Friday, June 23, 2006

Why Holy Hip Hop

"There’s an attack on Christ in hip hop · that’s like a man in Timberlands gettin’ dissed by a man in flip-flops · Will it stop, yes but not until we get dropped · Then Jesus universally will get props."

These lyrics are quoted from a gospel hip hop artist from the highly acclaimed group, the Cross Movement. William "Duce" Branch, known by many as The Ambassador, has been a spokesperson for the hip hop generation for over 10 years. When I came to the end of myself and allowed Jesus to direct my life, the album Heaven’s Mentality began to virtually disciple me in the vernacular that I knew: hip hop. On this album, the group showed that they were passionate about the Christian faith with statements like, "We’re The Cross Movement, which is an alliance of (uh) born again believers in Jesus Christ that are trusting God by His grace to become agents through whom He’s gonna advertise salvation and also communicate His purpose for all of humanity." The intriguing part was that their style and appearance did not follow that of the stereotypical Christian. This group of individuals that looked like me showed me how to effectively communicate the Gospel to the streets. Yet, despite clear evidences of these individuals being anointed by God and students of the Word (many of whom hold degrees in Bible), some critics have said that God cannot use hip hop for His purpose. There truly is an attack on hip hop in Christendom. This movement is gaining widespread notoriety by Ex Ministries’ leader G. Craig Lewis.

The Ambassador says, "Even though Craig Lewis and Ex Ministries are fueled by a poor understanding of hip hop, culture, and God’s redemptive purposes, they still exposed things that were true and not addressed in both the secular and Christian genres." G. Craig Lewis has gained nationwide exposure through his DVD The Truth Behind Hip Hop. Lewis believes that hip hop is inherently evil, thus God cannot use holy hip hop as a vehicle of communicating His truth. However, God can accept Christian rap. (The Ambassador writes a whole article in response to G. Craig Lewis; click here to read it.)

I wholly agree with this statement made by The Ambassador - Craig Lewis is gaining widespread acceptance to his ever-growing assault on hip hop, even holy hip hop. I have even heard a pastor say, "because the hip hop culture is inherently evil, God cannot use it." Wow! This article has three purposes: 1) to dissect what a culture is and how God uses cultures for His purposes; 2) to briefly overview hip hop’s origin; and 3) to explain how P.H.A.T.B.O.Y. will use a submitted hip hop culture to the Lordship of Christ.


A culture is what people…saydobelievethinkweareatmakeCulture is how people look and behave in a particular place at a particular time. Cultural practices can change from region to region. Therefore, a culture can be thought of as a "people-group’s" language, lifestyle (customs/practices), and physical appearance. Culture can be a learned system or set of beliefs, behavior patterns, ideas, values, and perspectives, which are held in common by a particular group of people. I believe in order to be an effective evangelist and/or missionary, one must learn to think, act, talk and relate properly in a different cultural setting and to a different people-group. For instance, let’s say that I am called to be a missionary, and God places the people of China on my heart. In order to be effective, I must not only embrace the people, but I must embrace the culture that they live in to properly understand them. I learn their language, customs (to wipe my face on the left side might mean to slap my wife, so I must know this in order to refrain from offending them), and ultimately I go into their region to effectively reach them. I cannot witness to the people of China from America. I have to leave and go to them. What better way to win the people of China than to equip indigenous leaders who know their customs, language, and behavior patterns? God has called a generation that has been affected by hip hop, which comes from hip hop, to go back into the culture and affect change.
In the book of John (John 1:35-50), there were two instances of future disciples meeting Jesus. The two disciples heard John the Baptist speaks of Jesus, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." Upon hearing this statement, they immediately began to follow Jesus. Andrew, after hearing Jesus say, "Come and see," went to find his brother, Simon Peter. The next day Jesus encountered Phillip and told him, "follow me," so Phillip found his friend Nathaniel. I believe that when we encounter Jesus many of us go evangelize to different people. For some of us it might be telling our family that we have found the Messiah. Yet to others it is going to our friends, the people who look like us.

