Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rap Music and the "Christian" Background of Western Culture

I enjoyed reading Scott Aniol's "Can Rap Be Christian" series of articles. He's provided a useful assessment of the issues and presuppositions, and he's asked some reasonable questions, which proponents of "Christian rap" (and, by extension, other "Christian" musical forms) need to answer.

Scott also, quite honestly, exposed a potential flaw in the conservative argument. If this flaw can be demonstrated to be genuine, it's a fatal flaw. And if it's a fatal flaw, conservatives will need to radically reexamine their presuppositions and conclusions.

Here's what I'm talking about: Many conservatives argue that Western culture has been more profoundly shaped by Christianity than any other culture. Here's how Scott frames that argument:
I think it is undeniable that Western culture by and large has been influenced by Christian values more than perhaps any other in the world. That is not to say at all that there haven’t been anti-biblical influences as well; there certainly have been. But by God’s common grace we haven’t been influenced by Satanism or Eastern mysticism to the same extent as other societies. That has influenced the development of culture.
Notice how Scott hedges several times in that paragraph: "by and large," "perhaps," the acknowledgment of anti-biblical influences, and the relatively narrow focus on the minimal influence of Satanism and Eastern mysticism. Later in the same article, he admits that the Christian influence behind Western high art was Roman Catholicism. His conclusion to that article qualifies his statements even more:
On the other hand, there are aspects of Western culture that are deplorable, especially with the influences of secularism and commercialism. There might be some aspects of tribal African culture that has [sic] escaped those influences and are therefore superior. At the end of the day, I believe that the inner culture of the Church will never sound exactly like the culture around it. Christians always have to pick and choose (and sometimes invent) the best forms for the expression of Christian sentiment. It’s just the case that in some culture [sic] that have been influenced for centuries by Christian values, there may be more from which to choose.
So at the end of the day, I think Scott is more honest than other conservatives who simply stipulate the superiority of Western culture. I'll say it a bit more forcefully: As much as I love baroque music, I think it's quite possible that the musical forms of the 17th century were detrimentally shaped by medieval Roman Catholicism—a religious system that was not Christian at all. Monotheistic? Yes. Well, maybe. Or maybe not so much.

That doesn't preclude the possibility of critiquing how the medium of rap music shapes the message of Christian rap. But it ought to give the conservative anti-rap crowd something to chew on before they assume the superiority of their preferred forms as a vehicle for the Christian message—whether baroque or SoundForth-esque.

So can rap music be Christian? Hmmm . . . well, in my first 5 minutes of exposure to Christian rap a few years ago (I think it was Curtis Allen "The Voice"), I heard a more detailed explanation of substitutionary atonement and election than in any sermon I can remember before I turned 30 years old. Maybe that doesn't make it Christian. But if it's not Christian, then let's be honest: neither are your kids Patch the Pirate tapes and quite a few of the hymns in your Majesty Hymnal.

At the very least, I think we have to say that music—whether a rap or a hymn—must articulate a Christian message in order to be Christian. Only music that articulates a distinctly Christian message makes it inside the door where the argument about musical form begins. Music with a message of moralism (clean your room, don't grumble) or some yammering about an old guitar doesn't make the first cut.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

When Network News Asks Good Questions

Terry Moran of Nightline asks Mark Driscoll about idolatry. Read the story and watch the video here. Moran and Driscoll play off each other in the concluding line:
So in the end, the commandment that to many people may look like it doesn't have a lot of relevance to us . . . may be the most relevant commandment of all.