Getting a bad rap
Published: 6 November 2011(GMT+10)
A recent interview in CMI’s Creation magazine (see here) emphasized the rap music group Destiny Lab’s biblical creationist views and their mission to spread the biblical Gospel using an unusual medium. We received a couple of comments from readers who were concerned that any association with rap is ungodly and cannot be justified. The editorial team for Creation magazine had asked our US CEO, Gary Bates, to conduct an interview with the group due in part to his geographical location, and also Gary’s interest in cultural phenomena. As with many scientists, individuals and other ministries that might be portrayed in Creation magazine, it does not automatically follow that we endorse every other aspect of the ministry of interviewees, or even any other theological views that they hold. The point is to show how others are using biblical creation to argue against evolution and for Christianity, and how others have realized the importance of this issue. Here’s Gary’s response to some issues raised.
It is all too easy to ‘demonize’ a music style because its major practitioners use it to promote ungodly lifestyles and practices. I am personally not a rap fan for probably many of the same reasons as others. Most of it has unwholesome lyrics, and promotes a distinctly hedonistic culture. In short, I dislike what it represents. So, it’s easy to judge a music style when it doesn’t go along with one’s own tastes. But it is important to judge biblically before reacting based on our own preferences.
Music styles can basically be differentiated based on the tempo and beat of the music and how the lyrics interact with the melody. Are some beats ‘ungodly’ while some are ‘godly’? For example, I’ve been in churches where some think that drums are an occult tool used to raise up demons (this came about primarily because in some third world cultures the banging of drums is used for this). However, does that mean that drums themselves are inherently evil? The Hebrew nation most certainly used drums for worship and praise, as in Exodus 15:20–21; the timbrel is a small hand-drum. This shows how subjective such individual judgments can be—see more later.
The point of DL’s efforts is to sound a warning, and tell stories to awaken people to their fallen state, particularly to those who are drawn to rap music.
So, are some music styles more ungodly than others? Some argue that this is the case, but rarely, if ever, does one hear this approach from those who are musically informed or trained. I would argue that the music itself is amoral, neither good nor bad, and it depends on the lyrics (and the degree to which these can be understood by most hearers) and whether these glorify God or not.
Music styles have changed over and over again through history, including in the Church. The music that David danced to would have been very different from the music with which the early Church worshipped. And the Church’s preferred style of music has changed a lot over the years. Worship music styles also vary widely depending on where you are: when I was on a preaching tour in South Africa I enjoyed worship styles in indigenous (‘black’) churches that were reminiscent of what Paul Simon appropriated for his album Graceland. He adopted a style made popular by a group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo who perform in the vocal style of isicathamiya and mbube. The lead singer of that group, Joseph Shabalala, has since become a Christian and now uses his music style to promote the Gospel all over the world. God is using this music (that was not originally Christian in origin) in an incredible way now. It was ‘foreign’ music to most Westerners (who now love it, by the way).
It’s new, it’s part of popular culture … it must be bad, right?
Music styles are often demonized at some point because they are new. Many of the tunes we now regard as grand old hymns, for example some written by Charles Wesley, were in the popular music style of their day, and so severely criticized as ‘ungodly’ and ‘worldly’. In years to come I think we will look at rap as being tame; and in fact, it is already regarded as mainstream and being adopted by more middle-of-the-road artists with a much tamer message and lifestyle. I think that is a good thing and hope that it happens increasingly.
But what Destiny Lab (DL) is doing is not the same as becoming what the music projects or even is endorsing—it is subjugating the music style for Christ. In the same way, the pop (or popular) music style has given rise to some of the most beautiful and inspired contemporary Christian music ever heard that can move one to tears in adoration of the Creator and Saviour. The Apostles wrote the NT Gospels and letters using ‘secular’ rhetorical conventions and recognizable genres (the Gospels are bioi, and the epistles are the standard letter form that we see in secular writing of the period). So let’s change the identity of the culture by reaching them where they are at. Here are some more thoughts:
Rap music isn’t my own preference. However, when I listened to DL’s music, I suddenly ‘got it’—that is, I realized what they are trying to do. Most popular music has lyrics that are hard to understand anyway, but that is not the case with the strong lyrical content of rap, and in particular DL’s music. I found they tell it like it is, and the message is unmistakable. In fact, I wish more such clear messages of sin, repentance and judgment were preached in the pulpits. It might scare more people into the Kingdom. Now, whilst I might not agree with every theological point raised, should I throw the baby out with the bathwater?
The point of DL’s efforts is to sound a warning, and tell stories to awaken people to their fallen state, particularly to those who are drawn to rap music, which they and we agree is often performed, as a rule, by less than wholesome characters. They even use quotes from prominent new-agers to show the fallacious ideology of such beliefs using their own words. Such warnings include not to dabble or be drawn into the occult or New Age, or to be drawn into hedonistic lifestyles, and they also talk about design features in nature. Yes, it is a form of evangelism, but I would not call their style of music (and intent) worship, as in worship songs in church etc.
We can’t ignore the possible outreach effect Christian rap could have. Imagine someone who listens to Eminem purely for the style of music. Wouldn’t it be better for them to listen to DL, and get a dose of good doctrine instead of the trash that dominates the genre? And if someone got saved from it, would you then expect them to smash the ‘ungodly’ DL CDs? Surely God isn’t constrained by anyone’s musical preferences as to what He uses to bring people to Himself? And if God does not use music to advance the Gospel then the church has had it badly wrong for at least 2,000 years. In Genesis, God created masters of metallurgy and even music. See Music: Evidence of Creation. Music is most certainly a God-inspired medium and He encouraged its use in worship in the Old Testament—without specifying the style.
