Gospel and biblical truth that is a wonderful thing. Our rapping Gospel friends will encourage one another to the greatest artistic expression. I want to encourage them in the Gospel. Let Bach’s maxim drive them all — to make (their) music the “handmaid of theology.”

Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G Minor is playing as I write this. It makes me happy to hear it. But knowing that the Gospel is being taken to the ears and hearts of new generation by a cadre of gifted young Gospel rappers makes me far happier.

For the final statement on this matter, I encourage you to read the testimony of one of these Reformed rappers, Lecrae Moore in “Lecrae’s Arresting Call to Serve Christ.” God miraculously spared and saved him by the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was literally arrested for possession of drugs and it was through that experience that the Holy Spirit arrested him spiritually as well.

Lecrae’s conversion resulted in the conversion of everything about him and his life. This is true and real transformation. All is made new (2 Cor. 5:17). He began serving through singing at juvenile detention centers. He has since served at numerous Billy Graham crusades. He notes,

It is very humbling that I get to do this, and I don’t want to get used to it. People are hungering and thirsting for something. I want to serve them with quality music, and more importantly, deliver a message that will challenge and inspire change in their lives.

He prepares for the gospel message through song at these crusades in the following manner:

I spend time in prayer and meditate on God’s truth, and allow that truth to penetrate my heart. If I don’t believe it can change anyone, they are just empty words.

Though Lecrae is one of the better known Christian rap artists, he never wants to forget what he once was, and what he now is through what God has done for him.

have to remember what God did for me. He loved me when I was unlovable. I feel fortunate to have a huge family that extends beyond race and culture. Now, I also have a Father who shepherds us all. When I think about that, it blows my mind. There’s nothing like it.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

5 responses to Worship Through Singing and Rap (Hip Hop) Music

  1. The NCFIC panel discussion was a perfect example of ethnocentrism. They are not able to see how what they consider “Biblical” is conditioned by their own cultural background.

    • I agree, Ernie. This is why I stated that the panel serves as a model of how not to engage in the discipline of “doing theology.”

  2. Thanks for a great post. As someone who is involved in helping others worship through the medium of music, I appreciate the wisdom in your words. The gospel should be allowed to be told in as many mediums as possible.

    • It is good to hear from you, Tom. I am grateful the post was helpful. The key is keeping the unchanging gospel at the center of all that is done, using various and changing mediums as we do so. Problems arise (1) when we think we need to improve on the gospel, or to “help it along,” or (2) when we enshrine one of the mediums with absolute permanency. In both instances, the gospel is compromised.

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