The Renaissance of Holy Hip Hop

Currently listening to: “It Is Not Death To Die” by Sovereign Grace Music
Total disconnect from the content of the post you’re about to read, but SGM makes some amazing worship music (better yet, they write thick, deeply theological lyrics for that music). Definitely a go-to group of musicians in the Bolton residence.

Let’s start with the obvious: I’m white. I’m middle class. Suburban. Only gun I’ve ever shot was my dad’s hunting rifle at target practice out in the woods at grandma’s. I draw graffiti on paper, not illegally on walls. I’m anything but “rough rugged”. Certainly not a “Playa” of any significant Game. I have soft spots in my heart for indie rock and uptempo metal (not that I should call any metal “uptempo”, doing that’s not very metal of me). Oh, and for folk, electronic, and (recently) jazz.

Apparently, that makes me a prime candidate for loving hip hop music. And I do. Boy do I love me some deep bass, a sharp snare, and clever instrumentation all slathered together into tasty beats. I have no affection for a lot of the ‘culture’ that usually gets packaged with it (after all, hip hop is not on the radio) – the bling and sexploitation and violence and whatnot. But I have a great deal of affection for the sounds of hip hop.

Let’s make matters worse: I’m an English and Philosophy major with a background in Biblical Studies. I LOVE words. My brain plays with words. Sentences are like playgrounds to me – places to frolic and laugh exuberantly and enjoy life. I’ve always been enamored with communication and the means by which we accomplish it. Most of all, I’m dumbfounded by how God has chosen to communicate Himself to me (and the rest of you humans) through words – recorded in text, preserved through aeons of history, study-able, deep deep depths of words. As I’ve been reminded much lately – God wrote a book. It is written – “it” being the communication of God to man, the holy Scriptures. Inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, complete… profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, exhortation… all of it communication from God, put in human words for humans to read, know, and understand. We serve a God who communicated his Word with perfection – we should strive for excellence in our communication. It should be our goal to grow in clarity, conciseness, robustness, ‘copiousness’ (depth and breadth), and total self-control.

A love for words makes me a prime candidate for loving hip hop music. See, rap is the music of words in a way unparalleled by other forms. Hip hop is the modern theater for poetry – it really is. I don’t read modern poets, I listen to them “spit rhymes” (read: recite) over beats. Through hip hop I am able to enjoy such (otherwise neglected) vocal magicks as cadence, flow, rhythm, meter – all the hallmarks of performed poetry. Through hip hop I am able to enjoy sonnets and rhyme schemes and rhyme forms of all kinds – polysyllabic, internal, complex, couplets – the list goes on. In terms of structure alone, rap is responsible for so much remarkable innovation in poetry. Besting that, hip hop provides the ideal theatre to showcase thoughts and treatises on subjects far more detailed and technical than most other forms of music. Long words aren’t frowned upon, but indeed are often celebrated (this is significant when we consider the potential for proper theological, philosophical, scientific, or linguistic use).

I love hip hop. Particularly, I am drawn to hip hop that honours and glorifies Christ Jesus the King of Kings. I was first introduced to what is sometimes called “Holy Hip Hop” back in the late 90’s when my bimonthly copy of now-defunct music mag 7ball arrived in the mail, sporting its usual compilation CD filled with usually unheard-of artists. Although the mag focused primarily on rock and alternative music, it sometimes ventured into the then-risque territory of hip hop. This particular issue featured a song on the pack-in compilation called “Cypha The Next Day” by The Cross Movement. I was hooked – great old-school beat, clever and talented emcees busting out wonderful God-honouring rhymes, and to top it off, theological depth. This wasn’t some campfire “sing-songs to Jesus” deal, this was a bunch of Pastor-Rappers roughing me up with biblical insight and not only dropping poetry, but sermonettes, expositions, and commentaries on biblical passages in their verses. Average people like me started calling it “holy hip-hop” (hereafter “HHH”) and the name stuck.

Here’s something that excites me greatly – there’s been a real renaissance of HHH over the course of the last decade. What began with artists like P.I.D., SFC, and Dynamic Twins in the 80’s and continued in the 90s with artists like The Cross Movement, Urban D, and Corey Red & Precise… has experienced a renewed fervency and urgency in the last five years in particular. Artists like Lecrae, Trip Lee, 116 Clique, Shai Linne, Sho Baraka, Flame, and Tedashii (not to mention solo efforts by Cross Movement members Ambassador, Phanatik, and Tonic) are quite literally tearing things up. The beats are amazing, the rhymes are full of bounty, and the biblio-theological depth, missional focus, and Christocentric emphasis is both refreshing and disarmingly confrontative.

