I’m just back from a refreshing and edifying time with saints at New Word Alive. New Word Alive is a family Bible conference held each year in North Wales. If you’re in the U.K.,  I can’t recommend it enough for its focus on the word of God, evangelism, and Christian fellowship. It was a joy to take part.

Of course, spending a week at a largely internet-free campground in North Wales means you’re a little out of the loop when it comes to the goings ons of the Christian world. And when it’s the world of Christian hip hop, the cultural black hole is even more pronounced. I loved the saints at New Word Alive, and the worship was wonderful, but there wasn’t much boom-bap happening.

So, I was a little surprised to see some of the internet brouhaha over shai linne’s new single, “Fal$e Teacher$.” In the single, shai takes aim at a host of prosperity gospel and word-faith teachers. It’s not the first time he (or others for that matter) has critiqued such teaching in his music. In response to the single, Bradley Knight, son of Paula White, posted an open letter to shai in defense of his mother’s ministry. Christianity Today picked up on the issue. Lisa Robinson at Parchment and Pen offered reflections based on her years inside prosperity congregations. Mark at Here I Blog added some source support for the song’s denunciations. Those were the first 4-5 entries in my quick google search. I’m sure there’s tons more opinion out there!

The back and forth has conjured the usual questions about whether private conversation should have happened first, whether public criticism and naming names is appropriate and under what circumstances, and whether Christian unity and charity ought to rule out polemics.

For my part, not that “my part” means anything, I’m rather glad shai included this single on his album. I have six reasons:

1. Reach. Unless you’re inside the prosperity gospel or word-faith  movement, you’ve probably been concerned with the reach of these teachers. They operate impressive (I mean that!) multimedia empires and export their brand of the “gospel” to the most distant corners of the globe. That media savvy and reach has made it difficult for others to stand against the rushing tide of their teaching. But Christian hip hop has a developing, media-rich, and savvy reach of its own. It’s reaching a younger generation of believers and reaching the corners of the globe. Christian hip hop may be the first medium by which orthodox voices can effectively push back against the titans of word-faith and prosperity “gospel” teaching. When Prop, Lecrae, and shai are able to stir the ire, accolades, or pushback of theologians, secular awards panels, or ministry offices of word-faith teachers, something is happening on a different scale. We may be observing Truth’s reach being extended in a helpful and hopeful way.

2. Force. Of course, what good is reach if you have no power or force? The ranging responses drawn from “Fal$e Teacher$” also suggests that Christian hip hop may be developing as a cultural force at least strong enough to prick the conscience and shape opinions. Hip hop has always featured rhetorical and creative power. Now we’re witnessing a maturing theological power. Prop’s “Precious Puritans” provoked a conversation about our heroes, race, and pastoral sensitivity. Perhaps shai’s single will awaken a fresh discussion of biblical and theological faithfulness. Perhaps the medium of hip hop will have enough rhetorical, theological, emotional, intellectual, and social force to prompt some Christians to re-evaluate the teachers to whom they listen. I pray so. I mean, when’s the last time you heard contemporary Christian music or gospel music effectively raise these issues? Yeah, me neither.

3. Urgency. I’m also thankful the Lord moved shai to pen, record and release this song because the gospel is urgent business. Getting it right is eternally urgent. Making it clear is urgent. Believing the gospel while it’s still day–urgent. These are not the kinds of issues that should be dealt with in the glacial, cold cerebral manner of academe. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message that divides time and eternity, heaven and hell, life and death. Who can tolerate distortion and half-truth when so much is at stake? I’m glad for the driving sense of urgency that hip hop can give to some of these issues, because these issues and these teachers are affecting real people in real ways. Perhaps we pastors have been unable to create the combination of light and heat such errors deserve. Perhaps the native passion and the growing theological light of Christian hip hop can change the pace of the discussion.

4. Profile. Not one of the teachers listed in shai’s song could be called “unknown” or “low key” or otherwise “anonymous.” These are some of the most high-profile figures in the evangelical (I use the term loosely) world. Their collective public influence is massive. Their teaching, prettied up and slicked down a bit as their clout has grown, is a very public record. They have not taught these things in a corner and the proliferation of books, websites, and other resources means that a very public alternative and response needs to be given. We need a higher profile opposition to these high profile errors. I’m thankful to shai for the part he has played in doing this. I understand that some people view the first opinion as “unfortunate” at worst but hold anyone who replies guilty of a more foul offense. They tell us that confrontation should first happen privately (even as they write to publicly confront for this supposed transgression). But this inverts the Bible’s teaching, which says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov.18:17). By silencing the cross-examination, we leave ourselves with only the first-stated case, which usually is not the correct position. It seems to me the Christian world needs to grow up a little and accept the public accountability that’s necessary to guarding the gospel and guarding God’s people.