Using common threads to reach people
Paul looked for things in the pagan cultures that he could use as a way to inject the Gospel. I don’t see that what the guys in DL are doing is any different. In Acts 17 Paul used a pagan altar (the altar to the unknown god whom ‘they ignorantly worshipped’) and appropriated it to point to the true Creator. This is different to partaking in and accepting those elements of the culture that are antichristian.
If I were to preach the Gospel to a tribal aboriginal group in my home country of Australia, I would need to speak their language. It’s as simple as that. I have to go to their culture to reach them. I can’t do that from the US, for example. If hip hop is the language of a culture that has enslaved a portion of society then we need to speak their language to bring them out of it. They are most certainly not going to come to us. Why do creationists go to new age festivals with booths and displays? By doing so, are we endorsing new age practices?
One of my own pastors gently chided the older ones in the congregation (of which he was one!), for their lack of tolerance for contemporary songs in the church. He recognized (and I agree), that while many of those songs are not to our taste, the future of the church was the young ones coming up. He projected that within ten years something like 70% of the church would be under 30 years of age (or something like that). Should we force our children to sing in styles they don’t like and just give them more reasons to leave the church?
It’s possible to say, ’Well, music preference is a matter of environment,’ and to argue that the church’s environment should be different from that of the world. Yes—we should be different, but in the ways that really matter. Our beliefs and lifestyles should set us apart, and I don’t believe that the rap genre is particularly conducive for congregational worship—but DL isn’t suggesting that their songs be sung Sunday mornings in church. Rather, it’s shining a light in a dark culture.
There is a fear that this sort of music is just another instance of the Church becoming ‘just like the world.’ It’s the same fear that causes the Amish to reject electricity and cars. But look at what happened to the Amish. They’re about as literally cut off from the rest of the world as they could be. While some might applaud their separatist stance, is their approach making Christianity relevant, and is it seeing many people drawn to Christ?
We’ve also had the response that DL should stick to ‘street preaching’, which would be ‘good enough’. But, ironically, at its inception, street preaching was viewed as extreme and dangerous. If people wanted to hear the Gospel, they could come and hear it in church like a ‘civilized person’ (see our article Caged Lions). It was in bad taste for it to be shouted on the street corners and in the fields. And it’s not a matter of either/or, in any case. People are reached by street preaching, others are reached by youth camps, others by the creation message, etc. Praise God for all the ways He draws people to Himself!
It’s a wisdom issue, yet again
As with many areas it’s always a balance or wisdom issue on such things. We are indeed meant to be holy, and not have fellowship with unbelievers in their carnal ways (2 Corinthians 6:14–17). In that sense we are to be separate from the world, and are not to love the things of the world—1 John 2:16). But that is not the same as following Paul’s example of utilizing an aspect of a particular culture to bring glory to God, and see souls won for Him.
If we reject something every time the culture uses it in a way that is displeasing to God, we are left with a shrinking amount of things that are acceptable.
If we reject something every time the culture uses it in a way that is displeasing to God, we are left with a shrinking amount of things that are acceptable, until we’re completely cut off in our own little bubble with our Reformation-era hymns and our favourite Christian books. Some people would actually welcome that, and when I am out preaching every second Sunday I often see such Christians cozily tucked away in their ‘Christian church clubs’, which are shrinking every year as people get older and simply die. When we try to educate them about the erosional effects of evolution on young ones, they simply don’t get it. They are apathetic or just content with their own salvation and don’t see it as a threat to their personal wellbeing.
Such attitudes of disengaging from the culture severely limit our ability to reach into the culture and see people changed. At the end of the day, culture change comes when hearts and minds are won. We have to engage people where they are at. I think evolution, as is apparent from the fruit that stems from it, is an evil anti-God philosophy. Should I stay away from it, then? No, our website speaks the language of those immersed in evolutionary teaching. We are trying to speak their language to point them to the Creator, which makes the point about Christians not giving up certain elements of the culture just because some people misuse it.
In the early 20th century, conservative Christians often became anti-science and anti-scholarship because many scientists and scholars were anti-Christian. But this did not make the Church healthier. Instead, it only added to the perception that no true scholar or scientist could be a Christian—a perception which we’re still fighting against today. The church retreated from science, which is why ministries like ours are trying to help the church engage this area once again. I wonder what our teaching environments and colleges, indeed, what the world might be like today, if creation was being taught instead of evolution.
In any age, wholesale rejection of the then-modern culture can also cause many young people to perceive that the Church is out of touch with the culture and irrelevant.
In any age, wholesale rejection of the then-modern culture can also cause many young people to perceive that the Church is out of touch with the culture and irrelevant.
Does it automatically follow that if Christians use rap that they will inevitably be identified with the rap culture? Not if it is performed by Christians who don’t buy into the package. I believe it is our duty to get the culture to surrender for Christ, That is, “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). After all, the culture has done that to so many Christian icons. Look what’s happened to Christmas as a simple example. In many countries one cannot even put up a nativity scene anymore. Currently our message is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’. The Apostle Paul had something to say about that. That’s why he preached a message the Greeks could identify with (Acts 17).
Most of the culture is anti-God anyway
If we followed the thought (that ‘rap’ is evil) to its logical conclusion then we should disengage from virtually every aspect of the culture because it does not agree with us. The world is antichristian … period! Jesus Himself said the devil is the ruler of this world, meaning the evil one controls pretty much everything in it that is not surrendered to God. Pagan third world cultures are anti-God, so why send missionaries there then? If I sang a worship song to an animistic jungle hill tribe in Thailand, in their language style and genre, would that be sending mixed messages, or would I be communicating in a language they understand? (Something I have done by the way). Rap is a culture that needs to be penetrated and subjected to Christ.
As another example, I am regarded as an expert on UFO phenomena etc. I personally find the subject matter distasteful. Most Christians, including some of my own colleagues, really have no idea of the kind of weirdness, new age, and spiritual unholiness that dwells in its ranks, and which I have to confront. But I know that I have been called to communicate with them, and learn what they believe. I wrote a book in an effort to reach them speaking their language (it’s been read by more non-believers than believers BTW). When I am trying to communicate to the UFO culture I make a judgment call on how to reach them depending on their beliefs and their experiences. Sometimes it is a loving approach, sometimes it’s more robust. Most Christians would not have the faintest clue, because they ignore it and disregard it viewing it as irrelevant or simply occultic. As a result, I’ve had confused hurt people tell me they have been rejected by the church because the church did not want anything to do with them. What would Jesus think indeed!
Listen to Destiny Lab's "Creation is Proof"
To suggest that DL are doing what they do in order to be able to have a foot in both camps, which has been suggested, is unfortunate in my opinion. At the end of the day, I know their heart is to reach others. We may even disagree about the methodology, but I’ve had people accuse me in the same way because I wrote a book on UFOs and aliens, which we, as Christians ‘should have nothing to do with.’ I am thankful that God has used it to bring people to Christ and also to train other Christians on how to do the same.
Jesus’ motives were misunderstood too
Incidentally, DL are not the first Christian rap band to do this. One of the most successful was a group called DC Talk (which, interestingly stood for ‘decent Christian talk’—the exact opposite of what rap is known for). We know that they reached many millions and were one of the most popular Christian groups of all time. As is often stated, Jesus was criticized for mixing with tax collectors. I see the efforts of these young men as commendable by shining a light in the darkness and by getting young people to think about their fallen state. The point being that those who listen to ungodly rap music also need to hear the message of God’s love, and that by God’s grace, through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection for their sin, they can come to Him and be forgiven. It is unlikely that such types will ever enter a church, so it is in that vein that I think the boys’ efforts are commendable, that is, to go where the people are and to tell them the truth. This is much like CMI does, because unsaved people do not generally go out of their way to seek us out. Therefore we travel to many different places, following Jesus’ example of reaching out to mankind, ensuring that local Christians are also equipped to evangelize their fellows more effectively.
I pray that many reading this will not just emotionally knee-jerk respond due to the nature of the music genre, but give some considered thought to the some of the reasoning above. I’ve certainly appreciated the opportunity to provide some more thinking on this and hope it helps. I also appreciated the opportunity to do the interview so I could understand yet another aspect of a part of our culture that needs to be reached for Christ.
Jeff C., United States, 6 November 2011
First Christian Rap is not new, PID and ETW (END TIME WARRIORS) ETC were rapping back in the 80’s, Christian Rock around 1965 with THE PEACEMAKERS and MIND GARAGE 1967, to name some. God created the voice so when the voice is used to glorify him that is good, God created electricity, which is used to make and electric guitar Rock. All creation (electricity) proclaims his name, I say chill, the music you listen to might have roots you are not aware of.
Destiny Lab, United States, 7 November 2011
Thank you so much Gary for taking the time to put this article together on our behalf and thank all of you for your kind comments and encouraging words. We are only strengthened and empowered when the enemy tries to thwart our ministry … be sure we will remain steady on our destined course … a third album is in the works!! God bless you all!! Destiny Lab
Terence T., South Africa, 7 November 2011
Brilliantly written Gary! I think a book could be written on this subject but you have done well in covering a lot of ground. There is only one other point I would like to add in my own belief. Satan cannot create. He can only destroy, twist and warp. As you pointed out God obviously created music. Therefore to give any genre of music to satan by saying for example “rap music is evil” in my mind is a subtle worship of satan and acknowledgment satan does not deserve. As Christians we should take it back. I often thank God for the faithful warriors of His who take back territory in the different musical genres considered out of bounds for us as Christians.
Judie S., Australia, 7 November 2011
When rock music was popular, I heard almost exactly the same arguments against that.
The one I thought most laughable was “Rock music is written in 4/5 time! It’s the
same beat as the human heart & acts straight on the emotions.” I had never heard
of 4/5 time & knew perfectly well that people’s hearts beat at different rates.
Ben K., Canada, 7 November 2011
Destiny lab is the only Christian music I listen to because I find the traditional Christian music to be too fluffy. My kids listen to it too and they think it’s great. After seeing DL featured in the last issue of Creation I bought both albums and can hardly wait until they put out another one. Keep up the good work DL and don’t let the judgemental Christians get you down!
Wendy R., Australia, 7 November 2011
Good onya mate! A very reasoned and sensible article about a highly emotive topic.
Rap music is certainly not my favourite genre of music either, but that is mainly
due to the truly disgusting and largely evil lyrics of most rap songs (if you can
decipher the lyrics!), and the incredibly loud (eardrum-bursting) volume at which
most of it is played.
Peter C., Saudi Arabia, 7 November 2011
Awesome article! I totally agree-art is a form of expression. I’ve heard amazing Christian rap artists with great lyrics and it really helps reach out to the current generation who like this form of music.
Gaye M., Australia, 7 November 2011
Well said! I was really excited when I read that original article and I showed it
to my children. What a great example of those boys using their God-given talents
in a mission field that is open to them. At the other end of the scale, I’ve used
Irish dance in praise & worship.
Shamus M., Australia, 7 November 2011
BEAUTFIFULLY AND ACCURATELY STATED GARY AS ALWAYS. WELL DONE. GOD BLESS.
Steven S., United States, 7 November 2011
Good thoughts. Reading some of Shae Lynn’s lyrics opened my mind to the rap style. Being over 60 it is no way my preference but such Christian rap artists display none of the angry rebellious tone that I hear in secular rap. And the theology is far better than some of the songs my generation gets sentimental over!