So, this post (which has been on the backburner for two months) is just a simple expression of my thankfulness for how God is using men (and women) that he has greatly gifted in wordplay and music to glorify Himself through hip hop; to glorify Himself through the proclamation of his word and his Gospel through skillfully crafted poetry put to the kick and the snare.

Thank you, Lord:

  • for the gift of living at such a time as this
  • for the gift of ears to hear the kick, the snare, and the wordsmithery
  • for the gift of a mind to follow and comprehend what’s being said
  • for the gift of faith to believe in the biblical truths being expressed through your servants
  • for the gift of hip hop music, the gift of rap

James 1:16-17 ESV
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

I’ll close with a personal favourite. There’s this one guy named Shai Linne, and you won’t have to watch for long to see that God has given him a remarkable gift for compacting complex biblical truth into memorable, remarkable, mind-blowing rhyme schemes.

Check it.

Shai Linne with The Greatest Story Ever Told (live) from Grace EV Free on Vimeo.

With Regards… Inerrancy (Fatigue?)

Currently listening to: “True Grand” by Sev Statik
Sev always brings wisdom.
“God is almighty – He don’t need a logo! Man-made symbols and dress it’s purely just promo
A broken cross and a fish-head cap / it’s all propaganda… Where the lost relate to that?”

This morning on The Gospel Coalition site, Russell Moore shared a link to an article by a guy named Bart Barber. The topic? The inerrancy of Scripture. For some, this topic isn’t one they’ve encountered. For others, such as myself, this topic is of extreme interest and importance. I’ve had extensive debates in the last few years on this very subject, with the constant refrain of opposition being that inerrancy dies the “death of a thousand qualifications”. So, with that in mind, I was intrigued by – and thoroughly enjoyed – Barber’s treatment of the objections to inerrancy as presented by a guy named James Denison. Although Barber’s concern and circles are Baptist, I found his breakdown of the objections helpful and I trust you will too. The shakedown is helpfully written with regular folk in mind, which doesn’t exclude the scholars but at widens the accessibility.

If you’re curious as to precisely what Barber is responding to, he shares Denison’s six primary arguments as follows:

Those main arguments are six in number:

  1. Denison argues that the word “inerrancy” has been defined and qualified in too many different and highly technical ways to be of any theological use; therefore, we ought to prefer to speak of the “trustworthiness” or “authority” of the Bible.
  2. Denison argues that the concept of inerrancy, since it is applied exclusively to the original Bible manuscripts, actually undermines the faith of believers in their own copies of the Bible.
  3. Denison argues that inerrancy is a recent doctrinal innovation not shared by those in Christian history whom we ought to emulate—that it is not among our theological “roots.”
  4. Denison argues that rather than the denial of inerrancy’s leading to other heresies, the affirmation of inerrancy leads to unwarranted divisiveness.
  5. Denison argues that inerrancy is a philosophical position not supported by the statements of the Bible itself.
  6. Denison argues that the Bible actually is not inerrant; therefore, to apply the test of inerrancy to the Bible is to set the Bible up to fail at a test that it does not and would not apply to itself, and thereby to undermine one’s belief in the “trustworthiness” of the Bible.

So, I present to you: “An Errant Bible: The Gateway Heresy“. (Strong title? Yes! Blessedly strong!).
As usual, I’m up for discussion. I think Barber hits some pretty significant points.

Concerning the Will of God: Simple Moves (Pt. 2)

Currently listening to: “The Fisherman Song (We All Need Love)” by Mae
I really think that Mae has finally outdone their sophomore record ‘The Everglow’. No small feat. The recent EP’s entitled ‘(m)orning’ and ‘(a)fternoon’ are excellent examples of sprawling pop rock infused with all manner of savvy and sensibility. I can only assume the forthcoming ‘(e)vening’ EP will follow the same pattern.

God’s will for us – what an utterly important thing to grasp! Yesterday, I introduced the topic here. Be sure to check that out if you haven’t already.

Here’s where we left off – thinking about God’s will in practical terms:

1 Thesselonians 4:3a ESV
For this is the will of God, your sanctification.

Seriously though, when I said we often over-complicate it, I wasn’t kidding. Although there are other places where the methodology for ascertaining God’s will (contexually) is shared – such as Romans 12 – there’s nowhere else in Scripture where “God’s will” for Christians is stated more explicitly. I’m guilty of missing this, and you probably are also.

So what does this mean, that God’s will is my sanctification? What are the implications?

