Writing, Rap, And Our Nation

August 1, 2006 — 32 Comments

You must listen in. Or else.

Now, here’s the question for you: is rap good, bad, or in between? Is Christian rap an oxymoron?

Then listen to the Square Talk Podcast again.

Tim Sweetman

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Tim Sweetman is a young writer, blogger, and student who lives near our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He has been much more widely known by his “code-name,” Agent Tim. This name also served as the name of his popular blog, which received over 750,000 visits between 2005 to 2007. In 2005, he quickly rose to become a leading teenage spokesperson and cultural critic within the booming blogosphere, taking on issues such as MySpace, alcohol, homeschooling, pride, racism, tolerance, and other topics relating to our culture today. His blog has come to the attention of people such as Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Alex and Brett Harris, and La Shawn Barber. Tim’s written work has appeared in Lifeway’s Living With Teenagers (February 2012), Lookout Magazine, FUSION Magazine, The Brink Online, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Virtue Magazine, Regenerate Our Culture Online Magazine, and on many other blogs and websites across the internet like Marry Well and the Lies Young Women Believe Blog. He has also been featured in WORLD Magazine, The Towers Magazine, and Maryland Newsline. He is scheduled to have an article appear in Veritas Magazine this December. Most recently, his work can be found on Focus on the Family’s Boundless Webzine. His personal interests include writing (surprise!) and sports, both watching and playing. He is a die-hard Washington Redskins fan.

32 responses to Writing, Rap, And Our Nation

  1. Is rap inherently evil? No…in fact, I’d say any type of music, because it is sub-creation (and all sub-creation is of the “very good” creation of the Living God), it is good. Wordly lyrics and sinful thoughts often found in it, however, corrupt even good music – but that could happen with classical-style music just as easily.

    Christian rap is a great thing – try TobyMac…or even good rappers like Matisyahu who sing about godly faith and express it in their own lives.

  2. I don’t think rap itself is inherently evil, but I’m dubious of it as a form of “Christian” music suitable for worship.

    David, are you saying any form and type of music (including rap, hard rock, heavy metal) is acceptable and even good as long as it doesn’t contain wordly lyrics and sinful thoughts?

  3. Well intent matters…

    In terms of worship, I personally don’t see rap as a worship type of music anyways but we are commanded in the Scriptures to do all to the glory of God and I think we can certainly rap to God’s glory…

    We talk about being “culture regenerators” and “rebelutionaries” – changing the perception AND the reality of our society (and youth culture) today and yet some of us think we can’t do that with the music styles that define our generation? Rap can be regenerated…heavy metal can be regenerated…classical rock can be regenerated – it’s all in what we make of it – and, of course, in the hand of God.

  4. Not to step on anyone’s toes…but personally, I believe there is absolutely nothing good about rap (or heavy metal) music. And it’s not necessarily because I don’t like the sound of it, it’s because of where it came from. David, you said that certain music style “define our generation”. Well, our generation is one of rebellion, and rap and heavy metal music reflect that, strongly. But, many Christians have embraced them by saying that as long as we put “christian” lyrics in it, then they’ll be alright.

    Personally, I disagree. There is nothing in rap or heavy metal that is reverential…. Headbanging and thundering drumrolls does nothing to focus my attention on God. If we’re supposed to be DIFFERENT from the world, how is it that we can look and SOUND like them (regardless of the words)? Most, if not all, Christian rap and metal bands I’ve seen look exactly like any other band out there, and the only way I know they’re Christian is because I’ve heard the Christian circles talk about them. To me, that’s a red flag going up.

    Please note, David. I’m not attacking you…I’m just sharing my own convictions. Forgive me if I’m sound a little harsh on the subject. That’s not my intention. But this is one area that I have always felt strongly against.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what you all think. :-D

  5. Is there a kind of music that is “good”, and used in worship? Is there a kind of music that is “bad”, and should not be used in worship?

    I personally think that when we’re looking at rap, we’re associating it with the sub-culture that comes with it. If rap would stop to be rap without it’s subculture, then it can’t be used in worship.
    It’s not only the words, it’s how you rap too. If you’re rapping like secular rappers on stage, then it stops being Christian. Music is a means, a tool. It’s what you sing, how you sing, and what you reflect.
    Then again there’s taste too. No matter how godly a hard rock group sings, no matter how godly the words are, and how godly they reflect, I would still have a problem, because of the style of the music that I dislike. That style perhaps works with others, but it doesn’t work with me. It may help others to get close to God, but it will not help me.