There is a generation of believers who have been affected and even look like many people in need of salvation, but many Christians are telling us to throw out the baby with the bath water. What we need to see is that the problem is not the dirty bathwater, it’s some other issues: 1) the baby is dirty and in need of some cleansing; 2) the bathwater is dirty and will only further contaminate the baby; 3) we need to find out how the pipes are doing, because if the pipes are dirty and causing contamination, the water will continue to be dirty. So we need to check the pipes. Once we have really examined the plumbing system we will find out that, yes, the pipes are dirty, however the water supply is coming from the sewer. What I believe is going on today in secular hip hop and in popular culture is that the pipes are bad and, more importantly their connections come from the sewer. So even when a secular artist tries to use biblical statements and/or concepts (i.e. 2Pac, Kanye West, Jay Z, etc.), the water still comes out dirty because the pipes are contaminated. One must change the water source and allow the purification process to take hold of the pipes.

After salvation, some cultural customs and practices will need to change, and others will not. Each must be evaluated separately and carefully (I Pet. 1:13-16). When God saves us, He gives us a new water supply which has gone through the purification process and is qualified to render aid (the Word of God, the only Truth). God also cleanses our pipes so that the water, or Word, can flow through without contamination. The means by which we release or deposit the water has freedom. Some might like a jet stream showerhead, some may want a regular faucet, and others may desire a gold faucet head. These are just agents, or vehicles, by which the water is deposited into the tub. In other words, don’t shoot the messenger that has the right message.


We never compromise the truth or principles of the Word of God for cultural considerations (Acts 17:16-34). Paul uses the culture of the Greeks, which was to congregate and reason with each other. Paul did not "knock" or do away with that cultural practice; he used it, in fact, on Mars Hill (in Athens) when he said, "… for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To THE UNKNOWN GOD…" Paul did not knock their altar, or say he could not use that altar because it was offered to a "false god"; rather, Paul used it for the purpose of saying, "Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you," (Acts 17:23). A missionary/evangelist does not need to change or discard his own culture to reach another. In I Cor. 9:16-27, Paul adapted his lifestyle and way of communicating his message, but never the actual message of the Gospel. Paul became all things to all people in order to reach them. I believe had hip hop been alive in that day, Paul would use it to preach to those affected by it. If I could paraphrase the words of Bruce Lee, he says, "Be like water. Water in a bottle becomes a bottle of water. Water in a cup is a cup of water. Water can crash or it can flow. Be water!" Obviously he was talking about Kung Fu in that statement, yet I think there is some truth to that. In his analogy, water never lost its validity and it never became diluted, it only changed forms. Much like in teaching or preaching, the message doesn’t become less of the Word; it just has a different form of how it is communicated. When pastors preach, they are communicating God’s truth, but they are using their own personality and illustrations to communicate.

In the book of Romans, Paul says, "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him…One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks," (Romans 14:1-3, 5-6). Some believers are offering hip hop unto the Lord, yet others believe we cannot do that. Whatever your position is, each believer must give God thanks.


If we are to abandon a culture because it is inherently evil, or because it was created by the world and for the world, that would mean we are to denounce every culture that we know, which includes but is not limited to American culture, black culture, and even family sub cultures. Craig Lewis exerts that Africa Bambaataa is the founder of the hip hop culture, but a closer examination of the history of the movement shows that he wasn’t the founder but rather among the first. Some have said he is the one who labeled the new movement as hip hop, but even that has been debated. The movement that later became known as "hip hop" is said to have begun with the work of DJ Kool Herc, while competing DJ Afrika Bambaataa is often credited with having invented the term "hip hop" to describe the culture.1 However, no one knows how the term itself was created. One could even debate that the culture of hip hop was brewing well before the 70s, and was just labeled as hip hop in the 70s. Some trace rap back to the spoken word poetry scene of the late sixties, while many go even further back to ancient African societies who boasted griots, women and men who were walking vessels of their people's history and related the various stories and histories through spoken word.2The origin of many of our forms of worship has its inception from other "worldly influences," such as gospel music (or what we call gospel music; technically there are only gospel lyrics, not gospel music). This music has origins in African folk, jazz, blues, and European hymns. If the principle is that because something has its origin in the world the church cannot use it, this would cause the body to stop using the beautiful expression of singing. One pastor told me, in relation to hip hop, "God cannot use hip hop, because it was created by the world and for the world." I have many arguments, but one that quickly came to mind was God’s use of money. I said, "Money was created by mankind. In fact the one dollar bill has an evil eye on the back (located right above the pyramid). However, this same dollar is put into the collection plate on Sunday morning." Jesus said, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s," (Mark 12:17). One can offer the same coin to Caesar and to God. I thought I had this pastor stumped until he answered, "That is because the Bible says that money answers all problems and God knew to use the world’s system to accomplish his agenda." He validated my argument with that statement, and both of us smiled. God is able to use any system created by the world to push his agenda for salvation.