Well, for starters, this makes figuring out the “why” of things-over-which-I-have-no-control much easier. Whatever happens to me, I can trust that it’s been caused or allowed by God for the purpose of my sanctification. That goes for the things-over-which-I-appear-to-have-control, too. From the ‘out of my hands’ to the ‘I totally blew it’, God allows and orchestrates our lives in such a way that we who belong to him, who are called by his name, to progressively and consistently over the course of our lives becomes more and more like Jesus.

So, how does this practically affect when I need to make decisions? This is where it splits two vital ways.

First, it means that prior to deliberating about the many decisions of life, I need to make the primary decision; the decision to live life FOR my own sanctification. Indeed, continually making decisions that PURSUE it. This means that, far above and beyond the importance of any other decision I might make, I must ultimately and continually choose to be obedient to this high calling:

Philippians 2:12-13 ESV (emphasis mine)
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Wow. Ok. Let’s break this down. As believers, we are explicitly called to be obedient to a number of explicit, solid, generally unchallenged callings – things like the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. All of these callings, however, center around bringing God glory. Whether it is the glory for lives transformed by the Gospel we take to all nations, or the glory for the supernatural altruistic love we cultivate for neighbors, enemies, and most of all for God himself. This explicit command from Paul in Philippians (echoed elsewhere) is no different. God sanctifies us for His own glory – he “works in us”, enabling both our will and our work – granting us grace for daily, obedient actions and decisions.

Yet, we’re called to “work out” our salvation. We’re given a clear calling to sanctification. So very clear. Although God enables our rebellious hearts and minds, experientially we work, we strive, we struggle, we battle, we war, we “fight the good fight”.

Paul worded it like this:

Romans 6:19b ESV
For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

What does this work look like? What does obedience to this calling look like? God’s will is my sanctification – how do I obediently work that out? How do I “enslave” my cognitive faculties and my utterly mutinous body to righteousness? What choices are ultimate in my life before I even think about the daily grind decisions?

Here’s some ideas of the kinds of choices the call to sanctification necessitates:

1. Sanctification and Scripture are intricately tied into each other.
Nothing could be more explicit (there it is again – explicit!) than when Jesus prayed:

John 17:17 ESV
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

If that’s not a strong enough argument, I don’t know what will be. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified by God’s word – namely, the Bible. Scripture. Genesis to Revelation – everything contained therein.

So, Choice #1 is this:
I choose to spend time in the Scriptures every day. God’s will is that I be sanctified, and he himself said that I would be sanctified by the truth – his word. I will be in it every day without fail – searching out all of the truth it contains. Studying it, applying it, wrestling with it, and being obedient to what it says. It’s God’s will for me.

2. Sanctification is rooted in knowing and trusting God – which is expressed in prayer.
As we just saw, the truth of what God has said in the Bible drives our sanctification. So, what has God said to us in it? Among its whole canon, one constant refrain is that we who believe are called to know God, and in knowing him, we are to entrust everything to him.

Here’s a good, simple example:

Psalm 4:5-8 ESV
Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

The Psalmist – David, in this case – contrasts those who don’t know God with those who do (namely, himself!). In this contrast, he compares his joy with theirs and concludes that his joy is far greater. He delights in the peace and the safety of trusting the LORD, and charges us to trust God also.

So, how does trusting God manifest itself in our lives? We pray:

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 ESV (emphasis mine)
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

When we have need, when we are oppressed, when circumstances surround us and are so far beyond our control, or when decisions to be made bear down on us and we have no clarity – God asks us to humble ourselves, seek his face, and repent. All of these things are propelled by trusting God, and amidst them, he bids us to pray. When we pray in this way – humbly seeking him with a repentant heart – we are acting out our trust in Jesus to be the one who meets our needs, delivers us from oppression, steers our circumstances, and clarifies our decision making. When we come before God with our petitions, we come to a living, active, powerful Saviour who is more than able to see us through whatever difficulties may face us.

It’s for this reason that the Apostle says:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Wow… again with “the will of God” being explicitly and clearly stated. God’s will is that I be sanctified, and that I never cease to pray, to rejoice, to give thanks. The more I know him, the more I trust him, the more I bring everything to him in prayer. He’s worthy!

So, Choice #2 is this:
I choose to spend time in prayer every day. God’s will is that I rejoice in who he is, trust him with thanksgiving, and pray without letting up. I will come to him with all my praise, all my needs, all my requests, and all my confessions as he sanctifies me. It’s God’s will for me.