  6. Veronika,

    I understand that you dislike that music. I personally only listen to those that I can understand what they’re saying (which definitely excludes heavy metal and most rap) but I can handle TobyMac and Matisyahu.

    I also understand what you’re saying about looking, sounding, etc. like the world. However, that applies just as much to Christian pop/rock/contemporary too…just because a musical STYLE is being corrupted by other people doesn’t mean that it is corrupt in and of itself. You know that there are corrupt classical musicians, too? Christian’s just can’t create an all-new genre. How about “corrupt” clothing that we wear? We look just like the world. What about the language we use? We sound like the world. Being of the world is about the heart and the results of our actions – not about the outward appearance.

    Ditto to RC (wow, we agreed on something…)

  7. Ditto on David and probably on RC. I loved your quote RC about how “It’s what you sing, how you sing, and what you reflect.” So true. But I really am a little hesitant to say that rap can be used in worship (at least in a regular service). But that brings up even more questions, just like you asked: why are some types of worship good, and others bad? Why is rap any better than modern hymns or praise and worship?

    I’m assuming that it’s because rap is relating to many things that are ungodly, versus other types of music are generally not.

  8. David,
    I’m preparing an answer on that one, so I’ll return when I get it squared away.

    Thanks for your thoughts, though! :-)

  9. “as long as we put “christian” lyrics in it, then they’ll be alright.” I agree with Veronica on this point. Just changing lyrics will not do.

    In fact we’re not saying very different things. David is taking rap as a pure genre, just like any other style. The difficulty comes when we associate the style with the subculture, with the way rap music or heavy metal is performed, just as Tim said: “I’m assuming that it’s because rap is relating to many things that are ungodly, versus other types of music are generally not. ”
    If I need to do all the things that rappers do when they rap, then I can’t use it in worship. If I will sing rap music in ways secular rappers sing, then I won’t sing rap during worship.
    I want people to be in contact with God through the music, and not let the secular life be reflected. If any worship leader is guiding the attention on him/her and the way he/she is performing, there’s something wrong.
    A question arises in my mind now: Was David giving the attention to God or to himself, when he danced in front of God? Was that worship, or celebration? Looking forward to read your comments…

  10. My point, RC, is that each genre has a sub-culture that it is associated with. If you can’t have Christian rock because of the rocker subculture, well, we’re in trouble. Same with pop and most other genres….some would argue that music (just instrumental music) is neutral. It is not…I would argue that music – in its raw state, with no lyrics, etc…is good, period. What a man does with it with lyrics, actions, etc… is what determines whether that purity is maintained.

  11. “What a man does with it with lyrics, actions, etc… is what determines whether that purity is maintained.”
    I agree

  12. First: Yes, when you said that the music STYLE itself may not be bad, it’s what the artists are doing to it, you’re right. However, rap, most rock, and heavy metal comes DIRECTLY from corruption. Most of it came from either the “hippie” movement, or the generation after, where rebellion, promiscuity, profanity, etc. were all “in”. We as Christians should have NOTHING to do with that at ALL.

    (Yes, granted, many Christian artists in those genres are sincere, and they love the Lord with all their heart…but how would I know that? I can’t tell the difference between them and Eminem.)

    Second: “…there are corrupt classical musicians too…” Granted. There are corrupt “everything” out there…but again, many of them are not springing directly out of a corrupt, rebellious origin (whereas rap, etc. are).

    And third: “How about “corrupt” clothing that we wear? We look just like the world. What about the language we use? We sound like the world. Being of the world is about the heart and the results of our actions – not about the outward appearance.”

    We shouldn’t. Wearing promiscuous clothing and saying the same explicatives and/or talking about the same subjects as the world is NOT honoring or reflecting of God.

    I have had many, many conversation with parents and fellow brethren, that have repeated over and over again how harmful these sort of attitudes toward “outward appearances” can be. We cannot have “faith without works” OR faith that “looks like the world.” How are we to be truly identifiable as Christ’s if the world can’t even distinguish us from the rest?

    There, there are my two cents, for what they’re worth. :-) Good discussion, guys.

    P.S. I agree with your last comment too. If rap/rock/pop, etc, was not out of rebellion, sure, probably wouldn’t have a problem with it. But you have to trace it back to where and WHY it was started in the first place.

  13. A fellow soldier August 7, 2006 at 3:41 PM

    I can’t believe I didn’t see this until so late! Bother. Well, if you fellows don’t mind, I’ll add my two cents worth as well.