Brian C., United Kingdom, 7 November 2011
Thank you for a well-balanced response to a potentially thorny issue. If this group “sing” lyrics that clearly promote biblical truth then that must be to the good given that the words of so many “Christian” songs aimed at popular culture are vague at best and often devoid of any identifiable Gospel or biblical content.
Brett E., United States, 7 November 2011
I’m a youth leader who happens to love rap music. I just let my youth group listen to many of the Christian rap artists on my MP3 player and they were shocked to hear great beats with excellent lyrics. They like rap too and said they didn’t know this was out there. They said now they can enjoy the music without feeling bad for listening to the secular message. I am taking them through a Biblical Worldview course and explained that what you put in your heart is what’s going to show in your actions and thoughts. I have no doubt there have been many people come to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ due to this music. God uses many tools to touch different people. I pray we will use discernment when judging if something is biblical or not. There are definitely some practices out there that are not biblical and are leading people astray. True Christian rap is very good, so long as the lyrics match up with what the Bible says. Always check everything according to Scripture.
Emmanuel N., Switzerland, 7 November 2011
Curiously, when I received the Creation with this article, I was too sure that it would result with negative comments. I play in a Christian Extreme Metal band named Demoniciduth for years and have heard all sorts of comments. But most of the comments were based on the intensity of the music, viewed as brutal. It is then argued that it’s incompatible with God’s attributes such as love and peace. So I will say that those Christians limit God’s attributes. What about God’s wrath? God’s judgement? Most Christian Metal bands have lyrics which are focused on the power of God, the wrath of God, because it is addressed to listeners who are quite hostile to Christianity, the Extreme Metal scene being predominantly satanic. I cannot imagine the kind of lyrics we use with soft music. As Gary Bates points, I think music is amoral and can be labeled bad only according to the lyrics. It’s worth citing the experience of the singer for the Christian Hard band Disciple. He saw a street preacher and listened to him. Then he came to thank him for what he was doing. But the preacher replied: “How can you be of God when you look, dress, and smell like the world?” He said: “I’m sorry that you haven’t been around me long to see the fruit of my life so you can rightly judge. But if we’re going to judge only on appearances, then you look no different than every crooked thief on Wall Street in a suit and tie”.
John S., United Kingdom, 07 November 2011
It seems to me there is not enough thought about music-in church it is always something imposed on the congregation which may be one reason there is so much anger about it. I was singing loud and lusty one time, as the music was loud and lusty-as though we had won the World Cup. Then I suddenly realised that the words were penitential-sorrow for sin! How ridiculous I suddenly sounded! We need less of the thoughtless one-size-fits-all approach. As for music being amoral-really? I don’t think one can be sure about that. Music does things to us otherwise there would be no point having it. The question is, what does it do? If it dulls our mental faculties, I would say watch out. Personally I think musicians have more power in the church than they know what to do with.
Gary Bates responds:
Barry E., Canada, 8 November 2011
As a Christian, I am extremely pleased with your response to this issue. I applaud you (and by implication, CMI) for your foresight and personal integrity in acknowledging that many aspects of any culture can be essentially morally neutral; and yes, even musical styles. Because of this fact, they can (at least theoretically), be used to edify the individual human spirit and to glorify our creator God, in spite of what may be prevailing “christian” opinion to the contrary.
Although I certainly believe and accept CMI’s central message that compromise on the origins issue (the Bible versus Darwinism/Evolution) has been paramount in the decline of the influence of the church over the last several decades, I have also come to believe that the failure of the church to recognize the distinction between the mere elements of a culture(specifically, our western culture) and the indulgence in the sinful application of those cultural elements, has meant that there has always been a diminishing repertoire of things a Christian can do without fear of condemnation from other believers.
Decades before our entertainment industry became the immoral and anti-God quagmire it is today, we had some “holiness” churches telling their congregations that radio was the “devil’s voice in your home,” TV was “hellivision” and co-ed skating was immoral because it invariably was accompanied by “worldly” music which meant it was as “immoral” as dancing. If you decided that you would try to provide your own entertainment by playing a game of cards at home, well, that was the “devils picture book” and by using such a tool you would probably become a gambler, a smoker and a drinker.
I recognize that the rationale for the church’s actions was undoubtedly quite well intended at the time, as the primary motive was probably to keep the individual Christian from falling into a habitual sinful state. But ultimately, it was just another enabling of legalism, which the scriptures have plenty of negative things to say about. In retrospect, I believe that when the church as a whole effectively disengaged itself from western culture, it greatly accelerated our societal decline to the abominable state we find it in today.
Timothy J., United States, 8 November 2011
It is a wonderful and well written article. Because I listen to Christian Rock and Rap I hear many comments. I also remind others that God created music and loves all kinds. If you have any questions about what he may allow just read Psalm 150. I think that spells it out quite clearly.
Bill H., United States, 8 November 2011
Martin Luther was criticized for utilizing the popular music of the day for the melody of some of his hymns; some members of his congregation considered it too worldly. Destiny Lab’s following a great tradition.
Andy O., Canada, 8 November 2011
I’m also a Christian rapper and I’m happy with the way you handled this article.
Paul Washer, a preacher definitely not known for endorsing worldly practices, endorsed
Christian rap calling it a picture of how we, as Christians, we redeemed from the
power of Satan, so this music which is known to carry evil messages, is being redeemed
for the use of God’s glory. Grace and peace.
