The following is a guest post, written by Phillip Holmes, a long time Wade-O Radio listener and supporter. Phillip’s bio and contact info can be found at the bottom of this post. If you’re interested in guest blogging, please contact our managing editor, Mikaela.
Over the last year, the broader Hip Hop community has been exposed to the talented Hip Hop artist and Reach Records president, co-owner and co-founder, Lecrae. His success peaked with his first Grammy in February and as my colleague, Jemar Tisby, noted in a recent article “when Lecrae won the Grammy last night Christian Hip Hop won, too.” However, I would go as far as to say that Christians won, period.
Status in Unlikely Times
Lecrae has done what no other Christian Rapper ever dreamed was possible. Did you ever think a Christian Rapper would: (1) be invited to rock with some of the most popular MCs in the world on BET’s Hip Hop Awards 2011 Cypher plus make appearances on 106 and Park, (2) grab the attention of well known mainstream artists and producers, (3) receive endorsements from Stacey Adams, (4) win a Grammy, and (5) make a song with Chaka Khan (yes that happened)? Anyone who said that they saw any of this coming is, as our beloved Apostle John would say, “a liar and the truth is not in him.”
We should also take note of the times in which the Lord is allowing all of this to happen. Let’s be honest, this is not an era where Christians possess the most popular worldview. It is quite the opposite. As our society’s worldview becomes more post modern, abandoning absolute truths, Christians will continue to be known as the bad guys. The fact that Lecrae’s status and acceptance came during this time speaks volumes about God’s sovereignty, Lecrae’s God-given gifts, and how the Lord wants to particularly use him in His story of redemption.
Some might say that the genre has arrived or at least is well on its way. Mainstream Hip Hop now knows that you can be Christian and a dope artist who produces palatable art without sacrificing content. No one thought this was possible. Christian rappers have been historically known and stereotyped as “corny”, “lame”, and untalented rappers who only do Christian Hip Hop because they could not make it big in the “secular” arena. Nevertheless, with Lecrae’s recent accomplishments, one could say that Christian Hip Hop and the Church is “winning.” But exactly how are we winning? And are we in danger of losing and losing big if we’re not careful?
Losing? Really? Yes, losing. Due to Lecrae’s accomplishments, it is now clear to Christians that one could potentially get “rich and famous” as an artist. Rich? Yeah, I guess that’s a bit of an exaggeration, however, one could definitely make a living doing it. Additionally, success is being redefined. No longer are some artists content with doing their music for their local church and community. Now the standard of success for some is acceptance by mainstream artists, producers, and T.V. shows. D.A. Horton, ReachLife Executive Director, will refer to this in Part 2 of our interview over at Reformed African American Network (RAAN).
The Gospel, I think, is in danger of being exploited by peddling rappers who will not be satisfied until they match or surpass Lecrae’s accomplishments, status, and recognition. So, what are we in danger of losing? We are in danger of losing artists with integrity, who rap for God’s glory and love the lost. Although these are exciting times for Christians within Hip Hop, they are dangerous times as well.
The terminology “peddlers” comes from 2 Corinthians 2:17. The Apostle Paul speaks of men who demand payment for preaching God’s word. Instead of preaching it because they sincerely believe it, love God, and love the church as well as the lost, they instead preach it for money, power, and respect.
I must admit that I’m empathetic towards those who might feel the tugs in their hearts to peddle the Gospel. I write not as one who looks outward but as one who looks within and sees the problem. The temptation to seek our own glory and fame is subtle but deadly. Modern advances in social networking such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as blogs, make it effortless to become well known overnight. Previously, one had to wait and hope that those with large platforms would notice you, but now we can create our own platforms. People are even buying Twitter followers to seem more legit. The Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, once said that our hearts are idol-making factories and the validity of his words in the 21st century is evident.
Many, if not all, are tempted to seek fame and status even if it’s just within evangelical circles. Christians within the Hip Hop industry now have an even larger temptation because they can be accepted and promoted by those outside of the evangelicalism. Therefore, I write not with the intention to raise suspicion of Christian rappers nor to simply expose a danger, rather I write to offer brotherly advice.
How can one know that he or she is becoming a “peddling rapper?”
I would like to offer three signs a rapper (and anyone for that matter) might be peddling the Gospel. This list is not exhaustive nor is it written for social network critics to use to try and rebuke artists over Facebook and Twitter (really people, quit that). Instead this is for the rapper and those closest to him or her to use as a tool for examination.
1) You neglect the ordinary means of grace such as the reading of scripture, preaching of the Word, prayer, and the sacraments.
The term “ordinary means of grace” isn’t very popular but I use it because I think it is important. When I say “ordinary,” I simply mean God’s basic gift to the Christian, and by “grace” I am referring to the benefits of being redeemed by Christ. In other words, God has given the Christian everything he needs in Scripture, preaching, prayer and the sacraments to live a healthy spiritual life. If one ever finds himself or herself neglecting said benefits, it is definitely a sign that not all is well spiritually. A Christian that neglects the reading of Scripture, preaching of the Word (by your pastor or elders), prayer, and the sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) will become malnourished with no strength to take up their cross daily.
2) You neglect community.
It is hard to neglect community if one partakes of the basic gifts of redemption that God has given us, yet we know it’s not impossible. What I mean is this: It is possible to privately neglect these means of grace but publicly appear to be a participant if one does not have the body asking hard questions. This is, simply put, nominalism.
The nominal Christian does the bare minimum, by attending and participating in worship, yet privately their life is not one that seeks to please Jesus. This is easy to fall into when we see Sunday morning gatherings as the only time Christians commune. We all need our local church praying for us, asking hard questions, and loving us regardless of how big or small our platform is. We need people who aren’t impressed by our gifts but by our transparency and love for Jesus. We need our local church in our lives.
3) You desire recognition for everything you do.
In Genesis 3, the sinful heart of man is revealed for all to see. We want to be like God. We want to be God. We want to rob Him of His glory, fame, and recognition. We want praise for the work we produce. We want to be thanked for our good deeds. I’m not suggesting that receiving praise or thanks is evil. The problem comes when we work, produce, and live for the praise and recognition of men. It’s revealed when we say things in our hearts like “They could have said thank you” or when we become disgruntled and offended because we were overlooked for a project or job we worked hard on.
We are not entitled to praise or recognition and should consider it a precious gift when the Lord allows us to receive it. As Lecrae said in his song “Power Trip,” “I’m a genius in my dreams, even if I was, it was stitched inside my genes (Power Trip, Gravity).” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord (James 1:17). Ultimately our glory is wrapped up inside of God’s glory (1 Corinthians 2:7). The rapper (and anyone for that matter) must embrace God’s fame because ultimately, He is pulling the strings. We are only puppets in His play. He’s the potter and we’re the clay.
Not an Expert but a Sinner
I must admit that I write as one who is constantly tempted to peddle God’s word. As an aspiring pastor and co-founder of a growing network, I fear I will use the given platforms God has graced me with, to spread the fame of Phillip and not Jesus. If I am honest, I am suspicious of my motives and heart. Why do I say the things I say? Why do I engage the people I engage? Do I genuinely care about my readers and hearers? Do I desire to grow in Christ more than anything else? Or do I simply want to be known as a good guy? All of us, rapper or not, must wage war against the temptation to look at the gift (and curse) of large platforms as proof that we are being used by God. Matthew 7:21-23 makes it clear that our great gifts and large platforms do not necessarily equal entrance into the kingdom.
Please understand that we are all vulnerable to peddling Christianity for our fame and advancement, whether you’re doing it on a large or small scale. No one is an exception, not even Lecrae. Instead of throwing stones, we must pray for one another. Never give yourself the benefit of the doubt. I realize that it is quite possible for me to have written this article and all the while be guilty of peddling. It’s that deep, but not too deep for the Gospel to conquer it. At the end of the day, I check for the above signs and rest in God’s good news. In the Gospel, we find Jesus abandoning his platform to save a bunch of nobodies. His motto was “not my will but Your will be done.” Are you willing to give up your platform or status for God’s glory? Will you offer your body as a living sacrifice? The Gospel calls us to be willing and ready to give it all up. This very same Gospel is big enough to save and rescue peddlers. I find motivation and rest here.