    Veronika: Well said. I agree with the entire “we should not look like the world” thing. I read once that the Greek word for “church” means literally “called out ones.” We are called to be different and separate.

    DC: “The difficulty comes when we associate the style with the subculture.” The problem with this is that there is a reason why these styles have been associated with their subcultures. I’ll address this more later, so please do keep reading.

    David Ketter: Essentially, you value the lyrics more than the music when estimating the value of a piece. Therein I must differ. I value both equally. My reason is below.

    The one thing that most all modern pop, rock, rap, and heavy metal has in common is a dominant, often driving beat, usually with the stress on the off beat (called syncopation). Studies have shown that this beat give you an adrenaline rush that is potentially addictive and the syncopation is opposite the human pulse and heartbeat. Other studies done on mice and plants showed varying harmful effects of rock music. (I can give you details if you want them, but I won’t take the time just now.) So that dominant beat, I don’t care what it’s in, is unhealthy.

    Also, Veronika had an excellent point about the subcultures. Music, like all art, is an external expression of internal beliefs. Now, if you look at the roots of rock, you find many people, indeed most people, who are not Godly, not Christian, and have wrong values. The product of those people will be tainted. You may find some good in it, but you have to pick through and expose yourself to an awful lot of bad before you find any. Yes, I know many classical composers were unsavory characters themselves, but many were Godly men, and I would venture to say that most had a good value system, despite not being Christian.

    So there you have it. This is long, I know, but I’ve tried to be precise. Also, please know that I’m not trying to put down anyone here. If I’ve offended, let me know and I’ll try to make it right.

  14. Just to clarify your positions: Are there bad songs/styles/music/genre and good ones? Are some styles corrupt? Are there styles that should never be used by Christians, no matter how good the lyrics are and how good it is sung?
    I shall extend the subject a bit and ask whether there are bad musical instruments, since some were created and used by non-Christians.

  15. A fellow soldier August 8, 2006 at 12:16 PM

    “Are there styles that should never be used by Christians, no matter how good the lyrics are and how good it is sung?”

    I know I’m going to step on toes here, but I say yes. But first, let me establish that I believe music is a very powerful thing, more so than some may think. It’s capable of changing their mood, emotions, and attitudes; it can make you feel sleepy, happy, sad, dreamy, angry, or “revved up.” Haven’t you felt that grabby beat, pulling you to bop or dance or something? That’s what I’m talking about here.

    So music is powerful, and rock has an effect on people that should be raising red flags. Have you ever wondered why so many rock bands have inappropriate antics while performing, but no classical groups do? Rock attracts people that are not good role models for the Christian. Why? Because they like the adrenaline rush they get when listening or playing.

    In short, too heavy a beat is inappropriate for the Christian. The question is, what’s too heavy? And there I think God must deal with each person individually.

  16. Fellow soldier: I agree 100% with everything you’ve said in both comments, but especially since it does boil down to this: The question is, what’s too heavy? And there I think God must deal with each person individually.

    Amen!

  17. Veronika, you sound as if you would like for there to be a Christian clothing line set up for musicians to wear, instead of their normal clothes. There is nothing inherently wrong with the rock subculture. Or the clothes. The problems are the lyrics that fueling the secular culture into pursuing a non-Christian lifestyle. Or the sometimes disrespectful words on the T-shirts.

    I listen to many bands who are going in the opposite direction, and still rocking hard. I wear shirts that are kind “scene”-ish. But I’m headed in a different direction. Am I still apart of that sub-culture? Yes. But am I promoting unGodliness? No, because I try to live my life in such a way as to show my love for the creator.

    We’re walking a very fine line with legalism here, folks. Be careful.

    In love,
    -Nathan

  18. Correct me if I got you wrong Veronika and our fellow solider when you say “too heavy a beat is inappropriate for the Christian. The question is, what’s too heavy? And there I think God must deal with each person individually.”
    Are you implying that each and everyone can say that this much beat is appropriate for me saying that God has dealth with him/her? And that as long as each one is not exceeding their own appropriatene beats, there is nothing wrong with it?
    I need more clarification. Thanks.

  19. I read an essay by Francis Schaeffer that has some bearing on this question, I think. Unfortunatly, I can’t seem to find it. I’ll ask my mum tomorrow, for she is sure to know where it went.

  20. Tim, I went to download it several times, but it didn’t work– it played the MySpace episode instead. Just wanted to let you know…

  21. A fellow soldier August 10, 2006 at 4:01 PM

    Nathan: Yes, I know this can get into legalism, but I trust we are all in the right spirit here. If anything I have said came across as legalistic or condemning, please forgive me. It was not intended that way.

