Gospel Across Culture

I am not a fan of hip hop. It sounds like noise to these 1970s-trained, suburban ears. However, I recognize that it is a large part of a predominantly young, black culture that I’m not part of. A lot of hip hop has been violent, misogynist gangsta music. Pour that kind of influence into a culture and you wind up with a lot of what the songs glorify. That’s not a rip on hip hop, it is simply pointing out what the message of many of those songs results in. The genre itself can be good or bad.

Thabiti Anyabwile has a post on the effects of what he calls “holy hip hop” on the African-American culture. He says:

What these brothers are able to distill, teach, and distribute via urban hymns is incredible. I pray for the widespread popularity and faithfulness of the brothers putting out theologically robust, evangelistic, and culturally-engaging rhymes for the glory of God.

What I thought of when I read this was how the gospel simply won’t be stranded in one culture. It is brilliant how God brought this about. He made a culture in the children of Abraham. He called one family, placed them into a society where they were outsiders (Egypt) and then gave them his Law which was so extensive that it formed their culture as something unique in the world. God never intended them to be isolated forever but used their different culture to bring about the birth of Jesus. The early church wrestled with the question of whether Jesus was for the gentiles but the Holy Spirit repeatedly demonstrated that the good news of Jesus was indeed for the whole world. After a few years, the gospel was largely rejected by the culture to which it was born and God used Paul, one of that culture’s fiercest protectors, to carry the good news across the known world.

Almost from its birth the gospel of Jesus was cultureless in that it was not bound to first century Jewish culture or North African culture or third century Eastern European culture or sixteenth century North American culture.

In all of these examples, the gospel didn’t destroy culture or segregate itself from culture, it righted culture. Consider Paul’s words:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26-27

God placed people in different countries and contexts and time periods and he did it “in hope” not in judgement. Paul does say that now that Jesus has come things are different. “[N]ow he [God] commands all people everywhere to repent” and has sent his messengers to let them know about it.

So back to hip hop. Again, God didn’t destroy the cultures he sent the gospel to, he did destroy the things in those cultures that were opposed to him: idols, superstitions, distorted roles for men and women, etc. I don’t think you start with the question of what is wrong in a culture before you decide if the gospel can be carried into it. You bring the gospel to the culture and reformation follows. That’s what these guys are doing through their hip hop. They’re trying to bring solid theology into a subculture that in many important areas is standing on its head. We can stand on the outside and lob stones but that just kind of furthers the gangsta, bad boy identity. No, what needed to happen was change from the inside. Thabiti has been clear in the past about the reformation needed in black churches and culture so it is important that he applauds this effort.

So if you’re like me and very much an outsider of hip hop culture don’t tisk tisk and assume that hip hop itself must die. Rejoice that our gospel is not stopped by cultural barriers.

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  • Hey, I don’t know if you remember me from the webboard, but I re-linked to your blog, and plan on keeping up. Just so you know, you do have at least one reader. Us reformed baptists gotta stick together.


  • Exie! Ya, I remember you dude. Welcome (back?) to my blog. Good to hear from you.

  • I thought our christian music was supposed to be outdated so we could make unbelievers uncomfortable. Clearly, the only people that should be comfortable in a worship service are those true believers that have been given the grace to like old hymns. Isn’t being separate from the musical culture part of the believer initiation process?

  • Yea, really. Who knows what they sang in the first century when there weren’t any old songs to sing. If we become contemporary, then people other than us might start praising God. We can’t have that.

  • Well I don’t know about all that. I mean drums are ok in worship, if you cage them, and electic guitars are ok too. But rap is too….too….I guess it’s too black for me.

    Does that make me a racist?

    Ah, yea I guess it does.

    Man I have so much growing to do in this area.

  • Yea it is a bit. But I think it depends on what you mean. If it is just that you don’t like that cultural expression which happens to be largely associate with African-Americans, they it might not be. If, however, you think that said African-Americans are inferior or a different race (there is only the human race) than us, then I’m going to have to kick your butt when I see you this weekend.

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