Some of you might chuckle here – after all, I’ve just described two of the key spiritual disciplines! Let’s recap. First, God’s will is that we be sanctified by spending time diligently studying and applying the scriptures to our lives – depending on him to give us clarity and understanding as we strive to grasp his truth. Second, God’s will is that we be sanctified by spending time trusting him in prayer. Let’s commit ourselves afresh to these disciplines. They’re two of our primary callings in life as believers – two explicit manifestations of our being sanctified, and thus following God’s will for us.

God’s will is our sanctification, let’s align our wills with his on this.

…when my mind is frozen

Current Tunage: Celldweller – Frozen
So cold.

I have fun when the topic of discussion is something related to emergent theology.

See as reference:
Post: Queer Theories
Post: Theory in Practise

I haven’t been able to write much at all since school ended. Part is being busy, part is writing burnout, part is not having much to say – or nothing much to say stuff about.

Today I’ll say a few things some of you might want to interact with. First, I’ll give you referential links to the stuff and/or people I refer to:

First, a set of videos detailing Rob Bell’s recent time on a panel at the “Seeds of Compassion” conference, where he basically said stuff you could just as easily have heard from Oprah (note: I was dissapointed, but unsurprised given I’ve read Bell’s books, seen most of the Noomas, and loosely kept up with much of what he’s been saying for the past couple years). Doug Pagitt was also on the panel at this conference – he comes up in the convo.

Second, Mark Driscoll’s Sermon on the Emergent Church. Which basically summed up everything that’s good in some branches of it, and the rest (most of it) that’s really out there and wrong.

That being shared, here’s my thoughts, from an instant message conversation I had today about the “Emergent Trinity” (Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Doug Pagitt):

Jer: These are good guys, they’re just wrong… they’re not evil, they mean well, they’ve just missed some important things. I was watching a vodcast by Doug Pagitt today – he’s one of the other guys Mark mentioned along with Bell & McLaren. He was going on and on about some interfaith conference he was on a panel for with the dalai llama and desmond tutu and stuff. I just kept thinking “what about Jesus? any mention of him?” They all seem very genuine, but they’re missing out.

Friend: Yeah, sometimes wonder if we’re missing it too.

Jer: Yeah, fallibility. I don’t blame them for being so fluid about things.

Friend: Big word.

Jer: Fallibility is the recognition that we’re fallible…

Friend: That we aren’t perfect?

Jer: We’re good at being wrong, basically. Good at misinterpreting, misunderstanding, etc. But, and this is where i think they go off track, at some point our human fallibility meets God’s divine infallibility. He’s given us a book to communicate truth to us, and somehow, our fallibility must at some point be overcome, even if only in small ways, particularly through his book, if not exclusively. Check this:

1 Corinthians 2:12-16 ESV
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Jer: When I listen to Rob Bell, I mostly hear Oprah.

Friend: Humanism, not Christianity.

Jer: Well, humanism masquerading as christianity… or at very least… at very very least, a destructive overemphasis on fallibility. In other words, my biggest problem with emergent is that they make fallibility the core and staple of their theology. Human fallibility is an important factor, to be sure. But the core ought to be Christ and all that He is, not us and all that we aren’t. Simply changing that core would transform their theology overnight – hence, why mark driscoll called them out to repent.

Jer: Its a reverse humanism. Since human fallibility isn’t exactly what humanists would normally be celebrating – if you catch my drift. It’s reverse humanism because in making their own fallibility the primary means of interpreting scripture, they make the human being superior to God… who the Bible tells us will enlighten our minds to understand his Word (as we looked at a minute ago). Its a trade, a mistake, and an easy error to overlook because it looks pious and righteous. But really, it’s just an overemphasis on one factor, not unlike the legalism or westernization or whatever it is that emergent is trying to emerge out of.

Jer: Most heresies and theological errors come out of some simple, often overlooked, root error – and with a quick nod to Radical Depravity we can assert that those errors will, one way or another, take the focal point of glorification off of Christ and place it elsewhere. In this case, making the most important factor in the interpretation of Scripture our human imperfection and fallibility instead of making it Christ and his perfect holiness which more than compensates for our fallibility as he indwells us.

Nothing too far-fetched, I hope. I’m interested what others think though. As you’ve read, I think that the big deal with emergent is that they shift the core of their faith to themselves (particularly their imperfection) rather than Christ who is supposed to be at the center of true faith.

Obviously, also, there’s a lot of other topics this brings up. I’m up for any of the above.

…theory in practise

Current Tunage: Thrice – Image of the Invisible
It’s kind of out-of-place of Vheissu, but I love it. For indeed, we are the image of the invisible! We are lost and we are found. No one can stop us or slow us down. We are the named and we are known. We know that we’ll never walk alone.