    DC: You’re close. I believe that with music, as with many things, there are some boundaries of style that should not be crossed, but within those boundaries there is room for person taste and variance. (I’m sorry if this sounds legalistic, but I couldn’t come up with any other way to say it.) So, within boundaries, yes, exact rules are between you and God.

  22. fellow soldier, how would you know if a person is crossing the border? And crossing the border within the borders?

  23. A fellow soldier August 12, 2006 at 11:45 AM

    RC: Why did I call you DC? I don’t know. Anyway, back to your question. I was trying to avoid stepping on more toes than I already have by being rather vague, but I think that’s a lost cause now. By the “boundaries … that should not be crossed,” I meant heavy metal, punk rock, hard core, and such like wherein the artists are screaming, the listener cannot understand what is being screamed, and the drums are the only thing you really hear. These styles provide the most adrelaline rush and are thus the most unhealthy physically. I have spoken with many men of God, and they agree with me that there is a demonic darkness in those styles, perhaps because of their dubious origins, thus they are unhealthy spiritually as well.

    Within those boundaries are softer rock and much contemporary Christian music. Personally, I believe that when the beat has taken over the melody line it’s time to either adjust the base or turn it off. But that is a detail that is between you and God.

  24. Are you saying that there is a demonic darkness in punk/rock/metal music because of its ‘dubious origins’? Are you aware of the dubious origins of Christmas, Easter? They began in the pagan tradition, yet we changed those traditions and Christ-centered them. Now we celebrate these holidays without a hindered conscious.

    In the same way, musical traditions can be changed. For instance, when punk or metal music began being made, the motives were not right. It was played for self-gratification, for glory, for selfishness. This can be said of jazz, pop, and nearly every other genre. Many hymns are set to music that were originally bar-room tunes.

    However, do we consider these hymns evil because of their origins? No. We consider them beautiful because of the words, the praises of the creator and honesty that they possess. I have the same outlook on modern music. The lyrics matter a great deal. The lyrics are the message of the song. This is where spiritual impact lies. The sound of the music can emphasize the message, but ultimately, the words are what matter in terms of spirituality.

    Follow your convictions. If you feel that God doesn’t want you listening to a certain type of music, then don’t. Really, this is an all-inclusive rule, if you are pursuing God. What he convicts you of, you should do. Different Christians will deal with grey areas like this in different ways, as they are lead.

    By the way, AFS, if I am correct, you are basing your arguments off of Andrew Padua’s lectures. Am I correct?

  25. Ditto to RC and Nathan…

    Here’s the thing, Veronika and soldier:

    Let me say my view is based, in part, on Ecclesiastes where it says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” This phrase caught me by surprise simply by the fact that certain literary genres, musical concepts, and MANY different things are of the modern world could not have existed in Solomon’s day…yet, there is one thing that did: God. God is eternal, knowing the end before the beginning and His hand is evident in it all.

    The other part of this philosophy is based on a Biblical argument by none other than J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien’s view of the arts was that everything man created was “sub-creation” of the Creation – the Creature consciously or sub-consciously imitating the Creator in the creative process. Of course, nothing that is sub-created can ever be independent of the Creation and, thereby, of the Creator. He is the driving force behind it all.

  26. David: Just to throw this out there…. Should these things have been “created” in the first place?

  27. Veronika: Draw your attention, if you will, to John 1:3 (ESV): “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” God has his hand in the creation of all things. When man, by his depravity, perverts it, that is not to the demolition of that which is still pure in it.

    Consider, for a moment, the issue of pornography. It is the perversion of art but does that mean we avoid Van Gogh or Da Vinci because of those perversions? Pornographers have their own “sub-culture” too but art is still good and pure IN SPITE OF pornography.

    Thus it is with rap and other such musical genres. The music is still pure IN SPITE OF negative artists – Eminem, et al. – and associations.

    Thus, with the argument presented, how can you respond?

  28. A fellow soldier August 15, 2006 at 11:57 AM

    Nathan: So I’m AFS now, huh? How funny.
    Frankly, I am uncertain as to why there is such darkness in these styles; I offer their origins as the most likely solution. As for celebrations having similarly secular origins, it is not unheard of for Christians to refuse to put up a Christmas tree or celebrate Christmas at all. (I hadn’t heard of Easter being secular. Would you care to enlighten me, just for sake of curiosity?) However, I think holidays and music are two different animals. Music is much more powerful than a holiday.
    “Follow your convictions.” Absolutely. If God has not convicted you, fine, but don’t hold anything so close that you can’t give it up if He wants you to.
    And yes, I’ve based much of my philosophy on Padua’s tapes. That’s probably the most complete lecture I’ve heard on the subject.