5. Prevention. I pray this ounce of prevention really does result in a pound of cure. I pray that minds would be changed, thinking sharpened, and hearts enflamed with greater passion for Christ and greater thanksgiving for what He really does purchase for us. Every faithful pastor wants to guard the flock entrusted to his care. They want to keep the sheep feeding on the green pasture of God’s word correctly understood and applied. In this day of internet connectivity, most every pastor who takes this responsibility seriously is probably thankful for an ally like shai who uses an important medium to help protect the children of God. I know I’m thankful and I hope many are kept from the errors of men and women piercing themselves through with the love of money, deceiving and fleecing the flock to provide for their worldly lifestyles.

6. Witness. I shouldn’t have to say that false teachers harm the witness of the church, but they do. People with clear vision can see it. Take, for example, this comment from a self-described atheist over at Christianity Today:

Well, as an atheist who does watch TBN on occasion…I have to say he [shai] got it right. If you Christians care about the integrity of your religion, you’d drum out these snake oil salesmen from your midst. They’re turning Christianity into a laughingstock with no credibility at all.

Even those with no belief in God see the problem created by “gospel” hucksters. If we care about the effectiveness of the church then we must care about the reputation (1 Tim. 3) and teaching (Titus 1:9) of its leaders.

Conclusion

The usefulness and power of hip hop will be multiplied as we pray for and encourage the kind of courage shown in shai linne’s “Fal$e Teacher$”. There ought to be enough room in Christian hip hop for someone to stir godly controversy in behalf of the gospel and the Church. What we have to guard against is the kind of controversy between artists that overthrows the potential of the medium and the artists. As Christian hip hop matures, I pray it continues to handle the hard-hitting controversial subjects with reach, force, urgency, profile, and a pinch of prevention. The entire Church will be blessed as they do.

If you haven’t already, get shai’s new album Lyrical Theology, vol. 1 here.

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28 thoughts on “CHH: “Christian Hip Hop” or “Controversial Hip Hop””

  1. Thabiti, thank you for such a well articulated piece and for linking to the article I wrote. I’m so grateful that the Lord can use my winding journey for his glory. Here is a follow up piece I did asking if the teaching represented by those on the list deny the gospel.

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/04/does-prosperity-teaching-deny-the-gospel/

  2. Daniel j says:

    I have been listening to shai for some time now, and have loved his voice in the movement he’s a part of. I commend him for writing the song and think he handled it well by explaining the song prior to release.

    I think your response in this post is also helpful-reach and the role of media is why we do need to respond publicly. Your arguments were sound and helpful for thinking deeper about such a sensitive issue.

    I do say this with a cringe but have we waited too long? I always enjoyed Dr Mac Arthur’s approach on CNN whenever he was on. Having attended Redeemer for a while, I also hoped Tim would throw his hat in the proverbial ring. He has to an extent on shows like morning Joe. Again, have we waited too long? Or not spoken loudly enough in the sea of “evangelical” voices?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for joining the conversation, brother, and for your concern for these things. You raise a really good question, man. Trusting the sovereignty of God, I’m certain we’re not too late. But we are late. The folks shai listed are well ahead when it comes to controlling media and getting their message out. That’s partly why the folks who have tried to hold the line–and there are a lot of ‘em–have been like voices crying in the wilderness. It’s difficult to get heard in a culture that values image, believes what it sees on TV, and thinks such things constitute “success.” Not until the Lord seemed pleased to expand Christian hip hop have we seen any effective use of mass media by orthodox brothers who care about these issues. I’m glad for the movement. And we’ve got some catching up to do!

      T-

  3. Thabiti, thanks for chiming in on this issue. And Shai’s whole album is good!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Just downloaded it! Looking forward to blasting it in the church office today :-)
      T-

  4. I love this album. It tells a story of the work and person of the triune God and his mission. Someone had asked me what was the difference between this song and a discernment ministry. Well, the song is set in a context of what God does so the focus is on him. But the album also addresses the problem and opposition to him. Is it any wonder that the song is placed next to Cosmic Powers? Brilliant album.

  5. Favorite quote: I understand that some people view the first opinion as “unfortunate” at worst but hold anyone who replies guilty of a more foul offense. They tell us that confrontation should first happen privately (even as they write to publicly confront for this supposed transgression).

    Thanks Pastor! I was disappointed by how many people threw shai under the bus when Paula’s son released that letter. I was angered by how many people blasted him on Twitter saying he should how went to her in private. The hypocrisy! Thanks for publicly standing beside shai.

  6. Aaron says:

    I just want to say. . . this song is sick! (the good kind of sick). From a musical standpoint, this is good stuff. And I agree with the method and intent of the lyrics as well.