We’re more than carbon and chemicals… (we are the image of the invisible!)

My friend Joey and I have been getting places. I can’t name those places really, as I don’t know their names. But since I’ve put a few thousand words into our discussion of inerrancy and related topics the last few days, I thought it would be good to move some of them into a more public place than a comment thread.

This was my most recent comment. It took awhile to think my way through, and I’d encourage you to read the entire conversation for everything to fit, but I think this will stand on it’s own. Please feel free to comment.

Oh, and Steph’s all moved in. I’m looking forward to joining her in August with great anticipation, excitement and “fear and trembling”. God is good.

We’ve found something here, I’m just not sure how to describe what it is.

Some thoughts:

For myself, if I understand God (philosophically at least) as “that being than which none greater can be concieved”, which in itself is essentially inconceivable… then I necessarily must admit that the only way I’ll learn anything about God is if He reveals himself (self-revelation). If God is knowable any other way, I really don’t think that whatever-that-is is God. If He is unlimited and infinite and holy, then I am screwed for understanding ANYTHING about Him from my limited, finite, unholy mind… unless He wants me to.

To me it seems that if the Bible is just a bunch of fallible dudes spouting off about their encounters with God, no matter how real, with nothing to hold it together… then I really can’t trust it. For this reason:

Maybe I want too much (I don’t think so), but I want the Unknowable to make Himself known to me. I am convinced that the only way which seems to makes sense for Him to do that – if He really wants me to know Him – is if He puts it in text that I can study and learn. Not to say He can’t hint at it other ways (in me, in nature, in the “becomings” of life, etc), but if He wants me to “know” Him, then He has to tell me what there is to know… and it’s gotta be direct. Random observations from dudes who lived 10,000 years before me really won’t cut it. Why should I trust them? Why should I believe them? What makes them qualified to tell me about the infinite and unlimited and holy when they themselves are just as messed up as I am?

What I’m getting at is this: I take the side of “inerrancy” (again, call it what you want) and say that God is the ultimate Author of Scripture – and everything that I believe must necessarily go along with that… because I really do believe that if He isn’t really behind the Bible, then the Bible really doesn’t have anything to offer me.

In practical terms: The Bible claims to be “breathed out” by God (2 Tim 3:16) and says that God doesn’t lie (Proverbs 30:5). If it’s just some dudes telling me those two things, from their human and very limited perspectives… I don’t care how much literary genius or good feelings they might give me – their words mean nothing unless God is actually (as is claimed) breathing His “word/self-revelation” through them. If they’re as limited as me, they probably got it wrong… unless He’s making sure they don’t.

I think God IS breathing His self-revelation through the writers of Scripture. I really do.

The transformative things that have happened in my heart and my mind and my life simply through reading and studying and appreciating the Bible are too cumulative and powerful a witness to ignore when I raise argument against them. I cannot escape my conviction that God is intimately involved in the Bible, to the extent that ultimately He is the author behind the authors. My heart and life and experience confirm that the Bible is “living and active” (Heb 4:12) – something it simply cannot be if it’s simply the product of a bunch of finite mortals. Nor can I escape the ultimate pinnacle of that chain of logic: Redemption through the Risen Christ. (Praise God!)

To clarify one point, I agree with you completely that the human writers of Scripture had very real encounters with God, passed down in oral (and literary) traditions, put into texts, and passed down and everything – indeed, a “very human process” as you say.

But, if I’ve come to the conclusion that God (THE God) is the ultimate author of the book by necessity, I think it only makes sense that He would oversee the process to ensure that ultimately, some screwball named “Jerry Bolton” of Peterborough Ontario Canada sometime in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries would come to know Him personally and directly through His living Word, the Bible – and the testimonies of men (ultimately, Testimony of God) it contains.

I won’t claim to have all the answers about how it all works, but my initial conclusions encourage reasonable assumptions which give me plenty of space to back off and give God the benefit of the doubt when I don’t understand and trust Him to take care of His self-revelations. After all, I’m the fallible and limited one, and as long as I am (as long as we are) everything will always be “complicated”.

Complicated like synthesis, says me. It’s too simple (and too humanly dangerous and destructive) to take the easy way and go “hyper-inerrant” (ignoring the humanity of the thing) or “non-inerrant” (ignoring the divinity of the thing)… the reason the Bible is complicated is because it is a beyond brilliant hypostatic union in text.

There’s a reason Jesus is called the “Word” in John 1: The Bible is just like Him: Fully Divine, and Fully Human. And no, that’s not supposed to make sense easily – it’s tough slugging.

Let’s press on!

…that’s my theory about the Bible.