    David Ketter: I don’t want to presume to be a greater mind than Tolkien, but there’s one problem with that statement. By that logic, all the religions man has created are driven by Jesus Christ. But missionaries can testify that they are naught but darkness and lies. How does this fit in?

  29. Soldier:

    On Easter: The name itself is derived from the festival of a pagan goddess – known variably as Ishtar, Astarte, and Ashtoreth. This was a fertility festival with focus on immoral rites, etc…The Western churches have kept the practice of the Roman adoption of hat time rather than simply holding on to the week of Passover – when the true resurrection occurred…that’s part of the reason the Orthodox call it Pasch, not Easter!

    On my argument: All men come from a knowledge of the One True God. All religions have consistently acknowledged the belief in a Creator with other gods/goddesses that proceeded from Him, etc. Are they perverted? Of course! Satan has thus led many astray over the years.

    A Presbyterian missionary I once heard told me a story about an isolationist tribe in Africa that he had ministered to. These people were in no contact with other tribes and peoples for religious reasons. The missionary convinced them to let him in. Their religion, however, was shocking. Rather than worshipping demons and darkness and idols, these people prayed to “a god who died and, being dead, appeared again” and all their festivals were made in order to “bring him close.”

    Do you see this? They had no contact with ANYONE in thousands of years and, it seems, their belief had persisted from ancient times! Such is God’s pervading influence that even the darkest wiles of the enemy could not deceive them of God’s redemptive plan!

    God’s Word doesn’t return to Him void and we are told that all Creation is His general revelation to mankind – would that return to Him void?

  30. I simply wrote AFS as an abreviation for your screenname, lol. I think I’ve called you that before over in the comments section on my website.

    I am very aware that music is more powerful than holidays. I was simply using holidays as an illustration, being as several of the main ones we celebrate have rather dubious origins. But somehow I thought you might bring up the issue of some Christians not putting up Christmas trees. I’ve heard of this. I’m sorry I didn’t name those people for sake of clarification.

    By Tolkien’s logic, false religions would be perversions of the one true religion, Christianity, not creations. That’s a really powerful story, David.

  31. A fellow soldier August 17, 2006 at 9:03 AM

    This seems an obsolete topic now, but incase there is anyone still reading here, I’m commenting one last time.

    “By Tolkien’s logic, false religions would be perversions of the one true religion,” I think we’ve hit the crux of the issue. I believe rock music is a perversion of the pure gift of music. Obviously, you guys don’t. Such differences can only be expected, but as long as neither party starts accusing the other of being heretic, there is no problem with it. As we’ve said before, follow your own conscience.

    Thank you one and all for a most interesting — and civil — discussion. I have enjoyed it immensely, and appreciate your graciousness toward my very different stand.

  32. When I prayed about this, the Lord showed me that the justification people are trying to use for adopting wordly traditions, holidays, clothing, etc. would be the SAME as saying that it is okay for kids to play with Ouija boards or do seances at slumber parties because they are just games. In the Bible, witches were killed, idols were pulled down and crushed, and people who had taken part in the ways of the world repented. The Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t need us to fluff it up, cloth it with the current culture’s ideas of cool, to make it palatable to the World. The preaching of the cross will always be foolishness to men, but IT has the power to save. By adopting worldly ways, customs, etc. we are basically saying that the Gospel has lost it’s power in this day and age and we need to “doctor it up” to reach the lost. I totally disagree. The Word of God is mighty to save and is the same — yesterday, today, and forever. If we focus on the Cross and Repentance, that is enough. We don’t need to reinvent the Word. God said it, He meant it. His Word stands sure throughout all generations. It doesn’t need anything added or subtracted to it. It stands on its own merit. Instead of seeing what the world says, trying to be poplular, or trying to get their approval, we just need to stand fast on what God has says. He said in His word, “Come apart and be ye seperate”, so why would we want to be like the world or imitate their ways or methods. If we follow the Word of God and obey this, we will be shining as lights AND That is what will draw the World. We will be as “cities set on a hill whose light cannot be hid.” And then, we will be imitating Jesus, who is the light of the world. He said, “If I be lift up, I WILL draw all men to me.” We just need to present His Words and let the Holy Spirit do the drawing and convicting. Jesus IS faithful and HIS WORD stand sure forever!

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