For almost 10 years I’ve been deeply involved, as an artist/producer/designer, in an amazing movement of Christians who create hip-hop and rap music. Due to recent success many within the movement have feared that some are shrinking back from the original mission. But I see a bigger issue at hand. Those who have been instrumental in the success of Christians who create and/or produce rap music have not been helpful from the beginning of the movement in laying a proper whole life theology of art. Out of our zeal we have only given merit and value to things that are evangelistic or seeking to communicate Christian doctrine. Only then have we labeled it to be “Christian” when in reality Christianity is “not just involved with ‘salvation’ but with the total man in the total world,” as Francis Schaeffer would say. In writing this article I seek to help fellow Christians think biblically and clearly about art and faith.
God is a creator-God, so as image bearers of God, we create. From the beginning of time we see that not all of God’s creations were what we would consider “religious” in nature. Genesis 2:9 tells us, “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” God created trees not just for utilitarian purposes but also for pleasure and aesthetic enjoyment. God did not feel the need to justify his creation by making it into the shape of a cross. Trees provide food and also beauty.
The first poem we read in Scripture is Genesis 2:23, when the first man, Adam, says to Eve, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Adam created this poem prior to the fall, prior to sin entering the world and contaminating everything. Song of Solomon is romantic poetry and sexual in nature, written to express love within a covenant relationship. “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle” (Song of Solomon 7:3). This poem honors Christ even without explicitly pointing to redemptive history and the Messiah. Yet in our present framework this poem would not be considered a Christian art or get played on “Christian” radio stations. If a Christian were to make an entire album in the same vein as the Song of Solomon, we should be able to enjoy and glorify God with our wives for it.
Don’t Make a Hip-Hop Artist an Office of the Church
I have seen some equate rap to a pastor’s preaching ministry or a Christian’s task of evangelizing. When I recently spoke with Sho Baraka on the issue, he shared,
The problem is that we have created a theological truth from cultural and systematic preferences. So now hip hop is an office in the church and not a vocation or art. We first must start here before we can move forward. It’s something we’ve all been guilty of implying in one way or another.
Seeing rap as the office of preaching and evangelism is inconsistent and creates unfortunate problems when a Christian desires to make music that’s less explicitly revealing of God’s attributes. In his book Art and the Bible Francis Schaeffer writes,
A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself. . . . The Christian message begins with the existence of God forever, and then with creation. It does not begin with salvation. We must be thankful for salvation, but the Christian message is more than that. Man has a value because he is made in the image of God.
We must not pass off personal preferences and methods as biblical demands. There is a wide spectrum as to how a Christian can approach the arts. Art can still be Christian if it’s not evangelistic. When we only recognize art as being distinctly Christian when it is preaching the gospel, a Christian is seen as shrinking back from the faith even if he’s not looking for selfish gain and merely desires to make music that is less explicit about God. Christians who desire to make an entire album about nature, beauty, and social justice are not being unfaithful to the gospel of Christ. They need no justification to create art. They are free to create art about anything and everything that belongs to their God, which is everything.
We Need Art for Special and General Revelation
In making this case, I am not saying that gospel intentionality in your music is unhelpful or the “old way” of approaching rap. For those who desire to make music to teach biblical doctrine and share how man can be saved, continue to do so! For those who desire to make metaphorical art deriving from God’s created order, trust the Holy Spirt, write good music, and don’t lose sleep.
The goal is mutual appreciation for distinct approaches and philosophies. We need Christian artists writing about special revelation and general revelation. Songs about the misfortunes of life, the genocides in Africa, love, and the human experience can all be helpful in pricking the conscience of the listener and make them ask greater questions. Creating honest work, truthful work, beautiful work is not against the gospel but springs from the gospel message of Christ reconciling the world back to himself through his life, death, and resurrection.
The scriptures do not determine what art you must make. But they do focus on the content of your life and heart. So we must rule out anything that does not flow from a regenerated heart, anything done for selfish gain or sinful motive, whether speaking ill of someone in order to get a promotion or changing your music solely to gain acceptance and accolades. Ultimately, the Christian’s life is tethered by love (Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:14). Christians plugged into a local body of believers and seeking to make disciples as Christ has commanded have the freedom under the leading of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to create as they see fit. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Art Needs No Justification, Hans R. Rookmaaker
Art and the Bible, Francis A. Schaeffer
Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, Steve Turner
Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, Albert M. Wolters