Some people in the body of Christ respond that we can use rapping as a vehicle for evangelism, but question why we have to call it hip hop. Because of the stigma that the term hip hop has in the minds of many believers, why can’t we just call it Christian rap or make up another term for it? My response is because we are calling it what it is. Rap is a form of hip hop. It’s like talking about the Church but denying the Kingdom of God. The church is a part of the kingdom of God, just as rap is a part of hip hop. Do we denounce double-dutching, dj-ing, emceeing, and even some of the modest clothes we wear? We even use the term "master of ceremony (MC)" for our church programs. This term has gained popularity within the hip hop culture, however the etymology of the word dates back to the very thing Protestants protested. The Protestant church was in protest against the Catholic Church, yet this term started with the Roman Catholic Church. Many people, including Craig Lewis, embrace the term "rap," mainly because people within his ministry (including himself) use this vehicle of expression. I think his denouncing of hip hop, yet his use of the term and form of rap, is an odd contradiction.


Many older believers have said it is hard to embrace the term hip hop because of the negativity that is seen. I answered one naysayer in regards to this argument with a point about how we embrace the term "Christian." This term was used as a degrading and sarcastic term to identify believers of Jesus Christ. King Agrippa told Paul that he was almost persuaded to become one of these Christ-followers. This was no badge of honor; however, Christians embrace this term today. Though given to us by the world and used for unholy purposes, we proudly call ourselves Christians today. Hip hop may have its inception for evil purposes (at best, questionable), yet we Christians who utilize hip hop are distinguished by holiness. When you think of hip hop, you think of certain ideas, customs, ways, and behaviors. However when we say holy hip hop, or Christian rap, this says there is a distinction which is holiness. A bookstore is a bookstore, yet the modifier, or adjective, "Christian" distinguishes it from Barnes and Noble. In the book of Acts, chapter 10, Peter was hungry and began to have a vision of unclean animals, and the voice of the Lord said, "Peter, rise, kill and eat." Peter, in his arrogance and prejudices, said, "How can I eat what is unclean?" The Lord spoke saying, "What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common." Beloved, God has the ability to make anything clean. How does God make things clean? How does God accomplish his purposes on Earth? God uses His body of believers to be the salt and light of the world. However, we cannot be the salt of the Earth on the outside. We have to send missionaries and ambassadors into all cultures and worlds to expose the works of darkness.


P.H.A.T.B.O.Y. has been given a charge by God. We will continue to create environments conducive for spiritual growth. We will continue to network with Christian churches and organizations to create platforms that stress salvation, emphasize Christian growth, and encourage Christian service. In addition, we will provide Christian resources that are geared to both counter the negative influence of secular hip hop, and serve as an answer. By using hip hop as a ministry tool, we conduct evangelistic rallies and crusades targeting high school, college age, and young adults. Thus, we will provide growth to God’s army by giving encouragement, motivation, and inspiration to young people.

1 Hip-hop Culture online:, accessed 19 October 2005
2 Hip-hop History online:, accessed 21 October 2005
- Robert L. Wagner
© P.H.A.T.B.O.Y. Music & Publishing

No comments: