In the 1980’s The Christian Armory in Columbus, Ohio marketed CCM with an “if you like this secular band, you will like this CCM band…” poster. As someone who indulged in worldly music at the time, this caught my attention. It gave me the opportunity to have the world’s music and a Christian message. I eventually imbibed everything from Christian metal bands to Christian rap. But something changed when God saved me at age 19. I became convinced that musical styles can convey a message in both morality and associations. With a new desire to not be conformed to the world (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:15-17), it seemed ludicrous to me to use worldly music to promote a Christian message.
Why would a Christian mix God’s message with an ungodly style of music?
First, there are many who do not believe that music is moral. They say that music can be used for bad purposes but in and of itself does not convey a moral message. This does not make sense to me because music affects the human body and emotions. David’s music refreshed the spirit of King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). The Israelites danced to wild music when worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32:17-19). And personal experience confirms this. Music affects us in good and bad ways. At its worst, the popular music styles of today promote sensuality, violence, anger, and pride. The music itself pushes you toward those emotions without the words. This is not good.
Second, there are many who simply like a certain style of music. We all have musical tastes and to a certain extent that is not a bad thing. The music your family listened to when you were growing up had a big influence on what you think is appropriate. However, what we like or what we are accustomed to should not be the deciding factor in many areas of the Christian life (Phil. 4:8-9; Gal. 5:16-23). Does this musical style match up to God’s desires for me? Does it help me to become more Christlike? Some music does not.
Third, there are many who use popular music styles to reach people. Christians see the popularity of a certain music style and try to use it to bring people into the church or to reach a certain demographic. The motive behind this method is noble but flawed. Think about it for a minute. Why would you want to mix God’s message with a worldly style of music? Would sensual, violent, angry, or proud music be appropriate for proclaiming God’s truth? This is not only inappropriate but also produces a mixed message of Christianity without repentance or holiness.
What about hip hop?
During a recent conversation, someone postulated the idea that using hip hop was a grey area limited only by a believer’s conscience. My initial response involved biblical principles about worldliness (Rom. 12:1-2, 1 John 2:15-17) and some of the thoughts shared above. Since then, I have done some research about the hip hop genre. It is much more than rhyming lyrics backed up with a beat. The common definition of the genre involves four characteristics:
Although widely considered a synonym for rap music, the term hip-hop refers to a complex culture comprising four elements: deejaying, or “turntabling”; rapping, also known as “MCing” or “rhyming”; graffiti painting, also known as “graf” or “writing”; and “B-boying,” which encompasses hip-hop dance, style, and attitude, along with the sort of virile body language that philosopher Cornel West described as “postural semantics.” … Hip-hop originated in the predominantly African American economically depressed South Bronx section of New York City in the late 1970s.
As new styles of music are appropriated by Christian artists, there is usually a backlash from conservatives. In the case of hip hop is this backlash justifiable? Or would it be appropriate to use this genre for reaching inner-city youth? It would be impossible to investigate every form of Christian hip hop on the market. As with all music, the style and quality will vary from artist to artist. However, the artists in this series of videos certainly fall under the definition of hip hop. Notice how prominent graffiti is in several of the videos. At best, they are trying to identify with inner city youth. But isn’t graffiti (no matter how important the message) still vandalism? Note also the “virile body language” and attitudes in many of the videos. Men and women are bouncing to the beat. What do the outfits and motions of the women project? What do the outfits and motions of the men present? Is there improper sensuality or pride in their movements? Does the music support the message or bring confusion?
I am not an expert about hip hip music nor am I an expert about the Christian version. There are, no doubt, artists who do things better than what was portrayed in the videos. However, what I saw there does not convince me that it would be suitable for God’s purposes. The identification with the world seems very clear despite the attempt at a Christian message. The renewed mind of Romans 12:1-2 should not be limited to just the inside of man; it should control the outside as well.
Ask yourself this question: If you were to follow the advice of Romans 12:1-2, what would your life look like? If you were not conformed to the world (with its lust and pride), what would your appearance look like? What would your demeanor be like? What would your dancing be like? What would your music be like? A Christian should never allow worldly culture to dictate how he lives his life. Instead, he should be like Christ in word, thought, and conduct. Does hip hop communicate this? I don’t think so.