Pat G., United States, 8 November 2011
I have one of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s recordings of their Christian music. As a trained musician (having been trained since the age of 3, and as a professional artist) I can tell you that the style of singing really isn’t that different from Bach’s chorales! In fact, what really intrigues me is the way in which most music the world over is based on the same mathematical ratios! There truly is godly order in real music.
[Gary] Gary Bates responds:
A hallmark of the Creator methinks.
It is critical to analyze the music itself. I don’t have a problem with people using rap to convey the Christian message. That’s not my quarrel here. We should examine the physiological effects of various styles of music. The heavy beat that characterizes so many styles actually causes a physiological reaction, akin to carnal arousal.
[Gary] I would agree. BTW if you mean carnal as in sexual, I’m not sure that is always the case. Much would depend upon the lyrics, the setting or the environment. No one doubts that music can create feelings or invoke moods. We see it in church every Sunday. It’s when it is used to invoke inappropriate feelings that it is the problem. As I said, it is a wisdom issue. Even so much of what is good and was even God ordained is twisted for evil intent.
This would not be appropriate in church, though as an evangelistic tool, the style may be helpful. On another hand, I can’t tell you what music David danced to, but I can tell you that the music to which the Old Testament was chanted during those times is actually very similar to the liturgy and Gregorian chant of today’s liturgical churches. The melodies are different, but the style is the same. Not only that, but liturgical music is the only music that appears to quote the Bible directly, and which is heavy in doctrinal content (which in general is lacking in many churches today.) Our churches have done a grave disservice to throw away the rich artistic and musical heritage that has accumulated through a couple of millenia of Christian worship and practice. If you want to use new styles of music for worship, fine, but not at the expense of that rich heritage.
[Gary] Interesting thoughts.
When you look at the newest forms of visual art, you will often see very disordered minds, no beauty, just ugliness and violence, whether through representational or abstract means. I hold that if it isn’t beautiful, it’s not art.
[Gary] I agree. It’s excused as saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I think so much of what passes for art is just plain garbage. However, I see a difference between the visual aspects of art as opposed to music. Art causes us to see visual images and we know that visual images can have a powerful effect on the mind and spirit.
Sometimes we should think of music in worship in a similar way. What kinds of music do you think God likes best, and what do you think pleases His ear? We would do well to realize that because God prescribed this style of worship and perhaps even the melodies, to the ancient Hebrews, He is most pleased with the music that grows out of that heritage. Just something to think about.
[Gary] I think that your analyses is somewhat subjective though, and one will never find complete agreement amongst a range of people. Let’s go back to the Ladysmith example. That is a style that has been traditionally used in South Africa. Hmm! Does God only like American traditional hymn singing. If so, (hypothetically), therefore when we reach a third world culture for Christ and then they singing in their native style, would that not meet with God’s approval because it was not of the style that the Hebrews used, for example. Anyway, it’s a bit of a moot point. In my article I pointed out that the style was not being used for worship, but for evangelism. Rap has a strong lyrical content that the boys are able to use to preach messages of sin, repentance and salvation.
To get a really good example of the variety of styles of music that I personally believe please God, you would do well to listen to Sing for Joy on WCPE (streaming on theclassicalstation.org) every Sunday morning at 7:30 eastern time. The folks who program these half hour segments have excellent taste, and do present Christian music from many different styles.
[Gary] Again, using your personal preferences is a subjective thing for the reasons I mentioned before.
Neil P., New Zealand, 10 November 2011
“Paul said if Christ aint resurrected we wasted our lives,
‘Don’t waste your life’ Lecrae
—Sounder theology and greater passion than many of the worship songs I sing in my local church. I thank God for his witness. :)
Michael R., New Zealand, 17 November 2011
My two cents: If there is any kind of music playing with a heavy, unnatural beat (such as the rock backbeat) it wears me down spiritually. Rhythm is associated with the body, not the soul or spirit, and most of these styles of “music” are almost entirely rhythm, with very little melody or harmony. If your body is being stimulated by an addiction (yes, it is an addiction) your spirit will have a harder time getting through.
Gary Bates responds:
I couldn’t agree Michael. As I wrote, there is no question that music can be used to create moods and influence people. That’s why I said it was a wisdom issue. Every Sunday in church we are stirred emotionally by the music regardless of what type it is. Music can even be used for evil motives, and one can construct melodies, rhythms and lyrics with that in mind. No one was suggesting that we should use heavy rock or even rap for worship. I was merely defending DL’s right to penetrate an ungodly medium for Christ.
Colin N., Australia, 18 November 2011
I personally don’t like rap, but that means nothing. I think it was said when the Christians of a by-gone era began to use music-hall tunes etc, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” From what I understand, some of the tunes we love to sing hymns to are from non-Christian sources. Let’s get our eyes on glorifying God and not pulling others down. Let’s praise God that these young men have the desire to reach out with the truth. They are not indulging in anything that can be construed as sin. Leave them alone-no; better still pray that they are used by God.
Adam B., Australia, 18 November 2011
Great article Gary. As a new convert a few years ago, it wasn’t long before I was convicted to get rid of my worldly heavy metal for the baleful influence it had on my outlook on life. It was only 1 or 2 weeks later that I met a guy at our church who introduced me ‘Disciple’ and other God fearing metal bands. The songs had an average of 9 scriptures per song and it helped me memorise a lot of scripture early on in my walk. Praise God for all different manners with which we can worship Him!
Pete L., Australia, 18 November 2011
Good article. I’ve never been into mainstream styles of music and have always struggled with the notion that some styles of music are more “holy” than another.
I can hear a bit of a Cyprus Hill influence in some of Destiny Lab’s songs, although I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to go out and listen to Cyprus Hill, as the lyrics are not very wholesome at all! I would recommend listening to Destiny Lab though.