    I read the response letter from Paula White ministries, but I”m sorry, there are too many examples of her false teaching. Shai really lays it down here. I pray that he’s ready for the backlash “if you’re having your best life now, you’re headed for hell!”. wow. That’s pretty direct! (and true)

    Thabiti, what would you say about people a little closer to the center, than say. . Paula White or Kenneth Copeland; folks who have had some prosperity-ish teachings, but also teach the true Gospel and who have been accepted by most of the leaders of the group that hosts this blog (TGC). I think that’s the hard thing, when the person isn’t just a charlatan. . . they have respectable teaching and character, but they’ve made errors in the direction of prosperity teachings.

    1. Aaron, I know your question was addressed to Thabiti, but from what I’ve experienced the impact is still the same. Favor based on blessings encourages their pursuit and becomes the basis for an authentic Christian existence all the while proclaiming the truths of the gospel. Example, somebody posted this from T.D. Jakes status this morning:

      “Go after those things God wants you to have, embrace the process that you’re going through to get you to the next level.”

      That’s what Christianity becomes, going to the next level. You need some breakthrough blessings to get there. I’ve heard this so much from those I know whose heart was in the right place and wanting to proclaim Christ. So even when you get a mixed bag of healthy teaching and prosperity and WoF doctrine, it gets very muddy and encourages the wrong thing even though the motivation might not be to deceive. This is why the prosperity and WoF doctrine is so cunning and deceptive because it weaves its way into mainstream teaching and sounds very reasonable.

      1. David B says:

        Thanks Lisa, your reply was helpful. I recently (by the grace of God) pulled out of the more “muddy” area described above. It is so easy to look away from a Benny Hinn but there are those who take a less than helpful approach, sort of between the land of prosperity and evangelical faith, and it was there I got caught for a couple of years. I think mostly because of the emphasis there on real “felt” experience. Prayer and worship and “encounter” are the main things there, and for one who is hungry to know and encounter a real God, these things are hugely attractive. But I soon found myself confused by what is promoted as the “main thing” in these movements…i.e. the “presence of God” which sounds great but comes out to be a diversion from the blessing and promises of the new covenant and the Gospel. It came out to be a sort of pagan twist on the truth of Scripture and how He reveals Himself. Thanks again…

  7. Sam Allberry says:

    Thabiti, we LOVED having you at New Word Alive. Thank you for your rich and heart-warming teaching. And, yes, let’s move it to the Cayman Islands next year :)
    Come visit us in the UK soon!

  8. lebza says:

    thank you pastor for your comments. I just wanted to comment on the reach of the prosperity teachers. i grew up in Zimbabwe in a little obscure town called Masvingo. Even there TD Jakes/ Kenneth Copeland / Benny hinn etc are well known. It is sad. I think one of the things bible teachers out here need to do is equip us with how to evangelize our families and friends who have all been raised under the prosperity gospel and help us to confront error with truth. The majority of the people i know who profess Christianity are all avid followers of prosperity teachers. Heart breaking. And again, like you said, Christian hip hop does also have reach into these parts of the world. You are spot on. I pray that our young people would listen to the lyrics and start to ask questions and dig deeper into the deception.

  9. Warner says:

    This article was right on time. Dr. John MacArthur has a conference coming up called Strange Fire which addresses the same things.

  10. @aj_mcn says:

    Dear Thabiti,

    Maybe there’s not much “boom-bap” in North Wales but there’s some good stuff coming out of South Wales: http://noisetrade.com/truemcee/lyricalliturgy

    Dai Hankey (a.k.a Truemcee) is pastor of http://www.hillcitychurch.org/

    A.

  11. Stacey says:

    Thank you for this article. I grew up listening to WoF teachers and most of my family is WoF, so this song hit home for me. There is a ministry out there that combats WoF theology. Justin Peters has a seminar, A Call to Discernment, you can watch an excerpt on youtube. It has really helped me to unfold what exactly WoF teaches and what scriptures I can turn to when witnessing to a person of WoF theology.

  12. Tom says:

    I imagine most of the prosperity gospel folks don’t listen to reformed hip hop. I’m not sure if this is just preaching to the choir.

    1. Tom,

      The reach of Reformed hip hop would shock you. They listen bro. Trust me. As a matter of fact, I listened when I was into the prosperity biz. One of the tools the Lord used to expose false teaching in my life was Reformed Hip Hop. So be encouraged. They listen. Reformed Hip Hop is extremely diverse. Often people in it love guys like shai and Joel Osteen as the same time, until shai comes out with a song like this. Then they realize the two don’t mix.

  13. Chris Connally says:

    I’m not a fan of hip hop (Christian or otherwise), however, I bought this album. I am grateful that these young men are using this medium to communicate very important theological truths without watering them down. This is some deep theology and communicates the un-compromised gospel. I’m going to show my support instead of simply patting them on the back from a location of safety and anonymity.

    Chris Connally
    Romans 8:28

  14. Andrew says:

    What a great song! I am not a hip-hop guy but this is the truth.

  15. Hugh says:

    But why name names? Can’t we all just get along?

  16. Megan says:

    Great article! Thought I’d also share a great song a friend of mine sent me: https://soundcloud.com/renaldf

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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