In addition to Andy O.’s list of Christian rappers, I can also add that ‘The Ambassador’ is really good. I bought his album ‘The Thesis’ a couple of years ago.
Elijah L., Singapore, 18 November 2011
A lot of people argue at what I call the methodology level. At the end of the day, we all need to discern what is actually pleasing to God. Just because we dress conservatively and sing hymns doesn’t mean God is pleased with our growth, our relationship with Him and other Christians. God looks on the heart. Even if we adopt a wrong method to please God, but our heart is right, God will show us what really pleases Him as we move forward. However, that may not absolve us from consequences. King David attempted to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem using an ox cart. Where did he get that idea? Philistines. Did David know about how the Ark was supposed to be transported? Certainly. Even if he didn’t, the priests certainly did. So, let’s not argue about methods, but focus on what pleases God and is consistent with His Word and promptings of God’s Holy Spirit. If our heart is right, but our methods are wrong, God is faithful and just to show us. However, we also need to look diligently into issues and get the truth around them. Let us obey the whole counsel of God, not follow our own hearts’ inclinations, and He will keep us. Me? I just follow good music according to sound musical principles that are pleasing to God as I know it now.
Shane V., South Africa, 18 November 2011
Thank you for the article.
I have a strong inclination to side with the comments of Pat G of the USA.
The word “carnal” means fleshly or in the flesh as opposed to spiritual. Not necessarily only sexual.
The tempo of the music determines to which side a persons underlying psyche or thoughts are going to head towards. There has been much study done on this which can be cited upon request. There is a particular signature to the beat of the music that is claimed to be an indicator. At risk of being incorrect I believe that it is 2/4 , if the music makes you want to bop your head/neck up and down on the beat in time, then it is more than likely on shaky territory.
Pastor Ivor Myers will have lots to say on that having been a successful Rap Artist turned Christian Rapper turned Pastor.
Music, decides the “mood” much more than the lyrics. This view is supported by the popular musicians themselves that are blatant about their anti-Christian views as well as scholars and critics.
When choosing music styles for worship it is probably prudent to do old things a new way and new things in an old way.
I will however not criticize anyone trying to promote the Gospel through any means of music. God judges the heart, we cannot.
The medium of the lyrics is the music, the medium carries the content which is the lyrics: The medium of pornography is photography or cinematography or print, the content you are probably all aware of to certain degree. If I were to use a Christian married couple to perform an intimate, sexual act to be captured on camera, have I manufactured Christian Pornography? Hence can there be such a thing as true Christian Heavy Metal.
We are told that we are to worship in spirit and truth. Worshiping in the spirit without the truth is not the whole deal, it might make us feel good, but what does God actually want?
As another commentator Terence T wrote, that Satan cannot create only twist, I would like to suggest that any media we have are God given and all can be twisted to suit Satan’s devices. Whether the medium/media are audio or video or others, we need to be discerning.
Well done to DL for trying to get the message out.
I think that music is a choice that one makes according to the power of one’s convictions and the instruction of the Holy Spirit.
Gary Bates responds:
I concur with much of what you write here, and the article actually mentioned that this is a wisdom issue that requires a balanced approach that considers many aspects. We’ve been unable to even publish a couple of responses due to name calling and profanities hurled by ‘Christians’ who disagree and say that rock, pop or rap is ‘of the devil’. It’s quite ironic given their approach to the article! The article also mentioned that music can be used for evil and there is no question it can inspire moods, but as I stated, if those beats and melodies were designed to create a mood of worship, then nobody seems to have an issue with that. Again, why I said it is a wisdom issue. But the major point most keep missing is that the article never said or suggested that such music forms be used for worship. It was a defence of DL’s methodology or penetrating a dark culture for Christ. Thanks for your observations.
Shane V. replies:
Thank you very much for your kind response.
Being a “good Christian” can obviously be very difficult sometimes and hence the kneejerk abuse hurling. It is very easy to condemn others.
I agree on your points of the article not condoning the style of music nor condemning it. I have the actual article in the Creation mag at home. Also, that it is a valid means to shine light into a place where light would otherwise not shine.
Ivor Myers for instance did a handsome amount of work preaching the grace of Jesus Christ while rapping before stepping out of the fray.
Maintaining a balance as you say, is the key.
Derek O., Australia, 19 November 2011
I’ve thought and observed and read about music for over ten years since my conversion. My perception has changed over time to one similar to what you have shared here Gary. I do believe though that while music essentially is morally neutral, it is not emotionally neutral. Music of any kind will affect the mind and body, whether we like it or not. Though perhaps if we listen critically we might avoid that.
My point is, I think we need to be informed and educated regarding music and its effects. But this is outside the realms of religion, it’s to do with science and physiology. Only this way can we find a balanced view of the matter.
So what this means to me is this. I have listened to ‘Christian’ rap before (ETW for example), but I am not likely to listen to Destiny Lab. I’ve concluded that rap music does not help me to stay focused and ‘on an even keel’ so to speak. Maybe it works for someone else, I’m not sure that it does, but that’s up to them. If people ask me for advice on musical choices, I’m probably not going to suggest they start listening to rap.
On the other hand, I know there are so many people out there who listen to rap music and I am so glad there are people like Destiny Lab who are going to those places, entering that world, in an effort to bring truth and light there. I don’t feel threatened, as many do, by Christian people entering these musical genres. God wants people to bring light to all places. But at the same time, he does want us to be looking after our minds and bodies. Musical choices, for those of us who have light and who know better, are a part of that.
Gary Bates responds:
Thanks for your email. I would actually concur with much of what you say and the article did say that music can create moods and that a balanced/wisdom view should be applied (like you state). We are affected every Sunday when we go to church and worship—are emotions are heightened and we are drawn to God as a result. It’s when such mediums are used for ungodly things that it becomes a problem. I’m glad you can see though that DL are using the medium for evangelism and not advocating this style of music for worship—I’ve spoken to them and they want to reinforce that point.
Michael B., United States, 19 November 2011
The argument if not moot is bogged down in deciding between the lesser of two evils. It is not about whats new or old, pop or traditional it is about why we need to borrow anything from a dying world to present a Gospel of new life. Does the gospel need help, must it be propped up with help from the pop culture. Doesn’t it stand on its own?
Christ’s life and message is beyond the past, the present or the future and all that is or ever was in them. It comes from the realm of the eternal and it leads back to that realm. The world should borrow from the kingdom not the other way around.
Gary Bates responds:
Thanks for your considered comments. I’m not sure what you actually mean by the lesser of two evils. I think the idea of the Gospel somehow needing help is a bit of an artificial construct, respectfully. God doesn’t ‘need’ any of us, including you or me, or anything, but He does choose to use us, and consequently we use ‘things’ to point to Him. The article mentioned how Paul subjugated things of the world to point them to the Creator (Acts 17). Isn’t that what DL are doing? Your comments remind me of an article written by Dr Carl Wieland called Caged Lions. I recommend reading it, which you can do by clicking the link.
Dawn T., United States, 19 November 2011
Thank you for covering this issue. Though I, personally, can’t stand the rhythm and sound of rap music of any kind (and a couple of other music genres for that matter), I think it’s GREAT that this is opening up for those who enjoy it. I recently did a bunch of research on music in the church and found that the arguments against rap music in the Church are EXACTLY the same as there have been REPEATEDLY over the centuries for anything “new” introduced to the Church. Whether it was the introduction of the organ or piano, both of which were considered “worldly” when they first came into the Church, or certain music styles (again accused of being “worldly”). Or even when the hymns that some hold up as so holy were first added-they caused a HUGE controversy and actually split churches because only psalms and chants were used in churches at that time.
Two things struck me about the whole issue when I was doing my research.
First, the arguments are always EXACTLY the same. It’s that whole legalism about tradition-“Why do we need to do anything different than what we’ve always done?” Isn’t getting stuck in a tradition rut something the Bible warns us about repeatedly? The Jewish believers were certainly warned about it often enough!
Second, it truly DEVALUES other people. God created us as creative people with a great deal of ingenuity and imagination. (Ok, granted, I know some folks who don’t have a creative bone in their body, but most of us are creative in some way, shape or form.) When we say there’s no “Christian” value in something just because it’s “new” (not really a decent argument since there’s “nothing new under the sun”), we devalue the folks God has gifted to share Him in that way. We might as well say there’s no need for new books, no need for anyone to be artistic in any fashion because we have enough paintings or whatnot, no need for new inventions, etc.
THE most important thing to consider with ANYTHING, whether it’s music or anything else for that matter, is this–is it Godly? Is it in step with Scripture? Does it glorify God? If it does, even if we personally don’t care for the presentation, we need to back off and leave it alone. We need to esteem others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4) and recognize that God made us all very different, so we all have different tastes in music and such.
We use some music in our Church that I personally don’t like-the rhythm and beat. But I know others enjoy it, so I leave it be. We do things I enjoy that I know others don’t like, too. As long as a song is scriptural, I see no problem with it, even if it doesn’t appeal to my personal taste in music.
We, in the Church, really need to get over ourselves, imo.
Mike N., United States, 19 November 2011
All I can say is that we need to be very careful about what we endorse in the name of our creator. I recently went to a Night Vision concert. While there were some good messages being taught there, overall it was nothing more than a rock concert (of the worldly kind) and yet it was supposed to be Christian. You could not tell from the way people talked and dressed. We should remember that we are to stay a way from all appearance of evil.
Gary Bates responds:
Thanks Mike. I concur. It sounds like the concert you visited didn’t appear very Christian, but I think that makes my point about balance and wisdom as I mentioned in the article. I’ve seen too often how even Christians will justify ungodly pursuits by trying to “Christianize’ them. There is always a delicate balance. At the end of the day, God judges the heart and therefore the motive. I know that DL’s motive was to reach into the darkness to shine the light of Christ, without becoming like the darkness. I think their efforts should be applauded.
Robert S., United States, 19 November 2011
Preamble: I am 21 years old, a college senior, majoring in History at Thomas Edison State College in NJ, USA. I love and frequent creation.com, and Praise the Lord for your service. Now, on to this article, I deeply appreciate Dr. Bates’ intelligent thoughtfulness and sincerity, but was very confused over his conclusions. I have felt, from both my observations and experience as a young Christian guy, that mixing Christ and the world is actually one of the most compelling reasons behind the mass exodus of Christian youth from the church today. I would plead with Dr. Bates to listen to this short series on music. I would love to know what he thinks of it. I would just love to hear Dr. Bates’ thoughts: he is obviously a Spirit-filled, vastly intelligent man. Here is the link: https://www.audioverse.org/english/sermons/seriess/452/seyc-2011-seminar-music.html By the way, the presenter is a former Hip-Hop star from NYC. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you ever get around to listening to the mini-series. God Bless!!
Gary Bates responds:
Richard A., France, 19 November 2011
Oh dear! I thought we had done with this old chestnut 30 years ago when Christian
rocker Larry Norman was singing ‘Why should the devil have all the good music?’
Music – and indeed all art, is born out of the world view of the person making it.
The ‘message’ that it brings with it reflects the way that person understands the
world as they know it. This world view may be more or less aligned with our biblical
perspective on things but the form of the music is not the issue. Form is form –
neither good nor bad (in the moral sense). The issue is how the artist understands
the reality they are living in.
We don’t have to listen to the music if we don’t approve but that said, neither is it our job to decide for others what they should be listening to.
I think when it is all boiled down; this discussion is actually about taste and
familiarity. We are comfortable with familiar things. We like what we know. We all
know and love that old chorus right? We tend not to like what we don’t understand.
We often don’t understand new things so in the case of music our preferred taste
runs to that which we grew up with. (I mean can that racket our teenager is listening
to in his bedroom really even qualify as music?) Parents have been saying that same
thing for decades now. I still remember the amazing shock I experienced upon hearing
the Beetle’s song ‘revolution’ for the first time. It was 1970 or so and I thought
the record player was malfunctioning. The electric guitar intro was so raw and loud.
It was extreme. Unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was also perfectly appropriate
for a song about revolution. Now I love it, but of course the Beetles would be considered
rather tame by today’s standards.
Creative people: Musicians, artists and I would venture: scientists – actively seek out new things. It is in their nature to do so. It is a hallmark of being creative and it brings progress to us all on many levels. Christian artists search for fresh ways of expressing timeless truths. The bible exhorts us to ‘Sing a new song’. Perhaps our heavenly father has heard enough of that old chorus as well!
I know many musicians and in fact I am an artist myself so naturally this is a subject close to my heart. Being an artist attempting to work with integrity while living in the world as a part of the body of Christ can be quite a lonely balancing act at times. A little bit of understanding and encouragement goes a long way. May I suggest that it is time we as Christians relax a little and learn to welcome change. Let’s encourage those among us who bring it instead of questioning their motives and doing God’s business for him.
I couldn’t help but weigh in on this conversation. Thank you for hearing me.
Keep up the good work CMI.
Scott L., South Africa, 19 November 2011
I often find it intriguing how some will look down upon others because of their “wordly” music, yet will utilize music to manipulate a “gathering together of the brethren” in a service. I recall a Worship Leaders course some years ago where we were taught as musicians and worship leaders to sing some fast upbeat songs, then a few slow ones, then a fast one that slowed down in a medley into a slower song (perhaps with some silence and some praying, followed by a slow song with people seated with the offering being taken-it was said this caused people to give more because they were emotionally excited toward intimacy with God, and seated they could more easily reach their bags/wallets etc!
Many who supported this method were very anti-“worldly” type music/tunes being used in the church context! It was only when people taught me that I shouldn’t leave may brain in the parking lot when heading into a service with the Church, that I realised how manipulative this method was, and even more evil than Metal etc, since this was veiled in ‘holiness’ and done by “righteous shepherds’!
I presently sing in our congregation’s Young Adults band (I’m the 41yr old bald kid with a Bible College Degree that sings lead) and sometimes have to get used to some of the new songs and eventually enjoy them; and the guys listen to me if I challenge the theology in a new song (which is very seldom, interestingly enough)!
What we need to exercise in the Church as a body is acceptance with grace of a Christian brothers and sisters with their warts and all-obviously sinful behaviour is unacceptable-but lets make sure it is God’s definition of SIN and not our own exclusivist ideology!
R. F., United States, 19 November 2011
As a composer who has studied music in depth for several years, I would like to point out the established fact that music is linguistic in nature. Not only is this true in a subjective sense, but in an objective sense. In other words, music communicates a specific meaning apart from the presence of words (see “The Unanswered Question” by Leonard Bernstein). Music has specific grammar, syntax, morphology, and phonology. It is a true language. The problem with styles such as rap and rock is that they communicate unholy concepts. This cannot be fully explained here. Do your own research and see for yourself.
Gary Bates responds:
Daiv F., United States, 19 November 2011
This is an excellent article-thank you. I admit that previously to my exposure to DL, I did not believe that there could be such a thing as “Christian Rap”. I was wrong. While I personally would not listen to rap, if my kids listened to DL, I would not object. I was most impressed that their lyrics are easily understood and scathingly biblical. I can certainly see God using these guys in a powerful way.
At the same time, this article is written from a positive standpoint and addresses those who would be skeptical or outright deny non-traditional forms of music as valid worship. This is understandable, but I DO think it would be equally valuable to address music or musicians that claim to be “Christian”, but are in fact indistinguishable from the world. In a video blog by Molotov Mitchell on the WND site, I was exposed to such a band called “Demon Hunter”. It would be helpful, I think to see an analysis from scripture on such forms of “music” where the lyrics are hard (or impossible) to understand, weak in content, and the style of both the music and appearance is actually wicked (as in not wholesome) in look and feel.
Gary Bates responds:
Thanks for the email and your encouragement. However, I would like to point out that we weren’t actually advocating rap as a style of worship though. I heartily agree with your point that some practitioners of a wide variety of music genres, are hardly distinguishable as Christians. There is no doubt that some adopt styles of the world to satisfy their own desires and put a Christian veneer on it to somehow make it acceptable. That is why I suggested that the lyrics play the greatest part in determining what is acceptable and what isn’t. And it’s also why I wrote that it is a wisdom issues that requires a balanced approach.
George M., New Zealand, 20 November 2011
What can I say?
Heidi C., Australia, 21 November 2011
Thank you Gary for your article and thank you DL for reaching out to a part of the world/section of society that is chained and bound in slavery to sin. There are so very many people who are lost in ALL “cultures of music”. Anyone who is willing to engage these people and capture the culture for Christ ought to be encouraged.
With regard to music produced by Christians written to specifically share the gospel or relate biblical truth:
To all those who use their God given talents in music to reach people with the Gospel of Christ and the Truth of God-thank you so very, very much.
POSTING COMMENTS FOR THIS ARTICLE CLOSED ON 21 NOVEMBER, 2011.